Jon – I don’t really disagree with any of that. Though someone recently told me that Norman Podhoretz now says in his new book that he coined the term neocon in the mid-1950s. We’ll just put that aside.
Anyway, again I don’t necessarily say that neoconservative means a former liberal. That was Ramesh’s response. Though the former liberal thing is obviously a big part of the intellectual history. Here’s how I put it in my much maligned three parter ( Here, here, and here) on “neoconservatism”:
The word “neoconservative” was coined by Michael Harrington and the editors of Dissent to describe their old friends who’d moved to the right. It was an insult, along the lines of “running dog” or “fellow traveler.” Or perhaps the “neo” was intended to conjure “neo-Nazi,” the only other political label to sport the prefix. As Seymour Martin Lipset, one of the most-respected social scientists of the 20th century and an original neocon wrote, the term “was invented as an invidious label to undermine political opponents, most of whom have been unhappy with being so described.”
And speaking of that endless column, my whole point about neoconservatism is that it is a word which distorts more than it reveals, is used irresponsibly by critics and adherents alike and should be interred along with all of the once-important distinctions of the left — Schactmanites, Lovestonians, Fabians etc. Those on the so-called paleo right love the neocon label because it allows them to perpetuate a myth that the conservative movement has been hijacked. The reasons liberals and many self-described neoconservatives use the term are many, but one of them is as a way of asserting moral or intellectual superiority to just plain old “conservatives.”
Indeed, I continue to find it hilarious that self-described neoconservatives (and the liberal New York media establishment which listens to them) still talks of National Review as if it is a “paleo” or “Old Right” publication, while the self-described paleos claim that NR has been completely taken over by neoconservatism. These assertions cannot both be true and it is further evidence that the word should be thrown away. NR is merely and proudly conservative and needs no prefixes. At least that’s how I see it.