The Corner

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I like Bill McGurn’s review of the new Norman Podhoretz reader in the current issue of the New Criterion. His summary description of the neocons strikes me as quite sound: “Many of the same complications hold true for neoconservatism, a movement in which he enjoys Founding Father status but which has never been sufficiently defined in positive terms. Negative definitions abound, from those on the right who see it as a Trojan Horse for liberalism to those on the left who see it as a conservatism with a friendlier face (not to mention those who use it as a crude euphemism for “Jewish”). Positive definitions have been more difficult to supply, and not only because neoconservatism is probably most frequently deployed as a pejorative. In its actual manifestations, it has not really been a creed along the lines of the cultural conservatism of the Russell Kirks, the libertarian consistency of a Hayek, or even the fusionism of a William F. Buckley, Jr. To my mind, the Reader confirms that neoconservatism is more a disposition that divided those on the left who adjusted their theories to reality from those who did vice versa.

Ultimately it proved a critical disposition for the future of America, because it manifested itself at a critical juncture in international relations. Probably neoconservatism didn’t have much to do with Reagan’s own beliefs—this was a man, after all, who read National Review, could quote Milton Friedman, and had given a speech for Goldwater back when Podhoretz was still shucking off his New Left credentials—but in its arguments neoconservatism did help Reagan soften the harder edges of Goldwaterism. To call it narrow because its interests and passions were so peculiarly New York is to miss the point. What the Podhoretz-led movement did was to open the war Reagan was fighting on a much broader front and in so doing lay claim to territory that had more or less been permanently conceded to the Left.”

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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