A neoconservative (also spelled "neo-conservative"; colloquially, neocon) in American politics is someone presented as a conservative but who actually favors big government, interventionalism, and a hostility to religion in politics and government. The word means "newly conservative," and thus formerly liberal. A neocon is a type of RINO, and like RINOs does not accept most of the important principles in the Republican Party platform.
Many older neocons had been liberals in their youth and admired President Franklin D. Roosevelt, while younger neocons are more economically conservative than Roosevelt but like to downplay the social issues. In 2010 the highest priority of the neoconservatives was to increase military action by the United States in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and to expand it to an American confrontation against Iran; in 2011 their goals include supporting a military attack on Libya, continuing the Afghanistan War indefinitely, and even suggesting military action against Syria. There is a revolving door between some neocons and highly paid positions in the defense industry, which may explain the constant neoconservative demands for more wars.
In the European nations of Britain and France, neoconservatives dominate right-leaning politics, but in the United States neocons are less influential than the conservative movement. For example, neocons begrudgingly supported Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for President in 2012, even though he was not their first choice and Romney has never supported the neocon agenda.
Neoconservatives tend to oppose the appointment of social conservatives to high governmental positions, such as nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Neoconservatives support candidates who are liberal on social issues instead.
Neoconservatives favor expensive foreign interventionalism with massive federal spending, often to replace a dictator with a new system of government that may be worse. Sometimes this is expressed as a desire to install a democracy in a culture that may be incompatible with it. The neoconservative position was discredited in the failure of democracy in the Iranian elections of 2009.
The neoconservative movement emerged in the mid 1970s, played a limited role in the Ronald Reagan Administration, and then had a voice in the Defense Department under the George W. Bush Administration after 9/11. Candidates favored by neoconservatives for president in 2012 include Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Mike Pence and, to a lesser extent because she pulls support away from those candidates, Sarah Palin.
Some prominent spokesmen include Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, Christopher Hitchens, Bernard Lewis, Stephen Schwartz, Elliott Abrams, Ben Wattenberg and Carl Gershman.
In contrast to traditional conservatives, neoconservatives favor globalism, downplay religious issues and differences, are unlikely to actively oppose abortion and homosexuality. Neocons disagree with conservatives on issues such as classroom prayer, the separation of powers, cultural unity, and immigration. Neocons favor a strong active state in world affairs.
Neoconservatives were prominent in the George W. Bush administration by supporting an interventionist domestic policy they called 'compassionate conservatism' and a strong foreign policy, and especially favored the Iraq War and its efforts to spread democracy worldwide.
One major strand of Neoconservatism emerged from a group of New York intellectuals, many of whom attended City College of New York in the late 1930s, a group that includes Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset and Nathan Glazer. Many of this group came to despise the counterculture of the 1960s and what they felt was a growing "anti-Americanism" among many baby boomers. During the Cold War era, most vigorously opposed the Stalinist regime. Kristol described a neoconservative as a "liberal mugged by reality".
Paleoconservatives, who dislike Neoconservatism intensely, have argued that it emerged from Trotskyite theories, especially the notion of permanent revolution. There are four fundamental flaws in the paleoconservatives' attack: most of the neoconservatives were never Trotskyites; none of them ever subscribed to the right-wing Socialism of Max Shachtman; the assertion that neoconservatives subscribe to "inverted Trotskyism" is misleading; and neoconservatives advocate democratic globalism, not permanent revolution.
A second main line of development of neoconservatism was strongly influenced by the work of German-American political philosopher Leo Strauss. Some of Strauss' students include Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, political philosopher Allan Bloom, former New York Post editorials editor John Podhoretz, former National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chairman John T. Agresto; politial scientist Harry V. Jaffa; and Nobel Prize winning novelist Saul Bellow.
Neoconservatives also tend to minimize or overlook the significance of religious beliefs in conflicts and policies, as in advocating the installation of democracy in Muslim countries with little regard for Islamic beliefs and practices.
Neoconservatives hold an idealistic belief in social progress and the universality of human rights, coupled with anti-Communism. They hold the view that there is a universal desire to live in a technologically advanced and prosperous society and liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of such modernization.
The leading publications of neoconservatives since the 1970s have been Commentary, The Public Interest (founded by Daniel Bell and Irving Kristol) and The Weekly Standard. Many Washington think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Project For New American Century (PNAC), Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and Henry Jackson Society are now dominated by neoconservatives.
Neoconservatives positions on social issues are mixed with some holding to liberal positions on social matters, and are unlikely to agree with religious conservatives on issues like abortion, prayer in school and same-sex marriage. Other neoconservatives of the Straussian type tend to have greater degrees of agreement with religious and cultural conservatives on social issues. Neoconservatives differ from libertarians in that neoconservatives tend to support Big government policies to further their objectives, and to support Bush's 2001 Patriot act.
Neoconservatives often describe themselves as "conservative". William Kristol, a leading neoconservative, described himself as the "token conservative" when he taught at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
In anticipation of vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, the neoconservatives urged on Bush the selection of Michael McConnell, a libertarian-leaning jurist, and J. Michael Luttig, who declared Roe v. Wade to be "super-stare decisis" and later left the judiciary to become general counsel of Boeing. Both were passed over in filling the vacancies and both left the judiciary entirely after missing their best chance for being appointed to the Supreme Court passed.
The term was coined by Socialist party leader Michael Harrington to describe the rightward turn of onetime liberals, and it was proudly accepted first by Irving Kristol then by most of the others.
- George W. Bush
- Dick Cheney
- Donald Rumsfeld
- John Bolton
- Bill Kristol
- Irving Kristol
- Permanent Revolution, a Troyskite idea that Neocons do not accept
- Norman Podhoretz
- Leo Strauss
- Lionel Trilling, a major literary critic who influenced many neocons
- Paul Wolfowitz, a powerful #2 under Donald Rumsfeld in the Defense Department in 2001-4, advocated invasion of Iraq
- Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind (1988)
- Dorrien, Gary. The Neoconservative Mind, (1993)
- Friedman, Murray. The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy. (2006) excerpt and text search.
- Fu kuyama, Francis. America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, (2006)
- Gerson, Mark. The Neoconservative Vision: From the Cold War to Culture Wars (1997)
- Halper, Stefan and Jonathan Clarke. America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order (2004) excerpt and text search* Heilbrun, Jacob. They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (2009) excerpt and text search
- Murray, Douglas. Neoconservatism: Why We Need It (2006)
- Steinfels, Peter. The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics. (1979)
- Stelzer, Irwin. Neo-conservatism (2004)
- Demuth, Christopher, and William Kristol, eds. The Neoconservative Imagination: Essays in Honor of Irving Kristol (1995) excerpt and text search
- Gerson, Mark ed., The Essential Neo-Conservative Reader (1997))
- Kristol, Irving. Neoconservatism: the Autobiography of an Idea (1999) excerpt and text search
- Stelzer, Irwin, ed. The NeoCon Reader (2005) excerpt and text search
- A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm - a key neoconservative document.
- Neoconservatism's Future: It's still the only game in town, Joshua Muravchik, OpinionJournal.com, October 3, 2007. From Commentary.
- The Henry Jackson Society
- Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
- The Neoconservative Persuasion by Irving Kristol
- The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy, Murray Friedman, 2005
- After Neoconservatism, February 19, 2006
- William F. King, "Neoconservatives and 'Trotskyism'" American Communist History 2004 3(2): 247-266 online at EBSCO