Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Neoconservative is a word that gets thrown around far too often today without any understanding, much like 'ironic' or 'philosophical'. When used most meaninglessly, it is a pejorative term for any political conservative. Former Ontario premier Mike Harris was the first person I saw disparaged as a "neo-con", having no idea what it meant. In fact, I don't think anyone has an idea what it means in that the term has probably gone the way of "emo" and realistically is devoid of meaning. I say this because I think it's fair to say that neoconservatism has today diverged from its roots.

There has indeed been a neoconservative experiment, one of following a rigid idealism, both the intentions and functionality of which can be shown in the war on Iraq. Others may scoff, but I think that the attempt to spread democracy in the Middle East is, at least for neoconservative thinkers Charles Krauthammer (to arbitrarily pick one), a genuine goal. To carry it out forcibly is, of course, where the problem lies with neoconservatism, and where it loses many of its members, or maybe many of its members lose it.

The term itself, especially as used pejoratively, often denotes an ultra-conservative, someone from the "far-right", but the first neoconservatives were probably socialists with a strong anti-Communist streak and, most importantly, a dislike for liberalism. The rise of neoconservatism is a counter-counter-cultural response to the runaway liberalism of the '60s. Allan Bloom best articulated this philosophy for me in raging against the meaningless relativism of American youth, though I know him best for his expensive, hardcover translation of Plato's Republic that I didn't buy because I already had three copies (blog parody courtesy of Andrew). This is the sort of soft, pre-political neoconservatism to which I myself probably subscribe, contrasted with my distaste for the anti-government, pro-business obsessions of modern conservatism.

The paradox of neoconservatism is that its idealism, when applied to politics, unfortunately coalesces into an ugly realpolitik. The result is unabashed American militarization of space, which is what prompted me to write this. Neoconservative idealism believes in a world order governed by America, but such a world order inevitably is reduced to the crass world of politics. Ironically, America today has become remarkably adept at advancing its short-term self-interest, but doing so in practice at the expense of morality. Instead, it is done on the basis of national interest or, more familiarly, on the basis of might makes right. Doubling the irony, many of those who rail against American idealism ascribe to some form of liberalism, which accepts America's orientation towards self-interest and isolationism if not its interventionism. I once spoke to someone who had a very passionate, very personal and very juvenile dislike of George Bush for reasons far too numerous to list. This person, admittedly an extreme example, also didn't believe that there were such things as right and wrong. Only politics could have lead to this disjunct in which those who believe in right and wrong act with pragmatism and those who act with pragmatism claim to believe in right and wrong.

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