Saturday, January 29, 2005


Recommended reading: Anti-anti-neoconservatism Claremont Review of Books Winter, 2004.

Gerard Alexander reviews two books that will most likely find appeal with Bush-haters and critics of the war in Iraq: America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order by Stephen Halper & Jonathan Clarke, and Imperial Designs: Neoconservatism and the New Pax Americana by Gary J. Dorrien -- both of which, according to Alexander, demonstrate a blatant flaw critics of the Bush administration:

Bashing George W. Bush has been the thinking person's sport for four years now. Foreign policy intellectuals play their own version of the game: bashing neoconservatives. This is Bush-bashing with a Ph.D. It has proven surprisingly popular, attracting onto the field not only liberals but also some traditional conservatives and many conspiracy theorists, for whom the neocons are the new Trilateral Commission. Sadly, a lot of this commentary is plagued by the same vices as Bush-bashing in general: chronic exaggeration, fast-and-loose connection-drawing, and over-the-top hyperbole. Reading it is enough to turn you into a fervent anti-anti-neoconservative.

This is a pity, because with Bush's re-election "the neoconservative question" is ripe for debate, and this high-stakes debate should be as well-informed as possible.

Alexander criticizes those who attempt to trace the intellectual roots of today's neocons to the original neocons of the 1960's (by and large the staff of The Public Interest and Commentary), problematic because

"the first group called "neocon" wasn't especially homogeneous; the second group isn't much more so; and the two put together aren't at all . . . the neocons disagreed with each other almost as much as they agreed. They had in common a repulsion for the New Left. But to treat them as a tightly-knit "ism" is like treating "Protestants" that way just because they all left Catholicism for vaguely related reasons").

Even worse than the homogenizing of the first neocons, says Alexander, "is the joint homogenizing of both groups called neocon" into one ambiguous mass due to their support of the war in Iraq and the establishment of democracy in the Middle East. Readers of various political blogs (and Catholic bloggers on just war theory) will readily identify this "over-identification of doctrinal similarities":

Just quote someone labeled a neocon as saying something, then designate that something as part of neocon ideology, and finally suggest that all neocons, including those in office, devote themselves to advocating that something. The result is not just homogenization but hyperbole.

Gerard Alexander goes on to demonstrate the messy and misleading consequences of such thinking in recent discussion of "the neocons" and U.S. foreign policy. Of course, he is not without his own reservations about certain proposals of the neoconservatives, but as he says, "Americans need to decide what to make of neoconservative ideas. It might be possible to make a case effectively demolishing them. So far, that case hasn't been made."

Well worth reading.

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