What does neoconservative mean? Thoughtful discussion please

[quote=“spook”]I think the lack of responses to a request for an acceptable alternative to the term ‘neoconservatives’ illustrates the real problem here.
It’s not that terming anyone a new-style conservative is in any way demeaning. It’s the fox in the henhouse principle. They don’t want anyone to think there’s anything other than chickens in the national chicken coop and ‘neoconservative’ sounds way too much like ‘fox’ for their liking.
It’s not by accident that they call their television propaganda mill “Fox News.”
“There’s nobody in here but us chickens. Next time anyone says the word ‘fox’ they’re going to have to buy us all beer and chickens love beer. Right, chickens?”“Cluck? Cluck?”[/quote]spook-
Interesting procedure spook. You demand that someone provide an alternative to the phrase “neoconservative” and when none is provided you institute a tirade of ridicule for no one having taken your bait.
Nice try. No Cigar.
I posted a link you might well spend some time reading.

Thanks for the clarification. I’m also glad we’re having a more sober discussion at this point, too.

TC, as long as you object to us calling you ‘neoconservatives’ but won’t provide any alternatives you’ve got to expect some sarcasm over the bogusness of it all.

This could’ve been a really good thread discussing a very important aspect of American political culture. But it’s degenerating into a slur hurling contest (again?) :s.

That list while was posted is not agreed to by all neo-cons. I disagree with a few of them myself. I posted the appropriate links to what is a neo-con at this point in time for your reference. Those are the generally accepted viewpoints on who/what neo-cons are about. Then there are other positions of the neo-con world which isn’t universally accepted by all neo-cons.

you mean the neo conservative movement changed so drastically from 2003, the year that GOP congressman wrote that and 1994 when that book you referenced was finished?

it appears not only political but shapeshifting as well, if it changed so suddenly, maybe now it’s neo neo con

  1. What do “they” whoever they are, consider themselves? Traditional conservatives? a new style of conservative? not really conservatives? no difference whatsoever conservatives?

  2. What’s perjorative about naming a movement “new form of” “conservative”?

  3. If they object to the name ‘neoconservative’ and they acknowledge that their belief system and practices are a departure from the past then what do they want to be called?

These are all fair, key questions and remain unanswered.

I suppose it depends upon how you use the term.

Just a reminder… to everyone… :slight_smile:

I think “they’re” primarily objecting to calling the movement itself known as Neoconservatism ‘Neoconservatism’ as well as its leadership ‘neoconservative’ and not so much them personally.

Point of clarification: can I claim that “innate differences” explains the difference between “them” and “us” or would that be a breach of the new protocol also?

[quote=“spook”]TC, as long as you object to us calling you ‘neoconservatives’ but won’t provide any alternatives you’ve got to expect some sarcasm over the bogusness of it all.[/quote]spook -
No real objection to one using the phrase.
However, usually when it is used it here it makes it rather easy to observe the bias of the user.
Good for identifying what they are bringing to the table as it were.
It does make it a bit harder to discuss/debate and expect a reasoned dialogue though.
Its a red-herring thrown out to label and reduce the value of any opposing points before they might be posted. A pre-emptive verbal positioning of sorts.
The link to the Wikipeadia site contains quite an interesting history of the term. I would think the info would be especially interesting to you.
By the by, DCI Goss is realizing how valuable pre-emptive action can be. Cheers to him.

No real objection to one using the phrase.[/quote]

. . . except that . . .

TC, look at it from “our” position. It’s like being a journalist trying to discuss Prince during his “the artist formerly known as Prince” period. How are we supposed to refer to this new phenomenon and its adherents? I think we all agree that it’s not business as usual and it’s a new form of belief system in many ways, yet it’s apparently supposed to remain nameless. Sort of a stealth philosophy in the age of stealth radar.

I’ll call it any name “you” choose so long as it it’s not something phony like the Coalition of the Willing or the Patriot Act.

Let’s please keep this thread a discussion of how the term ‘neo-conservative is used’, how such usages vary, and, if you like, how this movement and term usage arose. There have already been some very fine posts in this direction. That was why I began this thread.

However, let’s please avoid using the term to refer to other posters, “…you ‘neoconservatives’” and so on. Thank you.

I think the roots of neo-conservatism are as described by Hobbes. However, the reason neo-conservatism took root is that the policies and strategies are bipartisan, and based in American geo-politics. It came about as a battle between two geo-political strategies one of containment against the old Soviet Union and one of roll back (or the active dismantlement of leftist states on the periphery of cold war boundaries).

These two geo-political strategies were bipartisan in that both sides of American politics had an equal stake in both strategies through out the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s at least. Things started to change when Reagan got into power and actively pursued roll back over containment.

Roll back was advocated by many in the Democratic Party but not people like Carter who was influenced by the likes of Kissinger who was a big advocate of containment and engagement. This frustrated the roll back advocates in the Democratic Party who defected to Reagan when he got into power. Although when Reagan first came to power he too was more an advocate of containment perhaps for party political reasons as it was the traditional position of Republican conservatives.

More telling about where Reagan really stood in geo-political terms were those who he consulted with and took on as advisors (not unlike Bush). One of these people even before he was elected was Jeanne Kirkpatrick. She had an interesting bent on roll back and allies. She advocated that the US should make allies with right-wing dictatorships and actively promote them. These she believed had more hope of one day evolving into democratic states than did left wing governments. There was really no evidence for this it was just her educated opinion.

However, it marked the beginning of neo-conservatism in the Reagan administration. This led to people like Wolfowitz whose political leanings were ambiguous getting a role in the big time. The relationship between Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld dates right back to this era and earlier.

The neo-conservatives felt their roll back strategies had some successes especially in the Philippines, and Taiwan. Places with notorious right wing dictatorships that have turned democratic. That has to weigh up against the fall of the Soviet Union of course a place with a notorious left wing government that turned democratic at least in the eastern European states. The neo-conservatives would credit roll back as giving the US’s containment and engagement policies teeth.

You could drive buses through the logic here but I think that is the general background.

The term ‘paleoconservative’ on the other hand, often used by ‘neoconservatives’ to refer to traditional conservatives such as James Baker, Colin Powell, and Zbignew Brzinski who oppose them, is an inherently pejorative term:


1 : involving or dealing with ancient forms or conditions
2 : early : primitive : archaic <Paleolithic



1 a : new : recent
b : new and different period or form of
c : in a new and different form or manner <Neoplatonic

Thanks, Fox – another great post!

I disagree with Fox’s timeline about the 1980s being the pivotal decade, versus the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. This website, although I disagree with its leftist politics 100 percent, has an accurate timeline of the three stages of neo-conservatism.

The original CPD was organized in 1950 to scare the hell out of Americans, or at least frighten them enough so that they wouldn’t balk when the bill came in for a massive military build-up. Paul Nitze’s seminal NSC-68 memorandum was the theory, and CPD-1 was the practice. In 1951, the Committee took to the airwaves, utilizing the Mutual Broadcasting Network to propagandize on the utter scariness of “the present danger.”

As the face-off pitting Alger Hiss against Whittaker Chambers revealed the inner workings of a pro-Soviet cabal of spies in the highest reaches of government, and Senator Joseph McCarthy roamed the land, it was in the interests of the Truman administration to divert attention away from the Commie Threat on the home front, and direct American anger and paranoia overseas. The Commies were about to take over the world, and were we going to just sit there watching I Love Lucy?

Having recently returned from fighting World War II, the Greatest Generation was certainly inclined to do just that, and, in any case, was hardly in a frame of mind to start fighting World War III so soon. Perhaps the difficulty inherent in this situation is what gave rise to the suggestion, made in March 1950 by assistant secretary of state for public affairs Edward R. Barrett, that it would be necessary to initiate a “psychological scare campaign.” Dean Acheson, one of the Committee’s founders, wrote in his memoirs:

“The task of a public officer seeking to explain or gain support for a major policy is not that of the writer of a doctoral thesis. Qualification must give way to simplicity of statement, nicety and nuance to bluntness, almost brutality, in carrying home the point.”

The Committee was restarted in 1976, and, although officially bipartisan, was heavily weighted with Democratic party bigwigs, such as Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Boeing), and, like the original, was linked to the efforts of then currently serving government officials to build popular support for increased arms spending. The infamous “Team B,” headed by Nitze, Richard Pipes, a bunch of RAND Corp. types, and Paul Wolfowitz, having wildly overestimated Soviet military capabilities, was trying to build support for what it considered to be a proportionate response. Team B was housed in the same offices as Jackson’s “Coalition for a Democratic Majority,” the pro-war factional base and lobbying group of Democratic party activists who later became known as the neoconservatives.

The third incarnation of the CPD

Is neo-conservativism strictly a foreign-policy phenomenon, or is it mixed up with anti-environmentalism, social security reform, and other conservative causes?

Is is just “Republicanism on steroids”? Or a revival movement within conservativism? Does it seek out only those public issues that will bring it more power (no pro-life stance, for instance), or are the issues more important than things like electoral strategy?

Interestingly, they seem more at home with the religious right than with the anti-tax people. (Even though many of the neo-cons are Jewish.) Also, they seem to be pro-Hispanic (because of free trade / business opportunities? Or as electoral strategy?), and not nativist.

Merely cataloguing public information about the neoconservative movement is in the end little more than a safe intellectual exercise.

What makes a discussion ultimately most interesting and useful is when it moves beyond cataloguing to analyzing and deducing ultimate meaning.

That discussion about the essential meaning and character of the neoconservative movement has yet to be held, mostly out of fear it seems – fear of being tainted with anti-semitism, fear of offering comfort and aid to the enemy – or fear of having elaborate ideological fronts exposed.

When that discussion finally is held, it will be a fascinating, unsettling, difficult and cathartic encounter with our innermost national character on the order of the post McCarthy era, the Civil Rights era, or Vietnam and the decade of political assassinations.

Since the 1980’s it seems we’ve lost the will and ability as a people to examine ourselves in any deep way. Our society has degenerated instead into polarized camps of shouters intent only on drowning each other out and gaining tribal advantage at the expense of national well-being.

Most likely there won’t be any capable dissection of the neoconservative movement before historians in another age do it.

I don’t think anybody is unwilling to discuss what it means to be neoconservative. I think it is helpful to understand that it was and still is a largely bipartisan political force in the States and that if one or the other political party were to win the next election neoconservatism still has legs on either side of the political fence to run with.

I think its principle philosophies are pretty easy to pin down to militarism. Militarism justifies the US in pursuing resource security and democracy. The most important of these is resource security in that it is vital for US long-term security and its impacts are immediate even in the short term. I don’t mean in terms of affecting the price of oil, but on an even more basic level of supply.

Democracy has both a practical and ideological role. It wins hearts for the fight and it can be manipulated from a far as long as people believe in it being a credible process. It also offers people some say in the matter albeit that most democratic governments soon become masters at manipulating popular opinion or simply going ahead with their own agendas anyway as was the case with the Iraq war in England.

I guess it’s a question of how much American militarism you can stomach. Personally I think people can obviously stomach quite a bit of it in the west because we share many similar cultural values with the US. Even countries like France and Germany will find it easy to fall in line behind the next US president. But they will be falling in behind him not in front of him. In that sense the neoconservatives have won their first major battle even if the war for democracy and resource security is still raging.


  1. A psychotic disorder characterized by delusions of persecution with or without grandeur, often strenuously defended with apparent logic and reason.
  2. Extreme, irrational distrust of others.[/quote]

I’m very pleased with this discussion so far, please do continue. Thanks to all above contributing meaningful dialogue, as well as for staying on topic! Relevant minor digressions and the occasional joke are welcome too! I haven’t joined the fray because sometimes it’s good to keep one’s mouth shut and listen for a while.

On the idea that it is somehow bipartisan, though, I can’t name a single liberal friend among my countless American ex-compatriots who’d agree. Only my right-wing pals and relatives (that’s the wholefamily, BTW) would back the neocon’s. So I’m not sure I agree there.

The point has often been made that the neocons came from the left and joined the right, but I’m not yet convinced by this assertion. Feel free to continue, though.