Between the Neo-Cons and the Libertarians

by Patrick J. Deneen on March 14, 2011 · 8 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

I’m a respondent in a Cato Unbound symposium devoted to a consideration of C. Bradley Thompson’s recent book, Neoconservatism: An Obituary of an Idea, summarized at the Cato site in an essay entitled “Neoconservatism Unmasked.” While I have my criticisms of neo-conservatism, I found Thompson’s synopsis of their thought to be so inaccurate as to require my grudging defense. You can read my critique of all their houses, here.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Médaille March 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm

It seems to me that if the argument among “conservatives,” neo- or otherwise, boils down to who best defends “Enlightenment values,” than the whole idea of conservatism has been lost, and that such “conservatism” can never be more than the right-wing of an essentially liberal movement.

avatar Thaddeus March 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm


“Liberalism (…) does of course appear in contemporary debates in a number of guises and in so doing is often successful in preempting the debate by reformulating quarrels and conflicts with liberalism, so that they appear to have become debates within liberalism, putting in question this or that particular set of attitudes or policies, but not the fundamental tenets of liberalism with respect to individuals and the expression of their preferences. So so-called conservatism and so-called radicalism in these contemporary guises are in general mere stalking-horses for liberalism: the contemporary debates within modern political systems are almost exclusively between conservative liberals, liberal liberals and radical liberals.”

avatar Elias Crim March 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

I completely agree with Patrick’s concern for a rational discussion of our various conservative persuasions, one which should include some historical sense when bandying about such terms as neoconservatism–or any other “ism”.
Enough with these CNN/Fox-style caricatures! We will never clarify our principles to the wider community if we cheerfully allow political language to be abused in our own narrower circles.

avatar Rob G March 17, 2011 at 9:23 am

Good point, John. I once heard Mark Henrie describe neo-Conservatives as “conservatives who’ve made peace with modernity.” Seems to me that the more we make peace with modernity, the less truly conservative we are.

avatar polistra March 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I finally figured out … waaaaay too late, after going along with them for waaaay too long … that neocons are neocoms. In other words, they are not “former” leftists at all, they are leftist moles. Their assignment is to eject nationalism, protectionism and isolationism from the conservative movement, so that anyone who tries to serve the interests of THIS country will be viewed as crazy by all “sane” politicians.

avatar Matt Dill March 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I just finished reading “The Neoconservative Persuasion” and basically echo your commentary from your critique: “I greatly admire the frank concerns of many early neoconservatives, and Irving Kristol in particular, over the corrosive tendencies of market capitalism upon the healthy cultural preconditions of a republican society.”

As you point out, Kristol too agrees market forces are generally positive, he is just pointing out one of the blind spots of a market only philosophy.

avatar D.W. Sabin March 24, 2011 at 11:24 am

It is rather amusing that this discursive form of government seems so enraptured by a political system that does its level best to subduct discourse under an avalanche of declamation.

avatar Matthew Piccolo October 25, 2011 at 11:57 am

“If asked, most persons would simply chalk it up to the sexual peculiarities of Mormons: sex with no one before marriage, and multiple spouses after.”

For the record, Mormons don’t practice polygamy, at least not 99.9% of them and none that are “mainstream.”

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