A neoconservative is really the modern version of the conservative. Neoconservatives are frequently ex-leftists, such as David Horowitz. Generally, they don't support limited government, they just want the government to support their own social agenda rather than that of the liberals. Neoconservatives tend to love war, and support war more often than not, particularly if the war is being waged by a fellow neoconservative, such as George W. Bush. The neoconservative movement can probably be traced back to William F. Buckley, Jr., patient zero for the contagion. To my knowledge, the first person to use the term to describe his own ideology was the godfather of the movement, Irving Kristol. In stark contrast to more traditional conservatives, such as Robert Taft, the neocons support interventionism, a large standing army, and government handouts to corporations. Most of those who have traditional conservative and classic liberal viewpoints have moved towards libertarianism. Traditional conservatives hold the right of the individual to be trancendent, whereas neoconservatives believe in violating individual rights for "the public good." They are therefore primarily different from liberals only in the specifics of whose life, liberty, or property they wish to violate, not whether or not the violation would be justified.

Picture this for an example. The "Old Right" conservatives did not want to entangle the country in either World War I or World War II. They regarded these matters as European affairs, with European solutions. Could anyone imagine the modern conservative movement taking a similar stance? Going even further back, conservatives considered Abraham Lincoln a brutal dictator and tyrant (which he was, and a racist to boot, most likely, or even worse, a spineless opportunist. I say this despite the fact that his actions benefitted me personally by leading to the abolition of slavery). Neoconservatives embrace Lincoln as our greatest President, and revere Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as well, even though these men were probably the most meglomaniacal men to ever occupy the office. Neoconservatives seem to think that man is at his best when death and destruction surround him, and actively seek to avoid peaceful solutions to foreign policy problems in many cases. Another sign that someone might be a neoconservative is if they support slavery, so long as that slavery is conscription and it happens to someone else. But even the liberals are jumping on that boat.

Joseph Sobran, an old school conservative, and former editor of National Review, recently succinctly described the neocons:

The older conservatives were wary of foreign entanglements and opposed on principle to foreign aid. But these are the very things the neocons favor most ardently; in fact, they are the very things that define neoconservatism and separate it from genuine conservatism.
The Neoconservative movement is being increasingly blamed for misleading the US into war with Iraq, for advising US President George W. Bush into "unconditional support" for Israel, for threatening Iran, Syria, Libya, and North Korea. People accuse them of trying to start wars so that the US can assert global dominance, and remake foreign governments to suit their whims. Many accuse them of destabilizing certain international problems, putting Americans in danger.
"President Bush is an engaging person, but I think for some reason he's been captured by the neoconservatives around him."
--Howard Dean, U.S. News & World Report, August 11, 2003

Their ideology is a bit complicated. It is a movement founded on, and perpetuated by a hawkish foreign policy, opposition to communism during the Cold War and opposition to Middle Eastern states that pursue foreign and domestic policies which do not align with U.S. interests. Thus, their foremost target was the old Richard Nixon approach to foreign policy, peace through negotiations, diplomacy, and arms control known, détente and containment (rather than rollback) of the Soviet Union, and the beginning of the process that would lead to bilateral ties between the People's Republic of China and the US. There is a considerable rift between many members of the US State Department, who favor established foreign policy conventions, and the neoconservative hawks. The State department criticizes their shortsighted policies, and the Neoconservatives blast the State Department in return.

Their foreign policy is the real terrifying threat, but they have a domestic policy as well; The Neoconservative group supported a militant anti-communism, minimal social welfare, and sympathy with a traditionalist agenda. Libertarians are consternated over the neoconservative ideology, as it has a rather generous dispensation of corporate welfare and market regulation. There were more subsidies under Reagan than under any other president in the past 30 years, which is what Neoconservatives wish to continue. This, combined with strengthening the power of the Federal Reserve, and the expansion of military budgets to dramatic measures, represent major impositions for the market. It feuded with traditional right-wing Republicans, such as William F. Buckley and the nativist, protectionist, isolationists once represented by ex-Republican Pat Buchanan, separated them from the old conservatives.

Neoconservatives are conservatives who are "new" (neo) to the conservative movement in some way. Usually, this comes as a result from the migration from the left of the political spectrum to the right, over the course of many years. Though every neoconservative person of this sort has an individual story to tell, there are nevertheless several key events in recent American history which are often said to have prompted the shift.

Many of today's most famous neocons are from Eastern European Jewish immigrant families, who were frequently on the edge of poverty. The Great Depression radicalized many immigrants, and introduced to the new and revolutionary ideas of socialism and communism. The Soviet Union's break with Stalinism in the 1950's led to the rise of the so-called New Left in America, which popularized anti-Sovietism along with anti-capitalism. The New Left became very popular among the children of hardline Communist families.

The Neoconservative ideas really developed about 30 years ago. Back in the early 1970s, this group of then-young and still mostly Democratic political intellectuals grew alarmed by the post-Vietnam War Democrats' seeming indifference to the Soviet threat. They were equally appalled, however, by the amoral world-view espoused by establishment Republicans like Henry Kissinger, who sought coexistence with the Soviet Union. As is often the case with ex-socialists, the neocons were too familiar with communist tactics to ignore or romanticize communism's evils. The fact that many neocons were Jewish, and outraged by Moscow's increasingly visible persecution of Jews, also caused them to reject both the McGovernite and Kissingerian tendencies to ignore such abuses.

Enter Ronald Reagan, "America's greatest President." A real politician they could embrace. Like them, Reagan spoke openly about the evils of Communism and, at least on the peripheries of the Cold War, preferred rollback to coexistence. "Neocons" filled the Reagan administration, and men like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, and others provided the intellectual ballast and moral fervor for the sharp turn toward confrontation that the United States adopted in 1981. Many, including Richard Perle, advised then-President Reagan not to trust Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reform plans.

The Neoconservatives are widely criticized for hiding certain realities. From the beginning, the neocons took a much more alarmist view of Soviet capacities and intentions than most experts. As late as 1980, the ur-neocon Norman Podhoretz warned of the imminent "Finlandization of America, the political and economic subordination of the United States to superior Soviet power," even raising the possibility that America's only options might be "surrender or war." Today, we know now that US intelligence widely overestimated the threat. However, the Neoconservatives thought that these reports seriously underestimated the magnitude and durability of Soviet power. Many have accused them of "willing to deceive" based on past cases such as this, as well as the realization that there are no WMDs in Iraq.

Many Neoconservatives in office under the Reagan Administration spent years orchestrating bloody wars against Soviet proxies in the Third World, portraying thugs like the Nicaraguan Contras and plain murderers like Jonas Savimbi of Angola as "freedom fighters." They argued that the overthrow of leftist governments (such as the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile) and the installation of right-wing dictatorships was acceptable and essential. Under this doctrine, the Reagan administration actively supported the anti-Communist dictatorships such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the racist white rulers of South Africa. The real low point of this deceit was the Iran-Contra scandal, for which Norman Podhoretz's son-in-law, Elliot Abrams, pled guilty to perjury. Abrams was later pardoned by Bush's father, and today, he runs Middle East policy in the Bush White House. Some people in the US are quite outraged by having staff of that caliber advising the US policy.

The Neoconservatives weren't in power during the 1990s, but tried to be as vocal as possible. They were strongly opposed to the policies of George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. Richard Perle and William Kristol went nearly apoplectic when "Kissingerians" like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell left Saddam Hussein's regime in power after the first Gulf War. They considered the Oslo accords (a peace agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders) an obvious mistake; "how can you negotiate with a man like Yasser Arafat?" As the decade progressed they became increasingly convinced that there was a nexus linking burgeoning terrorism and mounting anti-Semitism with repressive but nominally "pro-American" regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In 1996, several of the hawks--including Perle--even tried to sell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the idea that Israel should attack Saddam Hussein on its own--advice Netanyahu wisely declined. Neoconservatives also members of the blue team which argued for a confrontational policy toward the People's Republic of China and strong military and diplomatic support for Taiwan.

When the Oslo process crumbled and the September 11, 2001 attacks killed over 3000 Americans, the hawks felt, not without some justification, that they had seen this danger coming all along, while others had ignored it. The timing was impeccable, because by September 2001 many already held jobs with George W. Bush, a new conservative president willing to hear their pitch.

They're very hawkish people who often see things only in terms of black and white. Their ideas are stupidly optimistic and lack real-world insight. They draw up poorly-fitting analogies (in my opinion) to the past. Many Neocons have written that any deal with terrorists is equivalent to the history of appeasement with Hitler at Munich in 1938. It's like they view the world in 1939 terms, with Osama bin Laden being the new Hitler that they must kill and "radical Islam" as some sort of fascist communist ideology that must be destroyed by aggressive war. They fail to realize that this could do more harm than good, it sounds as if they are talking past their opponents. What worries many is that they see no need for compromise, even on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which needs compromise instead of a "winner take all" belief. They have a John Birch Society sort of screed that replaces "communism" with "terrorism."

In his well-publicized piece "The Case for American Empire" in the conservative Weekly Standard, Max Boot argued that "The most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role... the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation." (emphasis mine)

According to the Neoconservative consensus, we are at war. They call it World War IV, against terrorism, and against "radical Islam" and Wahhabism as they put it, enraging many. Of course, World War III, in their eyes, was the Cold War, during which they took an alarmist role.

The Bush Doctrine, a radical departure from previous US foreign policy, is a proclamation of the right of the United States to wage preemptive war, regardless of international law, should it be threatened by terrorists or rogue states. The legitimacy of this doctrine, though questioned by many in the US and especially abroad, has been strongly, strongly asserted in numerous Neoconservative articles, papers, and interviews.

Neoconservative foreign policy pundits emphasize an abstract evil in their polemics, de-emphasizing the complexities of autocratic governance in the Developing World. Today, the most prominent supporters of the hawkish stance inside the administration are US Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Neoconservatives perhaps are closer to the mainstream of the Republican Party today since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than any competing faction, especially considering the nature of the Bush Doctrine and the preemptive war against Iraq. However, Colin Powell is largely seen as being an opponent of Neoconservatism. Most speculate that he will not be asked to return if Bush wins his re-election in 2004.

Neoconservatives are Very biased towards Israel. They support Israel's role as "the strongest ally of the United States in the Middle East" and "as the sole Western-style democracy in the region." Neoconservatives have attacked the Palestinian leadership, strongly criticizing each and every peace plan that offers compromise with Palestinians. The Road Map had critics say it was tantamount to appeasing Hitler when he annexed Poland. Moreover, they have long argued that the United States should emulate Israel's tactics of preemptive attacks, especially Israel's unprovoked, preemptive unilateral attacks in the 1980s on nuclear facilities in Libya and Iraq. Despite (or perhaps because of) condemnation by the United Nations, neoconservatives have admired such Israeli adventures, arguing that the United States, like Israel, should act in its national interests, regardless of international law.

The interest in Israel, and the large proportion of Jewish neoconservatives has led to the question of "dual loyalty." A number of critics, such as Pat Buchanan, have accused them of putting Israeli interests above those of America. In turn these critics have been labeled as anti-Semites by many neoconservatives (which in turn has led to accusations of professional smearing, and then paranoia and so on). The partisan support for Likud would suggest that their support for Israel is not merely motivated by blind ethnic loyalty, and not all neo-conservatives are Jewish, Michael Novak for example.

Neoconservatives are at odds with Libertarians in the United States, and also see China as a looming threat. The disputes over Israel and domestic policies has led to a conflict with "paleoconservatives" which is a name to contrast their "neo" (new) counterparts.

In addition, many critics - both within and, more commonly, out of, the recognized conservative movement - have accused some of the more prominent neoconservatives of hypocrisy for their aggressive post-9/11 foreign policy stand, considering the fact that these neoconservatives are Baby Boomers who managed to avoid military service, or at least combat duty, during the Vietnam War. Many people have labeled them "chicken-hawks."

The hawks' grand plan to remake Iraq differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam's. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East. When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they'll want the same themselves. With that happy prospect on one hand and implacable United States will on the other, they'll demand that the Palestinian Authority reform politically and negotiate with Israel. That in turn will lead to a real peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs in Iran, whose citizens are gradually adopting anti-fanatic, pro-Western sympathies. A democratized Iran would create a string of democratic, pro-Western governments (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) stretching across the historical heartland of Islam. Without a hostile Iraq towering over it, Jordan's pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom. Syria would be no more than a pale reminder of the bad old days. (If they made trouble, a U.S. invasion would take care of them, too.) And to the tiny Gulf emirates making hesitant steps toward democratization, the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would no longer look like examples of stability and strength in a benighted region, but holdouts against the democratic tide. Once the dust settles, we could decide whether to ignore them as harmless throwbacks to the bad old days or deal with them, too. We'd be in a much stronger position to do so since we'd no longer require their friendship to help us manage ugly regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria. 1

Their plans are certainly audacious, and count on too many variables. The Iraq agenda is a fiasco, the things they counted on have suddenly become unstable. It was a gamble, like many Neoconservative plans, and if it goes sour, it could be far more harmful than anything done so far by the Bush administration.

Currently, despite all the interviews, defense by Fox News 'analysts,' and general misinformation, the American public is starting to become distrustful of the Neoconservatives and their agenda, which by this point many are starting to brag about. Many Americans are disillusioned by the assertions that Iraq was an "imminent threat," that the Iraqis would welcome Americans into their country, that the war would cost the American taxpayer close to nothing, that Democracy would flourish by now, that Al Qaeda would be wiped out, and that there would be a safer society to live in. Many people see them as a right-wing group that hijacked American foreign policy and lied the US into war.

Prominent American Neoconservatives:
Paul Wolfowitz
Richard Perle
Dick Cheney
David Horowitz
Elliott Abrams
Jeb Bush
Douglas Feith
Steve Forbes
Michael Novak
Daniel Bell
William Bennett
Conrad Black
Max Boot
Linda Chavez
Midge Decter
David Frum
Francis Fukuyama
Nathan Glazer
Gertrude Himmelfarb
Irving Howe
Robert Kagan
Jeane Kirkpatrick
Irving Kristol
William Kristol
John Podhoretz
Norman Podhoretz
Peter Rodman
Max Shachtman
Leo Strauss

Neoconservative Publications and Institutions:
Weekly Standard
American Enterprise Institute
Project for the New American Century
Bradley Foundation
John M. Olin Foundation
Smith Richardson Foundation
Jamestown Institute
Public Interest
Commentary
Washington Times

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoconservatism_(United_States)
1. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0304.marshall.html

Justin Raimondo is a very popular anti-Neoconservative writer, who writes frequent articles with excellent sources: http://www.antiwar.com/justin/

"Out of the decline of the West there will, I sense, emerge a rise in spirits. We have shortened our lines. We are under attack. There is nothing in the least in the culture that suggests we will not in the end defend ourselves successfully."
~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1976

Prehistory

There was a "liberal consensus" in American politics following World War II. It was based on maintaining the reforms of the New Deal at home and trenchant anti-Communism abroad. The Progressives, the Communists and their fellow-travellers were soon marginalised in political life and gave way to those who supported containment. The political death of the Progressives, who found voice in Nation and the New Republic magazines, came with their opposition to the Marshall Plan. By 1950 the "vital center" had established itself as the dominant discourse on American foreign relations, and was characterised by confidence of American power abroad and a will to use it to stop Communism spreading.

Revisionism began in the mid-1950s, with people like William Williams (The Tragedy of American Diplomacy) stressing U.S. culpability in the Cold War, accepting a Leninist interpretation which had America perpetuating the war for imperial reasons. American policy was dominated by the need for markets abroad and revolution started to be seen by some as a virtue that the U.S. opposed for economic reasons. Those supporting this view looked approvingly at the accomplishments of the Soviet Union, and believed that the Third World could benefit by replicating them. This view was initially restricted to intellectual circles.

It gained popular support as Lyndon Baines Johnson's apparent inexperience in foreign affairs and his escalation of the Vietnam War came to be viewed as harmful to America's, and the World's, interests. The Vietnam War finally shattered the liberal consensus in foreign affairs, as the left split over whether the war was moral or even in America's interests. The election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968 put liberals in opposition, where they fragmented and sought fruitlessly for a new foreign policy consensus. Their inability to find it began the drift of one of their core constituencies to the right, and eventually to Reagan.

Neoconservatism before Reagan

The neoconservatives never stopped believing in anti-Communism. Liberals on domestic policy and members of the Democratic Party, they were the political legatees of the New Deal but had an uneasy relationship with Johnson's Great Society. Since 1945 most people in American political life had believed that the Soviet Union was the embodiment of evil, that it was hell-bent on world domination. Drawing on the Manichean writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, they saw a clear difference between liberal democracy and totalitarianism - between a society that was open, and one that was closed. They did not believe that the United States could co-exist with the Soviet Union or Communist China, because the constant Communist drive to world domination would eventually bring the two into conflict.

This did not mean they were utopian. Niebuhr's writings, while making a stark point about the dangers of totalitarian society, had an undercurrent of doubt about man's ability to transform his world and live in peace. Too much optimism in man's ability to control his environment and bring about positive change would ultimately undermine democracy by making false promises.

Neoconservatism emerged in the late 1960s amidst student riots by the New Left. Of particular relevence was the disturbance at Columbia University in 1968, when New Left radicals allied with representatives of the black nationalism movement. The latter was perceived as antisemitic by many Jews, particularly over statements made with regard to the Six Day War of June 1967. It was shortly after the 1968 disturbance that the first group of Jewish deradicalised intellectuals emerged as a coherent group.

These newly deradicalised thinkers opposed the New Left for a variety of reasons. They viewed it as inimical to moderate liberalism because of its apparent disrespect for law and order, which would soon become a neoconservative fetish. Furthermore, its very nature as a teleological movement focused on rapid reform made it dangerous as it was too idealistic. As Jeane Kirkpatrick would later write, such a movement was totalitarian and anti-liberal in its nature because it sought to control so many aspects of life. Finally, the New Left was seen as overly sympathetic to the USSR because of its opposition to the Vietnam War and ability to accomodate Soviet advances abroad. Some blamed the Great Society reforms of Johnson for awakening expectations that too much could be achieved too soon. While still trenchant believers in social reform, the neoconsservatives believed gradual evolution was the only safe way to proceed.

Norman Podhoretz led the defence of moderate liberalism throughout the 1970s in the influential journal Commentary. As editor, he wrote a monthly column and filled the rest of it with defences of American culture and society, as well as vigorous attacks on the New Left. The New Left became obsolete in 1973 after the American withdrawal from Indochina, but ever since 1968 the neoconservatives had a new target - Richard M. Nixon. Détente, the policy of accomodation with the Soviet Union - essentially accepting the fact of its existence - was viewed as a disaster by the neoconservatives. Retaining their image of the Soviet Union as a constantly dynamic and expanding force, they believed that if the United States failed to act it would gradually be overhwhelmed. It could not afford to allow the rest of the world to collapse into anti-liberal darkness, because then it could surely not survive.

The 1973 Yom Kippur War and Arab oil embargo highlighted to many neoconservatives the dangers of isolationism and the assumption of egalitarianism between states. The neoconservatives were unwilling to see the United States and the Soviet Union (along with its satellites) on the same moral level, and said that doing so would inevitably lead to the destruction of the United States. As a more inherently moral society (however imperfect), the United States could not let the malicious influence of the Soviet Union spread. Force must still be considered in international affairs to protect America's vital interests, but the foreign policy elite had lost their nerve to use it after Vietnam. Restorting this nerve would require a moral and ideological justification that the realist foreign policy of Nixon and Henry Kissinger lacked. Furthermore, a political weakness in the Allies of the United States prevented them from assuming global leadership and stopping the USSR.

When Carter entered office, things didn't get much better. In fact, they got markedly worse, because Carter wasn't a product of the GOP - he was a Democrat. As Carter's term in office wore on, the neoconservatives became increasingly convinced that the Democratic Party had abandoned its opposition to totalitarianism and anti-semitism. They renewed their assault on anyone who opposed containment, harking back to the 1930s and the Munich Pact. Only by being confronted with force would the USSR be forced to stop its global expansionism and turn inwards to justify itself to its own citizenry. The United States needed to assert itself in the world, and particulary in the United Nations, to make sure America's moral supremacy was defended. Verbal assaults on America's integrity, and hence the gradual sapping of her reputation, would no longer be tolerated.

Carter, inexperienced in foreign relations, rejected the neoconservative arguments. As many leaders who are weak on the matter do, he merely spouted platitudes about international co-operation and world order theory. Against this shallow and idealistic internationalism the neoconservatives began to become more pragmatic, drawing a distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Authoritarian ones were ones that the United States could deal with, as they allowed some degree of political pluralism and, to an extent, an open society. Totalitarian ones, on the other hand, could never be expected to evolve into democratic societies and were a danger to free peoples everywhere. This was the Kirkpatrick Doctrine.

Jewish neoconservatives also believed that Carter was not pro-Israel enough and that he was tolerant of anti-semitism in American society. Unable to find an alternative Democrat to support in the 1980 election, they switched camps to Ronald Reagan and the GOP.

Neoconservatism under Reagan and after

At the start of Reagan's tenure, the mood was good among the neoconservatives. They believed that the man now in office had received a mandate from the population to follow a strategy that they could believe in. The time for them to exert an influence on public affairs en masse had come. Some would be bitterly dissapointed.

A fault of neoconservatives, which is still ascribed to them today, is being too ideological. At first this appears contradictory, but it reflects the somewhat fragmented nature of "neoconservative" opinion. For some neoconservatives, Reagan just wasn't anti-Soviet enough. All of the neoconservatives repudiated the more pragmatic of their earlier views in the light of America's apparent new found strength of will. So much accomodation with the totalitarian nations of the world was no longer needed with Reagan at the head, as he would endorse their policies more wholeheartedly. But this wasn't enough for Podhoretz, who continued to bash Reagan as he had bashed Carter. Reagan had embraced a strategy of rolling back Communism in the Americas and elsewhere, but for Podhoretz he wasn't radical enough. He gradually wrote his way, and Commentary's, into the wilderness.

Some of the neoconservatives were broadly happy with Reagan, but thought he was not making an effort to justify America's moral and ideological case enough. The same charge is levelled against George W. Bush today. Prominent neoconservative Walter Laquer thought that America should give more support to democratic movements around the world and use communications media in Europe to put out a message of hope to people behind the Iron Curtain. Moscow was on the ideological offensive, but Washington wasn't responding well enough.

Jeane Kirkpatrick served as Ambassador to the United Nations in the first Reagan administration. She believed that the assertion of democratic values was the core of America's foreign policy, and she did this vigorously from her seat. Because of her Manichean view of the Soviet Union as the greatest evil in the world, any victory over it was seen as a victory for human rights - even if it meant endorsing an authoritarian dictator. She increased accountability in the United Nations, threatening to punish nations that thought they could get away with bad-mouthing the United States while seeking its aid. They couldn't have it both ways, she said.

Elliott Abrams (under George W. Bush on the National Security Council as the determinant of Near East policy, i.e. the Middle East peace process) was Assisstant Secretary of State for Human Rights, and he followed Kirkpatrick's foot-steps in his goals here. Between them they brought a Wilsonian idealism to Reagan's foreign policy and represented the greatest triumph for the neoconservatives in power. Accepting that compromise was necessary in politics, they used their positions to spread their ideas throughout the foreign policy community. The idea of the intellectual in politics had had its first great triumph.

After the Cold War, the neoconservatives might have been expected to have lost their reason to exist. Towards the end of the war, faced with the fact Commentary was now in the political wilderness, Irving Kristol founded The National Interest. Its aim was to debate what sort of foreign policy was in the national interest, and towards the end of the 1980s it began to soften its stance to the Soviet Union as its increasing domestic weakness became clear. In The End Of History, Francis Fukayama declared the triumph of liberal democracy as an ideology over everything else.

After the USSR collapsed, the neoconservatives had to decide whether America's activist role in world affairs should now also come to an end. Some favoured a great degree of isolationism than others, but they all supported the first Gulf War out of a desire to contain the world's most odious and dangerous rogue nations. Attitudes towards Bosnia were more ambivalent. Most neoconservatives believed that active roll-back policy during the Cold War had only been necessary because of the aggresive nature of the Soviet Union. Seeing finally a world without threats, they stressed the parts of Niebuhr's philosophy that had focused on man's fallibility and his opposal to utopian schemes. They finally made their home for good on the right, attacking the left for "utopian lunacy" and shallow, contentless world order theories.

The neoconservatives were mainly in opposition under Clinton, although some supported him during his election campaign beause of an uneasiness towards George H.W. Bush. However, his perceived weakness in dealing with the growing terrorist threat turned them sour, as did his perceived inability to defend what they saw as America's core values, as well as its national security. He was especially criticised for weakness towards the North Koreans over the 1994 framework agreement. Then came September 11, 2001. The rest, as they say, is current affairs.

There is a lot written on neoconservatives. You can read about it many places, using google or the blogosphere, or whatever it is you kids use these days. In fact, you can read some of the very nice information listed above. But for all the talk of neoconservatives, and all the influence they may have on our government, there is a very good chance that all the talk is just talk because neoconservatives don't exist. If this seems like a strong statement to make, my first argument would be to ask the reader if they have ever met a "neoconservative". I certainly can't recall ever meeting one.

If you take other American political movement or stance, it can be summed up in a few sentences, describing its emotional and pragmatic appeal. For examble, traditional liberals are liberals because they want their children to get a good education, and they want social security in their old age; and they believe on an emotional level that people in a society should support each other. Traditional conservatives are that way because they have had to fill out too many forms, and pay too many taxes; and because emotionally they believe that people should be self-reliant. The Greens get their belief from wanting clean air and clean water, and because they like to hug trees. And so on. Most other American political movements' basic drives can be understood, and summed up, relatively briefly. It doesn't mean that people holding these beliefs are stupid; or that they don't understand that there are complexities involved. Most people would consider me a liberal, but when a small business owner complains about having to apply for permits for the fifth time, I understand his ideological and pragmatic point of view.

Which brings us back to neoconservativism. The fine people above who have written at some length almost prove my point here: would it be possible to explain the neoconservative viewpoint in two or three sentences? Would it be possible to explain how a standard citizen, a small business owner, a family member, a worker, a concerned member of the community, would set up "neoconservatism" as his stated political belief system? Does it have a simple, consistent pragmatic and emotional appeal to people? My own answer is no, although perhaps I just don't know the right people.

Above, I said there are no neoconservatives. I perhaps overstated my case in saying so. There are neoconservatives, but they do not form a political movement or a political party. They have a series of magazines and think tanks, and a few dozen, few hundred, or maybe even a few thousand thinkers and commentators and university professors who spread and share their views. But I get the feeling that neoconservatism is created by the think tanks, not the other way around. There would still be libertarians without the Cato Institute, but I doubt there would be neoconservatives if their elaborate infrastructure of academic and media institutions weren't there.

Which is not to say that there are not motivations for being a neoconservative, or for at least casting in lots with them. Some of the neoconservative clique that controls certain segments of society today is probably there for a desire for money, or for power, or fame. Some are probably sincerely on a mission to save the world. Some of them want to play secret agent man, and some want to have real ultimate power. I think most of the power base behind the clique is there for several reasons: some because they are pragmatically concerned about the threat of war and terrorism, and some because they have an emotional attachment to the idea of a nation that is strong militarily.

But this still doesn't mean that there is a "neoconservative party" that is growing and will become a major player in American politics. The forces that shaped the different political movements in the United States today will still be there in twenty or thirty years. The network of academic alliances and polemics that made neoconservatism will probably not be sustained by a wide section of people.

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