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September 06, 2004




What exactly is your definition of a neo-conservative? It isn't obvious to me how Chesterton's quote applies.



Hillaire Belloc was willing to precisely define his terms (in, for example, The Servile State). It would help enormously if you would do the same.


I'm not sure defining terms with infinite precision is always helpful. Doing so creates wiggle room, allowing a faux intellectual escape from a label. What is important is not "what is a neo-conservative" but "what is neo-conservatism". Then a neo-conservative is, straightforwardly, someone who is loyal to neoconservatism and aids and abets neoconservatism, even if he does not self-define as a neo-conservative, objects to parts of the definition, and/or opposes some of the objective implications of neoconservatism. If you are rowing the boat you are part of the crew no matter what self-image you may have.

People have this ludicrous notion that they are self-defined, that "you can't tell me what I am". That if the implications of an ideology to which they are loyal are objectionable they can simply reject those implications and escape from responsibility. At bottom this comes from nominalist commitments.

But the realist/antinominalist truth of the matter is, an ideology is an objective thing that is independent of any particular individual who has loyalties to it. A person's loyalties may be incomplete; his understanding of the implications may be incomplete or wrong; he may oppose certain aspects of the ideology and he may even become an apostate, all without affecting the ideology-qua-ideology one whit. But if he is a loyal soldier of the realm he is a loyal soldier of the realm, however ignorant he may be of all that that implies and however confused his loyalties may be.



Okay, I'll rephrase my question:


What exactly is your definition of neoconservatism?


Part of the point though is that neoconservatism is something objective. I can give you a definition of a table, but a table is something objective it is not the definition. Any definition has problems and can be the subject of argument (as philosophers will tell you about tables), but that doesn't mean that the concept of table is invalid.

I can't speak for Al. Neoconservatism began through group of hawkish liberals who adopted some policy positions shared by traditional conservatives in opposition to Soviet communism. My own view is that neoconservatism is a hawkish right-liberalism. It is a liberalism because it views all human beings of all backgrounds as fundamentally the same, and what distinguishes the good guys from the bad guys is their assent (or lack thereof) to the basic propositions of liberalism: political equality as the abstraction and democracy as its concrete embodiment. It is hawkish inasmuch as it is overly optimistic about the prospects of applying military power to reshape the world in a desired way (as opposed to its traditional circumscribed capacity of killing off enemies). Thus the ludicrous optimism that (for example) deep down everyone wants American-style democracy and that therefore establishing it quickly and successfully in Iraq is not merely possible but even plausible.


Zippy's onto it, though Thomas Rourke's analysis in "A Conscience as Large as the World" is helpful in this regard as well.

Basically a liberal who's been mugged by reality, and retreated into somekind of uneasy compromise with classical liberalism.


Maybe I should add that for the neoconservative, like for the liberal, assent-in-principle to liberal principles is an essential element of being human. George W. Bush believes - truly believes with all his being - that deep down everyone ultimately wants to live in an American-style liberal order. An unenlightened person might not want to on the surface, might not know that he wants to, but anyone who is truly human wants to deep down and will realize it and embrace it if properly enlightened. There may be some people out there who really don't want to live in a the liberal order, not even deep down under the crust of their unenlightened past; but such people are oppressors, not even fully human.

Most of modern politics believes in the enlightened free and equal new man, the ubermensch, and sees the man who holds him back as a subhuman oppressor locked in premodern history, the untermensch. Most of the disputes in modern politics (including the most bloody ones of the twentieth century) revolve around who are the residual oppressors and what to do about them; how to go about ridding the world of the untermensch and continuing the advance of the free and equal new man, the ubermensch. Even most of what is called conservatism has strong loyalties to the liberal paradigm.

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