In 2003 The Weekly Standard (Volume 008, Issue 47) published an article by the father of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol. There is indeed no better way to describe the ideas of this faction of the American Conservative movement than to refer to Kristol.
Six years ago neoconservatism had been absorbed into the mainstream of American conservatism. It is not a “movement” as the critics describe it. Rather it can be described as a “persuasion” that manifests itself over time. The historical task and political purpose was to convert the Republican party and American conservatism in general. It was to convert the believers into accept a conservative politics that was suited to govern a modern democracy. This new conservatism was distinctly American. Thus many European conservatives have been sceptical of it.
No doubt conservatism in the United States is more healthy than in Europe and more politically effective. Neoconservatives are forward-looking, not nostalgic. The general tone is cheerful, not dyspeptic. Two of the heroes are Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
The influence of neoconservatism has reached beyond the traditional and financial base and has made political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters. The policy of cutting taxrates was not a neoconservative invention but it provided a focus on economic growth. Only with the prospect of economic growth in which everyone prospers can guarantee a stable democracy. Earlier democracy was a fight between “haves” and “have-nots” which caused a destructive class struggle. With economic growth modern democracies could gain legitimacy and durability. The focus on economic growth, however, can result in the necessity to sometimes shoulder budgetary deficits. A property-owning and tax-paying population will be less vulnerable to egalitarian illusions and demagogic appeals.
In the matter of the role of the state neoconservative do not like a concentration of services in a welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways to deliver those services. However, they do not feel the alarm of anxiety over the growth of the state. It is seen as natural, even inevitable. All does not have to be based on the belief of man versus state. People prefer strong governments to weak but have no liking to overly intrusive government. Thus neoconservatives feel more at home in America today than traditional conservatives. They do find much to be critical of but they find more intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of for instance Tocqueville than in Tory nostalgia of for instance Russell Kirk.
At the same time they feel very much worried about the decline of the democratic culture in America, the vulgarity which unites them with the traditional conservatives. Thus one should not be surprised at the common views of neoconservatives and religious traditionalists.
“They are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the like, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the government’s attention. And since the Republican party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power. Because religious conservatism is so feeble in Europe, the neoconservative potential there is correspondingly weak.”
Finally, of course, there is foreign policy. Here there are no set beliefs, only attitudes which are based on historical experience. Favorite texts are classical such as Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War thanks to great extent to professors Leo Strauss and Donald Kagan. Views can be summarized as
Patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment. It should be encouraged both by private and public institutions. It is a powerful sentiment because America is a nation of immigrants.
World government is a terrible idea. It can lead to world tyranny. International institution that can lead to world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion.
Statesmen should have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This sounds easy but the Cold War demonstrated that it is not. The number of intellectuals in the Western world that could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy was absolutely astonishing.
Finally, for a great nation, “national interest” is not a geographical term except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. Smaller nations might feel that the national interest begins and ends at its borders. Foreign policy is almost always defensive. Larger nations have more extensive interests.
“…large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.”
“…the incredible military superiority of the United States vis-à-vis the nations of the rest of the world” has not been planned. “The superiority was planned by no one, and even today there are many Americans who are in denial. To a large extent, it all happened as a result of our bad luck. During the 50 years after World War II, while Europe was at peace and the Soviet Union largely relied on surrogates to do its fighting, the United States was involved in a whole series of wars: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo conflict, the Afghan War, and the Iraq War. The result was that our military spending expanded more or less in line with our economic growth, while Europe’s democracies cut back their military spending in favor of social welfare programs. The Soviet Union spent profusely but wastefully, so that its military collapsed along with its economy.
Suddenly the United States emerged as uniquely powerful. The “magic” of compound interest over half a century had its effect on our military budget, as did the cumulative scientific and technological research of our armed forces. With power come responsibilities, whether sought or not, whether welcome or not.”
The above presentation of the basic “persuasion” of neoconservatives was published in 2003. In 2004 President George W. Bush was reelected. The following four years neoconservatives were blamed by leftists and paleoconservatives both for all problems that occurred. As a result democrats with a leftist agenda for the United States were elected and captured both the Presidency and the Congress. This does not mean that neoconservatives are “defeated”. From the Cold War they are used to opposition and the Conservative movement and the Republican Party are preparing for a comeback.