In the realm of political dialogue, there are very few terms that carry the derogatory weight of the accusatory label “neocon.” In debates, calling someone a neocon is often all it takes to turn the entire audience against them. This nebulous and hated group seems to have taken control of the Republican Party, against the will of its ordinary constituents, and is threatening to plunge America and the rest of the world into economic, political, and social chaos.
What is a neoconservative?
Surprising to most, neoconservatism originally rose up on the left. Coming out of a Marxist economic theory and guided by the anarcho-internationalist philosophies of the time and region, the mantle of the “founder” could be placed on the shoulders of Leon Trotsky, the anti-Stalinist politician and theorist famously assassinated for his views. Fundamentally anti-fascist, Trotsky advocated for Russian military intervention in Europe during the 1930s, long before opposing Hitler became the political trend.
Their anti-totalitarian tendencies turned the neoconservative movement towards anti-communism, specifically anti-Russia and anti-China under Stalin and Mao, respectively. The shift from liberal to conservative didn’t happen until the 1970s, when the Democratic Party abandoned interventionism against the backdrop of a pointless military quagmire in Southeast Asia. Given no other viable political options, the neoconservatives under the tutelage of Leo Strauss, Allen Bloom and Irving Kristol embraced the conservative party of Reagan and Bush, who were willing to go out in the world to spread democracy in the fight against dictatorship and fascism.
Nowadays, even Republicans try to distance themselves from the radical neoconservatives. Conservatism, by in large, is a movement in defense of tradition and the status quo. The neoconservative, by contrast, seeks to change the world to the way they think it should be. Though the evangelical Christian and Jewish associations the Neocon label carries are more than coincidental, they’re less than necessary, and some of the most prominent neoconservatives have been neither Christian nor Jewish.
So what is a neoconservative and why should they be feared and hated? I would define the paradigm simply as the view that moral truths do exist and can be known, that we have an obligation to identify and stamp out evil and that fundamental human rights and freedoms don’t end or change at national borders.
As for why they should be hated or feared, I have more reason to admire and respect them, and to hope their numbers will grow over the next few decades. Anyone who takes president Carter’s famous promise seriously might consider themselves a neoconservative already: “Out of our memory[…]of the Holocaust we must forge an unshakeable oath with all civilized people that never again will the world stand silent, never again will the world[…]fail to act in time to prevent this terrible crime of genocide[…]we must harness the outrage of our own memories to stamp out oppression wherever it exists. We must understand that human rights and human dignity are indivisible.”
It seems a reasonable enough stance to me.