A neoconservative (also spelled "neo-conservative"; colloquially, neocon) in American politics is someone presented as a conservative but who actually favors big government, interventionalism, and a hostility to religion in politics and government. The word means "newly conservative," and thus formerly liberal. Many neocons had been liberals in their youth and admired President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The defining position of a neoconservative is advocacy of an American foreign policy that seeks to install democracy in other nations. That reflects both their emphasis on foreign policy and their downplaying the significance of the differences in cultures and religion around the globe. The neoconservative position was discredited in the failure of democracy in the Iranian elections of 2009.

The neoconservative movement emerged in the mid 1970s, played a limited role in the Ronald Reagan Administration, and then had a voice in the Defense Department under the George W. Bush Administration after 2001.

Neoconservatives are often preferred by liberals to portray the conservative voice in the media, as in television talk shows, newspaper columnists, magazines, think tanks, and advisory positions in Republican Administrations. Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss were the major founders of the movement.

Some prominent spokesmen include Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Schwartz, Elliott Abrams, Ben Wattenberg and Carl Gershman.

In contrast to traditional conservatives, neoconservatives favor globalism, downplay religious issues and differences, are unlikely to actively oppose abortion and homosexuality. Neocons disagree with conservatives on issues such as classroom prayer, the separation of powers, cultural unity, and immigration. Neocons favor a strong active state in world affairs. Neocons oppose affirmative action with greater emphasis and priority than other conservatives do.

On foreign policy, neoconservatives believe that democracy can and should be installed by the United States around the world, even in Muslim countries such as Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

Neoconservatives did not dominate the George W. Bush administration but did supported its foreign policy, and especially favored the Iraq War and its efforts to spread democracy worldwide. Neoconservatives also favor military action against Iran.

Dual origins


One major strand of Neoconservatism emerged from a group of New York intellectuals, many of whom attended City College of New York in the late 1930s, a group that includes Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset and Nathan Glazer.[1] Many of this group came to despise the counterculture of the 1960s and what they felt was a growing "anti-Americanism" among many baby boomers. During the Cold War era, most vigorously opposed the Stalinist regime.[2] Kristol described a neoconservative as a "liberal mugged by reality".

Paleoconservatives, who dislike Neoconservatism intensely, have argued that it emerged from Trotskyite theories, especially the notion of permanent revolution. There are four fundamental flaws in the paleoconservatives' attack: most of the neoconservatives were never Trotskyites; none of them ever subscribed to the right-wing Socialism of Max Shachtman; the assertion that neoconservatives subscribe to "inverted Trotskyism" is misleading; and neoconservatives advocate democratic globalism, not permanent revolution.[3]


A second main line of development of neoconservatism was strongly influenced by the work of German-American political philosopher Leo Strauss. Some of Strauss' students include Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, political philosopher Allan Bloom, former New York Post editorials editor John Podhoretz, former National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chairman John T. Agresto; politial scientist Harry V. Jaffa; and Nobel Prize winning novelist Saul Bellow.


Neoconservatives also tend to minimize or overlook the significance of religious beliefs in conflicts and policies, as in advocating the installation of democracy in Muslim countries with little regard for Islamic beliefs and practices.

Neoconservatives hold an idealistic belief in social progress and the universality of human rights, coupled with anti-Communism. They hold the view that there is a universal desire to live in a technologically advanced and prosperous society and liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of such modernization.


The leading publications of neoconservatives since the 1970s have been Commentary, The Public Interest (founded by Daniel Bell and Irving Kristol) and The Weekly Standard. Many Washington think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Project For New American Century (PNAC), Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and Henry Jackson Society are now dominated by neoconservatives.

Social Issues


As Deputy Secretary of Defense 2001-4, Paul Wolfowitz was a prominent advocate of neocon foreign policy ideas in the George W. Bush administration, especially the "Bush Doctrine."

Neoconservatives positions on social issues are mixed with some holding to libertarian positions on social matters, and are unlikely to agree with religious conservatives on issues like abortion, prayer in school and same-sex marriage. Other neoconservatives of the Straussian type tend to have greater degrees of agreement with religious and cultural conservatives on social issues. Neoconservatives differ from libertarians in that neoconservatives tend to support Big government policies to further their objectives, and to support Bush's 2001 Patriot act.

Neoconservatives often describe themselves as "conservative". William Kristol, a leading neoconservative, described himself as the "token conservative" when he taught at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.[4]

In anticipation of vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, the neoconservatives urged on Bush the selection of Michael McConnell, a libertarian-leaning jurist, and J. Michael Luttig, who declared Roe v. Wade to be "super-stare decisis"[5] and later left the judiciary to become general counsel of Boeing.[6] Both were passed over in filling the vacancies and both left the judiciary entirely after missing their best chance for being appointed to the Supreme Court passed.

The term was coined by Socialist party leader Michael Harrington to describe the rightward turn of onetime liberals, and it was proudly accepted first by Irving Kristol then by most of the others.

See also

Further reading

  • Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind (1988)
  • Dorrien, Gary. The Neoconservative Mind, (1993)
  • Friedman, Murray. The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy. (2006) excerpt and text search.
  • Fu kuyama, Francis. America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, (2006)
  • Gerson, Mark. The Neoconservative Vision: From the Cold War to Culture Wars (1997)
  • Halper, Stefan and Jonathan Clarke. America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order (2004) excerpt and text search* Heilbrun, Jacob. They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Murray, Douglas. Neoconservatism: Why We Need It (2006)
  • Steinfels, Peter. The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics. (1979)
  • Stelzer, Irwin. Neo-conservatism (2004)

Primary sources

  • Demuth, Christopher, and William Kristol, eds. The Neoconservative Imagination: Essays in Honor of Irving Kristol (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Gerson, Mark ed., The Essential Neo-Conservative Reader (1997))
  • Kristol, Irving. Neoconservatism: the Autobiography of an Idea (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Stelzer, Irwin, ed. The NeoCon Reader (2005) excerpt and text search

External links


  1. The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy, Murray Friedman, 2005
  2. After Neoconservatism, February 19, 2006
  3. William F. King, "Neoconservatives and 'Trotskyism'" American Communist History 2004 3(2): 247-266 online at EBSCO

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