Irving Kristol, who identifies himself as the "Godfather" of neoconservativism, is finally beginning to come clean and admit what neoconservatism stands for: statism at home and imperialism abroad. He makes this candid admission in an August 25 article in The Weekly Standard entitled "The Neoconservative Persuasion."
Congratulating himself for becoming an "historic" figure (at least in his own mind) he declares:
[T]he historical task and political purpose of neoconservativism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican Party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy (emphasis added).
Like all neocons, Kristol claims to be a champion of democracy, but his words and actions often contradict this claim. Consider the language in the above quotation, "against their respective wills." According to the traditional theory of democracy, the role of competing ideas in politics is supposedly a matter of persuasion. Political debates are supposedly aimed at persuading voters that you are right and your rival is wrong. But Kristol will have none of this. He is the "Godfather," after all. What he apparently means by transforming traditional conservatives against their will is not to attempt to persuade them to become statists and imperialists like himself, but to intimidate and censor them by conducting campaigns of character assassination against anyone who disagrees with the neocon agenda. He means to purge all dissenters, Stalin style.
This decidedly un-democratic tactic was on display in David Frum’s National Review attack ("Unpatriotic Conservatives") on any and all conservatives who disagree with the neocon agenda of endless warfare around the globe. Indeed, the neocons are well known for resorting to personal smears rather than intellectual debate, beginning with their vicious campaign of character assassination against the late Mel Bradford when he was nominated by President Reagan to head the National Endowment for the Humanities in the early 1980s. That smear campaign established their political modus operandi.
Kristol claims that the three biggest neocon idols are Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Ronald Reagan; all other Republican party worthies are "politely ignored." Teddy Roosevelt, whom the neocons affectionately call "TR," was simply nuts. Mark Twain, who met him twice, called him "clearly insane." In any number of "TR" biographies we learn that after an argument with his girlfriend as a young man he went home and shot his neighbor’s dog. When he killed his first buffalo — and his first Spaniard — he "abandoned himself to complete hysteria," as biographer Edmund Morris recounts.
While president, TR would take morning horseback rides through Rock Creek Park wildly shooting a pistol at tree branches, oblivious to the harm he might do to residents or houses in the area. He once strung a wire across the Potomac River so that he could hang on it while crossing the river because, he said, his wrists needed strengthening. The TR biographies are filled with similar stories of his asinine antics.
Like the neocons, TR was a Lincoln idolater. (His secretary of state was John Hay, Lincoln’s personal White House secretary). After being lambasted in the US Senate over the fact that he had launched a military intervention in the Philippines that costs thousands of American lives and resulted in an incredible 200,000 Philippine deaths, Edmund Morris recounts in his latest biography of TR, Theodore Rex, how he responded to his senate critics during a Memorial Day address to aged Union army veterans. The criticisms against him were invalid, he told the white-bearded veterans of Lincoln’s army, because the mass killing of Philipinos was for their own good — its purpose was to spread democracy. Besides, he said, it was the exact same policy of the sainted Lincoln, so how could anyone object? Southerners were also killed by the hundreds of thousands for their own good, according to TR’s logic.
Like the neocon Lincoln idolaters, TR was a consolidationist who had no respect for states’ rights — or for constitutional restraints on government in general. He loathed Jefferson but idolized Lincoln, naturally. He nationalized millions of acres of land, initiated numerous antitrust witch hunts that were enormously harmful to the economy, imposed onerous regulations on railroads that led many of them into bankruptcy, and responded to the socialist Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle by regulating food and drugs. (FDA drug lag has been proven to have caused hundreds of thousands of premature deaths due to the inaccessibility of life-saving drugs available in other countries).
His fellow Republicans accused him of trying to concentrate all governmental power in Washington, abolishing state lines, and creating a stifling bureaucracy to control the population. They were right, of course, which is why the neocons love TR so much. (Bill Clinton also said that Teddy Roosevelt was his favorite Republican in all of American history).
Like Kristol, Max Boot, Charles Krauthammer, and many other neocons, TR was infatuated with war and killing. A college friend of his wrote in 1885 that "he would like above all things to go to war with some one. He wants to be killing something all the time" (See Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power, p. 36). As president, he constantly announced that America "needed a war," which is exactly what the neocons of today believe. War — any war — the neocons tell us, gives us "national unity."
TR was a statist in domestic policy, a foreign policy imperialist, and an inveterate warmonger. He was, in other words, the real "Godfather" of neoconservatism.
As for FDR, the neocons idolize him as well because the older ones like Kristol are all former leftists — like FDR — and they have never abandoned their statist beliefs. Further evidence of this lies in the one reason Kristol gives for why neocons idolize Ronald Reagan: Although they had nothing to do with initiating the "Reagan tax cuts," neocons supported them because they believed they would spur economic growth, which in turn would enable them to fully fund the welfare state. (In this regard California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger is a neocon: In his initial press conference announcing his candidacy he said he wanted to "bring business back to California" so that the Golden state’s massive welfare entitlement bureaucracy could be fully funded).
Kristol claims that democracy used to mean "an inherently turbulent political regime," but not so once a country becomes prosperous. This is a breathtakingly absurd proposition. The very existence of the neocon cabal, at a time of the greatest world prosperity in history, contradicts it. If the neocons are about anything they are about political bullying to impose their will on others — turbulent democracy, in other words. Moreover, in The Birth of the Transfer Society Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill discuss how, as the idea of democracy replaced individual liberty as the reason for government in the post-1865 era, politics inevitably became more and more "turbulent" with one rent-seeking group after another cropping up to use the powers of the state to plunder its neighbors. The transfer state has continued to grow virtually unabated over the last century, making American democracy ever more turbulent and divisive. There has been a relentless shift away from the traditional constitutional functions of government and toward an ever-expanding transfer society. Kristol’s notion that twentieth century prosperity brought an end to "political turbulence" is preposterous and absurd.
Equally preposterous and ahistorical is his further claim that, with prosperity, Americans will become less susceptible to "egalitarian illusions." But the U.S. today is as prosperous as it has ever been, and mindless egalitarianism reigns. Just a few weeks ago one of Kristol’s favorite Supreme Court justices, Reagan appointee Sandra Day O’Connor, wrote a majority opinion that said racial discrimination against whites in college admissions was desirable because, in her opinion, the mixing of skin colors on college campuses — to supposedly promote egalitarianism — trumped the constitution she once swore to uphold. A thousand other examples could readily be used to disprove Kristol’s thesis.
Kristol further admits that neocons do not in any way favor limited government. He mocks the idea of limited constitutional government by calling it "the Hayekian notion that we are on the road to serfdom." He is not just mocking Hayek, but the entire classical liberal tradition, as well as the Enlightenment ideas that informed the founding fathers in their limited government philosophy. In chapter 1 of The Road to Serfdom Hayek lamented the abandonment of classical liberal ideas in countries that had been adopting fascism and socialism (and its close cousin, New Dealism) during the 1930s and ’40s by saying:
We are rapidly abandoning not the views merely of Cobden and Bright, of Adam Smith and Hume, or even of Locke and Milton, but one of the salient characteristics of Western civilization as it has grown from the foundations laid by Christianity and the Greeks and Romans. Not merely nineteenth- and eighteenth-century liberalism, but the basic individualism inherited by us from Erasmus and Montaigne, from Cicero and Tacitus, Pericles and Thucydides, is progressively relinquished.
This is what Kristol and his fellow neocons are so opposed to: the same philosophy of individualism that early and mid twentieth century tyrants from Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin understood as being their biggest philosophical roadblock. "Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm of anxiety about the growth of the state," Kristol smugly pronounces, repudiating the ideology of the American founders.
And it is not an exaggeration to say that the neocons repudiate the basic political philosophy of the founders, even if they hypocritically invoke the founders’ words from time to time in their political speeches and writings. Just recall some of the harsh anti-government rhetoric of the founders. To Jefferson, "on the tree of liberty must spill the blood of patriots and tyrants." And, "a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, a medicine necessary for the sound health of government."
Patrick Henry urged his fellow Virginians to take up arms against the British government "in the holy cause of liberty" and warned that it is the tendency of all centralized governmental powers to "destroy the state government[s], and swallow the liberties of the people." This of course finally happened in April of 1865, a month the neocon "Civil War" historian Jay Winik says "saved America."
In his Farewell Address George Washington warned that special interest groups in a democracy "are likely, in the course of time . . . to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the Power of the People, and to usurp for themselves the reigns of Government." Sounds like a perfect description of the neocon cabal.
James Madison pronounced that "it is in vain" to expect that politicians in a democracy would ever render clashing political interests "subservient to the public good." And Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense that "Government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, and in its worst state an intolerable one."
Kristol repeats his old refrain that "libertarian conservatives" are different from neocons because they are supposedly "unmindful of the culture." He is either oblivious to or willfully ignores the fact that it has been libertarian scholars who have done more than anyone to research and write about the damage to the American culture inflicted by the welfare state (family breakup, rampant illegitimacy, loss of work incentives, short-sightedness, slothfulness, etc.). Neocons ignore all of this vast libertarian literature and continue to champion an expanded welfare state while pretending to be protectors of "the culture."
Nor does Kristol acknowledge that it is libertarians who have done more than anyone to expose how the government’s war on drugs has created a criminal culture, a bloody and violent culture, a culture that traps young children into short crime-ridden lives, and a culture that corrupts the police and the judicial system. Neocons all support an even more vigorous war on drugs while pretending to be ever so concerned about "the culture."
I can’t help but point out that the self-appointed neocon culture and morality czar, "Blackjack" Bill Bennett, recently revealed to the world what his idea of "culture" is: Sitting on a vinyl stool at a Las Vegas casino at 3 A.M. pouring thousands of dollars into one-armed bandits while being served free drinks by cocktail waitresses barely out of their teens and dressed like hookers. (Bennett admitted to having blown some $8 million at Vegas casinos in recent years).
In foreign policy Kristol says neocons are, well, imperialists. For a "great power" there are no boundaries to its pursuit of "national interest." He says we have an "ideological interest" to defend, and that means endless warfare all around the globe to ostensibly "defend" that ideology. (And Mark Twain thought TR was insane.) Of course, someone has to decide for us what that "ideological interest" is, and then force the population, with the threat of imprisonment or worse (for nonpayment of taxes, for instance) to support it.
In Kristol’s case, his primary ideological rationale for military intervention is: "We feel it necessary to defend Israel today" in the name of democracy. Well, no we don’t. If Irving Kristol wants to grab a shotgun and take the next flight to Tel Aviv "to defend Israel" then Godspeed, and I will offer to buy him a first-class plane ticket. But leave me and my family out of it.
Translating "we feel it necessary to defend Israel" from neoconese, we get this: "Young American soldiers must die in defense of Israel." Like hell they must. Young Americans who join the military for patriotic reasons do so because they believe they are defending their country. It is a fraud and an abomination to compel them to risk their lives for any other country, whether it is Israel, Canada, Somalia, or wherever.
The Godfather concludes his essay by gloating over how neoconservatism is "enjoying a second life" in the current Bush administration, with its massive expansion of domestic spending, record budget deficits, lying us into war, TR style, and of course killing. Lots of killing. That he used the word "enjoyed" to describe all of this speaks volumes about "Godfather" Kristol and his neo-comrades.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.
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