Neocon is like liberal?

Look at the reader survey I notice not too many neoconservatives. Not that surprising. But I had an offhand thought: neoconservatism as a label has become somewhat like liberal, something no one wants to admit to, but a movement which is strongly influential. “Progressives” are just really liberals. And a neoconservative outlook on foreign policy has totally captured that particular “leg” of the conservative movement.

Is is wrong? Right?

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23 Responses to Neocon is like liberal?

  1. mnuez says:

    What’s wrong is for idiots to be allowed to read and write. In this instance I’m referring to all of the people who proudly called themselves “neoconservatives” in the early 2000s and now seethe with hatred at “the neoconservatives” and claim to have never been neocons.

    I have no problem with someone changing their mind or choosing to change their appelation but people who combine the terrible political/policy memory that we all have (you wrote a post about yourself in this context) with know-it-all surety and racial animus should be told to shut up when grownups are talking.

    The Great Vanishing Neoconservative is a fine example of why most people can’t be trusted to accurately recount their past points of view or often even remember them. It also serves to demonstrate that most people – even politically astute literate conservative Americans – don’t really have many thoughts or preferences about policies. They like the winner – whoever he is – and no matter how many times they change their views, will generally claim to have always been supportive of the ascendant policy (among their peers) and to have always been opposed to the policy presently mocked in their social circles. What’s more, they’ll believe it.

  2. Don Kenner says:

    Well, it depends on whether a label is something you apply to yourself or something the world applies to you. I’ve been called a neocon. I shrugged. If the shoe fits…. But while I don’t identify myself as a neocon, the fact is that I’m a (drum roll) new conservative. By this I mean that I grew up a lefty but changed after college. I can barely remember a time when I believed in evil, childish things like redistribution of wealth or a palestinian state, but hey — the mind blocks out the most embarrassing bits.

    I’m closer to Ayn Rand than John Podoretz, but anyone who takes a pro-Israel, aggressively anti-Jihad stance will be labeled a neocon, regardless of what they thought of invading Iraq (I was against it). When the label (liberal or neocon) starts to emit the stench of derision, people who were not particularly attached to it, but never-the-less allowed themselves to be classified as such, will throw it off first.

    It’s sloppy ideological maintenance, I admit. But why make that bed? It’s only going to get messed up again.

  3. brandon says:

    I think the term neocon has become like liberal only in these sorts of conservative circles.
    Many average people mistake neocons as being the “far right.” In Sam Tanenhaus’ book “The Death Of Conservatism” he makes little to no mention of paleocons or the alternate right. He writes of neoconservatives as if they are “the far right” when really they are more centrist and opportunist than anything. I think more accurately they ought to be referred to as the
    “war party” as Buchanan often calls them. At one time I used to consider myself somewhat of a neocon, but that was due more to the often shrewd and conspiracy minded criticism of them rather than subscribing to the ideology itself. Also it’s clear they have learned nothing from their other adventures, as Kristol, Morris etc are still talking about invading Iran because they supposedly have weapons of mass destruction and will use them on us.
    Gee where have we heard that before?

  4. outeast says:

    Don’t forget the doubly-damned ‘liberal neocons’! Though I don’t think that’s ever been used for self-description.

  5. Christopher says:

    Neoconservative these days seems more like an insult these days, a label used by detractors more than its purported proponents. So Yeah. I’ve noticed the same thing with “neo-liberal”, which mostly used by leftists for free market advocates, where they would describe themselves as “libertarian” or “classical liberal”.

  6. Susan says:

    The term “neoconservative” seems to be one of those words that means whatever it user wants it to mean. Michael Harrington called necons “renegade liberals”. According to, it’s been around since 1960, and was also applied to the followers of Russell Kirk.

  7. In some cases neo-Con is another word for Zionist which is another word for Jew. In many circles if you support Israel’s right to exist you are a “neo-Con”. The trouble is that its sometimes hard to figure out what people actually mean.

  8. Don Kenner says:

    Andrew Ian Dodge is correct. In right-wing Catholic circles (Paleo-Catholics?) the word neocon is often a coded word for Zionist/Jew or Jew-lover (i.e., he who does the bidding of his Jewish task-masters). Speaking up for Israel on very devout Catholic websites or chat rooms would always bring the the remark “Why don’t you just admit you’re a Jew?” over and over and over again. Oi Vey!

    Does this mean that people who describe the Republican Party as “the war party” sometimes mean “the Jew party?” Mmm…

  9. Danny says:

    I don’t think neo-conservative was a widely popular political label before 2002, at least outside the beltway. Paleo-conservative is even more obscure – it’s obscure even today.

    Liberal is the name attached to mainstream supporters of the New Deal and to their ideological descendents, and its use has been far more widespread – and while the maligning of the term began in the 70s , is still a term that is self-embraced by millions.

  10. CC says:

    Neocon isn’t a new word, it’s just something that most neocons wanted kept under wraps. They have effectively snowed nearly all Republicans into thinking that they are something that they aren’t. A good primer on what neocons are about and how they got their start is a documentary titled “The Power of Nightmares”. You can find it here:

    Some more about them:'s A Neo-Conservative.htm

    I will admit to being a recovering neocon. I didn’t know what they were about. I joined the GOP when I was 18, my first vote was for GHWB and I really thought they cared about America and the Constitution. They care nothing for either. I am now an independent and do what I can to expose these frauds for what they are. I don’t know of a single Republican in gov’t that isn’t a neocon at the moment. And many who claim to be libertarians are neocons too. Don’t be fooled too easily by these wolves in sheeps clothing.

  11. Sam Schulman says:

    I filled out the survey and identified myself as a neocon – and in doing so thought to myself “how delighted my friends at Secular Right will be to discover that, considering their content, they have at least one neocon reader, who admires their intelligence even though he often finds their opinions and preconceptions disagreeable – as many neocons would do. I am not surprised to find myself among a small minority of readers.
    But I am distressed by your official reaction.
    Instead of welcoming us and cherishing our presence, you choose to disbelieve that we neocons exist.
    Surely that is carrying your religious skepticism a bit far. Science can explain both the existence of neoconervatives and their rarity on your site, better than stubborn non-belief. Like evolution, neoconservatives are an established fact.

  12. David Hume says:

    But I am distressed by your official reaction.

    1) there’s no official reaction 🙂

    2) neocon readers are fine, just like liberal and libertarian readers are fine.

    readers who note that neocon is a totally debased and confused term are correct. some of the same could be said about ‘liberal,’ though perhaps with less justification since it was widely used at one point. the main thing that i notice is how few ‘authentic’ neocons actually defend the term (jonah golbergh and david frum would seem to be plausible neocons, with some deviations, but generally pooh-pooh that they are neocons though they admit points of broad agreement with neoconservatism).

  13. Susan says:

    Maybe if we could agree on what a neocon is, we could take the survey again. For years I thought it meant someone who’d become a conservative after having been a liberal. But I’ve encountered so many different definitions, or at least perceptions, of it in the past few years that, as I said, it’s a term that seems to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean. When Patrick Buchanan uses it, it’s intended as an insult.

  14. Richard says:

    Coincidentally on today on The Corner (National Review’s group blog), Mark Kirkorian points to this Washington Post story on China:
    When we reported from China in the 1990s, some Chinese neoconservatives achieved rock-star popularity there for promoting the notion that the United States was conspiring to contain China, militarily and economically.
    “Chinese neoconservatives?” The term “neoconservative” had an actual meaning at one point. Now it pretty much means “hawk,” “Jew,” “bad person,”or some combination of the above.

  15. Mike H says:

    To me neoconservativism is primarily a foreign policy ideology, belief in universal values and human rights, belief in man’s natural goodness, American exceptionalism and a Wilsonian belief that fundamentally international harmony and peace is what the world’s people desire and that America needs to help create that state. To those ends, they believe in an assertive, strong American foreign policy that clearly distinguishes between good and evil – evil being the obstacle to the natural peace-loving tendencies of man. They also believe in the responsibility of America to spread democracy if necessary by force as they for example believe that Iraqis and people elsewhere need to just be given a voice and they will demand human rights and democracy and thus turn their country into a peaceful part of the community of nations. War is always an option because they see misrule as the prime obstacle to world peace, ergo, removing the problem leads to peace.

    With that definition in mind I’m not one, but I think more people are than you’d think.

  16. kurt9 says:

    @Mike H

    You are correct. Your description is that of modern-day Jacobinism. Whether it is right or wrong (I have no desire to argue here), the interventionist foreign policy is inherently liberal in nature. The neo-cons are more properly defined as neo-Jacobins.

  17. NotA says:

    I have a theory about the relative embrace by individual conservatives of a strong interventionist position post 9/11 (which is what I take to be what the question about neo-conservatism is getting at).

    Conservatives of all stripes were able to remember how we, under Reagan’s and Thatcher’s guidance, had defeated Soviet Communism. When 9/11 demonstrated that we had another evil and authoritarian world force to defeat, many of us thought that we could repeat the successes of the ’80s, and that the Bush Administration had some handle on their suggested means of doing that. So we supported the Iraq War as the first effort in that campaign.

    Later, we (a) discovered that the Bush administration really didn’t have a very good plan; and (b) there was no really good plan to be had, because (c) one essential fact of the defeat of the Soviets was that it had been peaceful and by rhetorical effort, and (d) another essential fact of the defeat and its successful aftermath was that many of the peoples freed by the fall of Communism had a tradition of freedom, enlightenment, ordered liberty, &c. Upon making this realization, we realized that we had been wrong to support the Iraq War, because our analogy had been deeply, fatally flawed.

    Now were we neo-cons in 2002? I don’t know; I suppose it depends on how neo-con is defined. Are we not neo-cons now? Well, surely not. Have we changed fundamental worldviews? No. We still believe in advancing freedom, in American Exceptionalism, in the rights of the individual, &c., &c. We just learned (or re-learned) some important things that we hadn’t quite understood before.

    Or so my theory goes.

  18. Lesacre says:


    “The term “neoconservative” had an actual meaning at one point. Now it pretty much means “hawk,” “Jew,” “bad person,”or some combination of the above.”

    Chinese Neocons?

    To know what ‘neocon’ means, lets go to the source:

  19. Lesacre says:

    @Don Kenner

    “I’m closer to Ayn Rand than John Podoretz, but anyone who takes a pro-Israel, aggressively anti-Jihad stance will be labeled a neocon, regardless of what they thought of invading Iraq (I was against it). When the label (liberal or neocon)”

    I would suggest that the issue is not supporting Israel right to be a Jewish state and defend itself — which is what it means to support Israel, since if Israel went ‘multiculture’ there would soon be nothing to defend, right? — it is about 1) supporting Israel at the cost of the US (a la Mearsheimer and Walt) and 2) it’s about, for some paleos like Gottfried, the curiousness of Neocons fighting for an Israeli Jewish identity, since I am guessing that this is what this is about — having helped moved this country to a post-European identity.

  20. John says:

    The original neocons were a small group of people (like Irving Kristol) that were former liberals and drifted into conservatism. However, that definition of the word is pretty much dead.

    Now when people use the term, it is almost always used in a pejorative sense to refer to people with conservative foreign policy ideas.

    Do you think the war in Iraq was the right thing?
    Are you against cutting the defense budget?
    Should the Christmas plane bomber been waterboarded to get intelligence of more terrorist attacks, and not be given a civilian trial?
    Do you think the UN is mostly a waste of time and money?

    If so, you are a neocon! (and so am I–yes, you can be a libertarian and a neocon, too)

  21. Lesacre says:

    John says:

    “The original neocons were a small group of people (like Irving Kristol) that were former liberals and drifted into conservatism. However, that definition of the word is pretty much dead.”

    The suggestion is that there is no connection between those neocons and these neocosm. Refer to what Kristol says. T

  22. John says:

    I didn’t mean to imply that there was no connection. However, most people called neocons today are not former liberals (and certainly not part of Kristol’s original group). The term is now ideological, not biographical.

  23. Mike H says:

    I think you can’t call neocon foreign policy views “conservative” foreign policy views as it contradicts traditional conservative views and premises, it’s certainly to some extent Republican foreign policy today though. It’s mostly the foreign policy of Cold War Democratic hawks, in other words it’s liberal foreign policy which still believes in American righteousness and grandness unlike the current “real” liberal foreign policy since the 70s.

    I think foreign policy is the defining element of their philosophy though no matter what Kristol says. In practice neoconservativism is just the pre-Vietnam wing of the Democratic Party and Vietnam was a foreign policy issue. They are moral traditionalists and patriotic but statist and ultimately they embrace big government. Sounds like the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democrats to me. But their domestic policy is ultimately ground up between the camps, Democrats believe in statism, big government, unions etc. but they won’t support sweeping tax cuts or moral traditionalism, Republicans will support the latter but not usually the former.

    You could say domestically they can pick between seeing themselves as moralist liberals or statist conservatives. What gives then? In the end foreign policy shows the way – they wanted to defeat communism and they want America to be strong. That made them conservatives and made the GOP their home. Kristol writes he’d pick FDR over Goldwater, but he went with Goldwater over McGovern so to speak.

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