Is Neo-Conservatism Dead?

The Bush administration, plagued by high-level resignations and plummeting popularity at home, has entered a tailspin. But the appeal of neo-conservatism will survive, because it feeds on public fears that are deeply rooted in American history.

Neo-conservatism has served as a badge of unity for those in the Bush administration advocating an aggressive foreign policy, massive military spending, disdain for international law and institutions, an assault on the welfare state, and a return to “traditional values.” So, with the Bush era winding down in a tailspin of plummeting popularity and high-level resignations, has the neo-conservative movement, too, run its course?

Neo-conservatism began with different premises from traditional forms of conservatism. Because reforms can become part of “our” heritage, traditional conservatives can adapt to change, even taking credit for negotiating the connection between past and future. By contrast, neo-conservatism’s adherents are unconcerned with what Edmund Burke called the ties that bind “the dead, the living, and the yet unborn.” On the contrary, they are revolutionaries or, rather, “counter-revolutionaries” intent upon remaking America and the world.

Indeed, in a certain sense, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and other neo-conservative elder statesmen remain defined by the communist dogmatism they sought to oppose when they were youthful Trotskyists. The virtue of their “party” or clique needs no complex justification: it stands for “American values,” while critics merely provide an “objective apology” for the “enemies of freedom.”

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Trump & Turkey ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images.

    A Tax Plan that’s All Stuffing?

    US President Donald Trump has set a Christmas deadline for enacting the Republican tax plan, and economic observers are virtually unanimous in judging it a turkey. A scheme that squeezes the middle class and blows out the fiscal and current-account deficits may pass, but it will never fly. 

  2. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  3. Trump at UN Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    The Dangers of Nuclear Bombast

    US President Donald Trump has refused to recertify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, an agreement that he once predicted would "lead to a nuclear holocaust." Unfortunately, by creating more perverse incentives for hostile regimes to pursue nuclear armaments at all costs, Trump has made the nightmare scenario he fears even more likely.

  4. Adam Michnik Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Europe’s New Eastern Question


    Insider Interview

    • With right-wing populists ascendant in Poland and Hungary, and gaining ground elsewhere in the European Union, politics in some parts of the West looks increasingly like politics in Russia.

    • Sławomir Sierakowski, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw interviews Adam Michnik, one of the intellectual architects of Solidarity and of the transition from communism in Central Europe, on Europe's illiberal turn.
  5. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  6. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  7. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.