Today, it seems that a "neo-con" (at least in the fevered imaginations of the net-left) is someone who frequently calls attention to the unprovoked aggression of despotic regimes (e.g. Iran and Syria), the violation of human rights in other countries, and advocates the moral superiority of democratic countries in international affairs. A "neo-con" is now anyone who dares make an issue out of the aggressions and inhumanity of despotisms without explaining them away, and for advocating America do something about these aggressions and inhumanities. It is for this reason that so many on the left attacked Bayard Rustin in the 1970's and 1980's when, in addition to speaking out about racial injustices in the United States and condemning Reaganomics, he also spoke out, vociferously, against the PLO, Robert Mugabe, and the Sandinistas. But Rustin was hardly a proper neo-conservative, even if he happened to write the occasional article for Commentary and helped found the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. And so, simply for stating uncomfortable realities about the world, someone is called a "neocon" (which in today's political discourse--not just left-wing discourse--is akin to labeling someone a "pinko" in the 1950's) and readily dismissed.I don't know if that last comparison is apt. "Pinkos" in the 1950s were those considered in alliance with the forces of Soviet totalitarianism. Those on the right who opposed these fellow travellers rightly warned against any domestic support for the Evil Empire's ideological and strategic hegemonic project.
Today, neoconservatives support the expansion of democracy around the world, and the rollback of Islamofascism's threatening advance against the developing world's outposts of freedom.
But what really is a "neoconservative"? I think about this a lot, because while I'm Burkean in my basic ideological affinities for traditional culture and values, I firmly believe that America has a mission in the world to advance freedom and justice. Readers here occasionally point out the inconsistency of holding both Burkean and neoconservative positions simultaneously.
But I don't worry too much about it, particularly if one sees Burkean conservativism as a cover for the most paleoconservative isolationism imaginable. If that's what Burke's come to stand for today, I'd come down on the neoconservative side, if I had to take my pick.
Mark Gerston, in his edited volume, The Essential Neo-Conservative Reader, notes that neoconservativism starts with Burkean essentialism, but it depart from Burkeanism's more reactionary inclinations:
In 1952, the sociologist Karl Mannheim wrote, "Conservativism arises as a counter-movement in conscious opposition to the highly organized, coherent, and systematic 'progressive' movement." From Edmund Burke to the present, systematic conservative theory tends to find much of its motivating impulse in critique. True to Mannheim's characterization, neoconservatism, too, has formulated its political positions in response to ideas generated by the left. From the early 1950s to the present day, neoconservatives have castigated liberalism for ignorance of the complexity of social action and the embedded wisdom in human systems, a lack of resolve in confronting evil, a laissez-faire attitude toward human virture, and an unwillingness to defend the critical ideas of American civilization from its discontents. Practically every neconservative argument and position can be seen as a reaction to one of the central ideas of liberalism.And this is why the radical left mounts its frenzied campaign of demonization against the "neoconazis" in the Bush administration. Today's ideological battles center on competing visions of goodness in the world. For Americans who rightly see the forces of Islamic fundamentalism as the greatest threat to civilization since the Soviet empire, the hard-left represents a fifth column determined to undermine America's mission and values from within.
Much of the debate tends to caricature the views of those on both sides. All of those who support the global war on terror are not crazed Wolfowitz wannabes dead set on preventive airstrikes against Iran's nuclear program. Conversely, all of those troubled by the costs of America's liberation of Iraq - and especially the significant loss of human life on all sides - are not Chomskyite revolutionaries hellbent on the destruction of the United States and its purported project of global imperial expansion.
Yet, there are those who on the left would destroy America and the values of goodness for which she stands. Neoconservative belief - with its stress on anti-authoritarianism, domestic institutions of public order, personal propriety and responsibility - stands against such nihilism and deathlike ideology.
I gladly embrace the neoconservative label. I've been "Radicalized by the Radicals." I believe that if neoconservativism forms the locus of resistance against the forces now intending to destroy the United States, it's an ideational holding ground for the good, to which more right thinking peope will gravitate to some degree, no matter how hard the antiwar hordes try to discredit it.