The late Irving Kristol, considered the godfather of neoconservatism, said his project was “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.” Kristol further went on to describe his vision as uniquely America, despite the fact it had no roots in American history. The implication was that neoconservatism would be the new Right of the new America ruled by the new ruling class.
It was a rare example of honesty from a collection of intellectuals and advocates seemingly incapable of candor. In recent times, people like Bill Kristol argued in private that the wars in the Middle East were for the benefit of Israel, while in public he claimed it was a vital American Interest. At the same time, neocons pushed for the importation of Muslims, many from lands bombed in neocon wars. The predictable consequences were then offered as an excuse for more wars.
Going abroad to find monsters to slay and then inviting their orphans into America looks like madness, rather than a new ruling ideology. The inability to grasp this obvious problem suggests the neocon persuasion is built on a foundation of self-deception and decorated with a perfidy of convenience. The former is the natural affliction, while the latter is the effort to remedy it. That or what it takes to be a neoconservative is an endless well of shameless disregard for how others judge your integrity.
While it is possible that neoconservatism is a cult that attracted high-functioning sociopaths, the more plausible answer is these people have a long developed lack of self-awareness. The inability to make an honest appraisal of themselves and their coevals creates a massive blind spot in which they are always standing. In righteous indignation they accuse others of crimes the neocons have fully embraced. A good recent example of this is the latest post from Jonah Goldberg.
The tag line of his post, under a picture of President Trump, is “The problem conservatism faces these days is that many of the loudest voices have decided to embrace the meanness while throwing away the facts.” The obvious point he is making is that Trump and his supporters are a bunch of unthinking meanies. This is a popular refrain from the neocons, who fashion themselves as intellectuals, despite working from a small inventory of talents. Their critics are just stupid meanies.
The general thrust of the Goldberg post is strangely similar to what we have always heard from the left side of the Progressive orthodoxy. That is, their side is dealing in facts and reason, doing so in a sober minded fashion. The other side, in contrast, is dumb and enraging in the worst sorts of behavior. Goldberg is doing this while he calls the writer Chris Buskirk stupid and dishonest for the crime of pointing out that neoconservatism is headed to the dustbin of history.
Of course, what vexes Goldberg about the critics of neoconservatism is not their tone or their handling of facts. It is the personal insult. Neoconservatism is more like a tribe at this point, where the lines between individual identity and group identity are blurred. Goldberg is lashing out at Buskirk, because he sees his observations about his tribe as a personal insult. Again, this has been a feature of the left side of the Progressive orthodoxy since before Gettysburg. Politics is always personal.
There’s also the fact that Goldberg has been an egregious smear merchant for a long time. He invested a lot of time talking about Trump and the KKK during the 2016 primaries, hoping the implication would stick. He has worked hard to associate the critics of neoconservatism with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, mostly as a distraction in order to avoid addressing the dreadful consequences of neoconservatism. Goldberg is the neoconservative version of David Brock.
A sleazy dimwit like Goldberg accusing anyone of being mean spirited or stupid reveals a breathtaking lack of self-awareness. That is the very essence of the neoconservative, when you look at the shabby cast of characters flying the flag. Bill Kristol has been wrong about everything for decades, yet he shamelessly waddles around lecturing everyone, as if he is brilliant wise man. A normal man, possessing even a shred of decency, would be in hiding now if he had the record of Bill Kristol.
This strange lack of self-awareness revealed in the words of Irving Kristol when he wrote, “Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the “American grain.” It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic.” Nothing about that is true in the least, but even now, in the bitter twilight of their final days, they continue to claim they are the happy warriors in the political fight.
In reality, the neocon persuasion was always a bitter reaction to having lost the struggle with their more radical coevals on the Left. Neoconservatism is a great example of the “elaborate, plausible, and intellectually very challenging systems that do not, in fact, have any truth content.” At its heart was always an irrationality born out of frustration at having been shut out of the Progressive elite. If the paleocons were the beautiful losers, as Sam Francis put it, then the neocons were the ugly losers.