Neoconservative Blind Spots

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Because the conservatives most likely to be employed in academia are of the neo variety, students may not get an accurate picture of conservatism or, for that matter, America.

In fairness, because many neoconservatives are reconstructed leftists, they can counter the Campus Left in ways that more mild-mannered conservative Ph.D.’s could or would. “The neocons have waged a matchless intellectual war against the practices of America’s tenured radicals,” C. Bradley Thompson writes in Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea. “They have been trenchant critics of the major ideas that have dominated America’s universities since the 1960s, such as nihilism, relativism, historicism, and egalitarianism; they have been on the front lines of the culture war, opposing intellectual trends such as feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, postmodernism, deconstructionism and political correctness; and they have challenged the intellectual integrity of politically correct academic programs such as women’s, black, Latino, and queer studies as well as any other kind of ideologically motivated academic programs that now define the American university.”

“The neocons have been particularly good at demonstrating how these ideas have percolated through American culture to affect deleteriously the manners and mores of ordinary Americans.” It’s when their own ideas percolate culturally that neoconservatives inflict nearly irreparable harm.

“Remarkably, at the top of the neocons pantheon of American heroes are three individuals who did as much to destroy American’s individual rights republic as any three figures in American history: Herbert Croly, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” Thompson writes. “The is the same Herbert Croly who bragged that his political philosophy was ‘flagrantly socialistic both in its methods and its objects,’ the same TR who once said that ‘every man holds his property subject to the general rights of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it,’ and the same FDR who once said that all Americans must act ‘as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of the common discipline.’”

“What unites Croly and the Roosevelt cousins is their support for the idea that the individual should be subordinated to a collectivistic, paternalistic, corporate state.”

Thompson, a political science professor, directs the Institute for the Study of Capitalism at Clemson, where he teaches. For his research, he delved further into the annals of neoconservative thought and action than many readers would care to go, to badly mangle the tag line from Star Trek.

As well, he was something of an adherent of the neoconservative school of thought for many years so his tome falls somewhat in the “breaking ranks” genre of chronicles. From his findings, we can see several patterns.

A few years ago, left-wing writer turned conservative author and activist David Horowitz noted wryly in a speech at Georgetown that “Republicans think that everything is a management problem.” The “We’re Republicans, we manage better” ethos that many GOP candidates have campaigned on, with mixed success, to put it charitably, stems naturally from the neoconservative impulse, although the late Nelson Rockefeller, as author Rick Perlstein notes, built a career on it.

Similarly, we can see the genesis of the “kinder, gentler” and “compassionate” conservatism of Bush I and II that resulted in ballooning budget deficits but no noticeable improvement in standards of living. Conversely, these failures get transmuted to conservatism classic while the accomplishments of the genuine article—such as tax cuts and the resulting job growth that followed them—get obscured.

In like fashion, No Child Left Behind gets attached to a conservative culture it is alien from.

When neoconservatives were assuming positions of influence in the 1980s, a nationally syndicated columnist noted of an iconic neoconservative that the icon “doesn’t mind the welfare state, as long as his friends are running it.” The identities of both men have been camouflaged because, although the source of the quote is no longer with us, the object is.

In other words, the names have been concealed to protect the guilty.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org

 

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