Sunday Night Journal — April 8, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut, RIP

Kirk and Neo-neocon on Neocon

I did, as promised, finally manage to read that Russell Kirk essay on neo-conservatism, as well as more from the blogger who signs herself neo-neocon.

The Kirk essay is pretty much what what you might expect: he is partly sympathetic to the neo-cons, and partly skeptical: sympathetic insofar as the neocons are simply conservative (in Kirk's sense), skeptical insofar as they exhibit a tendency to turn democratic capitalism into an ideology. Skepticism wins out, overall:

In short, I am saying that a quasi-religion of Democratic Capitalism cannot do duty for imagination and right reason and prescriptive wisdom, in domestic politics or in foreign relations. An ideology of Democratic Capitalism might be less malign than an ideology of Communism or National Socialism or Syndicalism or Anarchism, but it would not be much more intelligent or humane.

You will have gathered, ladies and gentlemen, that I am disappointed, generally speaking, with the Neoconservative faction. I had hope that they might bring lively imagination into the conservative camp; instead, they have urged conservatives to engage in ideological sloganizing, the death of political imagination.

Without spending a long time on specifics, I'll just say I'm more or less in agreement with Kirk. Although I think the neos did in fact bring some lively imagination into politics, it was more in the way of shaking up a torpid liberalism than invigorating conservatism. His essay (actually I think it's a speech) was written in 1988, and I expect he would have disagreed even more with the neocons by now.

Neo-neocon's views, on the other hand, tend toward the inverse of mine: she is socially liberal, hawkish in foreign policy. However, her lengthy (and as far as I can tell unfinished) essay on her transition from liberal to neocon strikes a chord with me, as I've travelled some of the same territory. It's a very good read. She's honest and modest in her opinions, genuinely interested in getting at the truth. I'm particularly struck by her revisiting of her opinions about the Vietnam war. Whether my youthful opposition to it was right or wrong, it was at best naive and uninformed, and like neo-neocon I came to believe, when observing the complacency of the antiwar crowd toward the horrors that followed the U.S. withdrawal, that something other than the professed care for the Vietnamese people was a significant factor in the opposition. I still haven't sorted this out to my satisfaction. Neo-neocon's story stops--or at any rate I lost the thread--at this point, and I'd like to see her finish it.



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