Neoconservatism - Understanding the Term

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Origins of the Movement
Neoconservatism emerged as a reaction to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and the Great Society projects of President Lyndon Johnson. The foundations of the movement dealt with domestic economic principles because of the perception of government's inefficiency to eliminate poverty, crime and racial discrimination.

Neoconservatism is based on the philosophical writings of Irving Kristol, co-founder of Encounter magazine, which he edited from 1953 to 1958.

Kristol said a neoconservative is "a liberal who was mugged by reality." The original idea was to focus on rehabilitating the mugger and providing realistic solutions to enduring social problems, thus creating a better society.

The main planks in the neoconservative platform consist of:

  • Cutting tax rates to stimulate the economy
    To neocons it is the economy, not the tax cuts that should be emphasized. Neocons believe a balanced budget isn't as important as creating an environment within which people can thrive. Kristol believed shouldering the burden of budget shortfalls sometimes is the price of a good economy.
  • Enforcing morality to create a more civil society
    Like social conservatives, neoconservatives believe US culture continues to sink to new lows of vulgarity. Like most social conservatives, neocons believe government has a responsibility to restore faith and values to society. Unlike social conservatives, however, neocons don't subscribe to the notion of America as a Christian nation, but instead embrace all faiths that have strong moral emphases.
  • Aggressive nation-building and the exportation of democracy as a fundamental foreign policy Neoconservatives believe the way to combat terrorism and extremism is to implement democracies in emerging nations and assist countries in adopting democratic governments. This may be the are where the term is most frequently used in a derogatory manner.

    Many critics take issue with the movement's aggressive approach to foreign policy, saying it lacks diplomacy and fails to act on the desires of the international community and the United Nations. These criticisms originate mostly from liberal leaders and left-wing organizations. Neoconservatives maintain that promoting democracy and spreading freedom throughout the world via foreign aid and military assistance is in the best security interests of the US, and that the international community, and the UN in particular, don't share America's interest in securing its borders.

    Paleoconservatives are perhaps the most vocal critics of neoconservatives, arguing the neocons have hijacked many of their themes and philosophies and bastardized them to fit a different, more liberal agenda.

    Perhaps the most disturbing criticism comes from the false accusations that neoconservatism is conservatism for Jews. This improper anti-simetic application of the term has caused problems for neocons on the foreign policy front, especially as it relates to the Middle East and Israel. The truth is many non-Jewish leaders identify themselves as neoconservatives.

    Political Relevance
    Today, neoconservatives hold a considerable amount of power in US government.

    George W. Bush adopted many neoconservative ideas after 9/11, despite arguing for international compassion and diplomatic cooperation and opposing the idea of nation-building during his run for president in 2000.

    Neoconservatives has come to be most closely associated with its foreign policy platform, causing many conservatives of other stripes to identify themselves with the movement. After President George W. Bush left office with little progress made in the Middle East, a brief rise of isolationism rose with libertarian-leaning politicians such as Rand Paul. But that was short-lived as the dangers of the world grew rapidly under President Obama's hands-off leadership.