C. Bradley Thompson calls neocons "epistemological relativists" and moral relativists in his new book on the subject:
Because the political good in their world is mutable and always changing, the neoconservatives do not want fixed principles to which they are beholden, nor do they strive to be morally or politically consistent. Their power and authority is generated and sustained by the illusion that the world is in a state of constant change and that it is governed by what Machiavelli called fortuna. The truth or falsity of an idea is, according to the neocons, determined by its usefulness in a particular situation and for particular people. What is true today, they argue, may not be true tomorrow if an idea or an action fails to work in new and different situations. In such a world, there can be no certainty, no absolutes, no fixed moral principles.
They are Nietzscheans posing as ancient Greeks. Tyler Cowen unpacks this a little. I just started on the book and am blown away by it. I knew much of it already but the careful, measured and cumulative explanation of its intellectual roots and political consequences makes it a must-read. Thompson, moreover, was trained as a Straussian and knows this world from the inside (as, to some extent, do I). It's a very polite, measured and thereby all the more devastating indictment. The Amazon reviewer notes:
What Thompson finds in his studies of neoconservatism is that neoconservatives do indeed have not only an ideology for our time -- a financially sustainable welfare state at home and regime-building crusades abroad -- but a full philosophy underlying that ideology. Thompson summarizes his conclusions about the nature of the neoconservative ideology: "The neoconservative vision of a good America is one in which ordinary people work hard, read the Bible, go to church on Sunday, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, practice homespun virtue, sacrifice themselves to the 'common good', obey the commands of the government, fight wars, and die for the State."
Such an ideology, Thompson shows, goes against the grain of Americanism as a stream of Jeffersonian ideas such as individualism and government serving only as a night watchman, not as a shepherd of our lives in a collective.
For students of the history of ideas, as much as for today's political activists, this book does the "heavy lifting" required to reveal the deepest nature -- and therefore threat -- of the neoconservative movement, which is still very much alive.
The struggle within conservatism is very much between this neoconservative model and the emphasis on freedom and limited government that classical liberalism upholds. It is a struggle between the lively skepticism of Oakeshott and the dark certainties of Strauss, between a genuine belief in the West and a dark suspicion that tyranny will always win against it. Until neoconservatism is defeated and discredited, in my view, conservatism in America will be unable to revive. This book is a critical part of that process of exposure. Do yourselves a favor and read it.
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