What does neoconservative mean

What are the neoconservatives?

What exactly is neoconservatism? Even I, who I am sometimes referred to as the "godfather" of the neocons, ask myself this question now and then.

One thing is certain: neoconservatism is not a "movement". Rather, it is what the historian Marvin Meyers called a "conviction". Since its emergence among left intellectuals in the 1970s, the neoconservative conviction has been characterized by the fact that it only emerges from time to time and that its true meaning only becomes apparent to us afterwards. First of all, there is no doubt that this new conservative policy is specifically American. There is nothing in Europe that comes close to neoconservatism. The fact that conservatism in the United States is in so much better shape politically and so much more powerful than in the Old World has something to do with the existence of neoconservatism.

An important criterion for neoconservative thinking is the role of the state. Neocons do not particularly value the concentration of social services in the welfare state and are happy to explore alternative ways of organizing these services. But neither do they trust Hayek's dictum that we are all on the "road to bondage". This kind of alert in the face of the expansion of state functions in the past century is alien to the neocons. Instead, they see the increase in government functions as inevitable.

The neoconservatives feel more at home in today's USA than traditional American conservatives, who have their problems with a strong central authority. However, they only identify with modern America to a certain extent. The criticism of the incessant decline of democratic culture, which sinks to ever new levels of vulgarity, connects the neocons with the classical conservatives. At the same time, they differ from the liberalist "economic conservatives" who behave conservatively on economic issues but are ignorant of cultural issues. The result is an alliance between neocons, which include large numbers of non-religious intellectuals, and religious traditionalists. What binds them together is their unity on the quality of education, the relationship between church and state, to name a few examples.

Then there is of course foreign policy. There are no neoconservative beliefs for foreign policy, only a series of maxims derived from historical experience. These instructions can be summarized in the following "theses" (as the Marxists would put it): First, patriotism is a natural and healthy human impulse. Second, world government is a terrible idea as it can lead to world tyranny. International organizations working towards this goal should be viewed with the greatest suspicion. Third, statesmen should above all have the ability to tell friend from foe. As Cold War history shows, this is not as easy as it sounds. The number of intelligent people who could not bring themselves to call the Soviet Union an enemy at the time is astonishingly high - even though the Soviet Union defined itself as such.

Let's move on to another point: for a great power, "national interests" is not a geographical term unless it involves more prosaic matters such as environmental or trade agreements. A small country may rightly conclude that its national interests begin and end at its borders so that its foreign policy always remains defensive. A larger country has somewhat broader interests. Finally, large countries whose identity is based on an ideology - such as the USSR of yesteryear or the United States of today - inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns.

Unless the unforeseen happens, the US will always feel obliged to defend a democratic country under attack by non-democratic powers, whether the aggressors are internal or external. That is why Washington today believes it is necessary to take sides with Israel if its very existence is in danger. There is one fact behind all of this: the material superiority of the USA over all other countries in the world. This superiority is not the result of any particular strategy. Rather, it results in large part from the mishap that befell the United States in the 50 years after World War II.

While Europe lived in peace during this period and the USSR had its conflicts resolved by proxy, the US was embroiled in a number of wars: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the Afghanistan War, and finally Iraq -War. The result was that military spending increased more or less at the same rate as economic power. Meanwhile, the European democracies cut their defense budgets in favor of social programs. The Soviet Union financed its military generously, all too generously in fact, so that in the end the army collapsed along with the economy. Suddenly, after two decades in which expressions such as "American decline" and "overstretching of the empire" were part of the basic academic and journalistic vocabulary, the USA was the only superpower. Obligations and responsibilities are linked to this status. When a country has as much power as America today, it will either find opportunities to use it, or the world will find such opportunities for the country. The older, traditional sections of the Republican Party are struggling to cope with the new reality. They will not succeed in this any more than the attempt to reconcile economic conservatism with social and cultural conservatism. But by one of those coincidences that future historians may ponder, it turns out that the current US President and his administration are quite comfortable in this new political environment. At the same time, it is clear that neither the government nor the Republican Party as a whole were prepared for such a rebirth of neoconservative thought.

Thus neoconservatism began to enjoy a second spring at a time when obituaries were still busily being written on it.

The author is the author of the book "Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea". Translation by Daniel Eckert

The mouthpiece of the neocons: