Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Reminder from a Neocon

There is a human tendency (I'm loathe to ever think of things in terms of human nature which, by implication, is unchangeable) that causes people to utter pronouncements on subjects they know nothing about and refuse to subject these beliefs to the test.  There seems to be an element of pride that prevents people from appearing ignorant on a topic of which they truly know little.  This causes individuals to look ridiculous in the face to reality at the best of times and can lead to disaster when formulated into policy on a state level.  The list of problems caused by the latter kind is long as the earliest age of the historical record.

A look at one of the most famous bogeymen of the 20th century, communism, amply demonstrates this.  Other than outright tyranny, of which communism has also been accused of, has there ever been a more reviled political form?  Have adherents of any political ideology been more despised by other political ideologies?  The effectiveness of this form is a matter which almost every person has an opinion on, yet how many of these people have taken the time to understand this political organization?  People do not seem to acknowledge that if they wish to understand communism in the broad scope they must at the very least be familiar with the writings of Marx and Engels, if not his immediate predecessors and intellectual adherents.  If they wish to understand communism in a specific manifestation, such as in the case of the Soviet Union, they not only have to be familiar with the above but they also need to add to this the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, along with the contributions of other members of the leadership, and also know the historical trajectory of the Soviet state.  This is asking a lot from someone who merely wants to express an opinion.

Now, based on the title of this post you'll surely realize that this is leading to something to do with what is called neoconservatism.  Based on what you may assume is my political stance from previous posts you likely expect me to discuss the errors they made regarding policy since they rose to public consciousness during the U.S. Bush Jr. administration.  However, this is not the case.  Instead, it is an admission of guilt.

Since what I felt, and continue to feel, was a fraudulent invasion of Iraq to start the new millennium I had heard the term "neoconservative" associated with the decision and had blindly dismissed everyone who was assigned that moniker as utter fools.  Fast forward to the present day I found myself asking "who is a neoconservative?" and realizing I had no satisfactory answer.  I simply didn't know enough to make a judgement.  I fell into the trap I moralized on above and began to educate myself.

Several articles and a handful of books later I encountered what I feel is the clearest statement on this topic.  Irving Kristol's Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, provides a balanced and broad look at the neoconservative "persuasion" (as he calls it) directly from the man who is often referred to as the father of the movement.  The book is a collection of essays covering subjects such as welfare, multiculturalism, foreign policy, capitalism and a myriad of other topics.  Cumulatively it presents a portrait of a person whose ideas have been ridiculed or even demonized by many through his association with American foreign policy makers.  Did reading this book change my mind about the decisions that have contributed to the present state of the world and overseas conflicts?  No.  However, it did allow me to view the decisions as being made by real people, influenced by a universal desire for well being, social stability, and other common cares.  I may disagree with the methods and conclusions, but I have gained a measure of respect for Kristol at the very least.

The sad end of this post is that my slip mirrors the slip of those who have been called neoconservatives.  Echoing the error of the British during WWI when they did not take the time or care to understand the people they were dealing with in the Middle East, the foreign policy of the neoconservatives in Bush's administration reveal a lack of understanding of the base factors in the conflicts they were to initiate.  But, as I wrote at the beginning, thinking in terms of human tendency remains a realistic and optimistic view that differs from human nature in that I feel a tendency can be changed.

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