True Conservatism vs. Neo-Conservatism

Nelson Hultberg

December 20, 2006

The late William Simon, former Secretary of Treasury in the Ford Administration, was not your usual government functionary. As evidence, his 1978 memoirs titled, A Time For Truth, became one of the most influential books of the past 50 years, for it clarified in vigorous prose the disease of governmentalism afflicting America. The Federal Government has been, for many decades now, corrupting our country like gangrene laying waste to a wounded leg, and Simon captured the ideological why and how of this disease masterfully.

Simon loved Adam Smith’s “system of natural liberty” that built the culture of freedom we knew as a nation prior to 1913. As eloquent as his tome was, however, it contained a profound error. It was an error that was to grievously misguide the Reagan administration, the Republican Party, and the capitalist renaissance launched by post-war libertarian intellectuals.

William Simon bought into the notion that the rising neoconservative movement headed by Irving Kristol in the late 1970s could become a valuable ally in the fight to restore liberty and constitutional government to America. Simon was brilliant, but on this issue he failed to see the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” personas of Kristol and the collectivist gang of scholars he had gathered around him — Patrick Moynihan, Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, and Sidney Hook (with the likes of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, William Bennett, and George Will to soon follow).

As Simon put it, these distinguished intellectuals “are still interventionists to a degree that I myself do not endorse, but they have grasped the importance of capitalism, are battling some of the despotic aspects of egalitarianism, and can be counted as allies on certain crucial fronts of the struggle for individual liberty.” [A Time For Truth, 1978, p. 227.]

On all three of these points, Simon could not have been more wrong. Neoconservatives have never grasped the importance of capitalism. If they had, they would understand that the hubristic interventionist programs they cling to from their youthful New Deal days are anathema to capitalism. Moreover they and their acolytes are not battling the despotic aspects of egalitarianism with anything substantive, only with lip service. Irving Kristol has been a vehement supporter of affirmative action and racial and sexual quotas over the years, while guiding his followers always toward a dutiful obeisance to the left’s “civil rights” agenda.

And most erroneous of all was Simon’s claim that neoconservatives “can be counted as allies” in “the struggle for individual liberty.” On the contrary, they have proven in the last two decades to be precisely the opposite by enthusiastically endorsing the wholesale expansion of the welfare-warfare state at every turn and opportunity.

Neocons’ Ideological Roots

But what else should we have expected. Kristol and the original gang of neocon intellectuals were followers of the communist Leon Trotsky in their youth during the 30s and 40s. Their ideological roots were socialist through and through. They bought into Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and saw socialism as an ideal that needed to be spread to the West. While neoconservatives have modified the Leninist roots of their ideology in favor of the more gradualist methodology of the English Fabians, they are still adamant supporters of collectivism for America. Are they outright socialists? No, but their policy proposals are always in favor of relentless government expansion both domestically and internationally.

The paradigm they have given their lives to is built upon a centralized mega-state running American society from Washington. In Kristol’s eyes, the laissez-faire vision of the Founders was a “doctrinaire fantasy.” To adhere to it now is anachronistic foolishness; it must be phased out of our collective conscience. All neoconservatives think that the moral principles undergirding the Founders political vision are an impediment to a stable society. Therefore adherence to such moral principles must be discarded in favor of amoral pragmatism.

In their eyes, the principles of individual rights and limited government are unworkable. Machiavelli and Plato had the better idea. People need to be manipulatively led by statist elites — via open dialogue and democracy if possible, but by deception, coercion and expediency when necessary. For example, Kristol speaks very favorably about the Prohibition era of the 1920s, and he enthusiastically endorses censorship. “If you care for the quality of life in our American democracy, then you have to be for censorship,” he proclaims. [Cited by Daniel Shapiro, “The Neoconservatives,” Libertarian Review, January-February, 1978, p. 30.]

While neoconservatives were always on the political left and strongly aligned with statism throughout the 40s and 50s, they became horrified with the New Left rebellion of the 60s and its ragtag intimidation of the establishment. Consequently with George McGovern’s takeover of the Democratic Party in 1972, neoconservatives began to migrate to the Republican Party in search of sanity. Being good Leninists at heart, they knew how to disguise themselves with verbal sleight of hand. They adopted the name of neo-conservative to distance themselves from what they perceived as failed liberalism, but also to steer clear of the libertarian conservatism that animated the political right. They presented themselves as what they hoped would become a new conservative middle ground in which the mega-state of FDR and LBJ would be accepted as progressive and proper.

True Conservatives Rush to Power

Unfortunately the intelligentsia of established conservatism bought into the neocons’ Leninist disguise and their pseudo-advocacy of capitalism. Blinding themselves to the dangerous ideological roots of the neocons and their open espousals of mega-statism, established conservatives saw only what they wanted to see in such a merger — a chance at political power in Washington. Since the grand principles of the conservative movement had to be discarded to accommodate these highly prominent ex-liberals, this default had to be suppressed in their minds. But so be it, for the attainment of real power was beckoning. Conservatives had been in the wilderness for too long and craved rulership in Washington.

Sinister Greeks were thus trying to gain entrance to Troy; and William Simon’s book aided them greatly. When he invited all freedom advocates on the right to welcome these “distinguished intellectuals” into their camp, the prestige of his career and the eloquence of his message lulled the conservative movement into a most ill-fated decision. After Reagan was elected in 1980, his advisors opened the gates and brought scores of Kristol’s Machiavellians into Washington power circles to run the country for the next eight years. Bush the elder followed suit in 1989, and the groundwork was laid for the ultimate coup that was to take place with Bush the younger, which pushed America into the desire to pursue world hegemony. By the year 2000, the neocons had wormed their way into very high places. They had become influential at the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, Fox News, the American Enterprise Institute, the Project for the New American Century, and a slew of other think tanks and media institutions. Washington had ceased to be a dominantly liberal town; it was now ruled equally by neocons. Even that bastion of liberalism, The Washington Post, cordially endorsed neoconservative pundits such as Charles Krauthammer and his jingoistic slant on things.

The original conservative movement was a far cry from neoconservatism. It sprang from advocates for the Republic in opposition to the New Deal during the 1930s, espousing free enterprise at home and non-interventionism abroad. But by the mid 60s, it had been adulterated badly by National Review’s bellicose foreign policy and exasperating lack of backbone in face of domestic statism. As a result, the infiltration of neocons in the 70s was able to effect a very damaging political transformation that forced true conservatism into exile. The conservative movement was hijacked by the very enemies it was formed to fight — Fabians, New Dealers, welfarists, progressives, globalists, interventionists, militarists, nation builders, and all the rest of the collectivist ilk that was assiduously working to destroy the Founders’ Republic of States.

Too many true conservatives failed to realize that once adherence to right principle had been forsaken in quest of power, it would be next to impossible to regain the lofty heights of truth and justice to which they had once adhered. Power was a frightful and addictive narcotic. Invariably it corrupts the moral sense and dissolves one’s desire for rectitude.

Can the Republic Be Restored?

The pressing question now is: What is to be done in face of this tragedy? Can the original, true conservative movement be rekindled — the movement to restore the Republic launched in the 40s and 50s by constitutional conservatives and libertarians such as Richard Weaver, Clyde Wilson, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman?

Yes, most certainly it can be rekindled. Neoconservatives are not the leaders of our Jeffersonian cause; theirs is an alien philosophy of authoritarianism imported to our shores by European collectivists such as Leo Strauss and ex-Marxists such as James Burnham. The true conservative movement was, from the start, a blend of political libertarianism, cultural conservatism, and non-interventionism abroad bequeathed to us via the Founding Fathers. It was most indubitably not the socialist / fascist blend of Machiavellianism that neoconservatives are ramming down the throats of Americans today.

Our first step toward restoration must be to revisit what a true conservative really is. Richard Weaver spoke of him in this way:

“It is my contention that a conservative is a realist, who believes that there is a structure of reality independent of his own will and desire. He believes that there is a creation which was here before him, which exists now not by just his sufferance, and which will be here after he’s gone. This structure consists not merely of the great physical world but also of many laws, principles, and regulations which control human behavior. Though this reality is independent of the individual, it is not hostile to him. It is in fact amenable by him in many ways, but it cannot be changed radically and arbitrarily. This is the cardinal point. The conservative holds that man in this world cannot make his will his law without any regard to limits and to the fixed nature of things.” [“Conservatism and Libertarianism: The Common Ground,” Life Without Prejudice, 1965, pp. 158-159.]

How would Weaver view today’s neoconservatives? He would undoubtedly view them with the same contempt he held for the radical liberals of his day who were trying to make their will their law:

“There is a difference between trying to reform your fellow beings by the normal processes of logical demonstration, appeal and moral suasion — there is a difference between that and passing over to the use of force or constraint. The former is something all of us engage in every day. The latter is what makes the modern radical dangerous and perhaps in a sense demented.” [Ibid, p. 161.]

Weaver was the archetype libertarian conservative and understood very well the philosophical common ground between both movements. He was a strict constitutionalist because a constitution provided for a “settled code of freedom for the individual.” [Ibid, p. 163.]

Return to Reason and Natural Law

Today’s statist academics and pundits, of course, scoff at a return to strict constitutional government and a “settled code of freedom for the individual.” They consider it to be wishful nostalgia wrapped up in the na├»ve irrelevance of humans resisting progress. But they could not be further from the truth. Is the preacher’s espousal of the Golden Rule a foolish anachronism? Is the physicist’s Law of Gravity meant only for those prior to the 20th century? Hardly! And the greatest political document in the history of man is not to be treated like a cultural fad. Our Constitution is based upon fundamental moral laws equally as immutable as the Golden Rule and the Law of Gravity. Its restoration to American life is as vitally important as the return of reason was to the metaphysics of medieval Europe. Our Constitution is the embodiment of transcendent rational law. Only by coming to grips with its transcendent nature and its rationality can America right herself and rebuild the basics of a free society. This, the neoconservatives are incapable of doing, for they are imprisoned in the failed socialist authoritarianism of their youth, and will cling to their irrational paradigm to their death beds.

This means that all those in the conservative movement who sincerely desire freedom for our nation must make an unequivocal break from the philosophy of neo-conservatismand return to true conservatism — the libertarian conservatism of the Founding Fathers. They must begin to establish themselves as a genuine opposition forceto statism, instead of mimicking such a Machiavellian and tyrannical philosophy in search of momentary power.

True conservatives must stand vehemently in opposition to the collectivization of America that is being promoted by the likes of Bill Kristol, William Bennett, George Will, and Bill Buckley. True conservatives must once again take their stand upon the great concepts of “limited government” and “objective law.” This means a willingness to defend liberty throughout the marketplace; and most importantly it means a willingness to denounce privileges conveyed from government to special interest groups on both the left and the right. It means full scale endorsement of a strictly limited constitutional government that conveys favors to no one, rich or poor, black or white, young or old. This means a phase-out of the welfare state and a return to strict federalism and the sovereignty of states. This doesn’t mean a phase-out immediately, but it certainly means ultimately.

Unless conservatives have the courage to wage the battle in this manner, with commitment to the ultimate establishment of an ideal capitalistic way of life (where the inviolability of private property is restored and the Federal Government is limited to a literal interpretation of its constitutional mandates) there is little hope for anything more than a slow down in the exploding growth of the Leviathan. Certainly there is no hope for a reversal of the collectivization process that dominated the 20th century. This is the great illuminating lesson that the past 50 years have taught — at least to those Americans who still possess a sense of history.

By ideologically supporting the statist establishment and its welfarist paradigm, conservatives, of course, gain a measure of popularity and social approval, but they do nothing to actually stem the tide of the moral and economic destruction growing so exponentially in our midst. They gain momentary celebrity, but abandon immutable truth.

Becoming a celebrated “pundit” and getting widely accepted by the media, the prestigious foundations, and the political elites is all very gratifying to one’s ego, but the ultimate price paid is death dealing.

This is because in order to gain such esteemed status in today’s society, one must accept and promote the validity of massive arbitrary statism. This means one must forsake the philosophical principles of “limited government” and “equality of rights,” and grant to the liberals their basic moral premise — that the state has the right to redistribute individual wealth and arbitrarily rearrange human beings.

Once this moral premise is granted (and it is granted by all those who accept the validity of state welfarism), then there is no way to fight effectively for freedom. One is then reduced to fighting only for more efficient bureaucratism, for more benevolent tyranny. One’s battle then becomes only which brand of insufferable statism should we resign ourselves to, rather than how to dramatically win the future for liberty and justice.

Challenging the Moral Premise

Ponder this: Why are neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol, William Bennett, George Will, and Bill Buckley so graciously accepted by the prevailing liberal establishment? Because they do not challenge the moral premise of statism. They accept statism’s use of arbitrary law, its violation of individual rights, and its conveyance of special privileges. Thus, they pose no moral threat to liberalism and are not feared by those who are tyrannizing our lives with omnipresent government.

Neoconservatives like Kristol, Bennett, Will, and Buckley have opted for inclusion into the prevailing establishment rather than staking out a heroic stand for true freedom and constitutional government. They have opted for popularity over principle. Throughout history this has always been the nature of those who crave the comforts of establishment approval.

Establishments are invariably bland conglomerations of conformists and courtiers, glib instead of wise, irrelevant in the long run because they are not concerned with history’s big picture — being either unwilling or unable to grasp it. What moves history’s establishment minds is obsessive cultivation of their personal status and the adoption of whatever ideology (or anti-ideology) happens to be fashionable at the time. Because neoconservatives endorse the fashionable statism of modern liberals, they are enemies of America.

Such short range mentalities have chosen to worship at the mobocrat’s altar of unlimited democracy along with their liberal comrades. In doing so, they have helped to bring Western civilization to the morass of expedient bureaucratism and socio-economic decadence we now endure. Their form of rule, if different in degree of despotism, is no different in principle than the monster leviathans such as Sweden. The absolute democracy that neocons and liberals worship is just a larger and more cumbersome, but no less odious, form of oligarchy.

It is not to be expected that such blindly pragmatic and Machiavellian minds will be able to face up to their overweening irrationality, for it is the nature of myopic men in power to draw blinders around what little vision they possess so as to avoid facing the decadent turmoil wrought from their ignorance.

What is to be expected, however, is that the strong, open-minded intellects of America, who no longer wish to be party to the collectivization of her soul, will be willing to face up to the requisites of a truly free society based upon objective law.

Freedom is not for the craven seeking the institutionalization of dependency and privilege. Nor is it for the courtiers of life so obsessed with popularity. It is for the stalwart possessed of heroic hearts and fiery souls — the spiritual sons of those who strode into history two hundred years ago to set down on parchment its first great idealization known to man.

If conservatives wish only to rule rather than reform, then they are not just the Stupid Party, they are cowards. Their historical legacy will be pusillanimous abdication, and America’s future as a shining ideal for all the world will be dead.

To merely be rulers and wield power is such a petty intellectual goal. It is certainly not why the Founding Fathers fought the revolution. They fought valiantly to establish “truth” and a “just ideal” of political-economic liberty. Today’s neoconservatives and their mainstream Republican crowd had best re-evaluate the meaning of America. It is not about maintaining Great Planned Societies from Washington. It is about protecting the seamless web of freedom, so that individuals can build their personal lives and local communities on their own to the highest level of their capabilities.

If we abandon the Founders’ legacy in principle, then we will have destroyed it in fact. Our efforts today are far too short on principle and much too concerned with power. Is this the statement that we wish to inscribe on the pages of history as our life’s contribution to the great drama of existence — that we scrambled for and squabbled over only power? A free America cannot be saved with such a selfish approach, and what goal is there more worthy than the salvation of a free America?