The Betrayal of the American Right and the Rise of the Neoconservatives, Lecture 6 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
Betrayal of the Old Right,
The Neoconservatives, Part 2
The Later Neocons
• Irving Kristol and his contemporaries emphasized
domestic policy. But they didn’t ignore foreign
• They started out as pro-Cold War Democrats;
many supported Scoop Jackson.
• When Ronald Reagan was elected President in
1980, a number of the neocons, led by Kristol
supported him. Bell and Glazer didn’t. This
brought them closer to the NR conservatives.
The Neocons and National
• Buckley became friends with Norman
Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary
• In the 1950s, NR hadn’t been especially
pro-Israel. Leo Strauss in fact wrote a letter
to the editor (and also wrote to Willmoore
Kendall) criticizing the magazine for lack of
sympathy for Israel.
Neocons and NR Continued
• Buckley had been very critical of the ADL for its
investigations of rightwing groups.
• After Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter
became friendly with Buckley, NR became much
• Podhoretz and Decter strongly attacked Joe
Sobran, a longtime NR contributor and friend of
Buckley. Sobran was very anti-Israel. Buckley
told Sobran to stop writing about Israel and he
eventually was fired.
• Russell Kirk was an important conservative
theorist of the 1950s. His most famous book was
The Conservative Mind.
• He was a traditionalist and opposed an activist
foreign policy, although he rarely wrote on foreign
• In a speech in 1988, Kirk said, “Not seldom has it
seemed as if some eminent neoconservatives
mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United
States”. Midge Decter said Kirk was anti-Semitic.
The Neocons and Their
• Kirk wrote a foreword to an excellent
critical book about the neocons by the pro-
socialist theologian Gary Dorrien, The
• Stephen Tonsor, an intellectual historian at
the University of Michigan and an authority
on Lord Acton, was also very critical of the
neocon influence on the NR conservatives.
Neocons and Enemies Continued
• Despite opposition from Kirk and Tonsor,
the influence of the neocons at NR
• The neocons, in particular Kristol and the
Richard Neuhaus, were very influential with
foundations that gave money to
• Kirk and Tonsor wrote from within the NR circle.
• Another group of traditionalist conservatives also
opposed the neocons.
• A number of them were Southerners, including
Mel Bradford, Sam Francis, and Clyde Wilson and
Tom Fleming. Paul Gottfried was also a paleo.
• Sam Francis was a leading disciple of James
Burnham. He opposed the neocons fro their pro-
Israel policies. Burnham was anti-Zionist.
The Paleos Continued
• During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the
paleos were allied with Murray Rothbard’s
group of libertarians.
• Rothbard hoped to revive the Old Right
through an alliance with the paleos. A 1989
conference at the Rockford Institute helped
set up this alliance. The John Randolph
Club was established.
The Paleo Alliance
• Pat Buchanan was associated with the paleo
alliance. He respected Rothbard greatly.
• After Rothbard’s death in January 1995, the
• The paleos didn’t like libertarianism. Many
supported protective tariffs. There were also
personality conflicts, e.g., Fleming was hard
to get along with.
The Neocons and the Cold War
• During the late stages of the Cold War, the
neocons urged a confrontational policy with the
Russians. Podhoretz criticized Reagan for being
too soft on the Russians. He opposed
• After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the
neocons had a problem. The US won the Cold
War. But the neocons favor an aggressive policy.
They needed a new target for an attack.
The Neocons and War
• It’s clear from Podhoretz’s book World War IV
that Podhoretz liked the sense of unity present in
the American people during WWII, when he grew
up. This is also the case with many of the older
• How could this sense of unity be recaptured?
Podhoretz suggests a war against Islamofascism.
This position didn’t originate with Podhoretz, but
it has become very influential among the neocons.
• The view holds that there is a worldwide terror
campaign against the US, based in large part on an
interpretation of Islam that calls for world
dominance by Islam.
• The “fascism” side of the word stems from the
Pro-Hitler policies of the Grand Mufti of
• The government of Iran is a principal target of the
campaign against Islamofascism.
A Difficulty With the Theory
• The Islamofascist theory ignores whether
terrorism is a response to American policy.
• It assumes an unremitting opposition to
America because America is not under
• Most terrorist acts happen among Islamic
countries, and the extent of terrorism has
Islamofascism and Iraq
• A problem for the Islamofascism menace
position is that people who supported it also
supported the Iraq war of 2003.
• The problem is that the Saddam Hussein
regime was not a proponent of militant
Islam but separated religion and state.
• Nevertheless, the Project for the New American
Century, a group that lasted from 1997-2006,
strongly favored overthrow of the Saddam
• The group was founded by William Kristol and
Robert Kagan, both leading neocons.
• The group also called fro increased military
spending, to maintain American world dominance.
Why War With Iraq?
• A revealing presentation of the neocon position is
a book published in 2003, shortly before the Iraq
War broke out. This is Lawrence Kaplan and
William Kristol, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s
Tyranny and America’s Mission.
• As the title suggests, the main reason we were
supposed to overthrow Saddam was that he was a
tyrant. They mention many atrocity stories.
The Case For War
• But why does the fact that Saddam was a tyrant
imply that the United States should overthrow
him? And what does Saddam have to do with the
threat from Islamofascism?
• Kaplan and Kristol appeal to “democratic peace
theory”. According to some political scientists,
democracies never go to war with each other.
The Argument Continued
• Bruce Russett, a Yale political scientist, is a main
supporter of this view. (Russett earlier wrote a
defense of American isolationism in WWII, No
Clear and Present Danger,1972)
• If democracies could be established in all the
countries of the Middle East, then peace would be
assured. Here is where Islamofascism comes in. If
democracies were established, radical Islam would
lose its popular appeal.
Problems With the Argument
• Note that the neocons were proposing not
just war with Iraq but a whole series of
wars. This is really perpetual war for
• Is it true that democracies never go to war?
What about the Civil War?
Are we dealing with an empirical
generalization or a proposition that will
support a counterfactual? That is, it doesn’t
follow from, “democracies haven’t gone to
war with each other” that “if democracies
were to be established, they wouldn’t go to
war with each other.”
• Supporters of the theory appealed to Kant, who
argued that if a popularly elected legislature had to
approve a war, wars would be less likely.
• This isn’t true in modern democracies, where the
executive starts wars without legislative approval.
• What happens if the majority of the population
favors an Islamic regime? The neocons assumed
that the people they favored would win.
• The notion of revolutions “guided” to
achieve a particular outcome is reminiscent
of the wars of the French Revolution and
also of the Communist revolutions in
Europe after the Bolshevik Revolution.
• The Trotskyite mindset of the early neocons