True Conservatism vs. Neo-Conservatism
by 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
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
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
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 naïve 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
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
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
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
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
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?
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