Neocon or Neoliberal?

(Note: Before reading this post, please consult the very serious Deonandan.com disclaimer.)

Today’s daily perv link is, as usual, quite disturbing.

Isaac Hayes South Park update: they’ve turned Chef into a paedophile and are killing him off! Like we didn’t already guess.

You may recall an earlier post on India’s “special relationship” with feces. Well, the Indian government has announced that it intends to be feces free by 2012.

Now, some comments posted to this blog have, in my opinion, reflected a general lack of knowledge about some concepts common in the contemporary media discourse, such as the term “neoconservative” or “neocon”. Maybe it’s time for a brief primer on the history of the neocon movement.

Colloquial understanding of what constitutes neocon belief or membership postulates associations with the Bush II presidency or with organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation or PNAC. Modern neocon belief is characterized by military aggression, jingoism, fanatical anti-communism and, today, fanatical anti-autocracy, at least superficially. Moreover, neocon philosophy aligns itself somewhat to the political interests of the government of Israel.

We tend to associate neoconservatism with unbridled hawishness, maybe even irrational hawkishness. But the movement’s history is more complex than that. Neoconservatism is not an offshoot of old-style conservatism (now called paleoconservatism), but rather of old-style liberalism. The movement traces its roots to at least the Nixon administration, when self-styled progressives and intellectuals decided that the Left had abandoned its responsibilities to the world, and started to advocate for the use of US military power to depose unfriendly regimes and install friendlier ones. The ascension of pacifistic George McGovern alienated those in the Democratic party with neocon tendencies, and reaffirmed the Republican Party as the natural home for most neocons. It can be argued that the movement’s philosophical underpinnings are essentially Trotskyist, wherein the hegemon must be placed in a state of permanent revolution, or even Wilsonian, wherein the US global mission must be one to convert the world to democracies. Regardless, it is clear that the modern collective of neocons draws its roots from among the most idealistic of liberal thought.

Many tend to forget that today’s neocon leaders, such as Donald Rumsfeld, were in fact high ranking officials in the Nixon administration. Back then, the threat of communism, much like today’s threat from terrorism, was overblown and overfed to the American public. (Mind you, at least the Cold War was somewhat grounded in geopolitical reality.) This climate of fear compelled some liberals coming off the 1960s heydey to reassess the role of American might and to conclude that the best road to safety and security was to remake the world, by force, into pro-Western and/or democratic units. They were drawn to Nixonian politics for this reason. Thus it’s not surprising to see some of the actors involved in America’s Vietnam war being the same actors involved in American’s present foreign military misadventures.

Thus, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to characterise modern liberal politicians, like Michael Ignatieff, as having neocon tendencies, since, like the hardcore neocons of America’s present leadership, such individuals advocate the use of force to topple autocratic regimes, regardless of what threat they may nor may not pose to the West, and regardless of the cost in human lives that such forced toppling may require. Modern neocon obsessions, such as a defence of torture and a seemingly unexamined fascination with the disposition of Israel, not to mention an increasing marriage to the Christian right and to corporate interests, distance the movement from its liberal roots, so perhaps the term “neocon” is no longer appropriate for this particular group. But making up a new term is somebody else’s job.