In the second lecture of his course Political Science 114B United States Political Thinking from 1865, UCLA professor Brian Walker gives a concise and illuminating account of the origins of neoconservatism.
In the past few years neoconservatives have had a lot of bad press, mainly as a result of the Iraq war debacle, and the highly publicized role of Bush administration neocons such as Paul Wolfowitz in planning and promoting the war.
But according to Walker’s account, neocons first came to prominence in the 1970s as a result of their positions on domestic policy. Pioneering neocons such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz were prominent liberals until the 1970s when they felt true liberalism had gone astray. Kristol in particular was a very successful “ideological entrepreneur” who convinced American business leaders that they needed to finance publications and think tanks which would help support and promote the free enterprise system.
Some of the key ideas of neoconservatism are:
- The great wealth making machine that is our free enterprise system does produce inquality, but it doesn’t hold people in poverty. Efforts to soften the “bite of poverty” are misguided, because it reduces incentives for people to work hard and rise out of poverty.
- Many social programs, such as Lyndon Johnson’s war on party, were unsuccessful because they ignored the role of morality culture and character. Problems of poverty are complex and often intractable because the root causes cannot be solved by social programs and money.
Walker goes on to argue that neoconservatism has been in the ascendancy for the last 20 years in both Democratic and Republican administrations, but that there are recent indications that American public opinion is moving more toward the center.