An Honest Assessment of Neoconservatism

By:  Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.
02/17/2012
       
An Honest Assessment of Neoconservatism

Given that Republicans will select their presidential nominee before we know it, and given that three of the four candidates in the GOP field are neoconservatives, it would behoove us to revisit neoconservatism.

 

Given that Republicans will select their presidential nominee before we know it, and given that three of the four candidates in the GOP field are neoconservatives, it would behoove us to revisit neoconservatism.

By looking at specific thinkers widely recognized as representatives of neoconservatism, we will soon see that far from being “anti-Semitic” or any other kind of pejorative, and far from being but the latest version of conservatism, neoconservatism is a distinct intellectual tradition. Moreover, it is an intellectual tradition that embodies theories of knowledge, morality, and political philosophy that are not only different from but incompatible with those constituting conservative thought.
 
Neoconservatism
 
Leo Strauss
It seems that no conversation of the theoretical trappings of neoconservatism is devoid of reference to Leo Strauss. Unfortunately, rare are those analyses of the relationship between Strauss’s thought and the neoconservative vision that accurately encapsulate just how the former supplied philosophical inspiration for the latter. More importantly, while Strauss has exerted a formative influence over neoconservative thought, he is hardly the sole or primary influence that he is typically made out to be. In fact, he himself gave expression to a much older tradition. 
 
This tradition is what we may refer to, for lack of a better term, as “rationalism.”   
 
Like any other philosophical vantage point, there is no exhaustive set of terms in which to define rationalism. It admits of multiple variations. However, in all its versions, rationalism affirms a robust conception of human reason. At the very least, reason, from this perspective, is trans-historical: ultimately, it transcends the contingencies of place and time. Reason has access to “principles” — moral principles — that are just as universal and timeless as reason itself. And in accordance with these principles, reason is capable of organizing whole societies.

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Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. (photo)

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