Friday, August 30, 2002 uses a current article by Chris Hitchens in the Observer to trace his transformation from leftist to pro-war neo-conservative. They get some good hits in (especially when addressing the silly "you're wrong because some of those who feel the same can be criticized" argument), but it's more useful as an example of how radical leftists seem to be constantly reinventing themselves as neo-conservatives. David Brock's transformation from one to the other in college formed the opening (and the backdrop) for his indictment of neo-conservativism early this year, but he's hardly alone: David Horowitz and Hitchens himself are other prominent examples.

The question, of course, is why. Why would a radical leftist jump all the way to the other side of the spectrum, instead of simply becoming a moderate social democrat or liberal? What is it about neo-conservatism that prompts this sort of defection? For that matter, and this is a legitimate question... what the hell is neo-conservatism anyway, considering that its arguments, ideology, and goals seem to change more often than a runway model? It isn't libertarianism (quite), it isn't classical liberalism (quite), it isn't conservatism (quite), and it isn't especially religious (usually). Is it simply economic neoliberalism run amok within the political sphere? Is it just what David Brock described it as: a negative ideology, adopting whatever positions the left is against? Maybe, but how the hell can you formulate policy that way?

Perhaps the key aspect is its radicalism, or at least percieved radicalism. Neo-conservatism (whatever it is) gains a lot of its rhetorical power from the notion that "the liberal establishment" is running things, and that conservatism is embattled, endangered, and faces extinction. (Not to mention alliteration.) The supposedly liberal media and bureaucracy prevents the truly conservative character of the American population from coming to the fore- a conservative character that is the prime reason why the United States is (in their minds) the best country in the world. In turn, that status as the best country in the world legitimizes the United States as a "hyperpower"... not only is it legitimately powerful, but it is the only truly moral wielder of power, and therefore any organization which seeks to check that power is in-and-of itself immoral.

All well and good (although certainly debatable- any political philosophy includes differences of opinion)... but why on earth would any of this attract leftists? Well, it may be that sense of being embattled and under siege. The radical left, or at least some of those on the radical left, define themselves by the struggle against the forces of the establishment. If that establishment holds some of the same views as the leftists themselves (or at least variations of those views), though, then what exactly are they setting themselves against? And what happens when (as often happens) they find themselves on the same side of an argument as those from the opposite side of the general spectrum on an issue (such as would happen between, say, social conservatives and radical feminists on the issue of pornography?)

More to the point (and this goes back to a controversial but still illustrative section of Brock's book), what happens when the anti-establishment character of a leftist sees the liberal or left establishment actually silence a conservative? There's a big contradiction here- the left is supposed to treasure people's rights, including the right to free speech and free assembly. That student might react badly so much so that they might apply their radicalism and anti-establishmentism in a completely new direction, coming from the right instead of the left. Encouraged by their new friends on the right, they still get to fight the establishment, only they see a whole new establishment to be fought. This is what happened with Brock, and he's only one guy who happened to switch again to liberalism and write a book about it. How many neo-conservatives didn't switch back and wouldn't admit they were wrong if they did?

There's also an important nationalistic element, especially nowadays. It's partially that "best country in the world" stuff, but I think there's more to it than that- neo-cons often pull out rhetoric about the evils of internationalism and international government, yet are hardly libertarians- they acknowledge the importance and necessity of the nation-state. (Heck, look at "TransProg".) It was always present and has a lot to do with the relatively hawkishness of many neo-cons, many of whom seem to fervently believe that there's no way the United States can lose a conflict, retconning history to make it seem like Vietnam was only due to liberal squishiness. It doesn't really include the disturbing racial aspects of nationalism, though- it seems to be rooted in the American ideological conception of a nation, rather than an ethnocentric one. (Hence the hatred of multiculturalism and the obsession with immigrants being assimilated into the dominant culture, whether that culture is American or British or Canadian or whatever.)

Ok, whatever. Why is this important? It's important because right now, whatever it is, neo-conservatism happens to be (ironically) the dominant ideology right now, especially on the blogosphere. A lot of people get all offended when they're called "libertarians", replying that they don't share that movement's obsession with individual property rights and individuality. Perhaps, but the question remains about what that dominant ideology is, and neo-conservatism seems to be the only one that fits the profile. After, all, what else could there be? It ain't liberalism, it ain't social conservatism, fiscal conservatism doesn't begin to explain all of it, there's a nationalistic and somewhat imperialistic element that flies in the face of the notoriously isolationist tendencies of libertarians, it sure as heck isn't leftist, and outside of some heated rhetoric it isn't fascist either. The one thing it certainly is, though, is astoundingly hostile to the left.

It's consistent and thus classifiable, but it doesn't fit into any of these common categories (and no, Steven, "engineerism" doesn't work either), thus prompting a rather puzzled reaction from those of us who don't agree with it and work against it. I like the word "conservatarian", but it's obviously not appropriate, and the longer this ideology wields power and influence the more difficult the job of figuring it out becomes.

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