The GOP's "conservative base" is fractured, frustrated, and confused. It finds itself saddled with a presumptive presidential nominee who has been spectacularly wrong on virtually every issue throughout his long Senatorial career. Many Republicans have once again resigned themselves to voting for "the lesser of two evils." How did this happen?
Because it received almost no media coverage, only a few know of the decades-long war waged beneath the surface for the Republican Party's soul, a war ultimately lost by traditional conservatives. Fewer still understand the motives of the combatants or appreciate the impact of that struggle's outcome on today's political scene.
In the 1950s a small group of Trotskyite intellectuals became disenchanted with aspects of Marxism and began a philosophic migration away from communism. The new movement paused briefly at the "Scoop" Jackson/Hubert Humphrey faction of the Democratic Party before selecting the Republican Party as its final host. The migration was led by Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss, the intellectual fathers of neoconservatism.
Kristol, father of The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, was Managing Editor of Commentary magazine from 1947 to 1952 and Professor of Social Thought at the New York University Graduate School of Business from 1969 to 1988. Since 1988 he has been ensconced as a Distinguished Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Strauss, who died in 1973, was a Political Science Professor at the University of Chicago for most of his career. Unfortunately for those who value Constitutional government, Kristol, Strauss, and their acolytes brought a lot of socialist baggage with them when they "came over" to conservatism.
To provide some context, it is important to understand that the Reagan Coalition was not a movement so much as it was an expedient alliance of people united by a shared opposition to Communism and the Welfare State. That alliance included traditionalists, constitutionalists, libertarians, social conservatives, and militant nationalists. When the Soviet Union imploded, so did most of the Reagan Coalition's cohesion. Today the tattered remnant is barely held together through an uneasy collaboration of fiscal conservatives, Eastern establishment liberals and, of course, the neoconservatives.
Traditional conservatives never really understood the power of propaganda, naively believing that facts and logic would carry the day. They even allowed neoconservatives to define the terms under which the battle for control of the GOP would be waged. The very labels that the neoconservatives assigned to the combatants (neoconservative and paleoconservative) served the neoconservative purpose. Those labels conferred an undeserved legitimacy on neoconservatism, creating the illusion that a symmetrical division existed within the body of conservatism when, in fact, that which calls itself neoconservativism is not conservative at all.
The first overt volley fired on behalf of the neoconservatives in the War for the GOP's soul was an article appearing in National Review on March 16, 1992, entitled "In Pursuit of Anti-Semitism Chapter II." The article was a long, rambling, and utterly dishonest attack on the editorial positions of Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan occasioned by their reasoned disagreement with American policy toward Israel. Sobran and Buchanan were accused of anti-Semitism, a canard reminiscent of Jesse Jackson's frequent allegations of racism against those who opposed Welfare State social policies. At the time I could not understand the motive for this completely unwarranted hit piece. The article's blatant falseness and unfairness so infuriated me that I cancelled my subscription, one that had been in effect since undergraduate school.
In hindsight, the motive has become obvious. The smear campaign against Sobran and Buchanan was the opening gambit in the process of "redefining" conservatism. By discrediting the most prominent and effective spokesmen for traditional conservatism, potential impediments to that redefinition would be neutralized. By the way, that many neoconservatives are Jews is true but irrelevant. The neocons use this demographic fact to vaccinate themselves against opposition by playing the "anti-Semitic" card whenever their policy preferences are challenged. The tactic is intellectually dishonest and illogical but it has certainly been effective.
For those who wonder how in the name of God's Green Earth "conservatism" ever came to mean support for an explosive increase in domestic federal spending, the expansion of welfare state programs, federalization of local and state issues, warrantless surveillance, executive branch dominance, Wilsonian global intervention, and endless war, it is only necessary to understand the blatant and unblinking arrogance that is among neoconservatism's defining hallmarks. As none other than Irving Kristol wrote unabashedly in The Neoconservative Persuasion, "...one can say that the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills [emphasis added], into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy."
That quote should send chills down the spine of every American who reads it. In a single sentence one of neoconservatism's founding fathers arrogantly admits his intention to "redefine" the politics of GOP and conservatism itself (whether Republicans and conservatives like it or not) and demonstrates his eagerness to consign the American constitution to history's ash heap in favor of "modern democracy."
Kristol, Strauss, and their disciples are moral relativists who share a disregard for truth that is nearly as great as their disdain for the essential American idea of individual liberty. Kristol wrote, "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."
On the role of the State, Kristol is quite open. He wrote, "Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity."
For his part, Strauss wrote an entire book (Natural Right and History) praising what he called the political realism of the ancients who denied that there was any natural human right to liberty or truth. He was especially taken with Plato's discourses on "noble Lies." Strauss implicitly believed, as did Plato, that "noble Lies" were essential to stable government because they gave the people meaning and purpose. Strauss also believed that secrecy is necessary tool for ruling elites. In Persecution and the Art of Writing, he explained that "the wise" must conceal their motives and actions in order to protect themselves from uprisings and reprisals.
If you wonder what has happened to the Republican Party and to conservatism, understand that neoconservatives remain ascendant within and close to the power structure of the GOP. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Lewis Libby, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Zalmay Khalilzad, John Bolton, Philip Zelikow, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and incumbent Attorney General Michael Mukasey are numbered among them. Neoconservatives also control much of what passes for the conservative media including The Fox News Channel, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and most of putatively conservative Talk Radio.
So there you have it. According to the prolific written admissions of the movement's founders, neoconservatives are purposeful liars and incipient totalitarians who hold the American people and their traditions in absolute contempt. Today they control much of the national GOP's internal workings. How much do you appreciate where the neocons have taken "the Republican party, and American conservatism...against their respective wills?"