The Skeptics

From the “Inapt Immodesty” File

I was interested to see that Ayn Rand Institute president Yaron Brook, whom I debated a while back on whether the United States should bomb Iran (I said no, he said yes), had coauthored a book titled Neoconservatism: An Obituary of an Idea. His coauthor, Bradley Thompson, gave an interview to Harper’s magazine, and claimed the following:

Yaron Brook and I are the first scholars to argue that neoconservative foreign policy is actually a special branch of its domestic policy. In sum, our argument is this: the neocons support a foreign policy of benevolent hegemony and perpetual war in order to serve the moral and political goals associated with what David Brooks calls “national-greatness conservatism.”

The single greatest threat to America, according to many neocons, is not communism or radical Islam but nihilism, and they see nihilism as the inevitable outcome of Enlightenment liberalism and America’s founding principles. The real problem with liberal-capitalist society for Strauss, Kristol, and Brooks is that individuals do not sacrifice themselves to anything higher than themselves and their petty self-interest. What America needs, therefore, is a two-step antidote for its cultural malaise: the inculcation of public virtue and the promotion of nationalism. The neocons seek to restore a public philosophy that promotes sacrifice as the great moral ideal and patriotism as the great political ideal.

The American people need something greater than themselves to live for. They need to learn the virtue of sacrifice, which means war. War–perpetual war–is the ultimate means by which the neocons can fight creeping nihilism and promote sacrifice and nationalistic patriotism. An aggressive, proactive foreign policy therefore serves a greater purpose–to raise ordinary Americans above their daily, selfish concerns. Nation building also provides neoconservative statesmen with a grand theatre on which to practice their statesmanlike virtues.

Emphasis mine. If the bolded claim is true, I am Pope Benedict. It is utterly false for Mr. Thompson to say that he and his coauthor are “the first scholars to argue that neoconservative foreign policy is actually a special branch of its domestic policy.” Michael Williams, now of the University of Ottawa, has been publishing on this topic since at least 2006, when he published “What Is the National Interest? The Neoconservative Challenge in IR Theory.” More recently, in 2008, he published an article with Brian Schmidt that offered the following argument:

A social order based purely on narrowly egoistic interests, neoconservatives argue, is unlikely to survive–and the closer one comes to it, the less liveable and sustainable society will become. Unable to generate a compelling vision of the collective public interest, such a society would be incapable of maintaining itself internally or defending itself externally. As a consequence, neoconservatism regards the ideas at the core of many forms of modern political and economic rationalism–that such a vision of interest can be the foundation for social order–as both wrong and dangerous. It is wrong because all functioning polities require some sense of shared values and common vision of the public interest in order to maintain themselves. It is dangerous because a purely egoistic conception of interest may actually contribute to the erosion of this sense of the public interest, and the individual habits of social virtue and commitment to common values that sustain it.

“The first scholars to argue that neoconservative foreign policy is actually a special branch of its domestic policy”? I think not. Better literature reviews, please.