I’ve been hearing the phrase “neoconservative” hurled around a lot these days, usually as a term of opprobrium, and often used in name-calling tirades against those with whom one disagrees.
For people who would use the term: please define it.
At various times, depending on who is employing it, “neoconservative” seems to mean one or more of the following:
- A social liberal who practices conservative foreign policy;
- A starry-eyed idealist who favors massive American intervention abroad in order to promote democratic reform within backward dictatorships;
- An exponent of international capitalistic enterprise with no respect for or interest in maintaining traditional national boundaries or cultures; or
- A Jew.
I was a politically-aware adult back in the days when the word was first coined, and none of these is the meaning originally given to it.
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The word “neoconservative” was coined to describe people who had once been liberals, leftists, radicals, or even communists, and who had come to their senses and adopted conservatism. Irving Kristol was considered its principal representative, although there were many other neocons in the field in the same period.
This is what the word means to me: “Someone who used to be a liberal and is now a conservative.” It’s mainly an American term.
Neoconservatives are constantly appearing in the political firmament like new stars forming in the dust and debris of interstellar space. 9-11 produced a fresh batch of them, including Roger Simon and (surprise!) Neo-neocon.
I am not now nor have I ever been a neoconservative. I went from being a youth of callow and inchoate political opinions straight to being a conservative some time in the late ’70s or early ’80s.
If you use the term “neoconservative” in this space, and consider it to have a meaning other than the canonical one given above, please define it before you fling it around as an epithet or term of praise.
It’s the first step in reasoned scholarly discourse: define your terms.