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Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea Hardcover – 20 Jun 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Paradigm (20 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594518319
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594518317
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,832,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

C. Bradley Thompson is the BB&T Research Professor in the Department of Political Science at Clemson University and the Executive Director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. He is the author of the award-winning John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. He is also the editor of The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams and Antislavery Political Writings, 1833-1860: A Reader. Yaron Brook is executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute. He appears regularly on national TV and radio to discuss business, economic, and foreign policy issues. He has written and spoken extensively on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and on the role of neoconservatives in formulating that policy.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Connolly on 28 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the Introduction to `Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea`, C. Bradley Thompson and Yaron Brook declare:

"Let us be clear: We do not treat neoconservatism as a conspiracy or a cabal (readers of this book will find no flowcharts starting at some office at the University of Chicago, moving through apartments in New York City, and ending in some dark bunker in the White House), but rather as an imporatant intellectual and political movement that deserves to be taken seriously".

This book keeps its promises. Thompson and Brook absolutely deserve to be commended for what they have done here. We have seen far too much in the way of trashy literature claiming to `expose' the neoconservative movement. `Neocon', unfortunately, has become an overused, misunderstood term tossed around as an insult by the clueless left, who have little idea what it actually means. Most often, it is just used as a label for American right-wingers in general. Most disturbing, however, is the level of anti-Semitism that has sneaked into the discussion, with far-left magazines like Adbusters actually putting stars next to the names of Jews on a list of known neoconservatives. Few incidents exposed the moral decline and intellectual bankruptcy of today's left-wing, if it ever held any moral high ground and intellectual quality in the first place. Such nonsense obfuscates the real issues, and scares sensible people away from honestly grappling with neoconservatism.

Thompson is a former neoconservative sympathizer who drifted towards the libertarian side of the philosophical spectrum, while Brook, whom I have seen a couple of times on his UK visits, is executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute and a prominent Objectivist spokesperson.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Levy on 30 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This extraordinary book is a delicious example (I think it’s a delicious example, but as with everything about neoconservatism, and indeed neoliberalism too, one is almost by definition never certain) of the smoke-and-mirrors, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, once I was a commy, now I’m the world’s greatest standalone free-marketeer trail along which so many have trudged their rather predictable way between post-war consensus and rabid 1980s individualism, having seen the Platonic light. Had this extremely learned and very well-written book been penned by a moderate left-of-centre political theorist, it would have been a coherent and much-needed critique from someone whose political stance allowed us to judge their writing: I wholeheartedly agree with Thompson’s view (p 227) that ‘the neoconservatives are the advocates of a new managerial State – a State controlled and regulated by a new mandarin class of conservative virtucrats who think the American people are incapable of governing themselves without the help of [their] wisdom [and] who want to regulate virtually all areas of human thought and action’. (Naturally apart from bemoaning their very existence he has nothing to say on staying or reversing the neoconservative-neoliberal near-whole-world consensus.) The chilling creepiness one feels reading this book stems from the foggy nature of the political views of the authors, at least as expressed here. I say unknown, but it doesn’t take much digging to divine what’s really going on: although Clemson University (C Bradley Thompson’s current academic home) seems a standard vanilla US university of some repute, the home of the author of one ‘fabulous’ (according to his co-author) chapter (Yaron Brook) is executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Don't be misled by the subtitle 19 Jun. 2010
By Burgess Laughlin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of this intriguing and complex book is "An Obituary for an Idea." That subtitle is in part meant to be ironic, as the author, intellectual historian C. Bradley Thompson, explains on p. 2. In part, the subtitle of Thompson's book is ironic as a play on another title, _Socialism: An Obituary for an Idea_, which was written 34 years ago by the founder of the neoconservative intellectual movement in the United States, Irving Kristol (1920-2009).

When Kristol wrote his article, in 1976, was socialism actually dead? As a coherent ideology it was at least terminally ill. But, as we know today, the mortal remains of philosophical socialism have continued to wreck havoc even if the ideology as a whole has died.

Is neoconservatism in the same situation today? Herein lies another irony. The leading neoconservatives have denied that the neoconservative movement even has an ideology, which is a universal philosophy applied to a particular milieu. Neoconservatives instead have called their approach a "persuasion" or "mood," thus disarming serious critics.

Thompson -- the BB&T Research Professor in Political Science at Clemson University, the Executive Director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, and the author of _John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty_ -- analyzes neoconservatism and then evaluates it from his own viewpoint, variously called laissez-faire capitalism, classical liberalism, Goldwater conservatism, and Jeffersonian republicanism. Throughout the book, Thompson uses that viewpoint as a foil, a radically different standard of comparison, when looking at the neoconservative philosophy and its political consequences.

A more descriptive title for Thompson's book might have been "Neoconservatism: Its Philosophical Nature, Historical Roots, and Poisonous Fruit." What Thompson finds in his studies of neoconservatism is that neoconservatives do indeed have not only an ideology for our time -- a financially sustainable welfare state at home and regime-building crusades abroad -- but a full philosophy underlying that ideology. Thompson summarizes his conclusions about the nature of the neoconservative ideology: "The neoconservative vision of a good America is one in which ordinary people work hard, read the Bible, go to church on Sunday, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, practice homespun virtue, sacrifice themselves to the 'common good', obey the commands of the government, fight wars, and die for the State."

Such an ideology, Thompson shows, goes against the grain of Americanism as a stream of Jeffersonian ideas such as individualism and government serving only as a night watchman, not as a shepherd of our lives in a collective.

For students of the history of ideas, as much as for today's political activists, this book does the "heavy lifting" required to reveal the deepest nature -- and therefore threat -- of the neoconservative movement, which is still very much alive.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A must conservative or liberal read 19 July 2010
By Ashley T. King - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was an eye-opener: little did I know of the illiberal philosophical roots of neoconservatism. Thompson and Brook provide first-class scholarship on Leo Strauss, the philosopher of neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol, showing Strauss' sympathy with Italian fascism. Who would have known that a cadre of talented Machiavellian Platonists could have insinuated themselves into the conservative movement and there substantially redefined conservative domestic and foreign policies. It is shocking to find how deep is neocon antipathy to the Jeffersonian, natural rights, Enlightenment roots of the United States.

Conservatives who consider the founding fathers their touchstone must read this book. Liberals curious about the roots of these influential thinkers in the conservative ranks must read this book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Neocons: hostility to the Declaration of Independence 7 April 2011
By Jack Gardner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating exposition of the essence, history, and philosophy of the movement or idea. (And I'm only a third into it.)

What may be characterized as neoconservatism is the purposefully nebulous intellectual movement which has largely consumed the conservative intelligentsia. So-called compassionate conservatism. Socialism in capitalist clothing. A pragmatic approach to the welfare state. Capitalism with a heart. Lip-service capitalism. Socialism without totalitarianism. Or perhaps, "A new spectre is haunting the world?" Neoconservatism requires no formal conspiracy, only general acceptance of a philosophic approach.

A philosophic approach counter to the Enlightenment which gave birth to the founding fathers and America. Rejection of the idea that all men are capable of reason and self-improvement. Rejection of reason and principle in favor of emotionalism and "prudence." Neocons, while inconsistent, effectively reject the Declaration of Independence. Not in an implied, confused way, but explicitly. Men do not have natural rights; such as, life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. The purpose of government is not to protect individual rights, but to ensure that men recognize the duties of serving the "public good." Only then will they be happy.

Still, neocons recognize that forced socialism fails, producing poverty, misery, slaughter, and oppression. Thus, some measure of capitalism must be preserved to generate the wealth needed for actual public good, for redistribution by the welfare state.

But capitalism is founded on principles of self-interest and individual rights. So, neocons seek pragmatic compromises, some fantasy mixture of limited freedoms and regulations, to be guided by an elite in the "art of politics" toward the "greater good." (As both Dante and Ayn Rand have observed, compromisers, betrayers of principle, belong to the lowest depths of hell.)

The goal of government, of the elite, of these real life versions of Ayn Rand's fictional Ellsworth Toohey, is to promote a modern version of Plato's noble lie, founded in unquestioned, traditionally altruistic, religious beliefs - a unifying "secular religion." All the while, politically, legislatively nudging and guiding the culture in properly collective directions.

The fact that neoconservative thought, by its nature, cannot be a unified, organized movement serves to nullify its goals, but not its cultural, political damage - as promoters engage in intellectually confused and conflicting policy urgings and moral critiques - picked up by the journalistic and entertainment media and universities.

Neocons argue that principles of individual freedom lead to false virtues of self-interest, degenerating into hedonism (mindless gratification, greed, and entertainment). Thus, they attack a straw man, following the tradition of religious and altruistic thinkers. Men who can see no morality in reason or the "self," but only empty degradation. (Themselves, the elite, the transcendentally enlightened, excepted.)

Ironically, the founders of this philosophic movement claim an answer to Nietzsche and Heidegger, but effectively only politicize nihilism and existentialism. More ironically, the neocons formulated their views at the time Ayn Rand was providing the antidote to their straw man: a validation of reason and moral values, which must be grounded in man's individual nature and self growth. Their evasion of Rand is grounded in their evasion of reason as a virtue.

The "godfather" of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, enjoyed a cultural boost, and the neocons have continued to denounce Rand. Rand's Objectivism is now gaining wider distribution and supporters. Both Rand and Kristol are dead, but the cultural battle is well joined. Hopefully, consistent Objectivism will write the obituary of inconsistent, pragmatic neoconservatism.

Other fascinating works in this vain, written for the general reader and tracing the history and philosophic developments which are confusing our modern culture, are Peikoff's "Ominous Parallels" and Hicks' "Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault." All highly recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An Essential Elucidation of a Cryptic Ideology 10 Jan. 2013
By Dennis B. Mulcare - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Prior to reading this book, I had loosely considered neoconservatism to be rehash of 20th century Democratic Party foreign policy. Similarly, I had considered Big Government Conservatism to be merely a repackaging of Rockefeller Republicanism. Neoconservatism - An Obituary for an Idea has profoundly altered those views, and did so in a very systematic, comprehensive, and plausible manner. My former lazy notion that the term neoconservatism was simply "hype" has now been laid to rest.

Lest one categorize this book as strictly a political account, the author states his primary focus to be "the philosophical essence of neoconservatism" (p. 6). Although there is also ample illustrative treatment of its contemporary political manifestations, emphasis on the underlying philosophical bases for neoconservatism serves to establish and characterize its ideological credentials. In consequence, the pivotal element in the neoconservative creed, as expropriated largely from Leo Strauss, is seen to be a somewhat tortured synthesis of Platonic idealism and Machiavellian realism. This reduces to "Platonic ends achieved by Machiavellian means" (p. 227).

Given the dubious if not unpalatable core tenets of neoconservatism, it is not surprising that its proponents/practitioners are evasive or disingenuous regarding its nature/goals. "They resist any attempt to...identify or define...their views" (p.15), which is mainly why this book is so important. In part, neocons obscure its ideological nature, strategies, and doctrine via a two-level formulation that distinguishes a purportedly wise and beneficent ruling elite (theory level) from an inherently base citizenry (practice level). Here, the ruling elite is composed of philosophers, their specially trained statesman, and to some extent by their surrogates. In turn, the allegedly hapless citizens are subsumed into the pitiable organic whole of society, which must be managed by the ruling elite primarily for the good of the state.

The neocon ideological doctrine/strategies per se are shown to be strictly the esoteric province of the philosophers and their anointed statesman. The intended homogenous society is then privy to just exoteric propaganda, directives, obligations, and constraints that are bestowed on it, primarily for the good of the governing state. Secondarily, society is held to benefit by its relegation to a managed collective life granted unto it by the all-knowing/all-controlling state. Welcome to the "new managerial State" (p. 226).

In all, appreciable detail and disturbing implications of the neocon ideology are convincingly explicated in the book. In consequence, the thrust of this ideological formulation is shown necessarily to entail the demise of the traditional/constitutional form of US governance as well as the repudiation of the principles of American conservatism per se. Ultimately, the underlying premises and the consolidated esoteric doctrine of neoconservatism would seem to be wholly repugnant and fatuous to all traditional Americans and to all persons who value liberty and the rights of individual citizens.

To render the author's characterization and analysis of the neoconservative ideology more tangible, there are ample illustrations of neocon influence at the highest levels of government, mainly through leverage within the Republican Party. Perhaps the most significant is the neocon domination of President George Bush's foreign policy, notably with regard to the Iraqi War. After their decisive role in initiating the war, the neocons enacted an indecisive mode of conducting it: foolishly restrictive rules of engagement; the policy of not pursuing outright military victory; and largely free reign for the Iraqis to disdain our "benevolence" following the war. This prominent exercise in orthodox neocon foreign policy is also examined in Claes Ryn's The New Jacobinism.

Many thanks to Professor Thompson for his thoughtful, thorough, and compelling examination of neocon ideology, and his exemplification of neoconservatism in practice. It probably took as much fortitude as scholarly endeavor to expose the actual nature and ends of this powerful and pervasive ideology. The insights he offers render the interpretation and understanding of Washington politics much clearer. Accordingly, my observations of the failures and dysfunction there are now rather less perplexing. To wit: the counter-productive results issuing from Washington are largely explainable in terms of the common goals of both the progressives AND the neocons. In the words of their prophet and godfather Irving Kristol, neocons seek "liberal ends...achieved through conservative means" (p. 26).
34 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Systematic Unraveling of Neoconservatism 31 May 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
C. Bradley Thompson (with Yaron Brook) has written a rigorous and detailed analysis of the ideas neoconservatism, including neoconservatism's founder Irving Kristol and Kristol's main intellectual influence, namely Leo Strauss. Thompson takes us back to the origin of the neoconservative movement with Kristol's life-changing (for Kristol) book review Leo Strauss's "Persecution and the Art of Writing" in Commentary magazine in the 1950s. The details and nature of the Straussian philosophy are also covered, including its simultaneous enthusiasm for Platonic idealism and Machiavellian pragmatism. Thompson and Brook then discuss how these ideas translate into the policies, both foreign and domestic, that the neoconservatives have been advocating and supporting over the last few decades and most recently in the Iraq war. Over the course of ten chapters Thompson unmasks neoconservatism as, despite many appearances to the contrary, "a unique species of Anti-Americanism." The book demonstrates that the neocons are in theory and practice opposed to the ideas of the American founding, including individual rights, limited government, and laissez-faire capitalism. Instead the neoconservatives support a kind of "soft-despotism" that is more akin to fascism than Americanism. Highly recommended, particularly for those who do support the real principles of Americanism!
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