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Sunday, March 13, 2005


The Neoconservative persuasion

posted by Razib Khan at Sunday, March 13, 2005 permalink View blog reactions
My post below elicited good responses. I am usually exhausted by the self-referential and semantically muddled nature of most political discussions...but I perceived a sincere and genuine attempt at clarity by most participants, so I want to elaborate a few points.

Now, there was a suggestion below that it is fine for the Democrats to use the term "Neocon" as a smear to win elections, just as Republicans have used "liberal." This is not totally without merit, the republic has been characterized by political acrimony since at least the 1796 election. Our relatively narrow-window of historical memory allows us to forget that there is nothing new about down and dirty campaigning, that hooliganism is as old as the Roman republic.

That being said, many would assert that the Roman republic was doomed by its expansion after the wars with Carthage, in IT parlance it did not "scale" well. When the American republic was founded it had only two and a half million inhabitants, and only one out of ten white males could vote. Today, we have 300 million inhabitants, and over 120 million votes were cast in the last presidential election. I will be frank in that I fear for the scalability for the republican system. For all the instabilities and faction that characterized the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries, I wonder if perhaps the political system was more robust because it was not as extensive, and, because the information networks were not as tight and superluminal.

That is why I worry about the hyperfactionalism that can characterize the system, the debasement of language, communication and the obstacles to discourse that are fostered by short term election considerations. Misuse of language in and of itself is not necessarily the death of a political system, but in confluence with a growing niche existence fostered by targeted marketing, self-selected residential habits and the atomization that is the byproduct of the modern world, perhaps we should reconsider trading in the possibilities of future amity for short term acrimony in the interests of victory. Defeat has always been followed by reformulation and repackaging by the "loyal opposition" in this country, but this is not a human universal, in many nations defeat is followed by purges and pogroms, explaining the violence and ferocity that characterizes intercine faction through history. The buffering and dampening influence of community, locality and trans-social institutions that bind us across the chasms of faction seem less robust, at least in comparison to the gargantuan demographic expanse of our polity. The daily ties that bind seem to be diminishing as a proportion of our experience of life. The historical memories of republican glories have been diluted by hyperawareness of injustice and inequity that characterized the pre-modern age.

The illness that I am alluding to can not be cured by one act, one decision, rather, it will be ameliorated only individual acts of small consequence summed together into a greater whole. A proper and accurate characterization of those who one disagrees with seems like a small and tenable step.


Razib: you'll no doubt find this interesting.


hm. actually, i don't! to be honest, i'm not particularly politically involved or emotively invested because my own positions are rather marginal, and diffused through both political parties (so i tend to win & lose simultaneously). the stamp collection of political ideologies is something i've moved past...but, i do have a fixation on reality, so i don't like to see misrepresentation and distortion in the service of ideology.



Den Beste addresses your concerns on scalability and long term stability here, personally I don't think it's a big issue:


Of course, whoever ends up losing the election tends to make some noise about jackbooted thugs, the president declaring himself emperor, first casualty of war is truth, etc. etc. I know I bought into that stuff big time when Clinton got re-elected. I probably should have known better.



That NYT article about the split-up over at The National Interest is extremely important. Not only did the neocons abandon the mag (it appears that Francis Fukuyama tried to seize control of the publication), but Democratic realists like Samuel Huntington and Zbig Brzezinski abandoned it with them. Not mentioned in the article is that the publication recently came under the control of not only The Nixon Center, but of John O'Sullivan, who, in case we've all forgotten, got purged from National Review a few years back. What this indicates to me is that the nationalist wing of the GOP is making a resurgence.

I've read TNI for many years now, so this is quite fascinating. What's especially interesting is that this is just after TNI published a bunch of essays calling for unity amongst the conservative factions on foreign policy.

There's also a wing of the GOP that has been all but ignored recently... the offensive realists, ie, people like Robert Kaplan and Claremont Institute folks, such as Mark Helprin. I'm a member of this small faction, and they're regularly attacked by neocons.

These are interesting times on the foreign policy right.



i read the den beste piece...and frankly, i think it's a lot of hand waving. additionally, he get's some major historical facts wrong.


1) rome was explicitly not a democracy, it was a republic (ie; res publica). it's "mixed" government system was praised by the greek historian polybius explicitly because it side-stepped the instabilities of idealistic greek systems like oligarchy, tyranny, plutocracy and democracy. it also allowed for flexibility in extended franchise, and, it was understood that the will of the state could not overrule the 'traditional rights of romans' (trial by jury, etc.). sound familiar?

2) he's also wrong about oregon not being racist when he was growing up. before 1960 portland was labelled by the NAACP as the most racist city north of the mason-dixon, black performers had to get rooms in hotels across the columbia in vancouver, WA. in many towns blacks were not allowed to out after dark by a common understanding.

so, the den beste essay does nothing to put my mind at rest, least of all because he seems not to have a full grasp of the minor facts....


Razib said: My overall point is that contrary to the perceptions of many insular Leftists/liberals/Democrats, Neoconservatives are the moderates in the Republican/Right movement.
Calling the major promoters of the Iraq War "moderates" seems to me to be a debasement of language. There is nothing moderate about the launching of an unnecessary war.


Let me add this to the last post: there is also nothing moderate about the "open borders" immigration policies favored by the neocons. Uncontrolled immigration is radically disruptive of communities. Anyone who doubts this is unfamiliar with the problems of Southern California. If the RP took a strong stand on illegal immigration(including severely punishing employers) they could win over many rank-and-file Democrats.


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