Reply To: Books/articles on neoconservatism


When doing scholarly work be sure to not just read & cite critical materials. Even if you’re position ends up being critical, you can inform it a lot by including a variety of sources.

So on that basis I’ll recommend “Neoconservatism:
The Autobiography of an Idea” by Irving Kristol, and Douglas Murray’s “NeoConservatism: Why We Need It”

More critically, and written by an Austro-libertarian friendly author, is “Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea”, by C. Bradley Thompson

One thing I’ll recommend for sure is to nail down your definition of what and who constitutes neoconservatism. For example, is William Bennett a neoconservative under your definition? If so, you’d want to examine his work and the ideas behind it. Is Charles Murray a neoconservative under the definition you’ll be using? If so, dittoes. Likewise, David Brooks – if he is, under your definition, then look at his works. What, if anything, distinguishes the ideas they promoted from, say, Paul Weyrich and other “movement conservatives?” Why did “neoconservatives” become “conservative” and why were they welcomed (at least initially) by the broad right?

What about the various people at The Weekly Standard, to include, say, Fred Barnes, and all those who had a vision of “National Greatness Conservatism?” You’d want to read their articles, not *just* the articles by their opponents.

On critical stuff, I can recommend this article by Paul Gottfried as a sort of starting point: and then some of his books & articles written since then on the conservative movement as a whole, which positions neoconservatism within it and the tensions and antagonisms that developed between neoconservatives and movement conservatives. Also by Gottfried, by way of starting point, is this exchange between him & some others: on the significance (or lack theirof) of Leo Strauss, and what Strauss “really believed” or didn’t believe, and the like. I’d recommend reading for sure the other posts he links to, and then, if you can, his book on Strauss. Take a special note of the division between “East Coast Straussians” and “West Coast Straussians” and try to decide whether you think Strauss is as significant to “neoconservatism” (as a broad intellectual movement) as many critics think it is (my own conclusion is that, ultimately, no – he was important in shaping the outlook of some, but not nearly so many. What was really the drive behind “neoconservatism” as a distinct phenomenon was that old New Deal Liberals and some of the non-counterculture Left, disaffected by the New Left and its takeover of liberalism & the Democratic Party became exiles, and these exiles were welcomed into the conservative movement without having changed their own principles – they remained basically New Deal Liberals. The neoconservative movement, at the intellectual level, did contain a number of significant “Straussians,” but these weren’t even a majority among “neoconservative” intellectuals. So, 1) Strauss’s influence has been overblown by many of his critics and 2) Strauss didn’t say/argue half the things his critics say he argued. But come to your own conclusion – and note that what I just wrote does not mean I agree with neoconservatives, or that I think highly of Strauss. Not even all critics of neoconservatism as such reach the same conclusions).

I’d recommend scholarly articles for your paper, and certainly use them as sources, but from my experience researching varieties of conservatism for a research project I did a couple years ago myself, scholarly articles on neoconservatism, written as they are from a left-progressive perspective, are almost uniformly atrocious, written by people who don’t understand conservatism as a whole much less neoconservatism, or really care to, but simply reflect their prejudices back to each other rather than offer any kind of informed critique. The fact that they’re published in “serious” scholarly journals of political science or history is (or should be) an embarrassment to the academic professions.

But you’ll probably have to include some as sources, even if you end up being very critical of them (without this meaning you end up endorsing neoconservatism. It’s one thing to be critic of something – any boob with a PhD can do that, it seems; what’s important to be an informed and accurate critic of that thing).