Books/articles on neoconservatism

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    I’m writing my bachelor’s project and I ditched my previous topic which was based Bagus’ idea of the EU being built on two conflicting visions because there wasn’t enough support for it to justify to my professor. Especially since he is an expert on EU who didn’t buy my(Bagus’) take on it.

    Instead I’m going to write about how Neoconservatives came to influence American politics and what this has meant for America and the world. So I’m looking for suggestions for books/articles to read on this topic. Either books/articles on how this movement arose or books/articles on their influence.


    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).


    P.S. there probably is sufficient support for Bagus’ position, but it’s a matter of digging deep into primary sources, but for that one would have to know where to look, and, alas, I’m not familiar enough with the key figures to point you in the right direction on that.

    If you e-mailed Professor Bagus – Philipp.Bagus @ (no spaces) – he might be happy to point you to where to find good primary sources to support his thesis.


    I looked at my own paper and (in addition to the Nash book, that someone already recommended), here are some other books & articles I found useful:

    Kristol, I., “American Conservatism, 1945-1995,” The Public Interest (Fall 1995), pp.86-87

    Sleeper, J., “The Fall of the Liberal Establishment,”

    Podhoretz, N., “Neoconservatism: A Eulogy,” Commentary (Mar. 1996),–a-eulogy-8533

    Fonte, J., “Why There is a Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville in America”

    Collier, P. and Horowitz, D., Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the ‘60s (1996)

    Wattenberg, B., The First Universal Nation (1992)

    Schlessinger, A., The Disuniting of America (1992, 1998)

    Review by MacDonald, H., Commentary (June 1992),–by-arthur-m–schlesinger–jr–7982

    Kristol, I., “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” The Weekly Standard (Aug. 2003),

    Krauthammer, C., Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World (2004)

    Wattenberg, B. interviewed by Steigerwald, B., “Ben Wattenberg’s Fighting Words,” FrontPageMag (01 Dec 2008),

    Kesler, C., “All Against All,” National Review (18 Aug 1989),

    The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment (Kabaservice, G.)


    You’ve already received some great suggestions; I’ll just add that Dan McCarthy of The American Conservative told me that Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right is useful.


    Thanks so much for the suggestions. They have all been very helpful and especially yours Porphyrogenitus. You raised many of the concerns I have had with this theme. I have no interest in doing a smearjob on them. Rather I want to figure out what actually constitutes neoconservatism as it is understood by its followers and originators.

    The reason why I wanted journal articles is mostly because I might not be able to borrow or buy all the books needed so other sources that I can use would be practical.

    Re; Bagus
    I wrote Bagus and he could only help with a couple of sources supporting his view. And I found a couple of flaws myself so I wondered if I could succesfully argue the case.


    Depending on how much time you have for the paper, Inter-library loan is often useful, or if the University has access to them via electronic format (I usually like to read books in hard copy but you do what you have to when time is short).

    If they were older books it would be a snap, Google’s Gutenberg Project is great for older books, and sometimes even has recent books.

    For Journal Articles: in addition to the fact that academic journals tend to be bad in their understanding of anything “conservative” (note: this doesn’t mean you won’t find anything useful there; you might have more luck than I do. Plus it actually helps to have a few “bad critics” to beat up on for getting things wrong), they’re “secondary sources.” But there are also online publications where neoconservatives tend to publish – “The National Interest,” “The Public Interest,” “Policy Review,” “The New Criterion,” “The Clairmont Institute,” “Commentary,” and “National Affairs.” If you can get access to their archives ( might be helpful for at least some neoconservative publications) you can mine these. Also, AEI publications and some of the publications of the Hoover Institution. (Note with all of the above, not necessarily every article is written from a neoconservative perspective. Plus, you’ll have to find the key ones to read & cite; for example, this relatively recent one).

    Also, I should have mentioned this earlier: the most useful tool in the world are the footnotes and bibliographies/cited sources in any of the books and articles you read. Whenever you see an author cite something interesting written by someone else, you can follow that bread-crumb and pick up that source (be it book or article) as well. If you do this, quite often the problem transforms from “how can I find enough sources?” to “I have so many to read, how do I prioritize which ones so I can finish reading them in time to write?”


    I’m trying narrow my project now on something more specific because otherwise I won’t be able to give a fair account of neoconservatism anyway. I’m only allowed 30 pages so I’m thinking of a single case to illustrate neoconservatism. I have been thinking of perhaps using the Iraq as an example of neoconservatism in action.

    Any thoughts or ideas on would could be a good case study?


    No suggestions?


    Well idk because it’s sort of a personal choice.

    If it were me, though, I wouldn’t make the Iraq War/last decade my focus, if only because it’s been done to death (if, usually, done badly – it’s not necessarily a defense of Neoconservatism to point out that many people get so wracked up about what they see as the wrongs of the Iraq War that they’re unable to look at the Neoconservatives involved with sufficient dispassion to understand their perspective and present it fairly, even while disagreeing with it).

    If it were me, I’d write about the intellectual roots of neoconservatism, it’s early emphasis not just on foreign policy (“cold war liberals”) but on domestic policy, and the reason why what we might term “right liberals*” moved from the camp of the left to the camp of the right; then in the last part of the paper you could touch on why this led them to support an “activist” foreign policy.

    That will allow you to get some distance from the passions of current events (which are certainly understandable, mind – if you think some group’s policies led to the unencessary deaths of tens, hundreds of thousands of people, well if that’s not something to get passionate about, then what is? – but the problem is, IMO, those emotions too frequently lead people astray in analysis. Again, it would be appropriate for a polemical paper).

    But this suggestion on a narrower topic reflects my own personal, distinct outlook as to what I often find interesting; I like “history of intellectual development/intellectual movements,” so naturally that’s going to be how I recommend approaching it. But I do think it would have merit here, if the overall purpose of the paper is an understanding of a political-intellectual movement.

    Plus I find that whole era (60s/early 70s) where so much developed to be fascinating, because it’s still not well understood just why everything unfolded as it did. It’s rather amazing the country went in 4 or 5 years from having one set of norms/cultural outlook to something rather unlike those (this can be seen visually – compare/contrast the typical image or film or tv program from, say, 1965/66 to that of 1970/71). The neoconservatives were a part of that, mostly in how they reacted to it.

    *using “liberal” of course in the modern, conventional sense.

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