First, an explanation, since normally I don’t get into this kind of thing: In a post on his blog CK Macleod criticized Daniel Larison’s response to (finally) this post, a longform by Elliot Abrams in “defense” of “neo-conservatism”. I provided the following in comments at CK’s, referring to difficulty nailing down who & who isn’t one and how little I frankly care considering their one unifying thread:
If people mean “warmonger” by a phrase, I think it’d be more helpful & direct to just use “warmonger”. The arguments of the spread of people referred to as “neo-cons” when they try to get philosophical about it are too cluttered & contradictory for the most part anyway, so the coherent relevancy left over is merely knee-jerk support for war.
CK seemed to take offense to that. I started to reply further, but figured it’d get long, so instead decided I’d expand here, bouncing off of the longform. First off, here’s how Elliot Abrams defines “neo-conservatism”:
[...] patriotism, American exceptionalism, a belief in the goodness of America and in the benefits of American power and of its use, and a conviction that democracy is the best system of government and should be spread whenever that is practical. It should not be shocking that such views win wide popularity in the United States, though perhaps that last idea — spreading democracy — is the most controversial.
As I stated in my 2nd comment on CK’s site, this is meaningless sloganeering. Defining ones own philosophical view by “patriotism” assumes that anyone who disagrees with you is automatically Un-Patriotic (by which the user tends to mean “evil”). There are some who question the propriety & logic of patriotism itself as a concept, a group which I’d throw my own name in due to feeling that while peoples continue to be defined by states, the sentiment leads to more harm than good. However, not all opponents of “neo-conservatives” are this way, and it’s ridiculous to claim they are.
“The goodness of America” is an extension of the above, and also a sleight of hand: how they define “America” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there if the term is to mean anything beyond Mom, Baseball & Apple Pie type rhetoric.
I think baseball is deadeningly dull, by the way.
Anyway, about that phrase:
-If they mean good in the sense of fulfilling their personal preferences… ok, why should the rest of the world care? You like what you like, a global view that doesn’t make.
-If qualitatively good, the extent to which class rigidity has shown itself takes the luster off of those per capita income numbers, for one example. For another, the U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population but holds a quarter of the world incarcerated population. Just saying, it’s not all cake & ice cream here, ok?
-Good people? There’s good people everywhere, no place has a monopoly on them.
-If he means goodness of the American government…well, when anyone asserts goodness of government, I reach for my gun. Or I would if I had one, so I just snicker.
“The benefits of American power”. A remark of benefit to *any* country’s power on the rest of the world should automatically trigger reply of “for whom?” Iraq hasn’t even worked out for the U.S.’s benefit, to say nothing of the death & destruction caused & the sectarian chaos that still goes on there for the Iraqis. The same talk that led to that invasion wafts around the air on Iran, and even fuels threats to further intervene in Syria. The latter threats exist despite constant reports that the ones trying to use chemical weapons are actually the rebels, whose main forces are aligned with the group that the U.S. government points to to justify the last 12 years. You don’t have to think Assad is somehow not an authoritarian dick to realize there’s no dog in that fight worth rooting for.
As for the bit about democracy as “best form of government” and spreading it… for sake of argument, set aside that I believe there’s no such thing as a good form of government. Read it as “less blatantly terrible” just to move on. How one “spreads democracy” again makes a huge difference — advocating for the concept versus attempting to impose it. Also, “democracy” the ideal clearly conflicts with “democracy” the practice when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. If not, then the one asserting otherwise should explain why the overlap of Places Where Democracy Is Not Practical with Regimes That Support U.S. Political Interests (own citizenry be damned) exists.
See, the thing about national interests is that they can conflict. If a country that under a crown or a despot plays ball with the U.S. government would if given some measure of self-determination stop doing so, true emphasis on and promotion of (again, the ideal of) democracy would not see that as a mitigating factor. Instead, the practice is “um, not so fast…”.
Abrams makes another version of this formulation later, stating as historical root of “neo-conservatism” seekers of “a foreign policy that was both muscular in promoting American interests and moralistic in promoting freedom”. The same snag applies: free people who are not Americans can seek interests that conflict with that of the American government. Which one wins the fight? Abrams’ peers, in all denial, say “well America, of course!” To be blunt, it ends up bullying & bullshit.
He then goes on to call Obama’s current policy “McGovernism”, insinuate that because a few critics of “neo-conservatism” fixate on claimants who happen to be Jewish all criticism is intractably tied up in anti-Semitism, and say of the rare Republican questioning of any current involvements they’re just No Confidence votes in the face of “reluctance to engage forcefully enough to win”…at which moment I came to question this entire endeavor & prepared to do something else.
tl;dr: They say “neo-conservatism”, I hear “imperialism & militarism”. I’m anti-imperialism and anti-militarism. Hence, “warmonger” is what I use.