There’s a debate between Joshua Muravchik and Stephen Walt (co-author with John Mearsheimer of the Israel Lobby) at the National Interest over the merits of neoconservatism versus realism. As an isolationist (or non-interventionist) I should be completely out of the bounds of discussion, but Muravchik refers to isolationism (for which he blames WW2) as an extreme form of realism and points to Bob Taft as a representative enemy of the liberal internationalism that would later find a home on the right as neoconservatism. Something isn’t quite right though. Both Joshua and Stephen agree that realists see more worth in international institutions like the U.N and NATO, but isolationists like Taft wanted the U.S to withdraw from both. Realist Republicans were generally moderate internationalists, part of the “Rockefeller” wing hated by Taft’s conservatives. Elsewhere Muravchik points to Jeane Kirkpatrick as evidence of neoconservative influence on Reagen the Great, while Walt notes that her doctrine of accepting authoritarian (as opposed to totalitarian) dictators is the sort of self-interested ethical relativism decried by democracy-promoting neocons today.

It seems to me that the neoconservatism of the past was simply more realist. The reason George Kennan went from unseemly Cold Warrior as Mr. X to object of hawkish scorn (and Daniel Larison’s esteem) and Francis Fukuyama went from neocon contrast to Samuel Huntington (who himself went from being a conservative Democrat to emblematic paleo) to “Wilsonian realist” is because we keep reaching new heights of crazy. Why, I ask, would anyone want to associate themselves with Wilson, as Muravchik proudly does? Doesn’t he deserve more blame for the rise of Hitler than Henry Cabot Lodge? Wilson’s own man, Walter Lippmann was able to reject his old boss to join the Mont Pelerin Society and promote free enterprise. I don’t see Walt or other realists attacking Wilson. That job is left to libertarians and monarchist paleos. The reason the realist-leaning National Interest (founded by neocon godfather Irving Kristol) assumes an alliance with those sorts is because they now represent a marginal position and their points of contention with their even more marginal allies aren’t mainstream enough to even be a subject of debate. We have choke down some aid being given to authoritarian dictators like Saddam as well as liberal democracies like Israel because at least it’s better than an invasion or air attack. Even the alliance of libertarians with paleoconservatives seems odd, as the classical liberals were considered to be on the political left against the old order (Bastiat sat with Proudhon and debated economics with him). Keith Preston is fond of pointing out the the Jacobins were bourgeois and still believed in private property (indicating how similar they were to today’s neocons), but they were the Bolsheviks of their day. With the defeat of communism we now see the radical left more dominated by socialist anarchism (rejected by Marxists as too left wing, which is why Lee Harris’ Intellectual Origins of America Bashing is off the mark). Even within the anarchists the trend is away from Murray Bookchin’s Social Ecology to the radical Deep Ecology of Green anarcho-primitivism (which Robert Lindsay touts here, despite rejecting anything left of Stalinism). I don’t know much more extreme it can get than that or what loathsome characters I might find on my side of the barricades in the future calling me comrade.

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