Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Death of Neoconservatism: Six Questions for C. Bradley Thompson

by Scott Horton

Harper's Magazine

December 2010

C. Bradley Thompson, a political science professor at Clemson University, has recently teamed up with Yaron Brook to write Neoconservatism: An Obiturary for an Idea, a classical-liberal critique of the neoconservative movement. The book systematically examines the economic, political, and cultural underpinnings of neoconservatism, exploring its relationship to the philosophy of Leo Strauss and its influential and menacing ideas about warfare. I put six questions to Thompson about the book:

1. At the core of your book is the notion that neoconservatism is dead. But consider that Politico recently published an analysis of Obama’s Middle East policies in which ten of eleven persons quoted were neocons (the eleventh was a Palestinian). The Washington Post’s editorial page is rapidly becoming a neocon fortress. Is it really time to talk about the “death” of neoconservatism?

The short answer is both “no” and “yes.” The neocons still dominate the conservative think-tank world, and they are a major presence in the media. They play a major role in defining the ideas of the conservative intellectual movement and the policies of the Republican Party. On one level, they are far from irrelevant and must be taken seriously.

Why then an obituary? The title plays off the title of one of Irving Kristol’s most important essays, “Socialism: An Obituary for an Idea,” which was as much prognostic as it was diagnostic. Professional obituarists also often write the biographical parts of a death notice long before their subjects die. Our book, then, should be read as prolegomena to any future obituary. We also hope our obituary for neoconservatism serves, paradoxically, as the murder weapon as well. Readers might imagine Charlotte Corday writing and publishing Marat’s obituary as she traveled to Paris.