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Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement

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Neoconservatism has undergone a transformation that has made a clear identity almost impossible to capture. The Republican foreign policy operatives of the George W. Bush era seem far removed from the early liberal intellectuals who focused on domestic issues. Justin Vaisse offers the first comprehensive history of neoconservatism, exploring the connections between a chang Neoconservatism has undergone a transformation that has made a clear identity almost impossible to capture. The Republican foreign policy operatives of the George W. Bush era seem far removed from the early liberal intellectuals who focused on domestic issues. Justin Vaisse offers the first comprehensive history of neoconservatism, exploring the connections between a changing and multifaceted school of thought, a loose network of thinkers and activists, and American political life in turbulent times. In an insightful portrait of the neoconservatives and their impact on public life, Vaisse frames the movement in three distinct ages: the New York intellectuals who reacted against the 1960s leftists; the "Scoop Jackson Democrats," who tried to preserve a mix of hawkish anticommunism abroad and social progress at home but failed to recapture the soul of the Democratic Party; and the "Neocons" of the 1990s and 2000s, who are no longer either liberals or Democrats. He covers neglected figures of this history such as Pat Moynihan, Eugene Rostow, Lane Kirkland, and Bayard Rustin, and offers new historical insight into two largely overlooked organizations, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger. He illuminates core developments, including the split of liberalism in the 1960s, and the shifting relationship between partisan affiliation and foreign policy positions. Vaisse gives neoconservatism its due as a complex movement and predicts it will remain an influential force in the American political landscape.


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Neoconservatism has undergone a transformation that has made a clear identity almost impossible to capture. The Republican foreign policy operatives of the George W. Bush era seem far removed from the early liberal intellectuals who focused on domestic issues. Justin Vaisse offers the first comprehensive history of neoconservatism, exploring the connections between a chang Neoconservatism has undergone a transformation that has made a clear identity almost impossible to capture. The Republican foreign policy operatives of the George W. Bush era seem far removed from the early liberal intellectuals who focused on domestic issues. Justin Vaisse offers the first comprehensive history of neoconservatism, exploring the connections between a changing and multifaceted school of thought, a loose network of thinkers and activists, and American political life in turbulent times. In an insightful portrait of the neoconservatives and their impact on public life, Vaisse frames the movement in three distinct ages: the New York intellectuals who reacted against the 1960s leftists; the "Scoop Jackson Democrats," who tried to preserve a mix of hawkish anticommunism abroad and social progress at home but failed to recapture the soul of the Democratic Party; and the "Neocons" of the 1990s and 2000s, who are no longer either liberals or Democrats. He covers neglected figures of this history such as Pat Moynihan, Eugene Rostow, Lane Kirkland, and Bayard Rustin, and offers new historical insight into two largely overlooked organizations, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger. He illuminates core developments, including the split of liberalism in the 1960s, and the shifting relationship between partisan affiliation and foreign policy positions. Vaisse gives neoconservatism its due as a complex movement and predicts it will remain an influential force in the American political landscape.

30 review for Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    First Review! And it's a darn shame because this is a really worthwhile book for understanding a very interesting movement. Vaisse divides the neocons into 3 ages. The first age emerged in the 1960's as a reaction against the New Left. They believed that the US wasn't a fundamentally bad place, like the New Left did, and were skeptical of the efficacy of large social reform/engineering projects, subscribing to the law of unintended consequences. They still were not Right, however, but rather old First Review! And it's a darn shame because this is a really worthwhile book for understanding a very interesting movement. Vaisse divides the neocons into 3 ages. The first age emerged in the 1960's as a reaction against the New Left. They believed that the US wasn't a fundamentally bad place, like the New Left did, and were skeptical of the efficacy of large social reform/engineering projects, subscribing to the law of unintended consequences. They still were not Right, however, but rather old liberals who were drifting towards the Right in some areas because of the excesses of the Left. For example, most neocons didn't support the Vietnam War and still supported most New Deal and some Great Society social welfare programs. They also never embraced neoliberal economics. JV doesn't do a great job distinguishing the first from the second wave, but he argues that the second wave was more of a political movement whereas the first wave was mostly intellectual. The second wavers were strongly anti-Communist, skeptical of detente, and nervous that the USSR was on the offensive and would use detente to make gains on the US, especially in nuclear weapons. The second wave was left both triumphant and possibly redundant at the end of the Cold War. Old guard neocons like Irving Kristol declared that neoconservatism, whose original purpose was to counter the New Left and maintain an anti-Communist liberalism, was . However, many neocons found purpose in the ideas of democratic globalism, the unipolar moment, and the end of history. They wanted an increasingly assertive, interventionist, unilateral US that would remake the world order in a more democratic direction and strongly confront bullies large and small. JV has a balanced analysis of these neocons connections to the Iraq War. He suggests that the main reasons for the invasion (WMD, terrorist connections, rogue state threat) were not particularly neoconservative and few in Bush's inner circle were actual neocons, although they certainly drifted that way over time. However, the neocon vision of a transformed Middle East and the US as global sheriff shaped the atmosphere in which both policy and public debates occurred, giving them a significant influence on the decision to invade and the initial popularity of that invasion. Their ideas were not THE reasons, but they conditioned the way many in the administration and the nation looked at the situation. I find this to be an appropriately balanced view of the neocons and Iraq. What I see in the long haul of neocon history is an increasing rigidity of thought to the point of dogmatism. JV points this trend out as well. I find much to admire about the first and second waves. They generally stood up for vital center liberalism in an age of leftist radicalism and right wing reaction. Moynihan, for instance, was unafraid to call out liberals and leftists for their rigid ennoblement of oppressed groups, even when those groups behaved very poorly. Their critique of social welfare programs was not doctrinaire like many on the Right, but a useful criticism on the basis of effectiveness. However, the modern neoconservatives seem far more rigid, naive, uncompromising in their world views. It's hard to see Irving Kristol, the champion of unintended consequences, getting behind neoconservative claims that the US could build a pro-Western, pro-Israel, free trade democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan by invading those nations. The neocons of the 90's and 2000's were so inflexibly opposed to Europe and the UN, which they saw as weak and anti-American, that they helped alienate those bodies from helping the US fight terrorism. Their advice became increasingly unrealistic as they sought to restrain the President from doing any negotiations with shady regimes, mixing up compromise with appeasement, even when those negotiations might yield positive results without recourse to violence (see Iran today). They lacked the expertise in the Middle East to guide policy effectively, but they nevertheless supported the invasion unstintingly. Their pro-Israel stance has also become dogma as they seek to restrain the President or anyone else from valid criticism of Israel. Neoconservatives today are sometimes worth listening to for a dose of moral clarity, but they really have divorced from reality and become a parody of their far more subtle, intelligent, and wise ancestors.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shane Schmidt

    This is an excellent history of neoconservatism in the United States. There are a lot of names to roll over in this story, but the overall themes, events, and timeline are outlined very cleanly. It is an accessible and interesting political history. I would be interested in hearing what the author thinks of neoconservatism in the Trump era-- or its chances for survival and relevance. The last line in this book is "In short, neoconservatism has a future." Right now, however, neoconservatism is pro This is an excellent history of neoconservatism in the United States. There are a lot of names to roll over in this story, but the overall themes, events, and timeline are outlined very cleanly. It is an accessible and interesting political history. I would be interested in hearing what the author thinks of neoconservatism in the Trump era-- or its chances for survival and relevance. The last line in this book is "In short, neoconservatism has a future." Right now, however, neoconservatism is probably at its apoplectic nadir of influence. Indeed, a lot of those Sunday morning pundits Trump attacks for their "fake news" are standard bearers of the neoconservative movement. As long as Trumpism holds, neoconservatism is on the frustrated margin with most other intellectual political movements. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in twentieth-century American history, politics, or foreign policy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andy C.

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    Ty

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    Paul Casamento

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    Luiz Rens

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    Christian Hamaker

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    Sydney Carton

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    Tom Griffin

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    Sarah Carracher

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    Kleinmarz

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    Robert Christian

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    John Mangan

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    Philippe

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    farmer in the city

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    Rob

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    Ben Wanamaker

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    JK202

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    Geoffrey Kabaservice

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    Johannes Sartou

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    Jessica

  30. 4 out of 5

    jordan

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