Conservatives have always known that individual liberty is meaningless unless authority is decentralized and power widely disseminated. It is precisely in the nooks and crannies of our Constitution’s numerous “checks and balances” that the liberty of the citizen is to be found. A so-called “federal” government that reigns supreme over the states is not, truly, a federal government at all; it is just that sort of national or centralized government that our Framers dreaded, the sort of government that promised to eclipse liberty.
But that is the government we have now. And it is the government that domestically, as well as and especially, internationally, neoconservatives have helped to create.
Conservatives attach a premium to tradition—slow as a snail but blind as a bat tradition. Traditionis nothing but the repository of the wisdom of our ancestors. Political institutions are not chunks of machinery that can be exported anywhere around the globe, but the evolved traditions, the habits, the mores, of a people over centuries and millennia.
Thus, from the conservative’s perspective, the neoconservative’s crusade, initiated by Bush II, to essentially remake the Islamic world in the image of an abstract ideology—“Democracy”—is beyond foolish. It is reckless. And it is doomed to fail.
Neoconservatives charge conservatives with being “isolationists”—a term that is as baseless as it is meaningless. Conservatives believe in the necessity of a powerful military, but one that is deployed only for the purposes of prosecuting unavoidable wars and securing its own country’s borders. In other words, conservatives insist that the military is never to be used as an agent in a global cause of one sort or another.
Neoconservatives, in glaring contrast, are no different from any other leftist ideologue inasmuch as they have abundant confidence in the power of government to design and implement blueprints (what Fred Barnes and company would call “conservative purposes”) for any society anywhere in the world. This in turn also explains why the military can never be big enough for the neoconservative, why any talk at all of trimming military spending is invariably met with the charge that his opponents want to “gut the military.”
Yet Big Military is Big Government.
Notice, just those Republicans who are now being lambasted as “RINO sell outs”—John McCain, Pete King, Lindsay Graham, etc.—for voting to fund Obamacare and raise the debt ceiling are the most hawkish members of American society. This is a long-standing pattern: the most vocal enthusiasts of Big Military abroad are always enthusiasts of Big Government at home.
These Republican enthusiasts are not “RINOs.” They’re not even “sell outs.”
They are neoconservatives.
Perhaps one good thing to come out of Obama’s presidency is that it provides the GOP’s traditional base with an opportunity to start discussing who they are—and who they want to be.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.