Many events have conspired over the last several years that have induced in self-avowed conservatives and traditional Republican voters the gnawing suspicion that in spite of what politicians and media personalities would have them believe, “the conservative movement”—their movement—hasn’t been particularly conservative.
Their suspicion is sound.
In reality, the “conservative” movement is the neoconservative movement.
This is the verdict at which ever increasing numbers of self-avowed conservatives are arriving. However, had they been reading Paul Gottfried, they would have reached it long ago.
Friend of such conservative luminaries as Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, and Pat Buchanan, Gottfried is a first-class scholar who has spent much of his illustrious career studying and writing on the American conservative movement (as well as other ideological movements—like Marxism and multiculturalism—both here and abroad). In spite of its intellectual heftiness, his most recent book—Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America—is must reading for the serious minded interested in learning just what neoconservatism is all about.
Though he is a critic of both Strauss and neoconservatism, Gottfried’s analysis is as sober as it is respectful. He defends Strauss against the familiar objection that the latter was a cunning Machiavellian. At the same time, Gottfried is quick to note both that Strauss’s thought has indeed been appropriated in the service of a neoconservative agenda and that Strauss was no conservative.
The eighteenth century Parliamentarian Edmund Burke is widely credited with being “the father” of modern conservatism. In his relentless critique of the French Revolution, Burke contrasted the abstractness and universalism of the “natural rights” of the revolutionaries with the concreteness and particularity of conservatism’s tradition-centered approach to the moral life.
Strauss charged Burke (and the legions of conservative thinkers that he inspired) with promoting “relativism.” In fact, he blamed them for paving the way to “relativism.” In contrast, Strauss emphatically affirmed “natural rights”—the very natural rights, for example, in the name of which neoconservatives demand a robust foreign policy of intervening in lands that are devoid of “liberal democratic values.”
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.