Jack Kerwick

Kristol is refreshingly, almost shockingly honest: Neoconservatism, he informs us, endorses “the welfare state.” Its adherents support “social security, unemployment insurance, some form of national health insurance, some kind of family assistance plan, etc.” and will not hesitate “to interfere with the market for overriding social purposes”—even if this requires “‘rigging’” it instead of imposing upon it “direct bureaucratic controls” (emphases added).

As Kristol says, neoconservatives are “always interested in proposing alternate reforms, alternate legislation, [to the Great Society] that would achieve the desired aims”—the eradication of poverty—“more securely, and without the downside effects.” Neoconservatives don’t want to “destroy the welfare state, but…rather reconstruct it along more economical and humane lines.”

In vain will we search the air waves of “conservative” talk radio, Fox News, National Review, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, or any other number of mainstream “conservative” publications for a negative syllable regarding Irving Kristol. Though Kristol, like his son, Bill, is commonly referred to as a “conservative,” he himself not only explicitly embraced neoconservatism as his “persuasion” of choice; Kristol happily embraced the distinction of being “the godfather” of this persuasion.

In other words, if anyone can be said to be the intellectual standard bearer of neoconservatism, it is Irving Kristol.

And yet here he is unabashedly conceding what some of us have long noted and for which we’ve been ridiculed: neoconservatism is every bit as wedded to Big Government as other species of leftism—even if its proponents want to use it in other ways and for other purposes.

Because Obamacare is woefully unpopular, neoconservative Republicans, both in politics and the “conservative” media, have nothing to lose and everything to gain from trashing it. But at this time leading up to the midterm elections, more traditional conservatives would be well served to bear in mind that, in principle, neoconservatives do not object to “some form of national health insurance,” as Kristol tells us.

For all of their talk of “limited government,” traditional conservative voters should remember that, as Kristol states, neoconservatives “endorse the welfare state” and only seek to “reconstruct it along more economical and humane lines.”

For all of their talk of “capitalism” and the free enterprise system, conservative voters should also recall that, as Kristol remarks, neoconservatives will not hesitate to “interfere with the market for overriding social purposes.”

More recently, Douglas Murray, in his, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, seconds Kristol in admitting that, “socially, economically, and philosophically,” neoconservatism differs in kind from traditional conservatism. In fact, such is the vastness of their differences that he refers to neoconservatism as “revolutionary conservatism.”

If “the conservative movement” is to have a future, it must first be honest about its present identity.


Jack Kerwick

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 jackk610@verizon.net or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.