In US politics the term neo con was applied to those who saw the world in very polar terms ‘good’ (represented by the USA) confronted ‘evil’ (represented by ‘rogue’ states and terrorist groups that possess, or seek to possess, weapons of mass destruction). This implied that the USA should deter rivals and extend its global reach by achieving a position of ‘strength beyond challenge’ in military terms. ‘Hard’ Wilsonianism was expressed through the desire to spread US-style democracy throughout the world by a process of ‘regime change’, achieved by military means if necessary. Such ‘neocon’ thinking dominated US strategic thinking in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, particularly through the establishment of the ‘war on terror’ and the attacks on Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Neoconservative foreign-policy thinking nevertheless declined in significance from about 2005 onwards, as the USA recognised the limitations of achieving strategic objectives through military means alone, as well as the drawbacks of adopting a unilateral foreign-policy stance.
Neoconservatism’ refers to developments within conservative ideology that relate to both domestic policy and foreign policy. In domestic policy, neoconservatism is defined by support for a minimal but strong state, fusing themes associated with traditional or organic conservatism with an acceptance of economic individualism and qualified support for the free market. Neoconservatives have typically sought to restore public order, strengthen ‘family’ or ‘religious’ values, and bolster national identity. In foreign policy, neoconservatism was closely associated with the Bush administration in the USA in the years following 9/11. Its central aim was to preserve and reinforce what was seen as the USA’s ‘benevolent global hegemony’ by building up US military power and pursuing a policy of worldwide ‘democracy promotion’.
Neoconservatism emerged in the USA in the 1970s as a backlash against the ideas and values of the 1960s. It was defined by a fear of social fragmentation or breakdown, which was seen as a product of liberal reform and the spread of ‘permissiveness’. In sharp contrast to neoliberalism, neoconservatives stress the primacy of politics and seek to strengthen leadership and authority in society. This emphasis on authority, allied to a heightened sensitivity to the fragility of society, demonstrates that neoconservatism has its roots in traditional or organic conservatism. However, it differs markedly from paternalistic conservatism, which also draws heavily on organic ideas. Whereas paternalistic conservatives believe, for instance, that community is best maintained by social reform and the reduction of poverty, neoconservatives look to strengthen community by restoring authority and imposing social discipline. Neoconservative authoritarianism is, to this extent, consistent with neoliberal libertarianism. Both of them accept the rolling back of the state’s economic responsibilities.
Ayan Rand rejects neo conservatism. She sees it as incompatible with neo liberalism
Neoconservatives have developed distinctive views about both domestic policy and foreign policy. The two principal domestic concerns of neoconservatism have been with social order and public morality. Neoconservatives believe that rising crime, delinquency and anti-social behaviour are generally a consequence of a larger decline of authority that has affected most western societies since the 1960s. They have therefore called for a strengthening of social disciplines and authority at every level.
This can be seen in relation to the family. For neoconservatives, the family is an authority system: it is both naturally hierarchical – children should listen to, respect and obey their parents – and naturally patriarchal. The husband is the provider and the wife the home-maker. This social authoritarianism is matched by state authoritarianism, the desire for a strong state reflected in a ‘tough’ stance on law and order. This led, in the USA and the UK in particular, to a greater emphasis on custodial sentences and to longer prison sentences, reflecting the belief that ‘prison works’. Neoconservatism’s concern about public morality is based on a desire to re-assert the moral foundations of politics. A particular target of neoconservative criticism has been the ‘permissive 1960s’ and the growing culture of ‘doing your own thing’. In the face of this, Thatcher in the UK proclaimed her support for ‘Victorian values’, and in the USA organisations such as Moral Majority campaigned for a return to ‘traditional’ or ‘family’ values. Neoconservatives see two dangers in a permissive society. In the first place, the freedom to choose one’s own morals or lifestyle could lead to the choice of immoral or ‘evil’ views. There is, for instance, a significant religious element in neoconservatism, especially in the USA. The second danger is not so much that people may adopt the wrong morals or lifestyles, but that they may simply choose different moral positions. In the neoconservative view, moral pluralism is threatening because it undermines the cohesion of society. A permissive society is a society that lacks ethical norms and unifying moral standards. It is a ‘pathless desert’, which provides neither guidance nor support for individuals and their families. If individuals merely do as they please, civilised standards of behaviour will be impossible to maintain.