Francis Fukuyama on the Neoconservative Legacy: an Excerpt from America at the Crossroads

(From Chapter 2 of America at the Crossroads by Francis Fukuyama)

America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy: Francis FukuyamaIn the period leading up to and following the Iraq war, an enormous amount of ink was spilled on the subject of neoconservatives and their alleged capture of the Bush administration. The story is endlessly fascinating because it appears to unlock a conspiratorial key to the administration’s behavior. Elizabeth Drew explained in the New York Review of Books that “the neoconservatives… are largely responsible for getting us into the war against Iraq.” This was echoed during the 2004 campaign by Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, who charged that the Bush administration had been captured by “neoconservatives.” Many commentators pointed to the fact that several prominent proponents of the Iraq war, like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, were Jewish, and argued that the Iraq policy was ultimately designed to make the Middle East safe for Israel. A separate line of argument blamed the Iraq war on the Straussian wing of the neoconservative movement, charging that Leo Strauss was “a champion of the ‘noble lie’—the idea that it is practically a duty to lie to the masses because only a small elite is intellectually fit to know the truth.”

Much of this literature is factually wrong, animated by ill will, and a deliberate distortion of the record of both the Bush administration and its supporters. To listen to many of these accounts, one would think that neoconservatism was an alien spore that drifted in from outer space and infected the American body politic. It is perhaps not surprising that some neoconservatives have charged in return that, in the mouths of their critics, neoconservative is a code word for Jewish, since the kind of takeover of the American body politic alleged is all too similar to the kinds of conspiracies laid at the feet of Jews in the history of anti-Semitism. The ferocious attack on neoconservatism in the wake of the Iraq war has led other neoconservatives to deny that neoconservatism even exists, or that it had any particular relationship to the policies followed by the Bush administration.

The fact of the matter is that the key principles of neoconservatism as they developed from the mid-twentieth century to the present are deeply rooted in a variety of American traditions. Neoconservatism is a coherent set of ideas, arguments, and conclusions from experience that should be judged on its own merits, not on the basis of the ethnic or religious identity of those who espouse those ideas. Nor does it make sense to deny that such a movement exists since two of the godfathers of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, wrote essays well before the Iraq war on what neoconservatism was and were happy to explore areas of agreement and disagreement among the various people who identified themselves as neoconservatives.

Those who argue that neoconservatism does not exist point to the fact that there is no established neoconservative “doctrine,” as was the case with, for example, Marxism-Leninism, and note the disagreements and contradictions that exist among self-styled neoconservatives. This is all true, but the fact that neoconservatism is not monolithic does not imply that it does not rest on a core of coherent ideas. Rather, it is a confluence of intellectual streams that have resulted in areas of ambiguity or disagreement among neoconservatives….

Read another excerpt from the book and listen to an interview with Francis Fukuyama on NPR’s Morning Edition.

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