What Ails the “New Conservative”
What distinguishes this “new conservatism” (a.k.a “neo-conservatism”) from traditional conservatism (a.ka. “paleo-conservatism”)? Some have described it as “right-wing Bolshevism” or “right-wing Jacobinism”, which can’t be interpreted in any other way than saying there’s a pronounced fascistic tendency in the new conservatism. The days when the virtue of “prudence” (or indeed “conserving”) characterised the conservative mood and attitude seem to be long gone.
After watching the emergence of this “new conservatism” over the years, and its present performance, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two features that distinguish the “neo” from the “paleo”, and this is reflected I think in the differences, in the U.S. in any case, between the very different attitudes of The National Review or The American Conservative Magazine, respectively. The two “principles” of the new “principled conservatism” are 1) “noble lie” conservatism (the Straussians) and 2) “creative destruction” (Schumpeter). But there are deeper roots and connections for “noble lie” and “creative destruction” than are usually taken into consideration.
“Noble lie” theory is usually attributed to Plato and his social philosophy in The Republic. In fact, Plato has been charged by some scholars with being the father of totalitarianism more generally. I suspect that this tendency in Plato was owing to the background influence of the historical and social context of the times in which he philosophised and wrote — decline and fall of Greek civilisation. You certainly do see the influence of that socio-historical context in the social philosophy of Aristotle, as previously addressed.
But the modern resurrection of “noble lie” theory is not owing to Leo Strauss, but to a Frenchman and engineer named Georges Sorel and his influential writings on terror and violence, which became known as “Sorelianism“. His book, as the Wikipedia entry notes, extolled the power of the political “myth” and influenced both Marxists and fascists. Contemporary “noble lie” theory is not Platonic so much as Sorelian. That is where the accent lies.
“Creative destruction” as political principle of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism likewise does not begin with the economic philosophy of Joseph Schumpeter, but with Leon Trotsky’s doctrine of “permanent revolution“. The influence of Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” in the political thinking of neo-conservatives came by way of the influence of former Trotskyites in the neo-conservative movement (including fellow travelers like Christopher Hitchens).
I’ll have more to say about these two streams of influence later. But I think it suffices to say that I consider the “new conservatism” little more than orcery for those reasons, and to call this even “conservatism” or traditional “Toryism” is a grave mistake, because it’s only a mask and a pose. “New Conservatism” is a social disease more than anything.
But, to a certain extent, this thinking is shared by all the “neos” of the “new normal” — neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and neo-socialism. There really isn’t much to distinguish them one from the other. There are all symptoms of post-modern decadence and nihilism.