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July 01, 2003

Paleocons and neocons

Public opinion has often been criticised for using neo-con all the time for everything that I do not like. And to make it worse I am pretending to know what it means. Pretending, because I cannot know anything at all since I am a despised postmodern irrationalist.

Fair enough. This is the way public debate is engaged in Australia. You ignore discussing the ideas about Australian conservatism. For an early attempt at characterising Australian conservatism, see here and here.

Well here is an authority. I give you Christopher Pearson, ex-editor of the conservative policy mag The Adelaide Review (It has now become a lifetsyle magazine). Christopher, a former speech writer for John Howard, defines himself as a conservative. I repeat. A Conservative, not a liberal pretending to be a conservative.

Christopher had a piece in the Weekend Australian (no link, June 28-9, p. 18) on the subject of conservatism. Here are some of his thoughts.

Neoconservatism is on the ascendent and it works. But the local intelligenstia in Australia are stil in denial about what the people want and the policies that give them that, despite the success of over the last decade. However, 10-15 years is the shell life for neo-conservative as a dominant paradigm.

(Excuse the big words. But Christopher is an intellectual. I guess you'll have to look up paradigm. But try this or this for staters.)

Christopher has good news. Paleoconservatism is the corrective to neconservative triumphalism. They prefer an isolationist foreign policy, are not so keen on unwavering support for the Israeli state, and take a strong line against immigration. See Pat Buchanan and The American Conservative. We can add to Pearson's account here by saying that paleoconservatism is also deeply patriotic, nationalistic, protectionist and populist.

Public opinion has traversed this territory arguing in terms of a faultline in conservatism that opens up into two strands of of conservatism. At the moment neoconservatism is seen to be primarily a political agenda focused on military strategies for an aggressive US foreign policy ithat creates an empire---"Pax Americana". See here and here.(Links courtesy of Eschaton).This American is a generally accepted to be a neocon, as is this Australian.

I had previously linked neocon to Australian conservatives here. I see paleoconservatism in Australia as a Hansonite populism, which is what John Howard incorporated and amalgamated to his economic liberalism during the late 1990s. This provides some philosophical background to American conservatism.

Now I have taken Pearson to be a neocon, given his argument that the US should be the global cop keeping law and order in a Hobbesian world. And he concurs with this judgement. He says he is not an isolationist since wars of liberal imperialism are necessary. (eg. Iraq)

But Pearson also says that he is a fellow traveller of paleconservatism. Why? It is necessary to ask why because Christopher says that paleoconservatism is seen by many to be little more than a quaint, new brand of nostalgia with limited application to the way we live now or to domestic politics. He responds to this by saying that:

"It [paleoconservatism] is useful in accounting for the general listlessness of conservative intellectual engagement in Australian politics and journalism since the 1950s, with a few honourable exceptions, such as Quadrant magazine. Coalition governments coasted along, attracting more than their fair share of crooks and aimable boofheads, uninterested in ideas, their own own parties' history and distinctive contributions to political philosophy."

I could not have said it better myself. What is lacking in Australia is any engagement with these tough ideas by conservatives such as Leo Strauss.

Pearson says that paleoconservatism is a useful corrective to the neo-liberalism of the Coalition and the ALP Right because it is sceptical about economic rationalist dogma and has a pragmatic 'if the facts I change my mind", tendency. But paleoconservatism still has a subversive glamour and has yet to become academically respectable.

Pearson then gives two example of showing the relevance of paleoconservatism. Criticising Brendan Nelson for threatening tio use federal funding to impose a uniform secondary curriculum on the grounds that this was Canberra hubris. So we have a gesture to regionalism. The other example is that it can justify the defacto re-colonisation of unstable Pacific states. However, it would seem to me that Pearson's second example is more a neo-con stategy of defending the national interest in an anarchic and insecure Hobbesian world. (See here as well).

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at July 1, 2003 09:56 AM

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» Philosophy & the neocons from philosophy.com
There is a bit of discussion happening around the bloggosphere about the political philosophy behind, and informing, the polices and practices of the neocons. It is Leo Strauss who has been identified as the philosopher in question. [Read More]

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» Robert Bork Contra liberalism from philosophy.com
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The Paleo, condesending term is used to group Old Line Conservatives as well, and those that held liberty to be of utmost importance. You agree?

Posted by: WesleyWes at January 31, 2005 07:26 AM

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