This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/2152
July 24, 2006
Douglas Murray (right) with Robert Spencer director of Jihad Watch
For Douglas Murray's articles on radical Islam see:
Targetted Jihad in the Netherlands
NEOCONSERVATISM: WHY WE NEED IT
By Douglas Murray
Encounter Books, $25.95 272 pages
REVIEWED BY SOL SCHINDLER
While still an undergraduate at Magdalan College, Oxford, Douglas Murray completed a biography of Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde's lover, which became an instantaneous success. The London Times called it one of the most impressive biographical debuts of our time, other journals followed suit, and the young Mr. Murray became a celebrity in Britain's celebrity-conscious world.
A series of provocative articles followed which disconcerted the liberal literati who had seized upon him so quickly, while his latest book, "Neoconservatism: Why We Need It," promises to disenchant them completely.
In his introduction he writes: "Neoconservatism is not a political party . . . but a way of looking at the world. It is a . . . relevant philosophy that only seems to be out of kilter with modern thought because there is so little modern thought." Thus he very quickly lets us know what he thinks of the emptiness of current political discourse. He also gives us a background to what we now call neoconservatism. He cites the philosopher, Leo Strauss, a refugee from Hitler's Germany, who came to the United States in the 1930s, and ended up teaching at the University of Chicago.
Strauss' theme was that there existed such a thing as natural rights; that there was an innate moral order in mankind that distinguished good from bad. We see this in the common principles of the laws enacted by different ethnic communities, and even in a playground where children make up rules as to what is fair and what isn't.
It is in the writings of all the ancient philosophers who also felt it was the duty of right-thinking people to defend these moral certitudes as often and as much as possible. To think otherwise is to surrender to nihilism.
It is this call to action that distinguishes new or neo-conservatism from the old or paleo-conservatism. To maintain traditional values one must defend them, not wrap oneself into an oblivion-inviting cocoon. The author cites Lampedusa's great novel, "The Leopard," in which one of the characters states that in order to keep things the way they are, one must change many things. Action becomes essential.
The author quotes Jeane Kirkpatrick (a neoconservative) as saying</B> democracies do not start wars but dictatorships do. The neoconservative defends democracy at home by nurturing it abroad out of both self-interest and the desire for human rights.
With this kind of mental structure it is natural to emphasize international affairs. The author evaluates the United Nations and concludes that aside from its rampant corruption, it is dysfunctional because it gives equal parity to totalitarian regimes with the democracies that originally formed it.
Its ineffectiveness is overwhelmingly evident from events in Rwanda, the Balkans, the Middle East and now Darfur. He calls Libya's holding the chair of a commission on human rights "an idiocy only possible at the UN." Nevertheless, he does not suggest we leave it. We should stay being careful how we fund it and being always aware of its limited effectiveness and bankrupt moral leadership.
He deplores the double standard Europe uses when dealing with Israel, how a small democracy is traduced because it dares to defend itself. He feels the Palestine-Israel conflict cannot be resolved in the near term because the Palestinian leaders and their terrorist cohorts refuse to accept the existence of Israel, while Israel cannot be persuaded to commit suicide. We might be better off while continuing to support Israel to divert some of our energies and aid to other equally urgent problems.
On the domestic front he calls the "broken windows" approach to crime neoconservative. All infractions of the law are dealt with immediately, thus diminishing major crime, as evident in New York City.
He feels ethnic profiling is sound police procedure and makes the point that if middle-aged Chinese seamstresses were found to be the majority members of a group plotting to blow up the Capital, middle-aged Chinese seamstresses should be given special attention at airport screenings.
In economics he accepts the idea of welfare, but feels it should never become a permanent fixture. The solution to unemployment, he says, is employment. Tax cuts induce full employment by giving the public more money to spend, thus creating the need for more goods and services, which require people to produce.
Douglas Murray has the vigor and certainty of youth along with a talent for the written word. As admirable as these traits are, they sometimes lead him into occasional overstatements. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that a young Brit has the gumption to state the obvious even though it is politically incorrect.
This is a book that can be profitably read by everyone, but even more so by those running for office. It will be interesting to see what Mr. Murray gives us the next time out.
Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.
January 21, 2005
A British neo-conservatism? Good heavens, Carruthers!
Yes! Douglas Murray has absolutely got the point. In an article for the Social Affairs Unit, Murray argues that the way to arrest the slow death of the British Conservative Party is for it to adopt the principles of neo-conservatism. Those who read this website regularly will have grasped that I am a fan of neo-conservatism. I delivered a lecture on the subject recently, 'The Politics of Progress' (the link to which can be found in an article under that title in the Articles list) in which I argued that it is not really conservatism at all but rather a radical, progressive project to reclaim the values of western civilisation, no less, and thus mend the hole in the heart of western society.
It is no disrespect to Murray to say that is is blindingly obvious that these are the principles the British Tories should adopt, and that the reason they are mired in the nation's disdain, distrust and overwhelming indifference is because they don't even understand the questions to which neo-conservatism provides the answer.
As Murray argues, the Tories have allowed themselves to be lured by Tony Blair onto Labour's territory -- which is not, as Tory chumps imagine, a pale form of conservatism, but instead the treacherous quicksands of the counter-culture, which has become the norm for the establishment and is sucking the life out of Britain's bedrock traditions and values. As Murray writes:
'Neoconservatism in America grew out of the 'counter-culture' of the '60s, spear-headed by thinkers who recognised that the "counter-culture" was not simply a variant or alternative outlook on culture, but something which actually destroyed the culture - which wanted to do away with the culture. Polls of public opinion in Britain continually show a similar conservative streak in the general public not satisfied by any of the major political parties. The neoconservative movement recognises that a free and democratic society has been knocked off course, and that only bold, major changes are going to return us to the right track.
'The time is ripe for British conservatism to have its own revolution. Technically, this conservative movement could thrive outside of the Conservative party – but if the Conservative party adopted it, it would make life easier for everyone. Neoconservatism in Britain would declare its unwillingness to play the Labour game, and cut through vast swathes of apathy by fundamentally changing this nation's current, allegedly unalterable, course. As was demonstrated in America, the first myth to be done away with would be the myth that politics cannot change people's lives for the better.'
That last point is crucial. Neo-conservatism is a radical movement. It believes bad things can be changed for the better. It therefore provides hope. If politicians don't offer such hope, why should anyone bother to vote for them? Yet the Tories are currently split between 'neanderthal' conservatives, who want to cling onto the failed politics of the past, and 'nihilist' conservatives, who want to cling onto Tony Blair's shirt-tail as he spins Britain into some supra-national, victim-culture utopia.
Chuck it, guys. Get real, swallow your snobbishness and look across the pond. That's the future. Unless you go there too, you're history.
Reviews of Neoconservativism" why we need it
By Douglas Murray
NEOCONSERVATISM: WHY WE NEED IT
Review by Amir Taheri
by Amir Taheri
January 24, 2006
At a time that American "neoconservatives" are under almost daily attacks by a coalition of all those unhappy about the Bush presidency, one might think neo-conservatism is the last product anyone would want to market anywhere else.
And, yet, here we have one of the rising stars of British conservatism offering a whole book to propose precisely such a product.
As the British Conservatives choose a new leader they may also want to have a look at what this book, by Douglas Murray, offers to fill what he sees as the party's ideological vacuum.
"If the Conservative Party can adopt neo-conservatism (which is the neo-conservatists' best hope in Britain for achieving party-wide standing) then it may yet return from the political doldrums in which it now resides," Murray asserts with much conviction.
But what is neo-conservatism and in what way does it differ from the traditional conservative world view that has dominated British politics for much of the past 200 years?
According to Murray "Neo-conservatism is a political viewpoint for dealing with the world." In the specific case of Britain it provides "moral and practical answers to the malaise of British politics as a whole, not just of the Conservative Party."
Murray starts by suggesting that the classical political divisions based on notions of Right and Left are now outdated, at least in democratic societies, if only because there is a consensus on the basic rules of the political game and the general economic system of society. The blurring of the distinction between Right and Left, however, has not been entirely positive. For, it has also promoted a moral relativism, itself a child of multiculturalism, in which the very notions of good and evil are frowned upon as medieval relics.
Murray believes that good and evil do exist as distinct categories and could be readily identified by anyone in possession of a system of values. Thus the principal task of politics becomes the identification of good and evil as a prelude to the promotion of the former and the combating of the latter. Neo-conservatism, far from being a conspiracy by extremist right-wingers who wish to conquer and reshape the world, is a political vision based on a hierarchy of values. It was in gestation long before George W Bush entered the White House in 2001 and, as Murray asserts, will be a key player in the international politics long after he has retired.
Murray starts with an exciting survey of the works of the key thinkers who initiated the neo-conservative school in the second half of the last century. He introduces Leo Strauss, the Chicago University's professor of politics, who trained the first generation of neo-conservatives in the 1950s. We then meet Allan Bloom who first warned against the dangers of relativism in which the worst despotic systems are assigned the same respect as the most advanced democracies- all in the name of multiculturalism. Next we meet Irving Kristol who, perhaps more than anyone else, was responsible for turning neo-conservatism from a philosophical approach into a practical political programme.
As might be expected Murray is a passionate defender of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He believes that the Taliban and the Ba'ath regime were evil and had to be removed for the forces of good in Afghanistan and Iraq to have a chance of building something different. That something different may not correspond exactly to the West's ideal of a democracy. But one thing would be certain: the new regimes in Kabul and Baghdad would be better than the ones they replaced.
Murray shows that neo-conservatism does not limit itself to issues of foreign policy. In domestic politics, neo-conservatism seeks a return to the fundamental principles of capitalism, the only system in history that has produced long-lasting wealth, both individual and collective, in scores of culturally diverse societies.
Murray asks why has neo-conservatism aroused so much anger and hatred around the world? Some of that anger and hatred has come from despotic rulers and their hangers-on who feel targeted by the idea of regime change. They hate neo-conservatism because they fear it might toppled them as it did with the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, or may force them to eat humble pie as did Libya's Colonel Kaddhafi, the Sudanese military rulers, and the Ba'athists in Damascus.
But neo-conservatism is also hated by the remnants of the left who have not yet recovered from the shock of the Soviet Union's sudden collapse. They blame the early neo-conservatives under President Ronald Reagan for policies that made it impossible for the USSR to continue its existence at any level. The vast majority of those who oppose neo-conservatism, however, are liberals in the West who sincerely believe that it is no business of the Western powers to save other nations from their despotic rulers. These liberals argue that different nations have different cultures that are all equally worthy of respect. And since the West has no means of knowing whether or not the people of, say Burma, really wish to be freed from their military regime there is no moral justification for regime change.
Murray says that as far as foreign policy is concerned it is the Labour party in Britain that has adopted much of the neo-conservative world outlook.
He writes: "In Britain, neo-conservatism's most significant outlet to date has - perhaps surprisingly- been found in the Labour party. But the outlet has been restricted to the government's foreign policy. It is inconceivable that the Labour party would adopt neoconservative principles on domestic policy, such as lower taxation, reduced state interference and more successful social justice measures."
This is why, he hopes, it would be the British Conservative party, under its new leader, that will adopt neo-conservatism as a whole, in both foreign and domestic policies.
Murray believes that Britain, under any party, will remain "a steadfast ally" of the United States as far as the war against terrorism is concerned. But he warns that opponents of neo-conservative ideas will continue to fight against it for as long as they can.
He writes: "Our fight should be prosecuted not only by the army and police forces, but by the general public, intellectuals, politicians and all those with any sense of civic responsibility."
Whether one agrees with him or not Murray has made a valuable contribution to the global battle of ideas.
This item is available on the Benador Associates website, at http://www.benadorassociates.com/article/19272
Neoconservatism is neither new, nor particularly conservative. Its intellectual roots lie firmly on the left among American liberals and radical socialists opposed to Stalinist totalitarianism. Politically, it first emerged on the centre-right of the American Democratic party, which was alienated by the counter-cultural relativism, self-hatred and defeatism of both the leadership and grass roots towards the close of the Vietnam war. The champion of this wing was senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 and 1976. Many of his followers, including Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, eventually gave up the struggle and joined the Reagan administrations of the 1980s. Today, American neocons are an embattled group, unfairly assigned primary responsibility for the intelligence mistakes preceding the Iraq war. They are also, with more justice, portrayed as the architects of a supposedly quixotic project to democratise the Middle East.
Hitherto, neoconservatism has travelled badly; even among Conservative MPs only a handful — including two of the most intelligent, David Willetts and Michael Gove — openly accept the label. Now the Social Affairs Unit, a Conservative-leaning think-tank, has brought out two timely books exploring the case for a British neoconservatism. Douglas Murray's Neo-conservatism: Why We Need It sees it as the only viable intellectual strategy for the Conservative party. It is a trenchant attack on "counter-cultural degradation, growing statism and relativism". Much of the argument is familiar. In this respect, the message, delivered with panache, doesn't differ much from Conservative platforms in the last two elections; some of it has a distinctly hard edge.
Where Murray makes a refreshing break is with regard to the removal of Saddam Hussein. He defends this not as an exercise in pre-emption, but as part of a broader enterprise to promote democracy in Iraq and the wider region. This is a risky strategy (not least because deposing Middle Eastern tyrants can also make it easier for terrorists to operate), but Murray does not flinch from seeing his argument through to its logical conclusion. He sees the replacement of Arab despotisms by participatory politics and civil society as the first step towards defeating the Islamist terror that threatens western security. This places Murray well outside traditional Conservative foreign policy, which has tended to be guided by a more narrow, pessimistic sense of the national interest.
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/2152