A Brief Tale of Two Neos: Neoconservatism and Neoliberalism

A Neoconservative with Trotskyism characteristics

What is neoconservatism? If you were to ask anyone today, the pop culture view of neoconservatism would probably be a bunch of war hawks who want to use force as the first choice, and people in favour of the Iraq War. But this is a major misunderstanding of a movement that existed long before its most recent adherents decided to go in a completely different direction in terms of its focus on foreign policy. People tend to forget Irving Kristol was a realist in terms of his foreign policy, not a interventionist, and yet he is understood as the father of neoconservatism as a intellectual movement. The intellectual movement of neoconservatism, or as Irving Kristol put it, the neoconservative persuasion, began long before the Iraq War ever took place, and some of the ideas that modern pop culture associate with the movement are completely divergent with the actual origin of the movement.

What are the major points of contention between neoconservatives and neoliberals?

While both movements are in favour of capitalism, neoconservatives tend to be a little bit more skeptical of the effects of capitalism and markets. This is where Irving Kristol’s idea of “2 Cheers for Capitalism” comes in: neoconservatives respect the power of the market to deliver results while allowing individual freedom. However, neoconservatives also recognize that unencumbered markets may lead to a social burden on society; capitalism and markets have a way of breaking down traditions, whether they be good or bad. Neoliberals, in comparison, are more likely to not have the same skepticism about the potential social unrest caused by capitalism; some may also believe that even if the social unrest is an issue, this is an economic problem that can be solved via redistributive measures by the state. Neocons are likely to be skeptical of this, as while they may not be opposed to all welfare as some libertarians may be, they are skeptical of grand programs that attempt to enact a social order from the top down.

Neoconservatives are also fine with the existence of budget deficits (although they would rather that they not be necessary), but if the deficits lead to economic growth in the long run, it is a compromise that they’re willing to make. As neoliberalism is a wide-tent movement, there are varying opinions on the role of the state, deficits, and budgets, unlike the neoconservatives. Some neoliberals may be fine with the existence of a large deficit; some may be deficit hawks who would want that deficit made smaller or non-existent.

When it comes to the provision of welfare by the state, neoconservatives would like to decrease the concentration of services by the State; however, they do not believe, as Hayek thought, that the state is on the path of putting its citizens on “The Road to Serfdom”. Again, as neoliberalism is a wide-tent movement, the right-neoliberals and left-neoliberals may agree or disagree in parts with the neoconservative view described here. Right-neoliberals may think that Hayek was in fact correct, and that we are on the Road to Serfdom, thanks to the expansion of government power. Left-neoliberals may want more welfare then neoconservatives are willing to allow.