Thursday, June 06, 2013

Too Many Imperialisms

Peter Beinart thinks “neoconservatism” has lost any distinctive meaning. It no longer has anything to do with the kind of right-leaning empirical social science that characterized the original neoconservatives, nor does it imply someone who used to be on the left but moved right. Nor does it distinctively mean a hawk or an advocate of spreading democracy, since there are liberals who favor democratization and neocons (like Krauthammer) who oppose it, while “hawk” is simply too broad.

So, Beinart suggests a change in terminology:
There’s a better way. Retire “neocon,” which is rarely used coherently, if it even can be anymore, and often leads commentators (sometimes unwittingly) into dangerous territory. Call the people who want America to dominate the world militarily without the constraints of international institutions and international law “imperialists.” Yes, the term has negative connotations, but what distinguishes people like Kristol and Abrams from those liberals who also support military force in places like Bosnia and Syria is precisely the former’s open scorn for the idea that America should be bound by rules that other nations help craft. Liberal interventionists trace their intellectual ancestry to Woodrow Wilson, who tried to turn international affairs into a sphere regulated by law. Neocons scorn Wilson and revere Theodore Roosevelt, who believed, at least for part of his career, in unfettered American power.
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