D. J. Webb
The neocon moment is over. That is my take on the Donald Trump phenomenon. First, a word of explanation on who the neocons are. Neoconservatives are a group of ideologues in America who started off on the Trotskyist left and eventually became conservatives. They are usually described as followers of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz. As neoconservatism is an ideological point of view, younger people who were not politically active during the Soviet era, but who share this viewpoint, may be described as neocons. They will not necessarily all personally share the history of older neocons of rejecting a former fascination with communism and the left.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, neocons moved over to the conservative camp, espousing hardline anti-communist and pro-interventionist international policies, but liberal social values. The typical neocon position is described by Steve Sailer as “invade the world, invite the world”: these people would be happy to invade Syria while allowing millions of Syrian refugees to move to the West. What remains of their left-wing origins is their adherence to the cultural left, supporting multiculturalism, anti-racism and the cult of diversity.
It can be see that these people – not originally conservative at all – took over the Republican Party in the US, and that the set of views they espoused has become highly influential in the British Conservative Party. Under Margaret Thatcher, “primary immigration” (the immigration of people not coming in under family unification visas) was ended (apart from the asylum loophole, which came to be exploited) and propaganda in schools on homosexuality was banned. I recall ministers at the time being interviewed explaining why Muslim schools were not then allowed in the UK. The Conservative Party back then was not perfect, but Margaret Thatcher was not a neocon either.
Why did this ideological takeover of conservatism happen at the end of the Cold War? The end of the Cold War gave rise to the “end of history” thesis of Francis Fukuyama, according to which the battle between communism and capitalism was over. There was now a monopolitics. Democracy survived, but there was no longer any real battle of ideas. Democracy itself had only been introduced in the 19th century to cope with the rising confidence of the working class. Now that there was no working class challenge in the form of socialism, it became unclear what we were voting for and why. The single form of politics left, one the neocons were comfortable with, was free-market economics coupled with liberal social views and support for mass immigration. It is easy to see how former Trotskyists could buy into much of that.
Interestingly, whereas in the days of political contest between left and right, one party (in Britain, Labour) was seen as articulating working-class interests, now that the political contest was over and all the parties stood for similar things, the working class continued to be identified as a problem. The workers no longer had a consolidated identity as a class, owing to the end of socialism and the rise of the services industry, but “low-information, bigoted” working-class voters were and still are seen as the main obstacle to the success of the neoconservative narrative.
International policy revolved around the rise to unchallenged power of the United States. As there was only one form of viable politics, surely all countries would eventually become liberal democracies, and as all cultures are relative, according to the neocons, then no country is more or less likely to make a success of democracy. Syria can become Surrey overnight. An interesting thing is how the neoconservatives appealed to patriotism: in the US hardline neocons who support mass immigration like Senator Lindsey Graham marketed themselves as patriots, because they support bombing other countries. This successfully disoriented popular opposition, as ordinary Republicans supported the United States Armed Forces and didn’t notice that America’s international force projection was failing to pursue any rational national objectives of the US.
In a two-and-a-half decades, the neocons have achieved a lot, substantially changing the demographic make-up of the Western countries in a way that is hard to unpick. Yet the gradual rise of the non-Western world, which the neocons thought would just slot into a democratic liberal global culture, is undermining the rest of the neocon narrative. America made heavy work of its intervention in Iraq, spending billions, and ultimately achieving nothing. Confrontation with Russia in the Ukraine and with China in the maritime areas of East Asia underlines the point that the US cannot invade everywhere with impunity. The end of history thesis was false: history is still with us, and the Western nations are unlikely to be the ultimate victors.
Many of these invasions are leading to migrant inflows that further weaken the West. The only political argument the neocons can muster to favour their multicultural obsession is that the demographic change is now baked in, as “minority” children make up the majority of new births in the US. Non-English children make up a rapidly growing proportion of new births in the UK too, but much of this relates to Polish and Lithuanian migrants in a way that is potentially less damaging if immigration is brought under control as soon as possible.
Finally, we see that the neocon elite, supported by all parties, is losing connection with the population it governs. This was always likely, as multicultural policies attempt to unpick cultural bonds as a basis for social unity. This is one of its explicit goals. But by doing so, the elite loses its authority within the national culture: this was the bit that the neocons did not give sufficient thought to.
Somewhat belatedly, the US electorate, not out of anger, but more in recognition of their lack of connection with the neocon elite, appears restive. Donald Trump may not be the best-prepared candidate, and frequently devolves from expressing the interests of white Americans into an inane trumpeting of his own general wonderfulness, in a way that any intelligent person quickly grows tired of. However, his candidacy shows that the neocons have had their day. Look at these campaign themes:
- The need to build a wall along the Mexican border: this taps into a sense that the country is being quickly lost.
- Trump has supported the slogan All Lives Matter: it’s surprising that this is surprising. We are in extreme political territory when a belief that All Lives Matter is held to be revolutionary. Trump hasn’t made the most of this, but needs to emphasize that crime rates vary by community, and that political correctness will not be allowed to hold the police back.
- Trump has supported the universal health care policy in preference to having Americans die in the streets. The previous neocon establishment supported free-market (but actually, in context, anti-working class) policies, while backing anti-American cultural policies. Trump turns this on its head in a way that could recreate an us-and-them class divide in American politics based around conservative cultural values, but some measure of social security for the indigent.
- Fair trade: while libertarians support free trade, free trade has stoked the rise of China and other competitors of American power, and the issue was ripe for emergence as a topic in US national discourse. In one sense, libertarianism on the issue was a reflection of English economic dominance, and dominant or rising powers benefit more from free trade than do declining powers.
- Anti-interventionism: NATO could be scaled down, as could US presence in East Asia, and interventions only embarked upon when there was a clear US national interest.
The idea that Donald Trump is just a clown is ultimately false: there is real intellectual substance in the points that he has raised on the campaign trail. Even if his bid falters, it seems clear that the neocon moment has passed, and that we are overdue for a new politics, both domestically and internationally, and not just in the US, but in the UK and elsewhere too. A long political logjam appears to be clearing.
We are hobbled by the emergence of large settled migrant communities, and may have to accept that our societies will eventually be governed by them. But could we not use the decades of opportunity we have to attempt to integrate them culturally by 1) ending all further immigration of non-European people (including family reunification); 2) implementing full freedom of speech on cultural issues; 3) implementing full freedom of association by ending the requirement for equal opportunities in the workplace; 4) banning the provision of public materials in any language other than English; 5) banning the promotion of multiculturalism and anti-racism in the media, in schools and universities, and in the workplace; and 6) making an international political issue of the immigration policies of neighbouring countries. Belgium and France should be told that allowing their cities to become breeding grounds for Islamic communities is a hostile geopolitical act.
We may be told that the argument on all this was lost a long time ago, but the international conditions that allowed neoconservatism to triumph have now exhausted themselves, and a new dynamic will now begin to play out.