Arthur Silber on Big Government Conservatism
The key indictment of big government conservatism comes from the mouth of Irving Kristol himself, in "The Neoconservative Persuasion":
Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the "American grain." It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan....
This leads to the issue of the role of the state. Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity. People have always preferred strong government to weak government, although they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of overly intrusive government. Neocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk.
Or the dumbed-down, neoconned version of Tocqueville, rather. Karl Hess and Christopher Lasch were probably better Tocquevilleans than Kristol. Tocqueville's appreciation for decentralism, democracy, and civil society were the genuine article, not the ersatz versions that the necons favor. Tocqueville wasn't a fan, as far as I know, of the professionalization of every aspect of life under the New Class, or of the relegation of civil society to church socials and bowling leagues under the Weberian rationality (ahem, "rule of law") of spectator democracy. The neocons may have erected Tocqueville into an icon, but their real god is Hamilton. As the scripture says, "The hands are Esau's, but the voice is Jacob's."
Here's Silber's apt summary:
In the end, Kristol has performed a valuable service. He has ripped the mask off of the New Fascism, and revealed its true face: an unquestioning acceptance, even an adoration, of big government; a reliance on, and a willing alliance with, a set of beliefs founded in religious conviction -- together with a willingness to use the power of government to enforce conduct in accordance with those beliefs; and an eagerness to embrace dominance of the entire world -- but only on the neoconservatives' terms. And no judgments or analysis of any of this is desirable, or even possible [at least after they finish the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary]. It's all "inevitable," and none of it could be helped. Since that is the case in Kristol's view, you may as well accept and enjoy it.
Yes, that's it. Just close your eyes and think of Pax Americana.