An in-depth analytical history of neoconservatism and the men and women who created perhaps the most significant foreign-policy shift of the past 25 years.
How did the United States become embroiled in the current situation, mired in a seemingly endless war, with the rest of the world turned against us and with global threats apparently increasing by the day? Heilbrunn, a former editor at the New Republic, pegs this predicament on the backs of the neoconservatives, an obscure band of policy intellectuals who rose to prominence as cold warriors in the 1980s. He traces the group to their earliest forebearers in the 1930s, when a bunch of Jewish anti-communists formed in the heated intellectual environment of City College in New York. He then moves on to their later incarnations as anti-liberalists in the ’60s, their triumph as Cold War hawks in the ’80s and the culture wars of the ’90s, up through their final disgrace with the Iraq War. The author is a decent storyteller, and he brings a keen eye to the rivalries, debates and endless founding of new magazines of the group. He also offers welcome profiles of various academic mentors and intellectual protégés, many of them coming off as misunderstood artists trying to bore their way into an establishment that considers them too uncultured and too distrustful. Heilbrunn cleverly disguises his own sympathies, but readers may be left with the sense that he admires the neocon’s utopian sensibility and their ability to see through some of the contradictions of the Left. But he does fault them for their refusal to adjust their ideology to fit new facts and political and cultural scenarios. The book is nothing if not thorough, but may drift too far into the weeds for the average reader. Heilbrunn is also a bit too optimistic about how ideas affect elections, but there are worse faults in political historians.
A sturdy analysis of neoconservatism in American life.