NEOCONSERVATISM: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics by Peter Steinfels
Kirkus Star

NEOCONSERVATISM: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Labeling ""isms"" before they are fully formed has its hazards, and Steinfels' main problem is to establish that the amorphous group known as the ""new conservatives"" do in fact have a definable doctrine. As a former editor of Commonweal, Steinfels has known many of his subjects as opponents, but unlike other analysts from the liberal side, he takes the neoconservatives very seriously. That they form a group is undeniable; as Steinfeis emphasizes, their main focuses are the journals Commentary and Public Interest, and it is mainly there--with forays into The Atlantic Monthly, Encounter, The Wall Street Journal, The New Leader, and Fortun, that they gather: Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Irving Kristol, Robert Nisbet, Daniel Moynihan, et al. The fact that they form a literary coterie is significant to Steinfels, because the neoconservative style, oriented toward High Journalism, defines many of its characteristics: ""Neoconservatism, it might be said, is literary criticism and social science aspiring to the rank of political philosophy."" This group is also characterized by generational homogeneity (most were born in the 1920s); by the former leftist orientation of its members; and by the positions of power they occupy in academic and literary circles. But Steinfels is intent on making the more important claim that neoconservatism could become the ""true"" conservatism this country has lacked. Accepting the ""liberal consensus"" view of American history, Steinfels nevertheless argues that the neoconservative emphasis upon the lack of moral values in a secular society and their championing of capitalist rationality form the foundation for a conservative theory built on the achievements of American liberalism. Centering on Kristol, Bell, and Moynihan, Steinfels exposes the neeconservatives' weaknesses--lack of self-criticism, pomposity, misrepresentation of their opponents' position, refusal to criticize capitalism, inconsistency--while praising their effort to raise substantive issues for public scrutiny. Elsewhere he examines the history of neoconservatism through the Cold War and the New Left, the neeconservative critique of the ""new class"" of alienated intellectuals, and issues of equality and public policy. Although Steinfels sometimes makes their theories more plausible than they are, he makes a good case for taking the neos seriously. Comprehensive, up-to-date, and accessible.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1979
Publisher: Simon & Schuster