- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 22, 2006

NEOCONSERVATISM: WHY WE NEED IT

By Douglas Murray

Encounter Books, $25.95, 272 pages

REVIEWED BY SOL SCHINDLER

While still an undergraduate at Magdalan College, Oxford, Douglas Murray completed a biography of Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover, which became an instantaneous success. The London Times called it one of the most impressive biographical debuts of our time, other journals followed suit, and the young Mr. Murray became a celebrity in Britain’s celebrity-conscious world.

A series of provocative articles followed which disconcerted the liberal literati who had seized upon him so quickly, while his latest book, “Neoconservatism: Why We Need It,” promises to disenchant them completely.

In his introduction he writes: “Neoconservatism is not a political party … but a way of looking at the world. It is a … relevant philosophy that only seems to be out of kilter with modern thought because there is so little modern thought.” Thus he very quickly lets us know what he thinks of the emptiness of current political discourse. He also gives us a background to what we now call neoconservatism. He cites the philosopher, Leo Strauss, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, who came to the United States in the 1930s, and ended up teaching at the University of Chicago.

Strauss’ theme was that there existed such a thing as natural rights; that there was an innate moral order in mankind that distinguished good from bad. We see this in the common principles of the laws enacted by different ethnic communities, and even in a playground where children make up rules as to what is fair and what isn’t.

It is in the writings of all the ancient philosophers who also felt it was the duty of right-thinking people to defend these moral certitudes as often and as much as possible. To think otherwise is to surrender to nihilism.

It is this call to action that distinguishes new or neo-conservatism from the old or paleo-conservatism. To maintain traditional values one must defend them, not wrap oneself into an oblivion-inviting cocoon. The author cites Lampedusa’s great novel, “The Leopard,” in which one of the characters states that in order to keep things the way they are, one must change many things. Action becomes essential.

The author quotes Jeane Kirkpatrick (a neoconservative) as saying democracies do not start wars but dictatorships do. The neoconservative defends democracy at home by nurturing it abroad out of both self-interest and the desire for human rights.

With this kind of mental structure it is natural to emphasize international affairs. The author evaluates the United Nations and concludes that aside from its rampant corruption, it is dysfunctional because it gives equal parity to totalitarian regimes with the democracies that originally formed it.

Its ineffectiveness is overwhelmingly evident from events in Rwanda, the Balkans, the Middle East and now Darfur. He calls Libya’s holding the chair of a commission on human rights “an idiocy only possible at the UN.” Nevertheless, he does not suggest we leave it. We should stay being careful how we fund it and being always aware of its limited effectiveness and bankrupt moral leadership.

He deplores the double standard Europe uses when dealing with Israel, how a small democracy is traduced because it dares to defend itself. He feels the Palestine-Israel conflict cannot be resolved in the near term because the Palestinian leaders and their terrorist cohorts refuse to accept the existence of Israel, while Israel cannot be persuaded to commit suicide. We might be better off while continuing to support Israel to divert some of our energies and aid to other equally urgent problems.

On the domestic front he calls the “broken windows” approach to crime neoconservative. All infractions of the law are dealt with immediately, thus diminishing major crime, as evident in New York City.

He feels ethnic profiling is sound police procedure and makes the point that if middle-aged Chinese seamstresses were found to be the majority members of a group plotting to blow up the Capital, middle-aged Chinese seamstresses should be given special attention at airport screenings.

In economics he accepts the idea of welfare, but feels it should never become a permanent fixture. The solution to unemployment, he says, is employment. Tax cuts induce full employment by giving the public more money to spend, thus creating the need for more goods and services, which require people to produce.

Douglas Murray has the vigor and certainty of youth along with a talent for the written word. As admirable as these traits are, they sometimes lead him into occasional overstatements. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that a young Brit has the gumption to state the obvious even though it is politically incorrect.

This is a book that can be profitably read by everyone, but even more so by those running for office. It will be interesting to see what Mr. Murray gives us the next time out.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.

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