When National Review debuted in 1955, the liberal columnist Dwight MacDonald lamented that the thrust of the new magazine was not conservative. In MacDonald’s lexicon, a true conservative was one who “sticks to his principles even when the results go against his prejudices,” for conservatives do not “appeal to the hearts of men” but to the “laws and traditions of a country.”
Books reviewed in this essay:
Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, by Barry R. Posen. Cornell University Press 2014
America In Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, by Bret Stephens. Sentinel 2014
This generation’s U.S. foreign policy, resulting as it has in lost wars and almost universal disrespect for Americans, does not have many defenders.
Politicians and pundits of the Establishment Left, who made socioeconomic reform the hallmark of their foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s, stopped advocating it in the 1980s—or any other means of supporting their remaining pretenses of global leadership. Whether they call themselves “internationalists” or “realists,” they are about reducing America’s power, and cover impotence with terms such as “multilateralism” and “leading from behind.”
Neoconservatives continue to support America’s primacy, as well as traditional geopolitical commitments including victory in the “war on terror.” They led the Bush administration into picking up “nation-building” as the Left was dropping it, became its last defenders, and were dragged into sharing the American people’s disdain for it. Now, neoconservatives are at a loss about how to square such means as they are willing to use with the grandiose ends they still advocate.