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Tags: neoconservativism | irving kristol | leo strauss | alasdair macintyre

Are Neoconservatives True, Patriotic Americans?

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Robert Orlando By Tuesday, 25 June 2024 03:05 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

"A neoconservative is a liberal who's been mugged by reality." ― Irving Kristol

U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and now Ukraine raise pressing questions about America's involvement in seemingly endless conflicts with unclear objectives and significant costs. Why does the United States find itself entangled in these errant wars, lacking realistic goals only to create a constant drain on the American system?

Interventionism can largely be traced to the influence of neoconservative ideology, which promotes an imperial approach to global politics under the guise of defending democracy and freedom. To understand this phenomenon, it is essential to examine its philosophical roots and how they diverge from America's principles. 

Strauss' Versus MacIntyre's Approach to Philosophy

Central to this exploration is the work of Leo Strauss, whose ideas have profoundly influenced neoconservative thought, and a counter critique offered by Alasdair MacIntyre, emphasizing the need for virtue and Christian faith in political life. According to Leo Strauss, the world's greatest thinkers often communicate with indirect means.

In "Persecution and the Art of Writing" (1952), Strauss argued that philosophers sometimes must obscure their accurate messages to protect themselves and their ideas from societal backlash. The notion implies profound philosophical truths not meant for public consumption and shielded from the everyman's misuse.

Neoconservatism and the American Republic

Neoconservatism emerged as a distinct political ideology in the mid-20th century, associated with thinkers like Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and Daniel Bell. These thinkers advocated for a strong central government, particularly in foreign policy, and were critical of libertarianism's minimal state philosophy.

The neoconservative perspective holds that America's institutional framework — combining individual sovereignty with substantial government roles — is the best model for ensuring global stability and prosperity. This belief justifies the aggressive promotion and defense of liberal democracy worldwide, using military force if necessary.

Strauss' philosophical ideas have influenced some neoconservative thinkers, particularly in their emphasis on defending democratic values. However, Strauss' endorsement of classical liberalism and the prudent engagement of philosophy in politics does not entirely align with the neoconservative vision of the U.S. as an empire spreading universal ideals.

Strauss recognized the need for prudence in political engagement, favoring diplomacy and leading by example rather than military force. His nuanced approach contrasts with the neoconservative agenda of using American power to reshape the world, highlighting his understanding of the U.S. as a republic with defined national borders rather than an empire.

Critique of Strauss' Perspective by Alasdair MacIntyre

Alasdair MacIntyre, a prominent philosopher known for his work in moral and political philosophy, offers a stark critique of Strauss' views from the perspective of virtue ethics and Christian philosophy. MacIntyre's seminal work, After Virtue (1981), argues for virtue's necessity and traditions' role in shaping moral understanding.

MacIntyre believes that modern moral discourse has become fragmented and that a return to Aristotelian ethics, embedded within the context of a community, is essential. MacIntyre's emphasis on virtue contrasts sharply with Strauss' more individualistic approach.

While Strauss advocates for individual excellence and liberty, MacIntyre insists on the importance of communal practices and narratives that guide moral development. This divergence highlights a fundamental difference in their understanding of human nature and moral philosophy.

If there are two thinkers that MacIntyre addresses most seriously as the root causes of the modern mélange or the "modern muddle," it would be David Hume and Immanuel Kant. MacIntyre thoroughly deconstructs their attempt to replace virtue (or God) with a universe based on pure reason.

For Hume, it was utilitarianism, with the central adage that, in the end, the most excellent good was merely that which would benefit the most significant number of people. For Kant, it was the categorical imperative, a reworking of the golden rule, only without the need for God — only human reason.

MacIntyre critiques their ideas because, in the end, they are subjective, as are all ideas needing a purpose and a specific tradition to embody, and because they are inconsistent and self-contradictory. According to MacIntyre, without the appeal to a universal reason above the particulars, they only devolve into another discourse for self-interest and an unachievable idealism, which are now criticized in our present context.

The Need for Christian Faith and Moral Guidance

Strauss' perspective diverges significantly from Christian values, particularly the belief in human nature's inherent corruptibility. Christianity posits that human nature is fundamentally flawed and needs divine grace and redemption.

Strauss, on the other hand, did not embrace this view. His emphasis on pursuing human excellence and individual liberty does not account for the Christian understanding of humanity's need for moral guidance and the inherent tendency toward sin.

George W. Bush stated, "There's power, wonder-working power," not "in the blood of the lamb" but "in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." MacIntyre instead underscores the necessity of moral virtues cultivated within a Christian tradition; otherwise, individuals cannot achieve true moral excellence. 


The ongoing involvement of the United States in wars such as the purposeless one in Ukraine highlights the pitfalls of neoconservative ideology, which still promotes an imperial stance in the name of a free republic. While Leo Strauss' philosophical contributions provide a rich framework for understanding political thought, his connection to neoconservative politics is not direct. 

Strauss' was more of a classic liberal engagement of philosophy in politics, but he has influenced neoconservative thinkers. However, his cautious approach to political action suggests a more nuanced relationship.

Alasdair MacIntyre's critique of Strauss underscores the need for a framework that includes virtue and faith as a better alternative to the neoconservative approach — one that emphasizes political restraint defined by borders and with mutual respect for other forms of government. 

Understanding human nature's inherent limitations and avoiding endless quagmires would align more closely with Christian values and Washington's foundational principles as a republic, not an empire. In its current form, neoconservatism advocates that the U.S. should act more like an empire in the name of the republic.

Without that, "mugged" or not we remain liberals.

Robert Orlando is a filmmaker, an author, an entrepreneur and a scholar. As an entrepreneur, he founded Nexus Media. As a scholar, he has in-depth knowledge of ancient and modern history and politics. As an award-winning writer/director, his latest films are the thought-provoking documentaries "Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe," "Silence Patton," and the new release, "The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War." His books include "Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe" and, as co-author, "The Divine Plan." His work was published in "Writing Short Scripts" and he has written numerous articles on a wide range of topics for HuffPost, Patheos and Daily Caller. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and now Ukraine raise pressing questions about America's involvement in seemingly endless conflicts with unclear objectives and significant costs. Why does the U.S. find itself entangled in errant wars, lacking realistic goals?
neoconservativism, irving kristol, leo strauss, alasdair macintyre
Tuesday, 25 June 2024 03:05 PM
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