Trotskyism to Anachronism: The Neoconservative Revolution

For 14 years, from the 1973 Jackson-Vanik amendment until the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a group of intellectuals known as neoconservatives shaped, and sometimes dominated, American foreign policy. They wrote for Commentary, The Wall Street For 14 years, from the 1973 Jackson-Vanik amendment until the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a group of intellectuals known as neoconservatives shaped, and sometimes dominated, American foreign policy. They wrote for Commentary, The Wall Street Journal, and later The National Interest. They acted through organizations like the Committee on the Present Danger and the Committee for the Free World. They held important positions in the AFL-CIO leadership and in the office of Senator Henry M. Jackson, then the most powerful Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And during Ronald Reagan's first term, they occupied influential posts in the State and Defense Departments.

George Washington University historian John Ehrman has recounted how these intellectuals' views on foreign policy developed and, once they were ascendant, changed. His book is well written, and, while some of his choices of people are eccentric, many of his comments about particular neoconservatives are insightful. Ehrman's overall history, however, is skewed.

Ehrman describes neoconservatism as the fourth phase in the development of liberal foreign policy. The first was Cold War liberalism, which he identifies with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Vital Center, Reinhold Niebuhr's essays, and the Truman administration's hawkish National Security Council report, NSC-68, drafted in 1950 under the supervision of Paul Nitze. The second was the left-wing revisionism of the 1960s, which he identifies chiefly with historian William Appleman Williams and disciples like Richard Barnet. The third was the neoliberal synthesis by political scientists Stanley Hoffmann and Zbigniew Brzezinski, which stressed world order and interdependence over containment and polarization. Neoconservatism arose as a reaction to both left-wing revisionism and neoliberalism and as a reaffirmation of Cold War liberalism. The neoconservatives, writes Ehrman, stood for "continued adherence to the vital center idea of an activist anticommunist foreign policy." They were Cold War liberals who searched for a Truman in the 1970s and found Reagan.

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