By way of cultural context, it is fair to add that many if not most of the original neo-conservatives were Jews and former liberals, which explains why some liberals use the term today as code for “Jewish conservatives who are too pro-Israel.”
What I really don’t understand is why liberals have suddenly grown so fond of the term. Deacon is right that most Americans view the term “conservative” positively; do liberals really think they can demonize us by adding “neo”? As a conscious plan, I don’t think it makes much sense.
It strikes me that when liberals refer to “neo-conservatives,” there is often an underlying note of frustration. Liberals are not contemptuous of “neo-conservatives,” they are a bit afraid of them (while not necessarily agreeing on who “they” are). I wonder whether the “neo” is added to distinguish today’s conservatives from those of the last generation. Liberals must remember fondly the days when most conservatives viewed themselves as the loyal opposition. Perceiving liberalism as the more or less inevitable wave of the future, they saw their function as moderating it or limiting it around the edges. Today’s conservatives are more confident, more aggressive, and often more visionary than those of a generation ago–while sharing the same basic policy preferences. In short, I wonder whether liberals’ use of the term “neo-conservative” isn’t in part a manifestation of nostalgia for the days when conservatives knew their place, and weren’t so tough.
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