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Neoconservatism and Wilson

Peter Beinart misunderstands the relationship between neoconservatism and Wilsonian foreign policy:

Liberal interventionists trace their intellectual ancestry to Woodrow Wilson, who tried to turn international affairs into a sphere regulated by law. Neocons scorn Wilson and revere Theodore Roosevelt, who believed, at least for part of his career, in unfettered American power.

Beinart exaggerates the differences between Roosevelt and Wilson for effect, but the big error here is the claim that neoconservatives scorn Wilson. It’s simply not true. Neoconservatives are probably among the few in the modern Republican coalition that don’t scorn Wilson, and they are certainly the only ones that find things to praise about him. If one wants to find something that distinguishes neoconservatives from almost everyone else on the right, this is it. Neoconservatives typically like Wilson’s “idealism,” they identify with his crusading missionary style of foreign policy, they usually hate his contemporary opponents and his later critics, and some may even sympathize with his heavy-handed and abusive treatment of antiwar dissidents and political radicals. They are, of course, “hard” Wilsonians, as Max Boot put it ten years ago, but they are Wilsonians nonetheless. This is what links neoconservatives and liberal interventionists, as much as it may horrify some of the latter to admit it, and it is one of the more noticeable things that separates neoconservatives from the rest of the American right.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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