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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: August 2016

2 - Origins and Interests

from Part 2 - The Rise of the Neoconservatives


Decisions of state in modern democracies are rarely free from the influence of interest groups. The right to lobby is every citizen's prerogative in a functioning democracy, but no democracy guarantees a level playing field. Research shows that the success of lobby groups is commensurate with the amount of money they spend. No less important is their capacity to work the shadows. ‘A lobby is like a night flower,’ said one former executive of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, ‘it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.’ Visibility often constrains lobbyists’ capacity to influence, especially if their demands are in overt conflict with public opinion. Lobbyists may therefore strive to redefine public interest to match their own: they invest in ‘experts’ who favour their point of view, or populate key government advisory or policy positions with allies. If the neoconservatives were able to successfully appropriate the resources of state and instrumentalise its authority in the lead-up to the war, it was because their power was undergirded by institutional support, ideological momentum and historical contingency. Chief among the institutional forces were the corporate rich, the MIC and the Israel lobby; ideologically, they were aided by the Cold War and the ‘war on terror’; and historically, they rode the waves of a new militarised humanitarianism.

This chapter explores the relationship between neoconservatism and neoliberalism. It traces the evolution of neoconservatism from its modest origins as an eccentric intellectual formation to a political force of global consequence. It highlights the role that the Nazi Holocaust and Israel play in shaping the neoconservative worldview. It examines the relationship between the neoconservatives and the MIC and the role it played in elevating the small group of ideologues from the margins of US politics to the heart of the national security establishment. The measure of neoconservatives’ capacity to influence policy in the wake of 9/11 can only be taken by understanding the interests that drive them and the institutions that have nurtured them.

Neoconservatives and neoliberals

In a 1979 convocation address at McMaster University, Canadian media mogul Conrad Black lamented that the ravages of capitalism had for over a century driven intellectuals into the arms of socialism.