Let’s get our political terminology down

For many people, political terms are “insults”. Liberals don’t like being identified as liberals. Now, some who are actually socialists don’t like being identified as liberals, and that’s fine, since they’re not liberals. In the conservative movement, “paleocon” and “neocon” are often interpreted or used as insults, even though they were originally coined by those who held those beliefs.

The neoconservatives were a specific group of Reagan-era intellectuals, “Reagan Democrats,” who had once been liberals but didn’t like how the American Left went in the late 60s and the 70s. Further, proving Churchill’s famous statement about being a liberal when you’re young and a conservative when you’re old, the original neocons–men like Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, etc.,–were thinkers who rejected certain of their liberal beliefs from their youth. However, when they became conservatives, they decided to use the federal power to enforce their views, just as liberals do. It was the neocons who convinced Reagan that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education as he’d promised, he should use the Department of Education to promote “standards and accountability” and “values-based education” across the country. Neocons promoted an activist foreign policy more like that of Wilson and Kennedy. Finally, as neocons became the predominent voice of the Republican Party, they pushed not just for overturning _Roe v. Wade_ or passing a Human Life Amendment (we don’t really need one, because we already have one; it’s called the Fourteenth), they instead wanted to pass a federal ban on abortion, starting with a federal ban on partial birth abortion.

Meanwhile, the original people to call themselves “paleoconservatives” were people like Russell Kirk and Patrick Buchanan themselves. They saw how conservatism was turning under Reagan, and they saw their more traditional views going to the “fringe.”

Yet, rather than being terms to define a particular view, these terms are often used as insults. Many people hear or say “paleoconservative” and think “Anti-Semite” or “Fascist.” Many people hear “neo-con” and think “That person calling me a neocon must be a racist.” “Neocon” has been ironically adopted by the Left in recent years to refer to warmongering Republicans, yet somehow they fail to recognize that the point of the term “neocon” is to distinguish anti-war conservatives from pro-war conservatives, and that those who are identified as “neocons” are usually criticized from the Right for being too liberal.

In the late 90s, when he conducted the Crisis Catholic Voter Survey, Deal Hudson sociologically proved that “Catholics” do not form a voting block, but that Catholics’ voting behaviors were associated with Church attendance. Having been around the block a few times, I’d argue that it’s even more nuanced than that. Catholics run the gamut. If you look up “neoconservative” and “paleoconservative”, you’ll find Catholic thinkers identified under both categories (Kirk, Buckley, Sobran and Buchanan, for example, or Neuhaus, M. Novak and Hudson). Oddly enough, both movements are considered “Catholic” movements within conservatism. Then on the left, of course, you’ll find Catholics prominent among all streams of Leftist thought. While many consider Catholicism and Libertarianism incompatible (especially if their view of libertarianism is Randian Objectivism), you’ll find many Catholics who are libertarians–and likely the ingellectual heavyweights of libertarianism. And, sadly, just as you’ll find Catholics who are Communist (Liberation Theologians), you’ll find some Catholics who are Fascists. Therefore, to distinguish categories from name calling, I thought I’d point out the idifferences between these groups on some of the key lines that distinguish the different nuances between movements.

On Abortion
Fascist: Abortion is good, and may sometimes be necessary
Libertarian: Abortion should be up to individuals
Paleoconservative: Abortion should be illegal at the state level
Neoconservative: Abortion should be against federal law
Liberal: Abortion should be up to individuals
“Progressive”/Socialist: Federal government should pay for abortions
Communist: Abortion is good, and may sometimes be necessary

On Foreign Policy
Fascist: People of a nationality should stick together; those of superior races should rule over others
Libertarian: Countries should mind each others’ own business
Paleoconservative: Countries should mind each others’ own business
Neoconservative: We should use global foreign policy to “promote Democracy” and fight various “threats to Democracy”
Liberal: We should use global foreign policy to “promote Democracy” and fight various “threats to Democracy”, and the world should work together as an egalitarian community
“Progressive”/Socialist: The world should work together as an egalitarian community. Ideally, there should be no national boundaries at all.
Communist: There should be no national boundaries at all

On War:
Fascist: War is good.
Libertarian: anti-war
Paleocon: anti-war, except legitimately defensive war
Neocon: defensive war can be broadly defined as a war to overthrow a government on the other side of the world that may theoretically pose a threat to US security. See also, Liberal
Liberal: War to promote democracy is good. See also, paleocon
“Progressive”/Socialist: War is bad, unless it’s the Revolution
Communist: War is bad unless it’s the Revolution

On Education
Fascist: Total government control, top-down. Education should be controlled by the state and teach the state’s view of things.
Libertarian: No public education
Paleocon: Public education should be locally controlled
Neocon: The federal government should be used to control public education with values education, national standards and accountability. We want to make all public schools teach the values that paleocons believe in, but in the most watered down way possible.
Liberal: The federal government should be used to control public education with values education, national standards and accountability. It’s just that we disagree about what values to teach and what standards to promote.
Progressive/Socialist: Federal government should control public education, and teach the most basic civil virtues. Standards are good if no one is made to feel bad about themselves, and if the standards promote our view of history, science, economics and politics.
Communism: Total government control, top-down. Education should be controlled by the state and teach the state’s view of things.

Now, people often balk at applying political terminology to the Church, but it can’t be denied that, especially post-Vatican II, the way Catholics see the Church and the way they see society often run parallel. Catholics who are more progressive politically will be more “progressive” in their view of the Church: they want rock music and women priests, etc. Catholics who are more traditional in their views of religion and morality are going to adopt a more traditional view of society. Indeed, you’ll probably find the greatest diversity of political views among traditional Catholics than other groups in the Church. Among traditionalists, you’re most likely to find monarchists, paleocons, and libertarians. However, there are traditionalists who are old school liberals, and there are sadly some traditionalists who are Fascists, but they’re mostly of the schismatic variety.

But Neocons are interesting, because if any “faction” in the Church best matches up to neoconservatism, it’s the Charismatics: they embrace Vatican II wholeheartedly, even to the point of embracing “the Spirit of Vatican II”. They may respect some aspects of tradition, but Catholics who are politically neocons tend to be as opposed to Summorum Pontificum, Liturgiam Authenticam and the Reform of the Reform as liberals are. When liturgy comes up, Catholics of a more paleocon bent are more likely to prefer GIA and Oregon Catholic Press. They’re more likely to be OK with altar chicks. They may be OK with a little Latin in the Sanctus or Agnus Dei, or a hymn or two. They may even be OK with the Gloria in Latin, but the idea of even saying the Novus Ordo in Latin is anathema to them.

Even beyond liturgy, then come questions of interpretation of Vatican II texts, and the question of which side of continuity one emphasizes in the “Hermeneutic of Continuity”. Neocons sound a lot like liberals when it comes to interpretation of Vatican II–they are willing to drop entire chunks of traditional Catholic teaching if it seems Vatican II “overturned” those teachings. Even while talking “hermeneutic of continuity” they don’t seem too concerned about making it fit, but merely accepting, “Vatican II says what it says, so I don’t have to worry about anything the Church might have said before.”

One Neocon I frequently argue with, for example, holds that Vatican II’s broad teachings on freedom of conscience and the possibility of baptism by desire mean that we don’t have to be concerned about the salvation of Muslims. This person will say, in one breath, that Islam is an evil religion and should be wiped out by military force and then, when confronted with the need to save the souls of the individual Muslims, say, “We are not supposed to judge their individual souls.” So, we can kill them because they’re evil, but we can’t try to convert them because we shouldn’t judge them. OK.

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