The Neoconservative Counterrevolution

In the anti-sixties backlash, neoconservatives were the most formidable intellectual opponents of social progress.

Jacobin Magazine, By Andrew Hartman, April 23

If New Leftists gave shape to one side of the culture wars, those who came to be called neoconservatives were hugely influential in shaping the other. Neoconservatism, a label applied to a group of prominent liberal intellectuals who moved right on the American political spectrum during the sixties, took form precisely in opposition to the New Left.

In their reaction to the New Left, in their spirited defense of traditional American institutions, and in their full-throated attack on those intellectuals who composed, in Lionel Trilling’s words, an “adversary culture,” neoconservatives helped draw up the very terms of the culture wars.

When we think about the neoconservative persuasion as the flip side of the New Left, it should be historically situated relative to what Corey Robin labels “the reactionary mind.” Robin considers conservatism “a meditation on — and theoretical rendition of — the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.”

In somewhat similar fashion, George H. Nash defines conservatism as “resistance to certain forces perceived to be leftist, revolutionary, and profoundly subversive.” Plenty of Americans experienced the various New Left movements of the sixties as “profoundly subversive” of the status quo. Neoconservatives articulated this reaction best. In a national culture transformed by sixties liberation movements, neoconservatives became famous for their efforts to “win it back.”

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