Reflections of a Neoconservative

“Reflections of a Neoconservative,” Partisan Review, no. 4, 1984.


Even to raise that question, of course, is to define oneself as some kind of conservative, if only an incipient kind of conservative. Just what “conservative” means, politically and culturally, in the last quarter of this turbulent twentieth century, it is not so easy to say. But, then, it is not so easy to say what “radical” or “modernist” means either. We do live, I am convinced, in one of those historic conjunctures when inherited categories of thought, dominant for some two hundred years now, have lost their creative vitality—though not, to be sure, their destructive energies. It is no accident, as one used to say, that there is an ever-growing interest among some of our brightest young people in premodern thinkers. This is a healthy, if still indeterminate, sign.

Meanwhile, for myself, I have reached certain conclusions: that Jane Austen is a greater novelist than Proust or Joyce; that Raphael is a greater painter than Picasso; that T. S. Eliot’s later, Christian poetry is much superior to his earlier; that C. S. Lewis is a finer literary and cultural critic than Edmund Wilson; that Aristotle is more worthy of careful study than Marx; that we have more to learn from Tocqueville than from Max Weber; that Adam Smith makes a lot more economic sense than any economist since; that the Founding Fathers had a better understanding of democracy than any political scientists since; that…. Well, enough. As I said at the outset, I have become conservative, and whatever ambiguities attach to that term, it should be obvious what it does not mean.