Moynihan and the Neocons

The explanation, ultimately, distills to this: Moynihan was neither a neoconservative nor a paleoliberal. Moynihan was Moynihan. He believed in government as an agent of good, but also in limitation as a condition of life. As he wrote in 1973: “Increasingly, it is what is known about life that makes it problematical….The unexpected, the unforeseen: the public life of our age seems dominated by events of this cast.” He believed in a politics rooted in empirical circumstance rather than theoretical abstraction. He championed the subsidiary units of society — family, ethnic group, neighborhood. He respected society’s complexity, but also believed some problems required political and national solutions.

I have called this “Burkean liberalism.” But if the issue of Moynihan and the neoconservatives comes down to labels, perhaps a time may come when individuals of a certain bent, with a certain combination of beliefs, will describe themselves as “Moynihan liberals.” This would be as good a time as any.

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