Thursday, January 08, 2004

Neocons, Wittgenstein and Essentialism

KiwiPundit challenges anyone to:

come up with a definition of the term that includes those people commonly referred to as neo-cons, excludes others, and makes no reference to race or religion.

Maybe he should come up with an adequate definition of "game" first...

For people who lack a passing familiarity with the philosophy of language, the short version is that essentialist definitions of the sort demanded by KiwiPundit don't work for any but the simplest concepts. Anything more complicated than a colour, shape or number seems to be rather fuzzy, and is defined by family resemblance and a rough collection of properties, not all of which are shared by any instantiation. Billmon's discussions (linked to earlier) are sensitive to this, pointing out that you can make generalisations about the NeoCons both as people and as an ideological package, but that the generalisations don't necessarily hold. For example

It's easy enough to point to some common themes that are generally identified with the neocons: contempt for international organizations and the concept of multilateralism; impatience with traditional balance-of-power diplomacy; a cultish devotion to the use of military power; an outspoken belief in the superiority of Western culture and political institutions; a messianic vision of America's mission to "civilize" the world, which at times (Max Boot) makes them sound like caricatures of old-fashioned European imperialists. And of course: an intense identification with the state of Israel, and a willingness, even eagerness, to use American power to protect and further Israeli security interests.

But there are nuances on all these points. Some neocons support the maximum Likud position -- one state (Jewish) between the Jordan and the sea. Some don't. Some are more willing to use multilateral institutions to pursue American interests. Some aren't. Some are more cynical about the "spreading democracy" meme than others.

But maybe this is all too complex for poor little KiwiPundit.

As for Brooks, further reading has simply confirmed my opinion that he's a hack trying to prevent any discussion of the NeoCons by insinuating that anyone who talks about them is a tinfoil-hat wearing anti-semite.