I just stumbled across this 1997 Ronald Bailey (yes, it’s in Reason, but it’s good) article on neoconservatives’ attitudes towards evolution. It’s probably the first thing I’ve ever read about neoconservatism that made sense to me, in terms of explaining motivations.
Not all neocons purport to reject evolution, but “intellectual giants” Irving Kristol and Robert Bork have explicitly questioned it, for example. The idea, as Bradley (correctly, IHMO) explains it is that evolution undermines faith in traditional religion which is problematic for those wishing to preserve the social order. The article is long, though, necessarily so — I will attempt to weave the main argument together in an extended excerpt:
The end of the Cold War may also be a factor. Marx fell with the Soviet Union; Freud has been discredited by modern psychology and neuroscience. The last standing member of the 19th century’s unholy materialist trinity is Darwin. Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial, makes the connection clear: “Darwinism is the most important of the materialist ideologies–Marxism, Freudianism, and behaviorism are others–which have done so much damage to science and society in the 20th century.” Kristol agrees. “All I want to do,” he told his AEI audience, “is break the bonds of Darwinian materialism which at the moment restrict our imagination. For the moment that’s enough.”
But something deeper seems to be going on, and the key to it can be found in Bork’s assertion in his book that religious “belief is probably essential to a civilized future.” These otherwise largely secular intellectuals may well have turned on Darwin because they have concluded that his theory of evolution undermines religious faith in society at large.
At the heart of the neoconservative attack on Darwinism lies the political philosophy of Leo Strauss. Strauss was a German political philosopher who fled the Nazis in 1938 and began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1949. In an intellectual revolt against modernity, Strauss focused his work on interpreting such classics as Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s The Prince.
Kristol has acknowledged his intellectual debt to Strauss in a recent autobiographical essay. “What made him so controversial within the academic community was his disbelief in the Enlightenment dogma that `the truth will make men free.'” Kristol adds that “Strauss was an intellectual aristocrat who thought that the truth could make some [emphasis Kristol’s] minds free, but he was convinced that there was an inherent conflict between philosophic truth and political order, and that the popularization and vulgarization of these truths might import unease, turmoil and the release of popular passions hitherto held in check by tradition and religion with utterly unpredictable, but mostly negative, consequences.”
Kristol agrees with this view. “There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people,” he says in an interview. “There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work.”
Neoconservatives have always annoyed me in a way that paleoconservatives don’t. Sure, George Will says a lot of stupid and factually inaccurate things about global warming, but he’s openly agnostic (“too indecisive to be an atheist”). Yes, Kathleen Parker wastes a lot of columns on superficial cultural crap, but she often explicitly criticizes Republicans for cowing to the religious right. With these two, at least, it appears that they are writing things that they actually believe themselves.
There’s something unbelievably arrogant about taking public positions that you secretly don’t believe because you think that the hoi polloi needs to believe in order to keep our society going. It makes my skin crawl. The neocons are the worst offenders, but the Village also feels, as a rule, that the public shouldn’t know the truth about everything. I believe this attitude is toxic and is a big part of what turns out public discourse into nonsensical babble.