“[Neoconservatives] have penetrated the culture at nearly every level from the halls of academia to the halls of the Pentagon,” writes The New York Times. According to Newsweek, “The neocon vision has become the hard core of American foreign policy.” In Europe, les intellectuals neoconservateurs have an even more ominous reputation. Depending on who you speak with on campus, they are either evil incarnate or defenders of freedom. So what exactly is neoconservatism?

The term “neoconservative” has wrongly become a synonym for ultraconservative or zealously right-wing. A distinction should be made between those known as “paleoconservatives” – old-style conservatives – like Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak, and neoconservatives. The two groups are constantly at odds with each other and, unknown to most, neocons have their roots in the far left.

Neoconservativism dates back to the 1930s and ’40s, when young Trotskyites like Irving Howe and Irving Kristol at the City College of New York became disillusioned with the widespread sympathy for Stalinism on the part of fellow socialists. By the late 1940s and ’50s, anti-Stalinism became anti-totalitarianism.

Neoconservatism remains a diverse intellectual movement, not a political one: It has no platform, no convention, no elected leaders, and members include both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, the word “neoconservatism” itself was initially a term of ridicule that gained currency in the mid-1970s to derogate liberals at odds with much liberal orthodoxy that happened to stick.

As leading Cold Warriors, neoconservatives rejected the d