One might argue that because they’re less enthralled with democratization, Krauthammer and Bolton aren’t real neocons. But it’s a mistake to put democratization at neoconservatism’s core. Kristol, Kagan, and Abrams are more optimistic than Krauthammer and Bolton that democracy can promote American hegemony, but even for them, democracy is valuable primarily as a means to that end. Kristol and Abrams, for instance, are sympathetic to bombing Iran even though it would be a disaster for the democracy movement there. And neither show much concern about the fundamentally undemocratic nature of Israeli control of the West Bank.

Besides, even if democratic expansionism were neoconservatism’s essence, journalists don’t define it that way. In February 2012, citing Abrams and Kristol’s support for the Egyptian uprising that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, an article in the Newark Star-Ledger asked, “How’s that Arab Spring working out for you, neocons?” Later that year, an article in The New Statesman, citing Krauthammer’s pessimism about Egypt’s revolution, declared, “Ignore the neocons—I refuse to give up on Egypt, or the Arab Spring.” Each article, in other words, identified “neocon” with a polar opposite view of the Arab Spring…

There’s a better way. Retire “neocon,” which is rarely used coherently, if it even can be anymore, and often leads commentators (sometimes unwittingly) into dangerous territory. Call the people who want America to dominate the world militarily without the constraints of international institutions and international law “imperialists.” Yes, the term has negative connotations, but what distinguishes people like Kristol and Abrams from those liberals who also support military force in places like Bosnia and Syria is precisely the former’s open scorn for the idea that America should be bound by rules that other nations help craft. Liberal interventionists trace their intellectual ancestry to Woodrow Wilson, who tried to turn international affairs into a sphere regulated by law. Neocons scorn Wilson and revere Theodore Roosevelt, who believed, at least for part of his career, in unfettered American power.