Irving Kristol, 1920-2009

Irving Kristol

Irving Kristol was a CCNY Boy, not a Chicago Boy.

Kristol was a Neoconservative when the “neo” part meant something. It started out as an insult, by former liberal friends, who derided Kristol and others for going where the evidence took them, and turning against their former views and former colleagues. The Neoconservatives were the people associated with The Public Interest magazine in the 1960s, mostly Jews from New York. The leading figures were Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer and their circle. These guys followed a half-century course from Left to Right. They started out as Trotskyists at City College in New York in the ’30s and ’40s. Kristol describes that period here. They were anti-communist Social Democrats associated with Irving Howe and Sidney Hook in the 1950s. As the Democrat party undertook to build the Great Society in the 1960s, they became social planners. As that program failed, and Vietnam failed, and the McGovernite New Left began to take over the party, they became Scoop Jackson liberal hawks who were increasingly dubious about government social programs as well as staying hawkish on defense issues. As Jimmy Carter attempted to go beyond detente to something like appeasement, some switched parties and became Republicans. They were hawkish on defense and unideological and undogmatic critics of social programs that did not work. Kristol was the main figure in this intellectual odyssey. He and his colleagues added a critical infusion of intelligence and policy expertise to the conservative coalition that elected Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Perhaps Kristol’s most important contribution was his editorship of The Public Interest, which he described here. Recently, the complete archives of the Public Interest became available online.

Rest in peace.

UPDATE: Helen weighs in, with many good links.

2 thoughts on “Irving Kristol, 1920-2009”

  1. Truly, a great man. I have no doubt that true historians will point the hinge around which the early 21 century turned.

    They were anti-communist Social Democrats associated with Irving Howe and Sidney Hook in the 1950s.

    God and Buddah! I miss those guys. Wrong headed in part they may have been in hindsight they did love America and see it as something special to be protected. I’d give my sinister germinal organ to here a modern Democrat say something like this today:

    We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
    Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
    This much we pledge—and more.

    … And mean it.

    They started out as Trotskyists at City College in New York in the ’30s and ’40s.

    I often wonder if I would have been a communist, at least a Trotskyite, had I been around back then. A big chunk of my interest in libertarianism/free-market comes from the modern sciences of chaos theory and related fields. I am also heavily influenced by modern evolutionary theory and information theory. Perhaps the counterparts of those fields in the 1930’s would have pointed me in the direction of communism. I’d like to think not but who knows for sure why we hold the beliefs we do. (That is especially true of us atheist who are often just winging it morally. It makes it easy for us to run off the rails.)

    I’d like to think that if I did, my empirical nature would have caused me to follow Kristol’s path.

  2. A lot of people were some kind of communist during the Depression. The ones with brains and moral courage moved on. James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, Frank Meyer … Irving Kristol.

    Kristol reminds me of one of my other heroes: George Orwell. Orwell was never a communist, God bless him. He was always a very English type of social democrat, who thought it was fascistic that the pubs were forced to close in the afternoon. Both Orwell and Kristol took the facts and evidence seriously, and they went where their intelligence and moral judgment took them — at a high personal cost in broken friendships and alienating former colleagues.

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