Irving Kristol, R.I.P.

Standard

irvkristol

[Image by Keith Myers/NYT]

The “Godfather of the Neoconservative Movement” has passed on.

Here is a bit from John Podhoretz’s post at Contentions:

The intellectual and political life of the United States over the past 60 years was affected in so many important and enduring ways by Irving Kristol that it is difficult to capture in words the extent of his powerful and positive influence. Irving, who died today at the age of 89, was the rarest of creatures—a thoroughgoing intellectual who was also a man of action. He was a maker of things, a builder of institutions, a harvester and disseminator and progenitor of ideas and the means whereby those ideas were made flesh…

The number of institutions with which he was affiliated, or started, or helped grow into major centers of learning and thinking is hard to count. There is this institution, COMMENTARY, where he began working after his release from the Army following the conclusion of the Second World War. There were two other magazines in the 1950s, the Reporter and Encounter, which he helped found and whose influence on civil discourse was profound and enduring, even legendary. There was the Public Interest, the quarterly he co-founded in 1965 with Daniel Bell and then ran with Nathan Glazer for more than 30 years, which was the wellspring of neoconservative thinking on domestic-policy issues. He helped bring a sleepy Washington think tank called the American Enterprise Institute into the forefront. And he made Basic Books into a publishing powerhouse that was, for more than 20 years, at the red-hot center of every major debate in American life.

It was through his encouragement and lobbying efforts that several foundations began providing the kind of support to thinkers and academics on the Right that other foundations and most universities afforded thinkers and academics on the Left. Through his columns in the Wall Street Journal, he instructed American businessmen on the relation between what they did and the foundational ideas of capitalism as explicated by Adam Smith, and changed many of them from sideline players in the battle over the direction of the American economy into front-line advocates.

Just an example of Irving’s approach: In 1979, as a first-year student at the University of Chicago, I started a magazine called Midway (later Counterpoint) with my friend Tod Lindberg, now the editor of Policy Review. I sent the first issue to Irving, a family friend. He called me a few days later. “Do you need money?” he said in his fascinating accent, which bore both traces of the Brooklyn of his youth and the London where he spent crucial years in his 30s. “Money?” I said. “No, we made enough from advertising to pay for it.”

“If you ever do, let me know,” he said. And a few issues later, we did. I called him, and he instructed me on the fine art of writing a grant proposal to a new foundation he had begun called the Institute for Educational Affairs. A few weeks later, he called me to report that a grant of $2,000 had been approved and, moreover, that he had used our little magazine as an example of what might be done on college campuses to encourage non-Leftist thinking among students. The board of the foundation found his pitch compelling, and it was decided that efforts should be made to encourage the creation of other publications like Counterpoint. From this seedling came a project that would, by the mid-1980s, lead to the creation of more than 50 college newspapers and magazines across the country engaged in a vital intellectual project to bring ideological diversity to campus life.

Now, if one were to measure by the nature of colleges today as opposed to 30 years ago, one would have to say this venture did not effect much change. But what came out of it were dozens of young writers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs (like Peter Thiel, the co-creator of PayPal and one of the founding editors of the Stanford Review) who have enriched American life.

So it was with Irving the mentor. There are people throughout the United States, writers and editors and academics and thinkers and speechwriters and policymakers, who owe their careers and the shape of their lives to Irving and his direct efforts on their behalf—giving them counsel, writing them letters, finding them employment. He was a human job bank.

The Heritage Foundation:

With the death of editor and scholar Irving Kristol, the conservative movement has lost another of its intellectual champions. In recent years, Irving was a Senior Fellow Emeritus with our friends over at the American Enterprise Institute. That post, though, was merely the capstone to a long career in media, publishing and academia.

Famously, of course, Irving Kristol wasn’t always a conservative, much less a “neoconservative.” He began his career as a Marxist, but from the position of a leftist was able to recognize the weaknesses of Marxism. That realization led to his gradual move to the political right.

Here’s how he once put it: “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a neo-something: a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-liberal, a neo-conservative; in religion a neo-orthodox even while I was a neo-Trotskyist and a neo-Marxist. I’m going to end up a neo-; that’s all, neo dash nothing.”

Instead, Irving ended up an influential conservative icon.

Among other jobs, he was managing editor of Commentary magazine from 1947 to 1952, executive vice president of Basic Books for eight years and professor of social thought at New York University Graduate School of Business.

Irving Kristol was an inspiration to all of us. During the early days of the conservative movement, liberals controlled academia even more completely than they do today.

Yet Kristol reminded us that ideas were more important than ideology. He gave birth to an intellectual movement that proved conservative ideas work, and he helped make conservatives into what the late  Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York called “the party of ideas.”

“A conservative,” Irving liked to say, “is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”

Robert Kagan at WaPo:

He was a truly great man, a great intellectual, and a great, patriotic servant to his country. He was also a unique inspiration, to me personally, and to untold thousands of other young people for whom he provided a model of the intellectual life well-lived. He was a deep and fierce thinker, who nevertheless delivered his thoughts in the most amiable fashion, without animus or bile. He was curious and invited others to be curious, to engage in serious dialogue on the important issues of the day. He was also a creator of communities and institutions. He occupied a unique space between the world of the mind and the world of action. Networks of thinkers, policy-makers, and politicians revolved around him — and not because he thrust himself into their midst but because his mind and character attracted them to him. To go to work for him, as I did fresh out of college almost 30 years ago, was to enter a rich and exciting intellectual universe, filled with learning and integrity and a commitment to the well-being of society. I fear such a universe may no longer exist. But the memory of what Irving Kristol created is enough to warm the soul for a lifetime.

Myron Magnet in the City Journal:

Irving Kristol, who died today at 89, was famously the godfather of neoconservatism, and he was the godfather of City Journal, too, having urged the Manhattan Institute’s then-president Bill Hammett 20 years ago to start a magazine. Ever practical and realistic, Irving knew that it wasn’t enough for conservatives to have good ideas; they also needed vehicles to communicate them. If the mainstream media—which in that pre-Internet era really had a monopoly on news and opinion—didn’t want to give conservatives a platform, there was no use complaining: we’d just have to start our own publications. Irving understood the power of ideas as well as anyone, but he also understood the power of institutions.

His own world-historically influential magazine, The Public Interest, bore Irving’s stamp of practicality and realism, indeed of realpolitik. It aimed, through its hard-headed emphasis on social-scientific data, to rise above mere theorizing and opinion into the realm of fact and proof. Ever the anti-utopian, in politics and in temperament, Irving was interested in the world as it is, not as some system wanted it to be. He’d had his youthful flirtation with left-utopianism and, disillusioned by experience, became a neoconservative—a liberal, as he defined it, who’s been mugged by reality. What he really meant, of course, was simply a liberal who’d been mugged—who’d seen that all the liberal, welfare-state ideals for the uplift of the poor, and especially the minority poor, had in the end produced a criminal underclass, exactly the opposite of the intended uplift. The good intentions counted for nothing with him and even sparked a certain dry contempt; it was the result that mattered.

For all The Public Interest’s hard-headedness, however, Irving—a New York Intellectual, after all—saw clearly the power of that very intangible reality, culture. He knew how perversely wrong Marx had been to think that economic relations mold the world, giving form even to our ideas. On the contrary, Irving understood, the ideas, beliefs, customs, virtues, even the prejudices that make up the tissue of our culture are the true shapers of reality. As he explained in his greatest essay, “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness,” which closes Two Cheers for Capitalism, Adam Smith, for all his greatness as an economist and philosopher, did not see how crucial to the functioning of markets as he described them was the Presbyterian culture of the Scotland that bred him, with its emphasis on probity, thrift, enterprise, and truthfulness. Even in the economic world, material reality is only part of the story.

The NYT:

The Public Interest writers did not take issue with the ends of the Great Society so much as with the means, the “unintended consequences” of the Democrats’ good intentions. Welfare programs, they argued, were breeding a culture of dependency; affirmative action created social divisions and did damage to its supposed beneficiaries. They placed practicality ahead of ideals. “The legitimate question to ask about any program,” Mr. Kristol said, “is, ‘Will it work?’,” and the reforms of the 1960s and ’70s, he believed, were not working.

For more than six decades, beginning in 1942, when he and other recent graduates of City College founded Enquiry: A Journal of Independent Radical Thought, his life revolved around magazines. Besides The Public Interest, Mr. Kristol published, edited and wrote for journals of opinion like Commentary, Encounter, The New Leader, The Reporter and The National Interest.

All were “little magazines,” with limited circulations, but Mr. Kristol valued the quality of his readership more than the quantity. “With a circulation of a few hundred,” he once said, “you could change the world.”

Small circles and behind-the-scenes maneuverings suited him. He never sought celebrity; in fact, he was puzzled by writers who craved it. Described by the economics writer Jude Wanniski as the “hidden hand” of the conservative movement, he avoided television and other media spotlights; he was happier consulting with a congressman like Jack Kemp about the new notion of supply-side economics and then watching with satisfaction as Mr. Kemp converted President Ronald Reagan to the theory. Mr. Kristol was a man of ideas who believed in the power of ideas, an intellectual whose fiercest battles were waged against other intellectuals.

A major theme of The Public Interest under Mr. Kristol’s leadership was the limits of social policy; he and his colleagues were skeptical about the extent to which government programs could actually produce positive change.

Neoconservatism may have begun as a dispute among liberals about the nature of the welfare state, but under Mr. Kristol it became a more encompassing perspective, what he variously called a “persuasion,” an “impulse,” a “new synthesis.” Against what he saw as the “nihilistic” onslaught of the ’60s counterculture, Mr. Kristol, in the name of neoconservatism, mounted an ever more muscular defense of capitalism, bourgeois values and the aspirations of the common man that took him increasingly to the right.

For him, neoconservatism, with its emphasis on values and ideas, had become no longer a corrective to liberal overreaching but an “integral part” of conservatism and the Republican Party, a challenge to liberalism itself, which, in his revised view, was a destructive philosophy that had lost touch with ordinary people.

But, I am a Liberal has links to a variety of obits here.

So does Poumista.

Advertisements

One response »

  1. Pingback: Intellectuals « Poumista

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s