The intellectual father of neoconservatism has died. Irving Kristol was 89. The New York Times obituary says Kristol "as much as anyone, defined modern conservatism and helped revitalize the Republican Party in the late 1960s and early ’70s, setting the stage for the Reagan presidency and years of conservative dominance."
Kristol's intellectual evolution from communism to conservatism is essentially to his story and significance. "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," Kristol once said. "I'm going to end up a neo- that's all, neo dash nothing."
I don't consider myself a neoconservative, but I did faithfully read Kristol's journals, The Public Interest and the National Interest. Clearly his ideas shaped mainstream conservative thinking over the past 40 years. Here is a very small sample of some of Kristol's speeches and writings:
• Kristol on the future of capitalism.
• Kristol on The Public Interest.
• Kristol on orthodoxy and heterodoxy in Western Civilization.
• Kristol on liberalism and American Jews.
• Kristol on corporate capitalism in America.
• Kristol on the problem of equality.
Update: Here is Commentary's John Podhoretz on Kristol's long intellectual legacy:
The clarity of his thinking and the surety of his purpose were one and the same; they were immeasurably enhanced by a powerful curiosity for the way things worked and the ways in which things could be made to work better. His was a resteless intelligence, always on the move; there was not an idea he didn’t want to play with, and there wasn’t a new idea for a think tank or a magazine or a center for the study of something-or-other that didn’t excite him. He was a conservative by temperament and conviction, but he was an innovator to the depths of his being.
Robert Kagan at the Washington Post's PostPartisan blog adds:
The passing of Irving Kristol is a very sad occasion. 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.
The American Spectator posts an interview R. Emmett Tyrell conducted with Kristol in 1969, when the Spectator was still The Alternative and Kristol was still calling himself a liberal. Here's Kristol on a theme that he explored throughout his career:
Civilizations have a way of not falling apart all that easily. Are our values corrupt? In a way they are. I don't know that they're more corrupt than the values of other civilizations, though I might even concede that in some senses they are. On the other hand, these are the values that regulate the way we live together. And even if they may be false in certain important respects, they simply can't be shoved aside; people cannot live in a vacuum. False values are better than none. And until these values are amended and improved, we'll have to cope with them as best we can.
This quotation -- and others like it -- highlight a division among certain conservative intellectuals about use and abuse of "values." Values, as Harry Jaffa has pointed out, "are moral choices, which have no object or basis. The value is a subjective desire, not an objective truth... A hundred years ago, nobody would have spoken about our principles as being values." Jaffa's quarrels with Kristol go back at least
35 45 years, and a proper recounting of that story is probably best left for another day. I mention this only because when Kristol's left-wing critics use "neoconservatism" as a kind of catch-all slur, they fail to understand the arguments and divisions among conservatives that have shaped the movement they caricature.
Here's William F. Buckley on Irving Kristol from a review of "Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea" that appeared in the Weekly Standard in 1995:
In the substantial introduction to his collection... Irving Kristol ticks off ambient felicities. He ends by remarking happily the political faith of those who surround him. "My son and daughter, and son-in-law and daughter-in-law, along with dozens of young 'interns' who have worked at The Public Interest over the past thirty years, are now all conservatives without adjectival modification."
That is a tremendous statement in political taxonomy, on the order of the excommunication of Trotsky from the communist movement, as presided over by Moscow; except of course that Mr. Kristol moves in the opposite, ecumenical direction -- toward amalgamation, away from schism. Neos are now just plain cons.
More to follow.