Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event
The role of a public intellectual in a democracy is not one that is easily understood or described. In our contemporary media culture, where celebrity is measured solely by notoriety rather than the force of a person’s ideas, it is difficult to imagine how someone like Irving Kristol can be properly appreciated.
Kristol, who died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah at age 89, was not that well known outside of the realm of intellectual life. He didn’t write best-selling books or edit mass circulation magazines. In fact, the number of his fellow Americans who actually read anything he had written was probably relatively small – certainly far fewer than the many millions who watch his famous son William, himself a formidable intellectual voice and the editor of the Weekly Standard magazine, speak on network television about the issues of the day.
But the reach of Kristol’s ideas can be seen not only in his role in the creation of an important intellectual movement – neoconservatism, of which he was said to be the godfather – but in the way his critiques of liberalism irrevocably changed the national political conversation.
Like many children of Jewish immigrants who came of age during the Great Depression, Kristol was a socialist during his youth and a liberal as a young man. But unlike so many people who start out in one place and spend the rest of their lives trying to prove, against the force of events and reason, that what they thought originally was always right, his keen mind would not let him stand still as history moved past the era of the New Deal.
Kristol is best remembered for his definition of a neoconservative as a liberal who “had been mugged by reality.” But there was more to this than just a quip. He turned an informed eye and an inquisitive, creative mind on the problems of his era and the ideological nostrums that were peddled to solve them, and responded with withering analysis and cogent thought.
The result was a body of thought that first rejected the Marxist beliefs of his youth and then the flabby liberalism that rejected the imperative to resist Soviet imperialism abroad while being too rigid to take a rational look at the failings of the welfare state, affirmative action and the leftist counter-culture.
In his work at publications such as Commentary, Encounter, The Public Interest and The Wall Street Journal, as well as at Basic Books and the American Enterprise Institute, Kristol helped lay the foundation for a renaissance of conservative thought. But his journey from the left to the right was not merely a matter of, as a more traditional conservative such as William F. Buckley said, “stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop.”
Rather, Kristol was concerned with seeing which policies worked and which did not. Not satisfied with just theorizing about the issues of the day, he went deeper than merely listing the failures of liberal social science. His response was to promote a conservatism that was founded in a positive vision of American values both in terms of an economics that embraced the growth of wealth rather than its redistribution and a patriotic embrace of the universal importance of democratic values.
Unlike the lugubrious worldview of the traditional right that often is mired in pessimism about humanity, Kristol’s neoconservatism was profoundly optimistic about America and the West. As Kristol himself wrote, “Neocons feel at home in today’s America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of Tocqueville rather than in Tory nostalgia.”
As such, it is no exaggeration to say that Kristol’s influence was at the heart of the conservative political revival that won several national elections in a period that stretched from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. In this era, Republicans became the party of ideas. Neoconservatism’s task was, Kristol said, to “convert the Republican Party and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.”
Today, liberal critics would like to imagine that neoconservatism’s day is over. They forget that the triumphs of neoconservative thought had already altered the country’s political landscape long before the term “neocon” became a leftist term of abuse, as well as a touchstone for anti-Semitic incitement on both the far left and the far right.
About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.
The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.
The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.
In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities
Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.
But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.
If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.
Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.
One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.
While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.
We risk our lives to help those who do what they can to kill to our people .
Twain grasped amazingly well the pulse of the Jewish people.
One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow […]
Nothing short of a stroke that will decapitate the leadership of this group will convince the Arabs that Hamas has made a mistake.
Z STREET will have the ability to compel IRS officials to testify as to their practices and produce all records.
“Death of Klinghoffer” opera frames the issue as Israel’s existence being the real crime.
Palestinian leaders claim the kidnapping is an Israeli hoax or the act of Jewish criminals rather than terrorists.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/irving-kristol-and-the-power-of-ideas/2009/09/30/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: