web analytics
December 29, 2014 / 7 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Irving Kristol And The Power Of Ideas


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 jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Irving Kristol And The Power Of Ideas”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Kerry, the one who is short in size and common sense, with Kerry, the one who is tall in size but short on common sense.
Abbas Bucks Kerry and Runs to the UN to Throw Obama under the Bus
Latest Indepth Stories
Middle-East-map

Is not Israel’s policy of “territory for peace” with Arab leaders criminally irresponsible?

Israel Palestine Flag

Israel must develop it’s truthful message to be as clear & simple to comprehend as the Arab’s lies

School of Athens by Raphael (Aristotle on right holding his work, "Ethics")

2 basic aspects of Aristotelian thought remarkably like Jewish thought: “Involvement” & “Purpose”

Ben-Tsvi-122614

“Farming still allows some unique opportunities for mitzvah fulfillment that a city dweller never meets.”

It shakes our sense of justice when allegations against a famed role model are covered up or ignored

Feiglin: Only true liberty will allow us to genuinely connect to our Jewish identity.

The silver lining with early elections is the chance to change the current dysfunctional government.

The Holocaust Educational Trust Ireland informed the host he could not say “Israel or Jewish state”

It’s fascinating how sources attain the status “traditional,” or its equivalent level of kashrus.

The West needs to ensure Russia understands that aggression comes at a significant cost.

What benefit is a learning experience that leaves kids confused,disillusioned&harms self confidence?

Girlfriend and double cop-killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley apparently was influenced by Islamic extremism.

We see pictures of mosques, monuments for terrorists, illegal schools, and hundreds of apartments being built on Jewish land without repercussions. We are losing Jewish property, so it is up to us to protect it.

Thus, despite the increasingly serious problems for the mayor arising out of the current anti-police protests, Mr. de Blasio apparently will be cut no slack by those who seem to be aiming for a significant role in running the city from the streets and who will do whatever they can to prevent their momentum from ebbing.

Also left unsaid was the fact that the menorah and its oil were in the Beit HaMikdash, which of course was located on Har HaBayit – the Temple Mount that present-day Muslims claim as their own.

More Articles from Jonathan S. Tobin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem at the President's Residence, February 2014 (archive)

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

Bomb Shelter

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 […]

How will all this end? Hamas seems to think it will be Netanyahu who will blink first.

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: