web analytics
July 1, 2015 / 14 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


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.

Current Top Story
Future guard? Arab child with Hamas headband aims toy rifle on the Temple Mount after prayers in the Al Aqsa mosque.
Shin Bet Foils Nascent Hamas Coup in Palestinian Authority Territories
Latest Indepth Stories
Donald Trump

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

And whereas at the outset the plan was that Iran would have to surrender most of its centrifuges, it will now be able to retain several thousand.

US President Barack Obama speaks on the negotiations with Iran.

Now oil independent, US no longer needs its former strategic alliances with Gulf States-or Israel

In addition to the palace’s tremendous size it was home to the “hanging gardens,” which were counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Rather than asserting Jewish rights on Temple Mount or protecting Jewish lives Israel chooses soccer

Nothing in the NEW Paris Proposal differs much from what was offered by Olmert and rejected by Abbas

No longer will delegitimization efforts go unchallenged. That’s a silence we will continue to break.

Increasingly, Sweden is becoming a country where anti-Semitism & supporting terrorism is acceptable.

Rabbi Pfeffer points out that at his site, there are no one-line answers. “We want to show the people we’re interested in their questions,” he says.

The problem with US treatment of Israel did not start with Obama but with birth of Jewish State

The pathetic failure of the Marianne to reach Gaza is the best thing that has happened to Israel since Hamas mis-fired a rocket on its own civilians.

Wonder why Israel has the world’s most insane rules of engagement imposed on its military? Read on..

Think political Islam’s a problem now just wait until an Islamist nuclear umbrella covers the region

Fiorina’s wrong about Islam which embraces our death&destruction confusing pc theories for hard fact

Bangladesh PM Hasina is fighting terror not only for her nation but for the entire civilized world.

More Articles from Jonathan S. Tobin
President Barack Obama

Obama thought he could replace the Saudis with Iran as the new ME lynchpin without paying a price

Tobin-012315

The abuse following publication proved a cautionary tale: no one followed in Peters’s footsteps

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

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.

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: