web analytics
September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



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
Logos of the Arab Bank
Arab Bank Found Liable for Hamas Terror Funding
Latest Indepth Stories
George Bush and Barack Obama

The big service ISIS is doing the West right now is checking Iranian power, just as the Sunni rebels inside Syria are keeping the Iranian agent Hezbollah in check, and just as the PLO is keeping Hamas in check, at least to some degree.

Cannabis Greenhouse

Research shows that high doses of marijuana can produce acute psychotic reactions, lower IQ in teens

donny pic

The current missionary problem in Samaria is still relatively unknown throughout Israel&to most Jews

Jewish Holidays' Guide for the Perplexed

Rosh Hashanah is a universal, stock-taking, renewal and hopeful holiday,

No mutual clash between parties, it was Jews repeatedly attacked by Arabs, not the other way around.

Israel would love to be in the coalition,but it’s never going to happen, because, in the end, most of America’s allies would walk away if Israel were on board officially.

Why has his death been treated by some as an invitation for an emotional “autopsy”?

SWOT analysis: Assessing resources, internal Strengths&Weaknesses; external Opportunities&Threats.

Strategy? For the longest time Obama couldn’t be bothered to have one against a sworn enemy.

Seventeen visual skills are needed for success in school, sports, and everyday life.

We started The Jewish Press. Arnie was an integral part of the paper.

Fear alone is substantial; without fusing it to beauty, fear doesn’t reach its highest potential.

Fortunate are we to have Rosh Hashanah for repentance, a shofar to awaken heavenly mercy.

Arab leaders who want the US to stop Islamic State are afraid of being dubbed traitors and US agents

National Lawyers Guild:Sworn enemy of Israel & the legal arm of Palestinian terrorism since the ’70s

More Articles from Jonathan S. Tobin
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 […]

Jonathan S. Tobin is Senior Online Editor of Commentary magazine.

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.

If Peres has outlasted some of his critics and is still considered popular, he cannot outrun history.

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: