He was 89 and lived in Washington. His son, William Kristol, the commentator and editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, said the cause of death was complications of lung cancer. Kristol exerted an influence across generations, from William F. Buckley to the columnist David Brooks, through a variety of positions he held over a long career: executive vice president of Basic Books, contributor to The Wall Street Journal, professor of social thought at New York University, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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President George H. With America standing by, Saddam used his Army helicopters to ensure the perpetuation of his bloody rule. And no civilized person in his right mind wants to govern Iraq. Its earliest members were veterans of the anti-communist struggles who had reacted negatively to the leftward evolution of American liberalism in the s. They also bemoaned the excesses of what Lionel Trilling called the "adversary culture" — in their view, individualistic, hedonistic, and relativistic — that had taken hold of the baby-boom generation on college campuses.
These thinkers found outlets in prestigious journals like Commentary and The Public Interest, founded in by Kristol and Daniel Bell and financed by Warren Demian Manshel, who helped launch Foreign Policy a few years later.
Wilson, and a few others took to the pages of these journals to offer a more prudent course for American liberalism. They were criticized for being too "timid and acquiescent" by their former allies on the left, among them Michael Harrington, who dubbed them "neoconservatives" to ostracize them from liberalism. Although some rejected the label, Kristol embraced it. He started constructing a school of thought, both by fostering a network of like-minded intellectuals particularly around the American Enterprise Institute and by codifying what neoconservatism meant.
This latter mission proved challenging, as neoconservatism often seemed more like an attitude than a doctrine. Kristol himself always described it in vague terms, as a "tendency" or a "persuasion. If the first generation of neoconservatives was composed of New York intellectuals interested in domestic issues, the second was formed by Washington Democratic operatives interested in foreign policy.
This strand gave most of its DNA to latter-day neocons — and Kristol played only a tangential role. The second wave of neoconservatives came in reaction to the nomination of George McGovern as the Democratic presidential candidate. Cold War liberals deemed McGovern too far to the left, particularly in foreign policy. He suggested deep cuts in the defense budget, a hasty retreat from Vietnam, and a neo-isolationist grand strategy. Many of them, even if members of the Democratic Party, ended up working in the Reagan administration.
Moreover, some original neoconservatives, like Moynihan, became Scoop Jackson Democrats. Thus, the labels became interchangeable and the two movements seemed to merge. But this elided significant differences between them. On domestic issues, Scoop Jackson Democrats remained traditional liberals. In the s, while Jackson was advocating universal health care and even the control of prices and salaries in times of crisis, Kristol was promoting supply-side economics and consulting for business associations and conservative foundations.
On foreign-policy issues, Scoop Jackson Democrats emphasized human rights and democracy promotion, while Kristol was a classical realist. They agreed, however, on the necessity of a hawkish foreign and defense policy against the Soviet empire. These differences became most visible at the end of the Cold War. Now that the "evil empire" had fallen, what was America to do?
Was the defense and promotion of democracy and human rights the reason for fighting the Soviets — or was it the other way round, just a useful tool in this fight? Kristol, who had always taken the second view, logically advocated restraint and pragmatism for post-Cold War America and had these words for some of his "fellow" neoconservatives: The only innovative trend in our foreign-policy thinking at the moment derives from a relatively small group, consisting of both liberals and conservatives, who believe there is an "American mission" actively to promote democracy all over the world.
This is a superficially attractive idea, but it takes only a few moments of thought to realize how empty of substance and how full of presumption! In the entire history of the U. We have failed to establish a viable democracy in the Philippines, or in Panama, or anywhere in Central America. The vast majority of Scoop Jackson Democrats advocated a more assertive and interventionist posture and continued to favor at least a dose of democracy promotion most notably Joshua Muravchik, Ben Wattenberg, Carl Gershman, Michael Ledeen, Elliott Abrams, Podhoretz, and others.
Their legacy would prevail. Thus, the neocons — the third wave — were born in the mids. Their immediate predecessors, more so than the original neoconservatives, provided inspiration. But they developed their ideas in a new context where America had much more relative power.
And this time, they were firmly planted on the Republican side of the spectrum. Bill Kristol and Kagan initially rejected the "neoconservative" appellation, preferring "neo-Reaganism. Hence the neoconservative label stuck. American power is a force for good; the United States should shape the world, lest it be shaped by inimical interests; it should do so unilaterally if necessary; the danger is to do too little, not too much; the expansion of democracy advances U.
Toward the end of his life, the elder Kristol tried to triangulate between his position and that of most neocons, arguing in that there exists "no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes" including patriotism and the rejection of world government , and minimizing democracy promotion.
He kept silent on the invasion of Iraq, while the Scoop Jackson Democrats and third-wave neocons cheered. Thus, ironically, when most people repeat the line about Kristol being "the godfather of neoconservatism," they assume he was a neocon in the modern sense.
But this ignores his realist foreign policy — while also obscuring the impressive intellectual and political legacy he leaves behind him on domestic issues.
It was at these meetings that Kristol met historian Gertrude Himmelfarb , whom he later married in They had two children, Elizabeth Nelson and Bill Kristol. He wrote in Commentary magazine from to under the editor Elliot E. Cohen not to be confused with Eliot A. With Stephen Spender , he was co-founder of and contributor to the British-based Encounter from to ; editor of The Reporter from to
Was Irving Kristol a Neoconservative?
Journalists, and now even presidential candidates, speak with an enviable confidence on who or what is "neoconservative," and seem to assume the meaning is fully revealed in the name. Those of us who are designated as "neocons" are amused, flattered, or dismissive, depending on the context. It is reasonable to wonder: Is there any "there" there? Even I, frequently referred to as the "godfather" of all those neocons, have had my moments of wonderment. A few years ago I said and, alas, wrote that neoconservatism had had its own distinctive qualities in its early years, but by now had been absorbed into the mainstream of American conservatism. I was wrong, and the reason I was wrong is that, ever since its origin among disillusioned liberal intellectuals in the s, what we call neoconservatism has been one of those intellectual undercurrents that surface only intermittently. It is not a "movement," as the conspiratorial critics would have it.
The Neoconservative Persuasion