Irving Kristol died yesterday of lung cancer at 89. A titan of political and social theory, he invented neoconservatism. He was, by the accounts of everyone who knew him, an absolute prince of a man. And he had among the most vigorous minds in American political thought, as he made obvious whenever he wrote or spoke.
Among his accomplishments, aptly summarized by Wikipedia, are the following:
He was an editor and then the managing editor of Commentary magazine from 1947 to 1952; co-founder (with Stephen Spender) of the British-based Encounter from 1953 to 1958; editor of The Reporter from 1959 to 1960; executive vice-president of the publishing house Basic Books from 1961 to 1969; Henry Luce Professor of Urban Values at New York University from 1969 to 1987; co-founder and co-editor (first with Daniel Bell and then Nathan Glazer) of The Public Interest from 1965 to 2002;. These were originally liberal publications. He was the founder and publisher of The National Interest from 1985 to 2002.
Kristol was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute (having been an associate fellow from 1972, a senior fellow from 1977 and the John M. Olin Distinguished Fellow from 1988 to 1999). As a member of the board of contributors of the Wall Street Journal, he contributed a monthly column from 1972 to 1997. He served on the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1972 to 1977.
In July 2002, he received from President George W. Bush the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Kristol was married in 1942 to the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. They had two children, Elizabeth Nelson and William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard. His family dog, Sniffy, was said to be the inspiration for Snoopy, which was created by his then neighbor Charles M. Schulz.
I am not, myself, a neoconservative. My own conservatism tends to be an economically-focussed version of traditional conservatism with a hint of libertarian conservatism — probably best described as American Thatcherism. But on a gut level, I’ve always felt a strong sympathy for the neoconservative outlook, and I’ve always admired Kristol’s transformation from a radical liberal into a conservative who helped other liberals to make the same transformation and helped to shape American foreign and domestic policy for decades.