Irving Kristol: Wikis


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Irving Kristol
Full name Irving Kristol
Born January 22, 1920(1920-01-22)
Brooklyn, New York
Died September 18, 2009 (aged 89)
Falls Church, Virginia
Era Modern philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School American neoconservatism

Irving Kristol (January 22, 1920 – September 18, 2009) was an American columnist, journalist, and writer who was dubbed the "godfather of neoconservatism".[1] As the founder, editor, and contributor to various magazines, he played an influential role in the intellectual and political culture of the last half-century;[2] after his death he was described by The Daily Telegraph as being "perhaps the most consequential public intellectual of the latter half of the 20th century".[3]



Kristol was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of non-observant Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.[4][5] He received his B.A. from the City College of New York in 1940, where he majored in history and was part of a small but vocal Trotskyist group who eventually became the New York Intellectuals. During World War II, he served in Europe in the 12th Armored Division as a combat infantryman.[6]

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; and 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 married the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb in 1942. They had two children, Elizabeth Nelson and William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard.

Kristol died aged 89 on September 18, 2009 at the Capital Hospice in Falls Church, Virginia from complications of lung cancer .[7]


In 1973 Michael Harrington coined the term "neoconservatism" to describe those liberal intellectuals and political philosophers who were disaffected with the political and cultural attitudes dominating the Democratic Party and were moving toward a new form of conservatism.[8] Intended by Harrington as a pejorative term, it was accepted by Kristol as an apt description of the ideas and policies exemplified by The Public Interest. Unlike liberals, for example, neoconservatives rejected most of the Great Society programs sponsored by Lyndon Johnson; and unlike traditional conservatives, they supported the more limited welfare state instituted by Roosevelt.

In February, 1979, Kristol was featured on the cover of Esquire. The caption identified him as "the godfather of the most powerful new political force in America -- Neoconservatism".[9] That year also saw the publication of a book The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics. Like Harrington, the author, Peter Steinfels, was critical of neoconservatism, but he was impressed by its growing political and intellectual influence. Kristol's response appeared under the title "Confessions of a True, Self-Confessed -- Perhaps the Only -- 'Neoconservative'".[10]

Neoconservatism, Kristol maintains, is not an ideology but a "persuasion", a way of thinking about politics rather than a compendium of principles and axioms.[11] It is classical rather than romantic in temperament, and practical and anti-Utopian in policy. One of Kristol's most celebrated quips defines a neoconservative as "a liberal who has been mugged by reality".[12]

That "reality", for Kristol, is a complex one. While propounding the virtues of supply-side economics as the basis for the economic growth that is "a sine qua non for the survival of a modern democracy", he also insists that any economic philosophy has to be enlarged by "political philosophy, moral philosophy, and even religious thought", which were as much the sine qua non for a modern democracy.[13]

One of his early books, Two Cheers for Capitalism, asserts that capitalism, or more precisely bourgeois capitalism, is worthy of two cheers: One cheer, because "it works, in a quite simple, material sense", by improving the conditions of people. And a second cheer, because it is "congenial to a large measure of personal liberty". These are no small achievements, he argues, and only capitalism has proved capable of providing them. But it also imposes a great "psychic burden" upon the individual and the social order as well. Because it does not meet the individual's "'existential' human needs", it creates a "spiritual malaise" that threatens the legitimacy of that social order. As much as anything else, it is the withholding of that third cheer that is the distinctive mark of neoconservatism, as Kristol understands it.[14]


"The trouble with traditional American conservatism is that it lacks a naturally cheerful, optimistic disposition. Not only does it lack one, it regards signs of one as evidence of unsoundness, irresponsibility."[15]

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."[16][17]

"I have observed over the years that the unanticipated consequences of social action are always more important, and usually less agreeable, than the intended consequences." [18]

"What rules the world is idea, because ideas define the way reality is perceived."[19 ]

"It requires strength of character to act upon one's ideas; it requires no less strength of character to resist being seduced by them."[20]

"An intellectual may be defined as a man who speaks with general authority about a subject on which he has no particular competence."[21]

"Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions -- it only guarantees equality of opportunity."

"Nostalgia is one of the legitimate and certainly one of the most enduring of human emotions; but the politics of nostalgia is at best distracting, at worst pernicious."[22]

"The liberal paradigm of regulation and license has led to a society where an 18-year-old girl has the right to public fornication in a pornographic movie -- but only if she is paid the minimum wage."[19 ]

"Senator McGovern is very sincere when he says that he will try to cut the military budget by 30%. And this is to drive a knife in the heart of Israel... Jews don't like big military budgets. But it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States... American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don't want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel."[23]

"After all, if you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you also have to believe that no one was ever improved by a book (or a play or a movie). You have to believe, in other words, that all art is morally trivial and that, consequently, all education is morally irrelevant. No one, not even a university professor, really believes that."[24]

"The enemy of liberal capitalism today is not so much socialism as nihilism."[25]

"It is ironic to watch the churches, including large sections of my own religion, surrendering to the spirit of modernity at the very moment when modernity itself is undergoing a kind of spiritual collapse....[26]

"Young people, especially, are looking for religion so desperately that they are inventing new ones. They should not have to invent new ones; the old religions are pretty good."[27]

"Power breeds responsibilities, in international affairs as in domestic -- or even private. To dodge or disclaim these responsibilities is one form of the abuse of power."[28]

"The danger facing American Jews today is not that Christians want to persecute them but that Christians want to marry them."[29]


  • "Men and Ideas: Niccolo Machiavelli," Encounter, December 1954.
  • "American Intellectuals and Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, July 1967 (repr. in On the Democratic Idea in America).
  • "Memoirs of a Cold Warrior," New York Times Magazine, February 11, 1968 (repr. in Reflections of a Neoconservative).
  • "When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness," The Public Interest, Fall 1970 (repr. in On the Democratic Idea in America and Two Cheers for Capitalism).
  • "Pornography, Obscenity, and Censorship," New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1971 (repr. in On the Democratic Idea in America and Reflections of a Neoconservative).
  • "Utopianism, Ancient and Modern," Imprimus, April 1973 (repr. in Two Cheers for Capitalism).
  • "Adam Smith and the Spirit of Capitalism," The Great Ideas Today, ed. Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, 1976 (repr. in Reflections of a Neoconservative).
  • "Memoirs of a Trotskyist," New York Times Magazine, January 23, 1977 (repr. in Reflections of a Neoconservative).
  • "The Adversary Culture of Intellectuals," Encounter, October 1979 (repr. in Reflections of a Neoconservative).


  • On the Democratic Idea in America, New York: Harper, 1972 (ISBN 0060124679).
  • Two Cheers for Capitalism, 1978 (ISBN 0-465-08803-1)
  • Reflections of a Neoconservative: Looking Back, Looking Ahead, 1983 (ISBN 0-465-06872-3)
  • Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, 1995 (ISBN 0-02-874021-1)


  1. ^ See, for example,
  2. ^ See, for example, "American Conservative Opinion Leaders," by Mark J. Rozell and James F. Pontuso, 1990.
  3. ^ Irving Kristol's gone – we'll miss his clear vision
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hoeveler, J. David, Watch on the right: conservative intellectuals in the Reagan era (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), ISBN 9780299128104, p.81 (excerpt available at Google Books).
  6. ^ Kristol, Irving. Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. New York: The Free Press, 1995. ISBN 0-02-874021-1 p. 3-4
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Reflections of a Neoconservative, p.79
  12. ^
  13. ^ Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea (New York, 1995), p. 37.
  14. ^ Two Cheers for Capitalism (New York, 1978), pp. x-xii.
  15. ^ Wall Street Journal, November 18, 1985.
  16. ^ Origin of the Specious, Reason Magazine (July 1997)
  17. ^ Atheism Central for Secondary Schools - the noble lie
  18. ^ On the Democratic Idea in America (New York, 1972), p. ix.
  19. ^ a b Wall Street Journal, September 11, 1975.
  20. ^ New Leader, April 1, 1963.
  21. ^ Foreign Affairs, July 1967.
  22. ^ New York Times Magazine, December 20, 1964.
  23. ^ Kristol, Irving. 1973. Congress Bi-Weekly. American Jewish Congress. (Produced online)
  24. ^ New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1971.
  25. ^ The Public Interest, Spring 1973.
  26. ^ Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, pp. 36-7.
  27. ^ Capitalism and Socialism: A Theological Inquiry (American Enterprise Institute Press, 1979).
  28. ^ New York Times Magazine, May 12, 1968.
  29. ^ Quoted in Commentary, January 1994.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Irving Kristol (born 22 January 1920 - 18 September 2009) was an American columnist, journalist, and writer who was dubbed the "godfather of neoconservatism."



  • [Conservatism] Our revolutionary message ... is that a self-disciplined people can create a political community in which an ordered liberty will promote both economic prosperity and political participation.
    • Essay in American Spectator Magazine (1977)
  • If you have standards, moral standards, you have to want to make them prevail, and at the very least you have to argue in their favor. Now, show me where libertarians have argued in some comprehensive way for a set of moral standards. ... I don't think morality can be decided on the private level. I think you need public guidance and public support for a moral consensus. The average person has to know instinctively, without thinking too much about it, how he should raise his children.
    • Essay in the Wall Street Journal (1978)
  • Doing good isn't [that] hard. It's just doing a lot of good that is very hard. If your aims are modest, you can accomplish an awful lot. When your aims become elevated beyond a reasonable level, you not only don't accomplish much, you can cause a great deal of damage.
    • Interview in the London Times Higher Education Supplement (1987)
  • A welfare state, properly conceived, can be an integral part of a conservative society.
    • Reflections of a Neoconservative: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (1983)
  • [A neoconservative is] a liberal who has been mugged by reality. A neoliberal is a liberal who got mugged by reality but has not pressed charges.
    • Reflections of a Neoconservative: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
  • People need religion. It's a vehicle for a moral tradition. A crucial role. Nothing can take its place.
    • Interview in Reason Magazine (1983)
  • The major political event of the twentieth century is the death of socialism.
    • Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea (1995)
  • There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work.
  • It was a new kind of class war — the people as citizens versus the politicians and their clients in the public sector.
    • The Question of Liberty in America
    • About California's 1978 Proposition 13 which limits tax increases without public approval

Two Cheers for Capitalism (1978)

  • Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions — it only guarantees equality of opportunity.
  • Today there is a new class hostile to business in general, and especially to large corporations. As a group, you find them mainly in the very large and growing public sector and in the media. They share a disinterest in personal wealth, a dislike for the free-market economy, and a conviction that society may best be improved through greater governmental participation in the country's economic life. They are the media. They are the educational system. Their dislike for the free-market economy originates in their inability to exercise much influence over it so as to produce change. In its place they would prefer a system in which there is a very large political component. This is because the new class has a great deal of influence in politics. Thus, through politics, they can exercise a direct and immediate influence on the shape of our society and the direction of national affairs.
  • A liberal is one who says that it's all right for an 18-year-old girl to perform in a pornographic movie as long as she gets paid the minimum wage.
  • Neo-conservatives are unlike old conservatives because they are utilitarians, not moralists, and because their aim is the prosperity of post-industrial society, not the recovery of a golden age.


  • Business ethics, in any civilization, is properly defined by moral and religious traditions, and it is a confession of moral bankruptcy to assert that what the law does not explicitly prohibit is therefore morally permissible.
  • Corporate philanthropy should not be, and cannot be, disinterested. It must shape or reshape the climate of public opinion.
  • Patriotism springs from love of the nation’s past; nationalism arises out of the hope for the nation’s future.
  • [The country's founders] understood that republican self-government could not exist if humanity did not possess ... the traditional 'republican virtues' of self-control, self-reliance, and a disinterested concern for the public good.

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Simple English

Irving Kristol (January 22, 1920September 18, 2009) was an American columnist, journalist, and writer. He was called the "godfather of neoconservatism."[1] He contributed to many magazines and founded some. He was very important for the intellectual and political cultuer of the last fifty years.[2]


  1. See, for example,
  2. See, for example, "American Conservative Opinion Leaders," by Mark J. Rozell and James F. Pontuso, 1990.


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