Books critic Adam Kirsch takes the full measure of the hyperinfluential neoconservative Irving Kristol today in Tablet Magazine, on the occasion of a new anthology of his essays. Kristol’s methods were proactive—in fact, they were explicitly Leninist: “First you publish a theoretical organ, then you proceed to books and pamphlets, and finally you publish a newspaper. Once you have a newspaper that can apply the theories developed in more sophisticated publications to day-to-day politics, you are in business” (plus then you get the girls).
But Kristol’s beliefs were fundamentally reactionary:
Over the decades covered in The Neoconservative Persuasion, the reader sees Kristol losing patience with liberalism, modern art, the welfare state, blacks and the civil rights movement, feminism, and gay rights. In each case, his initial sympathy or at least respect gives way to a disgusted sense that all these movements have gone too far, until the word liberal itself became a kind of imprecation to Kristol (as it did in American politics generally). By the time he wrote the essay “The Way We Were,” in 1995, he had given in to simple nostalgia: In his childhood, Kristol writes, “the reason there were no ‘troubled’ schools is that ‘trouble’ was not tolerated.”