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Real Answers™
Copyright: © 2009 Gary Hardaway
690 words


By:  Gary Hardaway

Last May I emailed the eminent Irving Kristol, often dubbed “The Godfather of Neo-Conservatism,” asking his opinion about the direction of our country. As a total stranger far outside his intellectual and social circle, I had no idea if he would respond or not. Nor did I know that he was suffering from the lung cancer which would soon take his life.

I underestimated his graciousness. He replied quickly and cheerfully. “As an American, I refuse to give up hope.  Somehow, whenever we go off track, the world intervenes to set us aright.  So I refuse to anticipate the worst.”

Among people who follow politics, Irving Kristol was regarded as a giant by both allies and detractors. His writings over sixty years constitute an immensely influential body of work. His essays range over the whole spectrum of human institutions: law, society, religion, culture, literature, and education, with special attention to the exceptional American experiment. Though often critical of contemporary culture, he kept his indefatigable optimism to the end.

In a few paragraphs one cannot do justice to the man or his work. Luckily, in 1995, Kristol himself published a compendium of his most important articles, along with an engaging sketch of his life. The book, Neo-Conservatism, advertises itself as “The Autobiography of an Idea,” and it fully lives up to its claim. Simultaneously it provides intriguing, and often humorous, insight into the author.

In the 1930s, at City College of New York, Kristol joined the Trotskyist faction of the Communist Party. In those days many CCNY students considered themselves Communists of some kind. Kristol confesses that at that time he knew nothing about radical politics, but he and some friends chose the Trotskyists because they were the most intellectually serious and vigorous.

By age 22 he had left the movement, but not without gratitude. “My relatively brief sojourn . . . was immensely fruitful.” He had witnessed “very sharp wits in ideological conflict.” From the group of keen debaters emerged a number of brilliant professors and public intellectuals.  These gifted friends sharpened Kristol’s mind for his eventual role in public life.

Over the next decades Kristol edited various journals of thought: Commentary, Encounter, and The Reporter. His political views evolved from generally liberal to increasingly conservative, opposing totalitarianism in all its guises.


With growing clarity and conviction, aided by generous donors, Kristol launched The Public Interest, in 1965 where he evolved into a force to be reckoned with on the national scene. He describes his core group as “skeptical of government programs that ignored history and experience in favor of then fashionable left-wing ideas spawned by the academy.”  Events soon redirected their energy.

The student rebellions of the sixties jarred Kristol and his colleagues – and even some of his critics – to the core. “Suddenly,” he writes, “we discovered that we had been cultural conservatives all along.” “Disenchanted liberals began to find themselves harboring all kinds of conservative instincts and ideas.”  A Neo-Conservative, he famously observed, was “a liberal mugged by reality.” He joined the culture war against radicals fueled by rage and narcissism.

Kristol’s work ultimately revealed a moral theme grounded in his Jewish heritage. As a youth, he read the King James Bible ”and was immediately persuaded that the Book of Genesis was . . . true.” Later, he explored the intellectual dimensions of both Christianity and Judaism. “By the 1940s,” he informs us, “religious thought was my most passionate interest.” “Even as a socialist,” he reports, “I had more respect for ‘tradition-bound’ religion than for a modernized . . . one.”

“What impressed me about the Christian theologians was their certainty, derived from the Bible, that the human condition placed inherent limitations on human possibilities.” Eden was gone; fallen man could not recreate it. Utopian dreams were inherently flawed and dangerous.

The Bible often states that through Abraham, “all nations of the earth will be blessed.”  Kristol’s family, including his wife (Gertrude Himmelfarb, the distinguished historian) son, Bill (editor of the Weekly Standard), and daughter Elizabeth, have all made outstanding contributions to the public good. These children of Abraham thus share in the fulfillment of that promise.


Gary Hardaway, a regular contributor to the Amy Internet Syndicate, directs Summit School of Ministry in Bellingham, WA.

"Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091;

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