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IRVING KRISTOL 1920-2009

Editor Was Godfather Of Neoconservativism

Irving Kristol wrote essays for the Wall Street Journal.
Irving Kristol wrote essays for the Wall Street Journal. (Courtesy Of The American Enterprise Institute - Courtesy Of The American Enterprise Institute)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009

Irving Kristol, 89, a forceful essayist, editor and university professor who became the leading architect of neoconservatism, which he called a political and intellectual movement for disaffected ex-liberals, like himself, who had been "mugged by reality," died Friday at Capital Hospice in Arlington County.

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Mr. Kristol spent much of his career in New York but had for the past two decades lived at the Watergate apartment complex in the District. He died of complications from lung cancer, said his son, William Kristol, founder and editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.

The elder Kristol founded and edited magazines such as Encounter and the Public Interest, which aimed at an elite audience of political, social and cultural tastemakers. In addition to his professorship at New York University, he advanced his ideas through monthly opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and a fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute think tank. He was also an editor of Basic Books, a small but distinguished publisher of social science and philosophy.

Karl Rove, a Republican strategist who advised President George W. Bush, called Mr. Kristol an "intellectual entrepreneur who helped energize several generations of public policy thinkers."

Through editing, writing and speaking, Mr. Kristol "made it a moral imperative to rouse conservatism from mainstream Chamber of Commerce boosterism to a deep immersion in ideas," Rove said. He also said that Mr. Kristol helped create a synthesis of Cold War Democrats and Ronald Reagan White House anticommunist hawks that influenced foreign and military policy in the 1980s.

Mr. Kristol and his wife, the Victorian-era historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, along with a group of sociologists, historians and academics, including Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer, Richard Pipes and, for a while, Daniel P. Moynihan, emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s as prominent critics of welfare programs, racial preferences, tax policy, moral relativism and countercultural social upheavals that they thought were contributing to America's cultural and social decay.

Mr. Kristol's father was an immigrant garment worker from Eastern Europe whose son grew up under humble circumstances, which shaped his beliefs. "Those who have been raised in poor neighborhoods -- the Daniel Patrick Moynihans, Edward Banfields, Nathan Glazers -- tend to be tough-minded about slums and their inhabitants," Mr. Kristol told the New York Times.

Middle-class sociologists, he said, "are certain that a juvenile delinquent from a welfare family is a far more interesting figure -- with a greater potentiality for redeeming not only himself but all of us -- than an ordinary, law-abiding and conforming youngster who is from the very same household."

Mr. Kristol had grown dismayed by the fragmentation of the Democratic Party over the war in Southeast Asia and remained a vigorous defender of a strong military to combat Communist threats. He championed a steady focus on economic growth that gives "modern democracies their legitimacy and durability" but cautioned against running deficits. He popularized supply-side economics, long considered a fringe belief that tax cuts would lead to widespread financial prosperity.

Mr. Kristol and many of his followers were dubbed neoconservatives. It was a term introduced by social critic Michael Harrington to describe the rightward turn of onetime liberals such as Mr. Kristol, whose extraordinary political odyssey had taken him from Depression-era socialist to anticommunist Cold Warrior and Vietnam War hawk.

Although Harrington's use of the term neoconservative was not intended as a compliment, Mr. Kristol embraced the name and became its widely accepted godfather. An Esquire magazine cover story on him in 1979 helped legitimize Mr. Kristol as the leader of a full-fledged movement, even as he downplayed the idea that such a formal faction existed.

"We are not a movement," he once said. "There has never been a meeting of neoconservatives." Instead, he called it an "intellectual current" that came to prominence after a "gradual evolution."


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