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Kristol, Irving


KRISTOL, IRVING (1920– ), founder of neoconservatism. A gifted polemicist and savvy intellectual operator, Kristol exemplifies the intellectual odyssey from radicalism to liberalism to neoconservatism that took place among a number of New York Jewish intellectuals in the 20th century. As the husband of Gertrude *Himmelfarb, the historian who focused on Victorian morality, and the father of William *Kristol, a prominent second-generation neoconservative and editor of the Weekly Standard, he created the milieu in which the neoconservative movement has flourished.

Kristol grew up on New York's Lower East Side. He attended the City College of New York, where he devoted more energy to radical politics than his coursework. Kristol earned his B.A. in 1940 and went on to serve as a staff sergeant in the armored infantry in Europe in World War ii.

Kristol shed his belief in radicalism during the war and in 1947 he began to work for a new magazine founded by the American Jewish Committee called Commentary. From 1953 to 1958 Kristol lived in London to co-edit the monthly Encounter, which was sponsored by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. From 1961 to 1969 he served as executive vice president of Basic Books before becoming a professor of social thought at the New York University Graduate School of Business.

In 1965, disconcerted by the renewed prominence of radical ideas in the United States, Kristol and his childhood friend Daniel *Bell launched a small quarterly called The Public Interest, a moderately liberal journal, and focused on social science. But as the Vietnam War further radicalized debates and black radicals attacked Israel's right to exist, Kristol kept moving to the right and by 1972 raised eyebrows in New York's intellectual community by voting for Richard Nixon. The socialist Michael Harrington dubbed Kristol and others "neoconservatives" – a term of opprobrium that Kristol soon embraced.

Neoconservatives such as Kristol did not oppose the welfare state, as did traditional conservatives, but believed that radicals were attempting to expand it into an American version of a socialist state. Kristol was an important advocate of the implementation of supply-side economic policy during the Reagan administration.

In the 1990s Kristol's unwavering support for Israel and concern about morality in the United States itself prompted him to espouse an alliance with Protestant evangelical leaders such as the Reverend Pat Robertson. Kristol and other neoconservatives believed that traditional Jewish apprehensions about evangelicals were grossly exaggerated. In their view, the true threat to the United States and Israel came from American liberals who were equivocal about using U.S. military power and overly eager to reach peace agreements with the Palestinians. Kristol sees the United States as imperiled by liberal impulses and in 1995 defended fundamentalists by noting that "their motivation has been primarily defensive – a reaction against the popular counter-culture, against the doctrinaire secularism of the Supreme Court, and against a government that taxes them heavily while removing all traces of morality and religion from public education…."

With the cessation of the Public Interest in 2005, Kristol largely retired from the intellectual battles that he fought for decades. But now that a new generation led by his son William is expanding the neoconservative crusade, Kristol's influence will likely remain undiminished.

[Jacob Heilbrunn (2nd ed.)]

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