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Irving Kristol Revisited

All those who have admired and been influenced by the work of Irving Kristol will be delighted to learn that the Foundation for Constitutional Government has created a valuable new resource; irvingkristol.org. The launch of the website comes as part of a series of similar sites that the FCG has established to celebrate the vast contribution made by such figures as James Q. Wilson, Harvey Mansfield, and Walter Berns. As well as providing a biographical overview, the Kristol website includes such useful resources as a full bibliography of Kristol’s writings organized by subject, a catalogue of commentary on Kristol’s thought, and an extensive multimedia archive, made all the more rare and fascinating given the way Kristol for the most part shunned the limelight.

Irving Kristol was arguably one of the most important political thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century. Portrayed as the godfather of neoconservatism, Kristol, along with such figures as former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz, was responsible for reshaping America’s political landscape irreversibly. The role that Kristol’s thought—and his journal the Public Interest–played in the Reagan Revolution was surely a key component in turning America’s fortunes around after the fraught years of the 1970s and the Carter presidency.

Today neoconservatism is heavily associated with foreign-policy matters. Yet, a rediscovery of Irving Kristol’s writings might serve as a reminder of just how much first-generation neoconservatives were concerned with social and domestic issues. It may ultimately be that it is in this arena that neoconservatism can continue to play a decisive role in American politics. In the wake of the welfare dependency deepened by the Obama administration, and with a Republican Party that risks fracture between libertarians an social conservatives, Kristol’s thinking may yet offer a way forward for many trying to grapple with contemporary issues. Of course, none of this is to detract from the important role that neoconservatism has played and continues to play in offering a vital dose of moral clarity to America’s foreign-policy debate.

The launch of irvingkristol.org may prove timely. A young generation of conservatives is confronted with perplexing questions about fierce divisions opening up within parts of American society and painful conflicts raging in their own camp. Reading Kristol now may shed some light on what is going wrong in our political thinking and what is to be done about it. 


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