The Real Irving Kristol
The obituaries got most of the facts right: that Irving Kristol’s death at the age of 89 marked the passing of one of the most important public intellectuals of the past 40 years; that he began his political life on the radical Left, with a brief stint as a Trotskyist; that his rightward journey over the decades from that starting point on the Left to the neoconservatism of which he became known as the Godfather blazed a trail that a fair number of other intellectuals, myself included, would subsequently follow; that his influence was exerted not only through his own writings in a variety of publications (Commentary prominently among them) but also through the Public Interest, the quarterly journal he founded in 1965 and edited until it ceased publication in 2005; that the ideas he shaped and disseminated through these channels contributed mightily to a change in the climate of American public opinion; that this in turn helped bring about the great change in our political culture that paved the way for the election of a candidate as conservative as Ronald Reagan; and that the effects of his work are still being felt.
All true. And yet, having been closely associated with Irving personally and politically for more than half a century, I was both surprised and disturbed by the picture of him that emerged from the many obituaries I read: surprised because they—and especially the one in the New York Times—were on the whole far more respectful than I would have expected, but disturbed because they exacted a heavy price for this respectful treatment in the form of a portrait that was considerably less true to the reality of Irving’s career than were the plain facts they compiled to trace the arc of that career. Indeed, this was the case even with many of the tributes paid to him by a host of grateful disciples.
About the Author
Norman Podhoretz has been writing for COMMENTARY for 56 years.