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Learning From Irving Kristol

People forget that neoconservatives did not name themselves; initially they rebelled against a label coined by Michael Harrington, the great democratic socialist. Harrington’s intent was to make clear that a group that in its early days included many who still called themselves liberal was in fact a movement of newly conservative ex-liberals. The label eventually stuck because it was so apt -- and because over time, so many of the neoconservatives came to accept that they were conservatives after all.

Irving Kristol, often described as the movement’s “godfather,” was one of the first to accept the label, and the jaunty way in which he adopted it said a lot about his cheerful and confident nature. Conceding that political labeling was more a leftist than a conservative craft, Kristol said that conservatives sometimes had to live with the handiwork of their foes. “The sensible course, therefore, is to take your label, claim it as your own, and run with it,” Kristol declared. He and his comrades did just that. He proudly announced at one point that he was “the only living and self-confessed neoconservative, at large or in captivity.” There are a lot more of them now.

I feel about Kristol much as I felt about Bill Buckley: I like people who approach politics with a twinkle in their eye (as against rage in their voices), and I simply wish that Kristol, like Buckley, had not been so effective.

Politically, of course, I have all sorts of problems with Kristol’s legacy. I wish he had not united so much of the business class behind ideological conservatism. Our deficits would be lower without supply-side economics, a cause Kristol championed early with the shrewd theory of “the two Santa Clauses.” If liberals got votes by giving people programs, he argued, conservatives could win votes by giving people tax cuts. His success at branding liberals as “the new class,” a prelude to contemporary attacks on liberal elitists, called attention away from the power of economic elites and helped push through policies that have deepened economic inequality.

But personally, I liked him, and I admired his energy, his entrepreneurial spirit and his political acuity.

Back in 1965, when he still thought of himself as a moderate liberal and a Democrat, Kristol founded one of my favorite magazines, The Public Interest, which I think was a key event in a pivotal decade. In the first issue, its editors declared that the main obstacle to effective public policy was the blindness caused by, “a prior commitment to ideology, whether it be liberal, conservative or radical.”

“For it is the nature of ideology,” the editors went on, “to preconceive reality; and it is exactly such preconceptions that are the worst hindrances to knowing-what-one-is-talking-about.”

Would that the right would take that advice now.

The Public Interest started out with the mission of challenging liberals to pay more attention to data and to the dangers of the unintended consequences of their programs. Some early participants in the project -- notably the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- remained Democrats and stayed true to the magazine’s original bent.

But over time -- pushed by a reaction against the New Left, against the counter-culture’s attack on bourgeois values, and against what they saw as the insufficient devotion of post-Vietnam liberals to a tough anti-Communist foreign policy -- many of the neo-con liberals became straight-out conservatives. Kristol, who had endorsed Hubert Humphrey in 1968, supported Richard Nixon in 1972.

Many of the neoconservatives who had scoffed at Goldwater’s talk about a “moral crisis” came to believe that the country faced just that. The neoconservatives became so alarmed by the counterculture that they felt compelled to defend what they consciously called “bourgeois morality.” They did not do so without qualms. “The attitude of neoconservatives to bourgeois society and the bourgeois ethos is one of detached attachment,” Kristol wrote in 1979. “This modest enthusiasm distinguishes neoconservatism from the Old Right and the New Right -- both of which are exceedingly suspicious of it.” But the neoconservatives agreed entirely with both wings of the right that the country needed a lot more bourgeois morality than it was getting. And over time, their “modest” enthusiasm became more full-throated. I think this cultural view may have been as important as anything in explaining the drift of Kristol’s politics in the last 40 years of his long life.

Yes, this post makes it obvious that I’ve spent a lot of time over the years reading Kristol and thinking about what he had to say. (And, dare I say it, learning from him, even if I often thought he was mistaken.) But rather than go on, I will simply quote from what I think is one of Kristol’s most interesting pieces, which appeared in The New Republic in 1968 (and which my friends at the magazine kindly agreed to post on their website).

The piece -- it won’t surprise you -- was called “Why I am for Humphrey.”

Kristol argued that Nixon appealed to “the wrong majority” -- the italics were his -- “a majority whose dominant temper will be sullenly resentful of social changes we have been experiencing and impulsively reactionary toward the crises we have been enduring.”

By contrast, he said, Humphrey would lead “the right kind of majority -- one that does not wish to repudiate American traditions (and, yes, the ‘American way of life’) but is nevertheless genuinely willing to adapt these traditions to the exigencies of present and future circumstances.”

“This majority,” he said at another point, “needs leadership that will have the willingness and capacity to take new bearings -- without, however, repudiating our older ones, which served us well in their time.” He praised Humphrey for representing a “pragmatic liberalism,” which he called “the only vital and enduring tradition of American government since 1932….”

Those words read pretty well for our moment, and I think that pragmatic liberalism still has a lot of life in it, even if Kristol eventually found his own political bearings elsewhere. He was a smart man with a delightful manner, and I mourn his passing.

By E.J. Dionne  | September 18, 2009; 5:40 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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RIP, Irving Kristol, but your neocon legacy has been an utter disaster for the United States in specific and the world at large.

Posted by: markomd | September 18, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

"RIP, Irving Kristol, but your neocon legacy has been an utter disaster for the United States in specific and the world at large."

Wait just a minute! Neocon and Conservative are two completely different modes of thought. And it is not clear, historically that the Neocon policies are a disaster- the only really clear thing is that they are not popular now. You simply cannot say, and be accurate, what the effects of say, the Iraq war, will be in the long run and being unpopular in just not a qualification as a "disater".

Posted by: AnotherContrarian | September 18, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

The world did not need nor should regret the passing of this odious, retrograde reactionary.

Posted by: johnstonrw | September 18, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

You wish Kristol had not been so effective. Osama bin Laden begs to differ.

Posted by: Garak | September 18, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

It seems that for reasons utterly unfathomable to the rest of the world, American conservatives are rabidly defensive of the policies which bought their country to the brink of financial and military collapse and completely unable to critically evaluate any other ideas without seeing the dark hand of Satan guiding Obama's every move!
Just as the communist masters of the Soviet Union led their people into ruin and despair so to the rabidly conservative elements of American politics continue blindly to support that which has damaged their country, and by extension the world terribly. I will never understand how in the 21st century, supposedly educated and informed people continue to support those who have done them so much harm.

Posted by: JimMaclean | September 18, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, Irving left us his son Bill who in no way measures up to his father. Just proves "reversion to the mean"!

Posted by: KrautKiller | September 18, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

well just like Lee Atwater, Kristol is before the BigGuy with a lot of explaining to do.
The Creature that Kristol & his kind spawned is so far off the mark of common humanity & compassion that I think even the BigGuy will be hard pressed to find any redeeming value to his life. Enjoy the bar-b-que.

Posted by: mgbgt95 | September 18, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

To bad rubbish! And may he be reunited with his son and all their henchmen ASAP.

Posted by: misterjrthed | September 18, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I know of a guy who had a strong artistic bent, who was a devoted vegetarian, a militant non-smoker in the age of tobacco, and who adored children and dogs. He is mainly remembered for starting WWII.

I know of several well loved composers, you wouldn't have wanted to share even a sidewalk with when they lived.

In the end, try though cadres of apologists may, it proves impossible to separate the man from the legacy. Thus it shall be with Irving Kristol.

Posted by: fzdybel | September 18, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Sympathies to his family, especially on the High Holy Day.

Posted by: MajorConfusion | September 18, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

The neo-conservative movement as evolved into the PNAC, is just a another form of fascism in what it actually advocates. It's a view of the world that sees corporatism on the global level as transcendent of any one nation's sovereignty. A world run by an elite with the US empire, as the instrument of multinational corporate foreign policy. Domination of local resources, and the illusion of freedom by choice in the marketplace, but never choice for self determination for those resource rich, but poor nations. The ownership of our own government by corporations and ultra wealth (a definition of fascism) is more than evident in our health care debate.

Posted by: cjmoss | September 18, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

He was a neocon servant of white supremacy. The world is a better place with his demise...

Posted by: demtse | September 18, 2009 8:34 PM | Report abuse

To politics what Bernie Madoff was to finance.

Posted by: steveboyington | September 18, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

The only sad thing about Kristol's death is that there is no Hell for this despicable human to rot in.

On the brighter side, the world is a much better place without Kristol, so rejoice!

Posted by: HumanSimpleton | September 18, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

human simpleton,i like your style.but dont really hope he had a lot of pain before he went?

Posted by: donaldtucker | September 18, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

Neither Adam Bernstein's obituary nor E.J. Dionne's (of all people !) commentary mentioned a word about Kristol's primary legacy, the war in Iraq. The Post may prefer to believe it never happened, but Kristol goes to his grave with the death of tens of thousands all over him. I can't wait for Krauthammer's whitewash job of his brother in blood.

Posted by: lobern | September 18, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, all his disciples, the signers of the PNAC document, really screwed the pooch.

Posted by: johng1 | September 18, 2009 10:46 PM | Report abuse

Is this the same cat that is primarily responsible for Bill Kristol?

Posted by: IpiTombi | September 18, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Add Alan Dershowitz to the list of wolves in liberal clothing.

When are americans going to realize that the same people who stole our atomic secrets and gave them to the soviet union and Israel, who have more spies in our prisons than from any other nation and who cynically ride the foolish Xtian fundies to cash donations and emotional blackmail (because geez, we can't have an End Times without them) are the same cowards who dominate the Post's opinion columns and who teamed up with BushCo to attack, not those who attacked us and yet remain at large, but WMDless Iraq, Israel's biggest worry at the time?

Let the Apartheid State of Israel defend them damn selves. Let their blood and treasure be wasted on their funky belief that g_d gave them any-damn-thing. In truth, those that formed that rogue state were the 1st of the moderm terrorists.

This jagoff Kristol (whose weak seed we must continue to suffer) deserves a urinal shaped headstone.

Posted by: mot2win | September 18, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Nice article EJ...btw, where did you find this group of peace loving, live and let live readers that are so excited about what you wrote? They sure sound like they have the key to a better world!

Posted by: posterchild | September 18, 2009 11:42 PM | Report abuse

I'm quite surprised- happy really, but surprised- by how so many posters here "get it", with respect to Irving Kristol and his counterproductive legacy.

This is a man who rallied for, and helped facilitate, the largest expansion of government in the history of the world.

Be it through his time at the University of Chicago, his founding of The Public Interest, or his instrumental role in PNAC, he got exactly what he wanted: an American Empire, based on the ever-expanding, ever-encroaching power of government, all for the benefit of the corporate cartelists' profits- and, I think it goes without saying, to the detriment of everyone else.

I used the word "counterproductive" to describe his legacy because in this era of infectious greed, which Mr. Kristol and his neocon parters helped foster, more crises will develop in the future- each one greater in severity and scope- until the dollar collapses, taking entire the country (and a good chunk of the world) along with it.

It doesn't matter what form the crises are in; fiscal, monetary, or military, eventually the money has to come from somewhere. The arrogant mindset of the neoconservative, rooted in socialist, liberalist economics, expects the liquidity to flow forever. Such thinking and practices have only lead to catastrophe and total economic collapse in the past, and is in the process of occurring in several nations around the world as I pen this.

We had Mexico in 1995, Asia in 1997, LTCM in 1998, the internet and telecom infrastructure in 2000-2002, and housing mixed in with OTC derivatives from 2007 until now. I'm not going to even mention Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Trotskyite/neocon principle of "permanent warfare".

What will the next crisis be and how will it be paid for? Will the Chinese continue to pick up the tab? Maybe the ghost of Irving Kristol will tell us? After all, he'll certainly be haunting the American economy, not the mention the entire WORLD economy, for many years to come.

If you are perplexed by any part of my commentary here, or feel that I am blaming the neocons for too many things, please take the time to look up a few of the following:

-The Power of Nightmares (documentary) by Adam Curtis
-The Secret History of the American Empire by John Perkins
-Let's Make Money (documentary) by Erwin Wagenhofer
-The Ludwig von Mises Institute at

Posted by: SlothLovesChunk | September 19, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse

My congratulations to mot2win. My only quible is the phrase, "the Apartheid State of Israel." Genocidal is the word, not apartheid. Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila are just three of the better known Israeli massacres.

This is a less well known atrocity.

Israel's Sacred Terrorism
written by
Livia Rokach
A study based on Moshe Sharett's Personal Diary, and other documents.
Foreword by Noam Chomsky

"...The following testimony of a soldier who participated in the occupation of the Palestinian village of Dueima in 1948 is only the most recently disclosed of a long chain of evidence":

Killed between 80 to 100 Arabs, women and children. To kill the children they fractured their heads with sticks. There was not one house without corpses. The men and women of the villages were pushed into houses without food or water. Then the saboteurs came to dynamite the houses. One commander ordered a soldier to bring two women into a house he was about to blow up. . . . Another soldier prided himself upon having raped an Arab woman before shooting her to death. Another Arab woman with her newborn baby was made to clean the place for a couple of days, and then they shot her and the baby. Educated and well-mannered commanders who were considered "good guys". . . became base murderers, and this not in the storm of battle, but as a method of expulsion and extermination. The fewer the Arabs who remain, the better. (quoted in Davar, 9 June 1979)

Posted by: markoller | September 19, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Irving Kristol is now with his Maker. His legacy is his eternal record, and he shall be judged accordingly.

If only the dead had one chance to tell their followers how wrong they have been.

Posted by: Single_Payer | September 19, 2009 2:04 AM | Report abuse

Lot of vitriol here. He mostly deserved it, but since I have nothing nice to say, I'm going to stay quiet.

Posted by: crm1951 | September 19, 2009 2:08 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about the 89 year-old Irving Kristol, but the neoconservatives at the PNAC planned the biggest, most obvious false flag terrorist operation in history. Before anyone blames Al Qaeda and burning jet fuel, I have a couple questions.

Why can't we see the surveillance videos of the 757 crash into the Pentagon? In the annals of lame excuses, the lamest is that the video tapes were classified for national security reasons. We must not let our enemies see a jet hitting a wall!

Why won't the tv networks broadcast the jet crashes into the Twin Towers in slow motion? Are they trying to reinforce suspicions that the jets were computer generated?

If burning jet fuel destroyed the Twin Towers, why not broadcast the unedited videos of the building collapses? If a 757 really penetrated three rings of the Pentagon, show us the earliest tv broadcasts. And not to be picky, but why did the Bureau of Transportation Statistics not record the departure of flights AA 77 and AA 11 on 9/11/2001?

Posted by: markoller | September 19, 2009 2:21 AM | Report abuse

"Why can't we see the surveillance videos of the 757 crash into the Pentagon?"

They are out there on youtube. Though what you expect to see when the plane travels 733 feet at least between each video frame on a surveillance video beats me. Any other video you want to see, why don't you address the owners of the video? Oh right, I forgot: you're unimportant. Well, the footage of WTC on 911 was shown at slow speed and normal speed and even frame by frame, over and over again for three days thereafter, there was nowhere you could go to get away from it. I guess the rest of us saw it enough already.

This is there also on youtube:

Posted by: fzdybel | September 19, 2009 4:26 AM | Report abuse

It's questionable which side is "first" in label-exercise, the liberal or the conservative. Both use labels to pigeon-hole the other, but also, in part, to make what would be hopeful distinctions in a precise manner. Dionne's article here makes me more appreciative of the father of neo-conservative political ideology. The article does not, however, make me appreciative in any way, shape, or form of the successful political applications made of this ideology since, say, 1992. Those applications have done great harm to our country, too much of it irreversible, at least over the next decade or so. Would that Dionne and others who were early perceivers of the neo-con dangers had spoken up more loudly when he first saw the dangers inherent in the movement! A major problem for the United States in 2000 and in the years immediately following, 2001-2004, was that most of its voters had no idea what neo-conservative political ideology was or, if they did, what it had become and the potentially destructive influence within it. Many, and probably most, still do not, or else think the ideology of little consequence. They are dead wrong.

Posted by: andrewpatejr | September 19, 2009 5:34 AM | Report abuse

I am waiting for Sam Tanenhaus's comments on Irving Kristol's passing. Should be interesting.

"Piling on" on the occasion of Kristol's death is bad form, just as it was for the Kennedy-haters who gloated at the prospect of Teddy burning in hell (as if it were up to them to judge . . .). But I can't prevent myself from observing that 1) as others have pointed out, the neocon legacy has been a disaster, however brilliant a thinker and writer Irving Kristol was; and 2) Irving's son William Kristol, IMHO, is an intellectual midget compared to his dad. William is a doctrinaire ideologue with a remarkable record of being consistently wrong.

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | September 19, 2009 6:06 AM | Report abuse

I think, as does E. J., that one must admire a person who honestly considers and tries to make sense out of the swirl of politico-social energy that creates a people's governing forces. Irving Kristol certainly fit that definition.

It is for any and all followers to continue that effort, not simply to climb on an ideological bandwagon and shout. Every time history records that piling-on, it is the story of a disaster. We are still in the midst of a devastating economic collapse (except for the banks and investment firms that did most to cause it) that demonstrates what can happen. And we can clearly see the hanger-on brayers attempting to push the last gasp of a failed ideology, having nothing else on which to cling (except to admit failure and apologize).

In the translations of "One Thousand Nights and One Nights" many tales end with the line "this story might be scribed on the eye with the hair of a camel, that all might see and take a lesson by it" or words to that effect. There is a deep and most significant lesson to be found in the pain so many here and around the world are feeling as the result of unthought approaches and attitudes. Yet there is little sense of humility among many who led us to this misery. More should look and learn.

Posted by: Jazzman7 | September 19, 2009 6:40 AM | Report abuse

Wow - the amount of vitriol and anti-semitism in these comments is truly stunning. (Anyone who thinks that "Jew Bashing" is a thing of the past has only but to read this commentary to know that this is unfortunately not true. Hellooooo, modertor? Offensive comments left standing?!?!)

Out here in the heartland where we still try to have some manners, it's commonplace not to speak ill of the dead, and to have some respect. If this is NYC manners, will glady and gratefully stay away. Whether or not you agreed with the man's viewpoints or politics, he was indeed someone's husband, father, relative or friend. May all of you not be subjected to this treatment when your time comes to meet your maker.

Rest in Peace, Dr. Kristol. I have always enjoyed reading your commentary and admired your work from afar.

Posted by: eccentrinx1 | September 19, 2009 6:49 AM | Report abuse

Just b/c someone is "brilliant" doesn't mean they have common sense -- or humanity.

Joseph Goebbels was considered to be a brilliant propagandist. Joe Stalin was a brilliant manipulator of polemics.

All Irving Kristol did was leave a manifesto of how to regenerate fascism and use it to drive an agenda disguised as free market politics . . . and an over-preened pompous ahhhhz of a son.

Let the reichwing shed all the crocodile tears it wants over his passing. He will not be missed by the rest of us.

Posted by: thesuperclasssux | September 19, 2009 7:06 AM | Report abuse

As previously pointed out, Irving Kristol's legacy is the invasion of Iraq and all other atrocities committed by the Bush/Cheney administration.

His son Bill Kristol's legacy is all the above plus Sarah Palin.

Posted by: FedUp1 | September 19, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

While I would never wish to speak ill of the dead, and I'M sure that he was personally a lovely guy, Kristol had the misfortune to live long enough to see everything he advocated and predicted being proved disasterously wrong. He would also have seen how association with his ideological positions was a major cause of the rejection of the Bush administration by the people.

Sadly, in the end, most people came to see neo-conservatism as little more than a ruse to spend US blood and treasure to further the political ends of a right-wing minority in Israel.

Posted by: petermhmurray | September 19, 2009 7:28 AM | Report abuse

I see some, but not much "Jew bashing" above. The problem I have with Kristol and the PNAC signers is how they outright lied to us. They made us all look foolish. I was swindled because I bought into their lies and now I am ashamed for contributing to the destruction of our country.

Posted by: johng1 | September 19, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

There are all too many vitriolic comments about Irving Kristol. He was an important intellectual on the 20th-Century American scene. Like many liberals and Jews he drifted from left to right because of Stalinism, the vulgar leftism of the '60's, and the disintegration of bourgeois values in America. He didn't say this but might have: the trouble with bourgeois values is that the bourgeoisie doesn't believe in them any more.

His most controversial and reprehensible contributions were his support of the Iraq war and of the Likkud faction in Israel. If Israel is increasingly seen as more of a problem than a solution for Jews it will be thanks to Kristol.

Like many other conservatives of whatever stripe Kristol's support for religion was practical not sincere. He did not believe in Judaism, which is to his credit since it is really not a religion but a Talmudic conspiracy to prevent Jews from taking Christianity seriously. Like neo-Fascist Charles Maurras in pre WWII France Kristol did not believe in God but believed in religion as the foundation of the social order; in this he agreed with Napoleon, Voltaire, and many other people.

He has no real successors. His son Bill Kristol is a thoroughly disreputable apparatchik; he would have made a good Stalinist. Neoconservatism will fold in to either real conservatism or perhaps into Blue Dog Democratic politics. Thanks to Irving Kristol we will always been sceptical of foreign involvements.

Posted by: ravitchn | September 19, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

"I simply wish that Kristol, like Bukley had not been so effective."..............Dionne

So do I, but the man was, alas, too effective.

This sad individual had every right to his opinions. The problem however is that they brought hell on innocent people.

The people of Iraq were living it tough under Saddam the Butcher. Kristol and his nafarious gang (Israel firsters, come what may) added hell. They brought hatred, division, fanaticism, bloodthirsty mercenaries, rapacious buddies from big oil and the militay industrial complex , hundreds of thousands of innocents civilians killed. many more maimed, millions fleeing and parked as refugies far from their homes and their loved ones. And on and on....

And of course thousands of unecessary casualties among the American troops, and sadness to their grieving families.

Why I'm asking? Why do they take on Iran now?

This man has never, ever been a true American. His son alike. Just read some of their poisnous literature.

Al Qaeda is ceratainly a menace.

The NeoCons are poison. They are Armaggedon if we don't react. The sooner the better. For the sake of a peaceful planet, and a better future for our children.

Posted by: foxblues | September 19, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

My own trajectory from the political right to the political left over the last 20 years or so was almost an exact mirror image of Kristol's migration toward conservatism, and for the same reasons. I was first attracted to the "Neo" variety of conservativism that Kristol and Moynihan were selling back when I came of political age in the turbulent post-Vietnam 1970s because it was so urbane, intelligent and civilized. At a time when there was an almost mindless knee-jerk quality to liberalism, conservatism back then seemed brave, able to look difficult facts squarely in the eye and willing to offer solutions motivated by a good-faith desire to genuinly serve the public interest, which is why they chose that particular name as the title for their flagship publication.

Everything has changed of course over the past 20 years as Newt Gingrich and his Southern reactionaries have turned the once respectable GOP into a merry band of arsonists, insurrectionists and Neo-Condederate revolutionaries who want to tear down the liberal democratic nation-state brick by brick and use those bricks to rebuild their Bourbon castles.

What Kristol and his compatriots offered a generation ago was a "fact-based" alternative to politics and policy-making for a society aimlessly muddling through with faith and ideologically-based delusions. The attraction for the contents of what Kristol was selling remains the same. Only the label on the bottle has changed.

Posted by: TedFrier | September 19, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse


The problem I have with Kristol and the PNAC signers is how they outright lied to us. They made us all look foolish. I was swindled because I bought into their lies and now I am ashamed for contributing to the destruction of our country.
Someday I hope you, or some like you, will tell me what you saw of value, for America and the world, in the future that the PNAC and neocons like Kristol planned.

Though I had no doubt it would come to where we are now, it is clear that many like you saw another future. I would like to know what your thinking was.

I am not asking to be cruel. I wonder what other people see and hear when we see and hear something so different. It might help people like me better understand what is happening. I wish you all the best.

Posted by: darling_ailie | September 19, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Oh, happy day...

Now if only the rest of them would drop dead. These vile creatures have done more to ruin the good name of the United States and set this country's standing back decades with their evil ideology that is far more dangerous than anything spawned by Bin Laden. May he and his intellectual progeny go down in the annals of history with the well deserved disgrace and condemnation that they have earned. In the future, it is imperative that children be taught that neoconservatism completes the troika of evil "ism's" with fascism and marxism. Kristol can now join his intellectual brethren- Hitler and Stalin- in an infernal afterlife. The only question is which one of his dogmatic progeny joins him to form the bridge game in hell!

Posted by: orpheus2004 | September 19, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

As far as I know, Kristol did not speak out as the movement he championed started a war and killed thousands of innocent people, as well as more than four thousand of our bravest. He also gave us his idiot son - wrong about everything. They both have the blood of innocents on their hands.

Posted by: blogenfreude | September 19, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

From what I have read, Mr. Kristol was a friendly,intelligent individual who delighted in conversation and was easy to engage in debate. And so, the right mourns his passing.

These qualities were expressed about the late Wm. Buckley also, although his son seemed to have a slightly different take on the matter. I gather neo-cons value civility, yet their actions are anything but civil.

Mr. Kristol also had a dark view of blue collar workers whom he feared. He referred to his fellow soldiers in World War II as "thugs".

But what Mr. Dionne does not address is the inherent contradictions and the dangerous effects of Mr. Kristol's political philosophy, neo-conservatism.

One major contradiction is the neo-con advocacy for our defense budget..... (they NEVER complain about that).... estimated to be a trillion a year. But no one knows how much defense costs because so much of it is secret and buried in several agencies.

Health care may cost a trillion at its highest estimate over ten years but yet they scream, march, protest about bankrupting the nation. Well, which trillion will bankrupt the nation the fastest?

My second objection to neo-conservatism is its total acceptance of the inextricable marriage between government and big business in general and the defense industry in particular. Neo-conservatives side with big business over the common man every time. They brought us the corporatist state which when I went to college was a classic definition for fascism.

Their free market philosophy almost brought the nation to financial ruin not once, but twice; during the 1920's, and, again, during "W's" regime which so many of them populated.

So, the legacy of Mr. Kristol will be decided by future historians. At least, Mr. Dionne's paean to Mr. Kristol was in the best Liberal tradition, civil and truthful.

Posted by: flamingliberal | September 19, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse


Out here in the heartland where we still try to have some manners, it's commonplace not to speak ill of the dead, and to have some respect. If this is NYC manners, will glady and gratefully stay away. Whether or not you agreed with the man's viewpoints or politics, he was indeed someone's husband, father, relative or friend. May all of you not be subjected to this treatment when your time comes to meet your maker.

Let me point out that this is a site for political discussion, not a site to leave condolences to family and friends where bringing up the man's unsavoury past would be inappropriate.

We New Yorkers appreciate that people in the Heartland "try to have some manners". Keep trying. (Sorry: couldn't resist, and apologies to all those Heartland folk who do have good manners.)

You don't have to like us. You are free to stay away from NY, if you wish. It's your choice.

Posted by: darling_ailie | September 19, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

The whole 'neo-conservative' means former liberal is hard to believe.

Looking at the life of Irving Kristol, seems he was a college communist for about 20 minutes when he was 18. It almost sounds as if he joined it for a fad (all the cool kids were doing it) and then got freaked out by their expressed aims. That hardly makes him a liberal. By the time he was 32, he was a fervent supporter of Joe McCarthy. So when exactly was he liberal enough to ever become 'disaffected?" From what this obit says about his war service, he certainly wasn't a liberal then, either.

Dionne says Kristol still thought of himself as a liberal in 1965. Well, I can think of myself as the Queen of North Dakota but that doesn't make it so.

Posted by: WonderfulWorld | September 19, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I love how all the ugly people here toss the words "fascism" and "fascist" around without the slightest understanding that fascism is the ugly uncle of today's liberalism (or "progressivism," since y'all hate being called liberals any more). Government control of big business, nationalization of health care, cult of personality, the idea that some educated elite should dictate what is best for the rest of us - all those were earmarks of the fascism of the 1930s, and we see them all again today. Fascism was quite popular among the leftists in the US in the 1930s; Mussolini was widely admired as the wave of the future. It was only after the fascists brought war and genocide to the world that the left disavowed fascism (with their mouths, anyway - they still admire it in practice) and perpetrated the lie that fascism is a right-wing dogma. It is not; it is as leftist as you can get without invoking Karl Marx.

Today's leftists love fascism; if they could bring back Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco without the baggage of war and genocide, they'd openly fall in love with it all over again, and once again proclaim it as their own. Just as they did in the 1930s.

Posted by: gilbertbp | September 19, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of neoconservative attachments to Zionism and the obvious potential for dual-loyalty conflict. The neocon assumption has been that there is not enough difference in American and Zionist-Israeli interests to worry about. I, however, believe that the constant neoconservative condoning of human rights abuses commited in the name of the Zionist cause has cost the US dearly in moral authority and created a context for toleration of similar crimes in the conduct of the the US's own "war on terror".

Posted by: Adam_Smith | September 19, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

fzdybel wrote: "Though what you expect to see when the plane travels 733 feet at least between each video frame on a surveillance video beats me." This is based on one frame per second and a speed of at least 500 mph. For the facts, read "Controversy Surrounding the Pentagon 911 Surveillance Camera Video Footage," by Ted Twietmeyer.

And please download fzdybel's debunking video:
Judge it for yourselves.

Posted by: markoller | September 19, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Kristol and the other Israeli Neocons are not right wing, they are Israeli Neocons. Their allegiance is to Israel not to the US. They don't give a hoot about social conservatism. All they want is wars for Israel paid for by American Christians, and to water down the White Christian population with illegal aliens so the Israeli Neocons don't stand out as much.

Posted by: washpost35 | September 19, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

The Godfather of neo-conservatism and a John Bircher if I ever saw one. While I express my condolences to his family, I do not think his political views have had a good influence on our country for the past 20 or so years. If anything, it has speeded up our decline as a world power.

Posted by: kerryberger | September 19, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

darling_ailie, go f yourself. I voted for Bush after the bombings. About half the country did.

Posted by: johng1 | September 19, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Kristol and the neo-cons were tremendously useful in the beginning. The journal Kristol founded, The Public Interest, insisted on looking at empirical evidence about the effects of (mostly) liberal programs to determine whether they really served their goals. Often they did not.

Then came ossification, and Kristol and most of his followers became the knee-jerk ideologues we know today.

Posted by: quirk | September 19, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

We were lied to on a daily basis. Because of this, the GOP won't be back for a long time. I hope never since the rednecks have fully taken its reins.

Posted by: johng1 | September 19, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

What Mr. Dionne fails to mention in Kristol's support of Nixon in 1972 is who he was running against: George McGovern - now the Angry Left faction of the Democratic Party. Just as Americans are correct not to trust BIG business, they should be equally distrustful of BIG government.

Posted by: oryssman1 | September 19, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Not to quibble, but Harrington merely popularized the term neoconservative and did not coin it (it has a long prehistory). Nor was he the first to apply it to those now considered to be neoconservative.

Regarding the Commentary crowd, in the Sept. 30, 1973 edition of the New York Times Magazine, some weeks before Harrington's essay, Martin Kilson stated in the letters column that "on the quota issue—and others, too—the American Jewish Committee and Commentary ought to come out of the neoconservative closet.”

But don't take my word for it, there is an interesting essay on the matter here (which is where I learned the above):

Posted by: tscribner | September 19, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

No sympathy for Kristol here. His acolytes brought us 8 years of a Bush disaster in which the super rich got richer most of us stagnated or fell behind. Worst of all, their philosophy led us into an elective war trumped up by lies. Thousands of American soldiers died as a result, with many more mangled for life. And of course, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed and maimed. Like supply side economics, neoconservatism belongs in the dustbin of history, and some of its followers belong in jail. P.S. Kristol's son brought us Sarah Palin. Oy, as Kristol's mom might have said.

Posted by: hypocritebuster | September 19, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

From Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, page 508:

fascism: a system of government characterized by rigid one party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized government control, belligerent nationalism, racism and militarism etc.: first instituted in italy in 1922. See also Nazi.


14 points of fascism:

1. Powerful and continuing nationalism,
2. Disdain for human rights
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
4. Supremacy of the military
5. Rampant sexism
6. Controlled mass media
7. Obsession with national security
8. Religion and government are intertwined
9. Corporate power is protected
10. Labor is suppressed
11. Disdain for intellectuals and the Arts
12. Obsession with crime and punishment
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption
14. Fraudulent elections

Posted by: flamingliberal | September 19, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse


Go back to school. You haven't a clue about what fascism is. If brown was liberals' favorite color you'd probably say this was evidence liberals were facists, too. Every item on your list is an attribute of a strong central government. None of it is unique to fascism. And cult of personality? Think George W. Bush in a flight suit -- the first president since George Washington marched at the head of a federal army to put down the Whisky Rebellion that an American president has worn a military uniform while in civilian office.

Fascism, to those who know what they are talking about, is populist nationalism -- two attributes of Republican campaigns for the last 50 years. It's the glorification of the pure-blood tribe -- the Aryan superrace, or perhaps the White Christian Nation. Hitler wasn't extending state power into areas normally performed by German private industry because he wanted to make health care affordable for the masses. He wanted to give his generals control over Germany's resources in order to build a war machine to conquer the planet. A far closer model to Hitler's economy is the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned would one day drag us into imperial wars for the profits they brought, and with mercenary outfits like Blackwater and Halliburton have exploded on Republican's watches.

We get it that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh exist to project everything that is wrong with the Conservative Movement onto liberals -- including fascism. But I think it's time you switched channels. Fox is rotting your brain.

Posted by: TedFrier | September 19, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Irving Kristol's legacy?

Over four thousand dead U.S. Servicemen and women in a needless trillion-dollar in Iraq. (A war devised, sold and promoted by the Kristols, pere et fils, through AEI and PNAC.)

Will Irving Kristol's son and daughter have the courage to invite the sons and daughters of those 4,000+ dead Americans to their father's funeral? (If only so that those sons and daughters can spit on Irving Kristol's grave.)

"Jews don't like big military budgets. But it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States... American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don't want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel." ~ Irving Kristol

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | September 19, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse


"fascism - a nationalistic, authoritarian, anti-communist movement founded by Benito Mussolini in Italy in 1919. Fascism was a response to the economic hardship and social disorder that ensued after the end of World War I. The main elements of fascism were pride in the nation, anti-Marxism, the complete rejection of parliamentary democracy, the cultivation of military virtues, strong government, and loyalty to a strong leader. Fascists wore a uniform of a black shirt and and used a greeting derived from ancient Rome of the outstretched arm. Mussolini's Black Shirts (as they were known) seized power in 1922. A movement modeled on fascism, Germany's National Socialism (Nazism) also began its rise in the 1920s. In 1936 in Spain, General Francisco Franco's fascists seized power and precipitated a three-year civil war, with Franco victorious. Italian fascism collapsed with the death of Mussolini and the end of World War II. Although since then there have been South American military regimes that have adopted some of the terminology and concepts of fascism, fascism in its classic form is considered to have died with Mussolini. Sometimes the term is used now as a term of abuse, triggered by any real or imagined outbreak of authoritarian thought or behavior."

Posted by: flamingliberal | September 19, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

that's funny..i thought perhaps hermann goering was the godfather of neoconservatism..or perhaps adoph hitler..neoconservatism or fascism..they are one and the same..

Posted by: w04equals666 | September 19, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

A good example of Irving Kristol's "intellect" and "foresight" can be found in his abandonment of the Democrats and McGovern and his adoption of Nixon and the Republicans.

Nixon was, of course, a notorious anti-semite. And the Republicans, to their eternal shame, can still only muster one Jewish member of Congress. (The Democratics have 34.)

All of this is somewhat puzzling since Kristol was a fervent Zionist.

Perhaps it was Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and the continuing Republican rejection of equal rights and voting rights for people of color that made it possible for Kristol to overlook the anti-semitism of his new-found "friends."

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | September 19, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Kristol's legacy?

1. Fear-mongering works.
2. Appealing to the baser instincts of people works.

. . . and the shameless exploitation of fear, greed and prejudice is an acceptable political exercise.

Posted by: palmtree2001 | September 19, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure he was a fine man as most of those who knew him attest. I do not know nor perhaps will we ever know how he really felt about his very unfortunate involvement in the U.S. incursion into Iraqi life. His son William will never tell us because that would mean perhaps telling he truth .... anathema to William. Maybe there are others who knew him well enough and who are not so averse to the truth. In the aftermath of the Bush/Cheney administration we are learning more and more what some insiders knew all along, that Bush and Cheney were putty in the hands of middle east protagonists and Israeli apologists.

Posted by: ghp60 | September 19, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

WhatHeSaid wrote: "Nixon was, of course, a notorious anti-semite. And the Republicans, to their eternal shame, can still only muster one Jewish member of Congress. (The Democratics have 34.)"

Now we know the real reason for the coup d'etat against President Nixon. Nixon was the only obstacle to a communist victory in Vietnam and absolute power by totalitarian Jews. Naturally, he was subjected to the most vicious hypocritical hate campaign in history. Nixon was the victim of moralistic gang rape by America hating, pro-communist Jews masquerading as liberals.

Well done. America is now Israel's slave. Americans are forced to fight wars for Israel, based on false flag terrorist atrocities which wouldn't fool a blind chimpanzee.

Americans are also expected to believe in the fat Osama confession video, the Saddam Hussein double with the crooked teeth, and the pigin English speaking Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was killed seven years ago.

Posted by: markoller | September 19, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Kristol was part of the reaction to cultural (not countercultural) developments of the sixties. The hatred and fear of the reactionary elements in America has led to forty years of kulturkampf and, significantly, the development of a prison-industrial complex which utterly gives the lie to the idea of freedom in America. Good riddance.

Posted by: scientist1 | September 19, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

ravichn wrote:

He did not believe in Judaism, which is to his credit since it is really not a religion but a Talmudic conspiracy to prevent Jews from taking Christianity seriously.

Um . . . have you ever studied any comparative religion? Christian theology is no more plausible than a fairy tale--you should read the history of the early church. The Christianity with which you are familiar was mostly confected by Paul to appeal to non-Jews. The original "Christian" church, whatever it may have been, under James the Just, probably sprang from a fundamentalist Jewish group (as the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate), and therefore some of the characteristic features of Paulism are anathema to Jews, such as the rejection of Mosaid dietary laws, and the identification of sacramental wine with blood.

Oh, what's the use--the statement to which I am responding is indicative of profound ignorance and racism, in my view. Most of the ignorant do not appear interested in learning, or perhaps they would have already begun their homework.

Posted by: scientist1 | September 19, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

@eccentrinx1: It is not anti-semitism to recognize that some Jews, typified by Kristol, put the interests of Israel ahead of the interests of America. It is not anti-semitism to recognize that Kristol put the members of one religion ahead of all others. It is not anti-semitism to recognize that harm this has done America.

Did Kristol ever speak out against his acolytes--including his own son--demonizing Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims? No. He could have, but chose to remain silent. By this he invites a belated taste of his own medicine. He deserves whatever he gets, post-mortem or not.

Posted by: Garak | September 19, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

What does a racist exterminator do in the age of political correctness? Go on the offensive, of course. Brand your critics, anti-Semites, racists, Nazis and heaven forbid, "homophobes," before they even have a chance to speak. If they deny it, call them liars.

As long as one maintains absolute control of the government, press, television, Hollywood and schools from kindergarten through graduate school, it can't fail. The victim will never be able to wash of the stench, and the victimizers will always bask in the glow of righteousness.

Posted by: markoller | September 19, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Kristol will be reincarnated as a Palestinian in Gaza.

Posted by: rjacobs1 | September 19, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Eh bien, mon cher Dionne. What will you write when Norman Podhoretz, a pal of Kristol's, goes to his eternal reward?

Posted by: ravitchn | September 19, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

What is so profoundly ironic is that the segment of the US population that finds themselves yelping and hawing against liberals have no clue who this mas was, his history, or even his philosophy.

This is what the GOP has lost -- the ability of the majority of it's constituency to understand anything remotely intellectual, and they have achieved this by their championed ethos of dumbing down the masses by whatever deceitful, populist tactic imaginable.

Thus they have lost most of their intelligentsia to either the Democrats or the Independents, to leave the republican faithful in the hands of a Rush Limbaugh or a Rupert Murdoch or a profoundly uninformed stooge like Sarah Palin or a duplicitous, amoral Newt Gingrich.

Perhaps Kristol saw this happening in the latter part of his life, yet he said little about it, to the point that his son is a mere thoughtless, callow echo of his father's plutocratic philosophy -- a philosophy that is essentially, and always will be, basically inhuman and thus destined for perpetual failure.

Still the rigidity of Kristol's ephemeral political philosophies was more and more pointed away from the unique cultural enigma that is the modern USA, to favor an unworkable ideal -- an ideal as beautiful to behold as it is lacking.

There have been several great fascist thinkers that truly believe in a strong, plutocratic system as the most durable way for a society to survive and remain strong -- one that, while being such, could be, at heart, beneficent to and protective of the proletariat, all while remaining safely authoritarian.

Kristol certainly seems to have embraced the core of this ideal later in his life, but it is merely the result of him being unable or unwilling to endorse any more complex, less streamlined approach to government.

Buckley was like this as well -- he found beauty in the simple lines of an American Plutocracy, and found any other (necessarily more complex) forms of government "insufferable".

A lot of us expected men like Kristol and Buckely to lift us up -- to energetically engage in the national debate to form an ever better, strong union through well-reasoned dialogue instead of partisan confrontation.

There is a lot to be learned -- even things admired -- in examining Kristol's life, but it is sad that such a man left little in the way of a constructive legacy for his country or his party.


Posted by: Frank57 | September 19, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Liberal-Centrist here. Found this interesting quote of Kristol that described a neocon as, "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." The problem I have with today's conservative pundits isn't that they're conservative per se. What's problematic is that their dogmatism alienates anyone who's not willing to make a paradigm shift and concur with them 100% of the time. It's the dumbing-down of the Right, if you will. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mann Coulter, Glenn Beck and the lot of them: mere entertainers. These are not a thinking man's conservative. They'll twist and fabricate facts to boost their ratings among Cons. Isn't that called preaching to the choir or something? William Buckley and probably Irving Kristol were the kind of kind of thought-provoking Cons with whom you could stomach more than one political discussion. Can't say the same for FOX News. Fair and Balanced? Yeah, if you prefer their brand of cat-killing dogmatism.

Posted by: con_crusher | September 19, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse


bastion of zionism, greed, inhumanity, bigotry, greed, zionism, and most of all, enablers of the military-industrial-complex.

may these subhumans never again return to earth in this capacity. they should return as extinct microbes!

kagan, krauthammer, kristol,perle, who is who of the chosen mofo's

Posted by: peaceful2008 | September 19, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

The comments on this piece are enough to make decent people throw up in disgust. Have you people no shame? Irving Kristol was one of the intellectual giants of the last half of the twentieth century.

Posted by: VirgilCaine--


Death doesn't wash your crimes does it? it is one thing if these criminal/intellectuals reversed course before death and informed the public of their evil intents. but these are evil people, to that last breath. may their admirers join them in hell, maybe in the posh, stylish, exclusive corner of hell for the chosen criminals

Posted by: peaceful2008 | September 19, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

johnstonrw wrote:
The world did not need nor should regret the passing of this odious, retrograde reactionary.


And what would you kind hearted liberals say if anyone had dared to say the same sort of thing about the demise of Ted Kennedy? Way back a couple of weeks ago you all said we should not speak ill of the dead and have some respect for his family.

This is the same sort of double standard we have come to expect from the self-righteous, self-important liberals.

Posted by: tharper1 | September 19, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

He will long be remembered in the incoherent babbling of the confused and festering ideologies he spawned.

Posted by: nodebris | September 20, 2009 1:50 AM | Report abuse

"And what would you kind hearted liberals say if anyone had dared to say the same sort of thing about the demise of Ted Kennedy?"

And what did you kind-hearted conservatives say when conservatives did dare to say the same sort of thing about the demise of Ted Kennedy?

Posted by: nodebris | September 20, 2009 1:53 AM | Report abuse

Kristol was an elitist. His son is too.

Posted by: jckdoors | September 21, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Mr Dionne.... no way can you compare what Kristol said about Humphrey adapting past and proven methods , to what Obama is doing today...ADAPT is not the same as FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE ("fundamentally change" Obama's own words, 5 days before the election of 2008)...Doesn't surprise Me a bit that neocons jumped ship on the left ....

Posted by: Spartann | September 21, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I wish to make a correction...On October 30th, 2008, Obama said, "We are 5 days away from FUNDAMENTALLY TRANSFORMING our country",...... How scary is that ???... Mr Dionne, I ask you.... How are Adaption and Transformation the same ???

Posted by: Spartann | September 21, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I hope that little Billy gets to see his father very, very, very soon.

Posted by: wiatrol | September 22, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

It's a damn shame that Irving Kristol didn't live in Germany during the early 1940's. It would have saved the United States from a significant amount of pain and suffering from the policies that this neocon had pushed.

Posted by: wiatrol | September 22, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

What I learned from Irving:

It is better to pull out than risk having a son like Billy boy!

Posted by: wiatrol | September 22, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

This LOOOONG list of posts is an interesting read on the state of compassion in our political discourse. I've never seen such an accumulation of compassionate comments wishing large numbers of people who disagree with them to just drop dead. My heart is warmed by the overwhelming outpouring of feeling for your fellow man. Sarcasm intended.

Posted by: jzmn2 | September 25, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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