Judging Neoconservatism: Reading and Misreading the ‘Modern Cultural Situation’

The Neoconservative Persuasion, Selected Essays, 1942–2009 By Irving Kristol; edited by Gertrude HimmelfarbBasic Books, 2011; 390 pages, $29.95 There aren’t very many neoconservatives anymore. It’s a label that serves no purpose except to identify evil-doing and evil-thinking. So now’s the time to assess the achievements and the failures of what we must say, at this point, was “the neoconservative persuasion.” I don’t have the talent to make neocons young and beautiful again, but I can show the most eminent neocon public intellectual, Irving Kristol, was a wonderful man who knew who he was and what he was about. While our country could still use a lot more like him, he does seem to have been somewhat blind to the limits of the very conscious neocon effort to reconstruct America’s self-understanding. Kristol was an urban-bourgeois Jewish-American intellectual. This book’s autobiographical reflections affirm as real and good each of these parts of his identity. He charmingly celebrates the success of his long and loving marriage as well as his complete tone-deafness to the bohemian longings and lifestyles of his fellow urban intellectuals. Few things repulse him than the bohemian “countercultural” degradation of American popular culture and intellectual life of the 1960s. Kristol is a decent man and a genuine friend of common decency. When he talks about his indebtedness to Leo Strauss, he is referring to Strauss’s distinction between exoteric and esoteric writing. The genuinely liberated thinker has, of course, all kinds of unconventional thoughts, but he expresses them in such a way as not to erode morality through sophisticated skepticism. The truth is that the idiosyncratic life of the rare philosopher is no “bohemian” reason to deny the nobility or goodness of the virtues associated with the “bourgeois” life or with family responsibilities or with religious faith and citizenship. Kristol certainly did not think that Soc
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.