It was sad to hear that Irving Kristol passed away this afternoon. The founding father of neoconservatism leaves behind an extraordinary legacy as a promoter of ideas, as a mentor to so many on the right, and as a father and husband. At a time when neoconservatism is so wildly resented on the left, it's worth remembering the noble tradition that Kristol founded most notably through The Public Interest, the small journal he introduced to the world in 1965 with Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Daniel Bell. Later, Nathan Glazer would replace Bell. The journal brought appropriate skepticism and rigor to the prevailing faith in government that held sway at the apex of the Johnson administration and Nelson Rockefeller's big government rule in New York. The magazine asked important questions about whether programs really worked and what were the limits of public action. If you were a serious student of public policy you could disagree with the magazine but you couldn't ignore it. Whether it was James Q. Wilson on crime or Nathan Glazer on affirmative action, the magazine was essential reading and Kristol himself. I remember being recently out of college, working in public policy and being enamored of this essay on the twentieth anniversary of the magazine's founding and the appropriate skepticism the magazine brought to bear on what seemed to be deep seated panics of the time--a fear of "automation," for instance or the "urban crisis." Other journals and institutions would try to reform liberalism from within--The Washington Monthly and The New Republic, where I worked. The now much-dismissed Democratic Leadership Council comes to mind, too. But the first broad strokes of a serious criticism of modern liberalism were painted by Kristol. You don't need to agree with everything he wrote--or certainly with where his disciples took the country--to admire his work on this sad day.
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