In 1993, Charles Krauthammer delivered the commencement address at McGill University. Some 20 years earlier, he told the graduates, he had been sitting in the same seats. “What I shall offer you today,” he said, “is a reconnaissance report from a two-decade life expedition into the world beyond McGill College Avenue.” Sardonically likening himself to Marco Polo, Krauthammer said he had returned to his alma mater “without silk, with few stories, indeed, with but three pieces of sage advice.”
The lessons? Don’t lose your head, Krauthammer explained. Look outward and avoid the insularity and parochialism of narcissism. And save the best.
Krauthammer, who died of cancer this week, was born in 1950 to Jews who had fled the Holocaust. He exercised the same power over Gen-X and Millennial conservatives that William F. Buckley held for an earlier generation. But Krauthammer’s conservatism was as unique as his biography—and revealing of the intellectual and political currents of the latter half of the American century. Krauthammer, like Walter Lippmann, was not only an influential columnist and essayist. He was emblematic of his times.
Krauthammer went from McGill to Oxford to study political philosophy, only to zigzag to Harvard where he enrolled in medical school and became chief resident in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. As he practiced medicine, however, he found he could not escape the call of politics—upon which, he would later write, all else depends. A job at the National Institutes of Health was his ticket to D.C. From there he wrote speeches for Vice President Walter Mondale. The election of Ronald Reagan left him out of a job. He found refuge at The New Republic.