Irving Kristol did not coin the term neoconservative, but he was probably the only person fully happy to have it applied to him. In elegant essays published over half a century, Kristol argued the case for a pragmatic, empirical conservatism that could make its peace with the New Deal and the civil rights revolution.
Kristol, who died Sept. 18 at 89, once joked that when he had a problem, he started a magazine. The quarterly he co-edited, the Public Interest, subjected the bright new ideas of the Great Society to intense scrutiny—and opened the door for the conservative intellectual revolution of the 1970s that he both led and chronicled. Not least among his accomplishments was his marriage to the equally brilliant historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. A glimpse of the two was a picture of happiness in old age.
Kristol described his philosophy as one of “conservative pessimism.” During the Clinton presidency, my wife once expressed to him her dismay at baby boomers’ self-indulgence. “I wouldn’t worry too much,” Irving advised. “Soon they’ll be dead.” A witty, unflinching observer of politics and society, he advised Presidents and undergraduates with equal patience and generosity.