Foer on Kristol

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JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 31, 2011

Foer on Kristol

I just realized that I never wrote about Frank Foer's review essay about Irving Kristol, which is every bit as good as you'd expect it to be (not just because the author is Frank, but because Frank was born to write this piece.)

Aside from a general endorsement, I want to flag one really fascinating tidbit about Kristol's view of Israel, which was shared by Norman Podhoretz:

Israel’s socialistic ethos alienated Kristol. “Truth to tell,” he later recalled, “I found Israeli society, on the whole, quite exasperating.” He was not alone. In 1951, he received a copy of a letter from a Columbia student named Norman Podhoretz. This missive had circulated to Kristol by way of Cohen, who had received a copy from its original recipient, Lionel Trilling. The letter was an account of Podhoretz’s first visit to Israel. “I felt more at home in Athens!” he told Trilling. “They are, despite their really extraordinary accomplishments, a very unattractive people, the Israelis. They’re gratuitously surly and boorish.... They are too arrogant and too anxious to become a real honest-to-goodness New York of the East.” On the basis of Podhoretz’s chilly response to the Jewish state, Kristol recruited him to write for Commentary.

In the wake of the Iraq war, a fascination with neoconservatism -- a fascination that had previously been shared by very few people, one of them being Frank -- exploded into the political and even the popular culture. But the concept became deeply vulgurized and misunderstood. One common and very crude assumption interpreted the neocons as simply a form of the Israel lobby, crafting doctrines for American power that were merely devised to justify Israel's interests.

The truth is that the original neocons were very far from deep, emotional supporters of Israel. They were pro-Israel, but their pro-Israel views stemmed from their general hawkishness rather than vice versa. In any case, the neoconservative ideology was wildly simplistic and intellectually corrupt, as Frank well shows, but this particular understanding of it has always been misplaced.

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posted in: jonathan chait, israel, frank foer, irving kristol, lionel trilling, norman podhoretz

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