Irving Kristol Will Be Missed

by Martin Peretz | September 21, 2009

Irving Kristol, who died on the eve of Rosh Hashana, will have many pages in every future intellectual history of the United States. Actually, also, in every intellectual history of the West. He was not actually a philosopher, certainly not in the strictest sense of the word or even merely in a strict sense. But he was a scholar in the meaning laid out by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous Harvard Phi Beta Kappa oration, "The America Scholar," of 1837.

This is not an academic model. Rather, "the office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise and to guide men by showing them facts among appearances." And, later on in the address, which the sage physician Oliver Wendell Holmes' called our "declaration of independence," "this confidence in the unsearched might of man belongs by all motives, by all prophecy, and by all preparation to the American Scholar. We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe."

As it happens, with his extraordinarily scholarly wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, his mind wandered deeply among the true liberals of eighteenth and nineteenth century British conservatism. But, by then, he had already immersed himself and ultimately strayed from the dogmatically precise Trotskyism which was the Left's answer to Stalinism. Ultimately, Irving's unfettered mind conquered all the mechanics that had enlisted him. He was a free man, and free especially of the bilious attributes of many in the neo-conservative camp.

There was in Irving Kristol a cheeriness, a softness, even a gentility and, most of all, an openness rare among his ideological comrades.

We at the The New Republic counted him among our friends. To Bea and to Bill, "May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem" and also among those very many who mourn him here in our blessed country America.

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