The Public Interest
The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009 By Irving Kristol (Basic Books, 390 pp., $29.95) Daniel Bell, now of blessed memory, used to enjoy recounting a piece of lore from the 1930s, back when New York was said to be the most interesting part of the Soviet Union. It was about the travails of a young member of the Revolutionary Workers League named Karl Mienov. When Mienov’s doctrinal differences with that small party became too great to bear, he split and formed his own cell, the Marxist Workers League. His party even launched a theoretical organ, called Spark.
Almost 20 years ago, as a young editor at The Public Interest, I wrote an admiring review of The American Reader, an anthology compiled by Diane Ravitch. At the time, a battle was raging over multicultural education, and Ravitch joined the fray with a wonderful collection of speeches, songs, essays, and poems spanning the nation’s history.
When Irving Kristol joined the new magazine Commentary, he distinguished himself from the other editors--Clement Greenberg, part-time then, Robert Warshow, and me. First, he had an interest in politics, real politics, electoral politics, and not just the politics of left-wing anti-Stalinists, mulling over what was living and what was dead in Marxism, the fate of socialism, the future of capitalism, communist influence in the intellectual world--no mean issues, but hardly ones to affect who won and who lost an election.
Already noted in this space was the glaring omission of Daniel Patrick Moynihan from Planetizen’s list of “Top 100 Urban Thinkers.” It was 40 years ago in the fall of 1969 that his essay “Toward a National Urban Policy” appeared in the Public Interest (It later became the basis for a 1970 book).
Irving Kristol, who died on Friday at the age of 89, was often called the godfather of neoconservatism. And so he was, along with Norman Podhoretz, who has actually done far more to set the (foreign-policy focused) agenda and (insistently combative) tone of recent neocon thinking and writing. Kristol's impact was felt earlier, as he led a group of moderately liberal academics and intellectuals on a rightward migration across the political spectrum during the 1970 and '80s. It's an important story that's been told countless times.
They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons By Jacob Heilbrunn (Doubleday, 320 pp., $26) Can I get a show of hands?