Nathan Glazer, who died Saturday at 95, is known for his association with neoconservatism. The City College alum joined the editorial team of Commentary in 1944 and published regularly in the journal throughout his distinguished career as a sociologist. In 1973, Glazer replaced his friend Daniel Bell as co-editor of The Public Interest with Irving Kristol and retained the position until the magazine closed in the spring of 2005. “I was always indifferent to the label,” Glazer once wrote of neoconservatism. He went on, “Had we not defended the major social programs, from Social Security to Medicare, there would have been no need for the ‘neo’ before ‘conservatism.’”
Glazer was not just integral to the development of neoconservatism, however. His work served as a bridge between the neoconservatives and the Goldwater-WFB conservatives of National Review. His empirical study of social programs buttressed conservative arguments for limited government while legitimating those arguments in liberal academic and intellectual circles.
The alliance between the first generation of neoconservatives and the Buckleyites was neither inevitable nor easy. “All of us,” Glazer wrote in 2005, “had voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, for Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and I would hazard that most of the original stalwarts of The Public Interest, editors and regular contributors, continued to vote for Democratic presidential candidates all the way to the present.” Kristol, who supported Nixon in 1972, was the major exception.
Glazer’s influence on National Review conservatism was evident as early as 1965 when WFB ran for mayor of New York City. Many of Buckley’s campaign themes and policy proposals came from Beyond the Melting Pot (1963), which Glazer had co-written with Daniel Patrick Moynihan. By the next decade, Commentary and The Public Interest had turned against the revolt on campus and were increasingly critical of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
In 1970, Glazer published Remembering the Answers: Essays on the American Student Revolt, where he asks of himself:
How does a radical, a mild radical, it is true, but still one who felt closer to radical and liberal writers and politicians in the late 1950s, end up a conservative, a mild conservative, but still closer to those who call themselves conservative than to those who call themselves liberal in the early 1970s?
The December 29, 1970, issue of NR contained a review of the book by Robert Nisbet, who called it “important, sometimes moving, impeccably intelligent, and always fascinating.” Nisbet said he was thankful “for the few, with Nathan Glazer preeminent among them in insight and awareness from the outset, who saw, just as a man named Edmund Burke saw in 1789, that the most tyrannous of all eruptions of power are precisely those which trumpet their appearance with notes of reason, idealism, and freedom.”
An editorial in the May 9, 1971, issue of National Review encouraged such dissent. The headline of the piece says it all: “Come On In, The Water’s Fine.” The editors lauded a Glazer essay in the February 1971 Commentary as “one of the most brilliant offerings in Commentary in years.” They added, “We will be delighted when the new realism manifested in these articles is applied by Commentary to the full range of national and international issues.”
Of course, they would not have to wait for long. Glazer never did join the Right. But his life offers lessons and inspiration to conservatives eager to preserve America’s tradition of freedom. Let us welcome all who are skeptical of government action, and willing to follow the evidence wherever it might lead, to our cause.