Much joy and satisfaction has greeted the publication of the new Irving Kristol collection, and I wish to add my bit here. That collection is called The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009. It is edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb, the author’s wife — do I have to say “widow”? I don’t think so — and begins with a foreword by his son, Bill Kristol.
Irving Kristol was important to me, as he was to so many. I did not know him (though I met him). But I knew him through his writings. And I knew him through his extended political-intellectual family. He was especially important to me when I was kind of figuring out politics: while in high school and in college. Around me, conservatives were portrayed as ignorant, dumb, racist, boobish, and altogether low-class. But who was intellectually classier than Irving Kristol? Who was smarter?
I felt the same about Bill Buckley and Norman Podhoretz. I certainly thought a lot more of them, and their ideas, than I did of the lefties who dominated life around me. These men — Kristol, Buckley, and Podhoretz — sort of said to me, “Come on in, the water’s fine. You can be a conservative.” And lo . . .
I especially welcome a Kristol collection for this reason: In his career, he was an essayist, and a superlative one. But essayists don’t necessarily leave much between hard covers, do they? We rely on collections. They are so much easier than going to libraries, looking for bound volumes of Encounter and so on.
I could rhapsodize for pages about Irving Kristol, but let me say merely this: Years ago, I read a book by a professor of mine. In his introduction or acknowledgements, he thanked the most important professor he had. He said something like, “I’m grateful to him for giving me what I can only call a cast of mind.” That is something Kristol leaves us, or lends us: a cast of mind.
He was smart, he was cool, he was generous, he was society-moving — and he was ours. Still is. And the new collection helps that perpetuation.