Irving Kristol

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Irving Kristol

Born January 20, 1920
Brooklyn, New York
Died September 18, 2009
Falls Church, Virginia
Spouse Gertrude Himmelfarb
Religion Jewish

Irving Kristol (1920 – 2009) was a neoconservative political writer, activist, and strategist. He took pride in being called "the godfather of neoconservatism." Kristol, like many New York intellectuals of his age, moved left to right across the political spectrum, and brought along with him his readers as editor of Basic Books, editor of journals like The Public Interest and The National Interest, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard (now edited by his son, William Kristol), and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was the Henry R. Luce professor of urban values in NYU's business school.

Public Interest

The Public Interest began in 1965 with the mission of challenging liberals to pay more attention to data and to the dangers of the unintended consequences of their programs. The basic was a mix of conservative and liberal ideas: the goals were conservative, while the means to achieve them quite liberal. It sought a "conservative welfare state" (as one of Kristol's famous essays was titled).

Traditional conservatives labeled it "big-government conservatism" and distrusted the magazine's heavy reliance on social science. Libertarians distrusted the reliance on government action for conservative goals.

"Mugged by Reality"

Kristol reports that Lionel Trilling was one of the "two thinkers who had the greatest subsequent impact on my thinking." The other was Leo Strauss.[1] Reacting against the New Left, against the counter-culture's attack on bourgeois values, and especially against what he saw as the a liberal foreign policy that failed to recognize the need for a tough anti-Communist foreign policy, he and the neoconservatives moved right. In a nutshell, said Kristol, they were "liberals mugged by reality". Kristol, who had endorsed Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968, supported Republican Richard Nixon in 1972.

He was the father of William Kristol and the husband of historian Gertrude Himmelfarb.[2]


"Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions - it only guarantees equality of opportunity." [1]

Books by Kristol

  • Neo-conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Reflections of a Neoconservative: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (1986)
  • Two Cheers for Capitalism (1978)

About Kristol

  • Irving Kristol, Christopher C. DeMuth, and William Kristolm eds. The neoconservative imagination: essays in honor of Irving Kristol‎ (1995) 249 pages


  1. Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism (1995) p. 6