The Flexible Temperament

James Piereson, "The Flexible Temperament," The New Criterion, March 2010. (A review of The Neoconservative Persuasion by Irving Kristol.)


Kristol’s intellectual contribution was to bring these fundamental ideas into contemporary debates about politics and public policy through his writings in outlets like the Wall Street Journal and his editorship of The Public Interest, the magazine he created in 1965 in partnership with Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer. The magazine was born (as Kristol recounts the story) out of a general disquiet among liberal friends of the welfare state that the enterprise was being taken off track by the belief that the poor could escape their condition by “fighting city hall” and winning political power. This strategy was bound to fail, as Kristol and his colleagues saw, because they knew from experience that the path out of poverty was through education and work and not through politics. The idea that welfare, or any other public benefit, is a “right” unaccompanied by reciprocal obligations was bound to discourage work, encourage dependency, and strip the welfare state of any capacity to promote virtue and morality as conditions of assistance.

The New Criterion