The Enduring Irving Kristol

Wilfred M. McClay, "The Enduring Irving Kristol," First Things, August/September 2011. (A review of The Neoconservative Persuasion by Irving Kristol.)


In any event, one must remember that it was in the shadow of events eerily similar in many ways to those of our own times that neoconservatism took shape, both in Irving Kristol’s imagination and as a movement to counter and correct the collapse of national morale and to introduce sober second thoughts about the inherent limitations of the liberal-progressive project. Such reconsiderations led to a keen awareness of the limits of social policy, the failures of consolidated national-scale command economies, and the hubris and folly entailed in the progressive movement’s embrace of a rationally engineered national society governed by accredited experts. Neoconservatism exposed the futility of social initiatives that consistently failed to take account of the needs and flaws of human nature, failed to acknowledge the wisdom of traditional and customary forms, and failed to acknowledge the need for strong and independent mediating institutions—families, churches, neighborhood organizations, wards, townships, and other organizations of every shape and size—to provide a firm basis for vibrant community life and for the cultivation of civic virtues. In the realms of social welfare and criminal justice, liberalism failed to set forth a realistic structure of incentives and sanctions that addressed human nature as it really exists and that could thereby make the practice of “ordered liberty” something more than an empty slogan.

First Things