The Great Persuader by James W. Ceaser

James W. Ceaser, "The Great Persuader," The Weekly Standard, February 14, 2011. (A review of The Neoconservative Persuasion by Irving Kristol.)


Of public intellectuals so conceived, there have been only a handful: George Bancroft, whose famous History of the United States and orations sketched out much of the Jacksonian persuasion; John Dewey and Herbert Croly, the tandem who promoted progressivism; William F. Buckley, who helped revive conservatism; and Irving Kristol, father of the neoconservative persuasion. A comparison among these remarkable figures would obviously merit a study in its own right. So far as literary form is concerned, Kristol, unlike the others, never authored a full-length book; he stands out from this group by the extraordinary quality of his essays, which is a medium in which few other Americans were his equal. As for the overall character of thought, all of these men, being engaged in political commentary for a long period, shifted ground at points over their careers. Kristol, with his reflection on the idea of a “persuasion,” was perhaps the least preoccupied with pure doctrine, seeking instead to keep the door of the conservative movement open to new influences and forms, while at the same time holding fast to core principles like cherishing the nation and respecting the limits of human nature.

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