The Moral Realism of Irving Kristol by Eric Cohen

Eric Cohen, "The Moral Realism of Irving Kristol," National Affairs, Winter 2010.


Neoconservatism was, as Kristol always described it, merely a “­persuasion” that tried to “imagine the world as it might be,” but also to “live and work in the world as it was, trying to edge the latter ever so slightly toward the former, but experiencing no sour disillusionment at [our] ultimate lack of success.” Yet such a realistic view of politics and of the human condition, especially in America, did not mean living always with a sense of grim futility. Neoconservatism, Kristol said, was “the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the ‘American grain.’ It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-­looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic.” And while neoconservatism is surely a phenomenon of a particular time and place, the disposition toward reality that animates it is how wise and moderate men will always see the world — even in the most ­immoderate of ages.

National Affairs