Three Cheers for Irving by David Brooks

David Brooks, "Three Cheers for Irving," The New York Times, September 21, 2009.


Kristol championed capitalism and wrote brilliantly about Adam Smith. But like Smith, he could only give two cheers for capitalism, because the system of creative destruction has victims as well as beneficiaries.

Kristol championed middle-class virtues like faith, family and responsibility, especially during the 1960s when they were so much under attack. But he acknowledged that bourgeois culture could be boring and spiritually unsatisfying.

Kristol championed democracy but understood its limitations. He emphasized that the American founders believed in a democratic system, but were appalled by the democratic faith: the idea that the majority view should be followed in all circumstances. They built a system that was half-democracy and half a republic, designed to acknowledge and also subdue popular will.

Kristol embraced the welfare state (one of his great achievements was to reconcile conservatism with the New Deal), but he was skeptical of most individual proposals. Improving society is so intractably hard that all efforts to do so should be subject to the most careful scrutiny.

New York Times