"The Education, So to Speak, of a Neoconservative or Why American Conservatism Is Exceptional" (Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute), October 15, 2001.
Irving Kristol Bradley Lecture
The Education, so to speak, of a Neoconservative
A few years ago the journals rang me up and asked, do you think neo-conservatism lives, or has it been absorbed into the larger conservative movement? And I thought for a couple minutes, and it probably has been absorbed into the larger conservative movement by now. It’s hard to tell the difference between neoconservatives and conservatives without an adjective.
I was wrong. I realized I was wrong about a year ago. We were in London and Paris meeting with conservative intellectuals. I discovered that, first, they were very curious about neoconservatives. Secondly, they were very envious that America had neoconservatives, because they didn’t. I venture to think that American conservatism is in better shape than British and French conservatism is because we have had neo-conservatism, and they have not.
As I go along I will try to elaborate that point. I’ll categorize my remarks under the following headings: Neoconservatives on social policy, neo-conservatism’s influence on political thought, and neoconservative influence on economic thought. That last will be as brief as possible, because there are probably economists in the audience, and every time I speak on economics they get offended.
Social policy. One thing that distinguishes our culture now is the need, the crying demand for experts. On any issue that comes up, we want to hear experts. Be it a medical issue, political issue, economic issue, foreign issue, it doesn’t matter. If we can’t get experts, we will get actors. Such is our great demand for experts that nothing will appease it, and one of the things that neo-conservatism has done, very important, is to supply experts in the social sciences. It’s not realized that the social sciences, insofar as they are conservative, are indebted to neo-conservatism, not to traditional conservatism, which is interested in economics but not in sociology. Neo-conservatism in contrast has contributed very little to economics, probably speaking, but a lot to sociology.
This goes back to my days in City College in the late thirties, in Alcove Number One, the left-wing, anti-Stalinist alcove. There I came across a reprint of an article, which was being passed around among us left-wing kids as if it was an article in the very first issue of the American Sociological Review. It was written by a man who subsequently became quite famous as a sociologist, Robert K Merton. Robert K. Merton, who’s still with us, I’m glad to say—a fine liberal gentleman. For us who were, you know, beginning to move away from Marx—some of us who had moved quite a distance from Marx—to confront an article with a title the “Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action” that was the title, and it’s a classic article, and for those of us who have been raised in Marxism, socialism, what have you, the notion that the unanticipated effects of your action can be greater and more important than the intended effects was an absolutely revolutionary idea. Mind you revolutionary in the sense that humanity has known this forever, but you have to keep rediscovering truths, and we rediscovered this truth courtesy of Robert Merton’s article.
The result is that a whole group of people associated with Alcove One went to Columbia to do grad work on sociology. If you can’t subscribe to socialism you might as well be a sociologist—it’s the next best thing. They went there to study under Robert K. Merton, and they included Daniel Bell, Seymour Martin Lipson, Peter Rossi, Phillip Selznick, Nathan Glazer, and several others who have in fact played a significant role in neoconservative social thought. And all of the major social issues we have been confronting again and again over these past 35 years have been from the neoconservative point of view. The confrontation has been led by neocons, not by old-fashioned conservatives, who didn’t know how to confront this thing.
We are talking about five-dozen scholars. Most of them ended up in Washington because they couldn’t get jobs in the universities. Their politics were conservative. They understood that when you are talking about religion in America, it is the morality that counts. They wrote for the Public Interest, National Interest, Commentary, New Criterion, First Things, the American Scholar under Joe Epstein, the American Spectator, and above all the WSJ. I say above all, but people didn’t realize the WSJ played a crucial role in promoting conservative views—not only in economics, you’d expect that—but in the culture. I used to write regularly for the WSJ, as did other neocons, and it was the WSJ that persuaded businessmen, well-to-do affluent businessmen, heads of major corporations, that ideas were serious, that they had to really take this whole culture war seriously, and to put it bluntly, contribute money to the right side—ours. And they did. Not regularly, and not as much as they should have, but never mind. The fact is that those magazines did not make a profit. They were all supported by well-to-do businessmen, who felt it was kind of a moral obligation to fight this culture.
There have been no culture wars in Europe. England has had no culture war. France has had no culture war. For a very simple reason: There was no opposition to the left. There was none. The left just walked in and took over everything.
So this was the time, 1965 approximately, when the automation scare was rocking American intellectual and scholarly life. We go through these things once every ten to twenty years. Automation was the big bugaboo then. The Ford Foundation spent millions giving conferences. I attended at least two on automation. What shall we do with all our leisure now that the machines are going to do all the work for us? We have a terrible problem: all these people. How are we going to educate them to spend their leisure days and weeks and months? This did not sound plausible to me. It sounded too good to be true, and it didn’t sound plausible to other people.
In any case, Dan Bell got himself appointed to the president’s commission on automation, to report to the president on how to cope with this emerging problem. His colleague with whom he wrote the report was Robert Solow of MIT, later on a Nobel Prize winning economist, a contributor to the Public Interest, in later years not a contributor to the Public Interest. The two of them wrote this report and decided, you know, there’s really not much to it. Automation needs computers, and computers do things, but in the end what’s that’s going to be a problem of leisure for it’s—by the way a very good book came out of this written by a colleague of mine at NYU, who’s name I forget, but it was a very good book on leisure. I mean biggest, well 800 pages, Leisure Through The Ages.
It was then that Dan and I decided that maybe we should start the Public Interest. If the whole intellectual and media community can get excited by something that was nothing, we should do something about it. So, as I say, we started the magazine. At that time, I remember coming down to Washington. I didn’t know anything about Washington. I remember coming down to Washington to have lunch at the Brookings Institution to tell them about this new magazine we were starting, seeking their contributions. We were liberals at that time although I guess you might say revisionist liberals, and people at Brookings mainly decided they didn’t like the title of the magazine. But they learned to like the magazine.
And then of course there’s education. Everything is going along swimmingly from the liberal point of view until one of our contributors, James Coleman, no longer with us, alas, did a massive study on integrated schools and whether they improved education performance, particularly of minorities. And his conclusion was, it may be nice in many ways, it may be terrible in many ways, but it had no effect whatsoever on the performance of minorities. The family was infinitely more important. Well, studies of that kind have been coming out ever since by people like Jim Coleman. He died a true liberal but a very fine social scientist who absolutely would not be swayed by his ideology.
The same goes for welfare reform, crime, and delinquency. The broken windows theory, which now gets so much attention as a way of fighting crime, that came out of an article James Q. Wilson and a younger man George Kelling. Jim Wilson, of course, is one of the founders of the Public Interest. He was one of our original group. And then of course all the work that is now done routinely on the family, on divorce, telling us how healthy it is to be married and how dangerous it is for your children to be divorced, and so on. All of these studies, by now there are so many of them it is an industry in itself.
But, in the end, it is a war for the control of institutions. You make fun of fights between academics over all sorts of issues—conservative versus liberal, socialist versus right, and the next thing you know, and this is an actual case in England as it happens, you face the girl scouts in England. They call of course the girls guys, and the leadership of the girl scouts decided they should have a special session on lesbianism. Why not? And we won’t blink in England. But the truth is they could do nothing. They didn’t understand and to this day largely do not understand what has been happening to them.
We in America fought the culture wars, and we sort of lost. Not entirely, and I’ll come back to that, but we lost very honorably, and as I say we didn’t lose it all. We produce for instance a bunch of very good magazines, which you do not find in France, and you do not find in England. In England there is an old fashioned Salisbury Review, named not after the town, but after a Lord Salisbury, who was a prime minister of England in the 19th century and is apparently worth remembering. That’s it. In France and Britain, the culture wars simply were an American experience they were curious about. They asked me about it. They were bright about it, but they never understood it, because they did not think it was polite to engage in those kinds of arguments, and of course the left knew it wasn’t polite and enjoyed doing it, and so the left won.
Though we lost the culture wars, the one area that we didn’t lose is religion. And here we have an advantage over the rest of Europe. In the United States, religion is part of the popular culture, not of the elite culture. It has always been part of the popular culture, not of the elite culture. Thirty, forty years ago, you went to Harvard. What did you learn about religion? Nothing. It was not thought to be appropriate for highly educated people to learn about religion. But, our emphasis on religion, our peculiar American enthusiasm for religion, resulted in a completely new way of fighting the culture wars.
In the United States, religion is about popular culture, not about high culture. That’s changed a bit in recent years as a result of imports from Europe, where it is a part of the high culture. The test is very simple. You’ve got a Latin quotation. Do you have to have a translator fee? And in Europe you don’t have to have a translator fee. In the U.S., in religious writings, you don’t get Latin quotations. That’s what religion in America is about. It’s not about the higher dialectics of faith. You don’t have to learn Greek and Latin, which are rarely taught these days at divinity schools anyhow. You don’t bother with theology. The moral dimension is what counts.
For instance, one of my teachers, though I never actually studied under him, Leo Strauss, suddenly played a role. And it was the neoconservatives who brought him into this war. Leo Strauss became a significant factor in the culture wars. Leo Strauss is a fascinating character. I can’t go into it here. But he was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago, and later on at St. John’s College in Annapolis, and he wrote a series of essays called Athens vs. Jerusalem. And his point is, you choose one. But there’s no escaping the two. They are always there. It is an eternal choice: Athens versus Jerusalem, rationalism as against some form of revelation. And the Straussians, who were never well regarded at the academy for obvious reasons, they took religion seriously. Straussians moved in on what was an empty area, and began to fill it. And Straussians—not being religious, or at least not being committed to religion—were able to do a lot that religious people could not have. Straussians were respectful of religion, very respectful, and old man Strauss himself, Herr Strauss, never wrote an attack on religion. He was always very deferential toward religion. But let’s make it quite clear: He was a rationalist.
Straussians got jobs in political science. They came to Washington, getting jobs in government, being driven out of the economy in large numbers, and they played a very important role in the culture wars by keeping intellectuals, how should I put it, pro-religious, without being dogmatic. My son is one such person. There are dozens of families now in Washington who have been influenced and shaped by Professor Strauss and his students, and his students’ students, and now his students’ students’ students. It went to the third generation, and the emphasis has always been on morality. It’s the morality that counts, the moral fiber. Not the theology. And that appealed to Americans. Americans don’t like theology either. They’re strong on morality.
It’s interesting, when the Mormons applied for admission to the United States, there was a contest. Question: Should they be admitted or shouldn’t they be admitted? You know, after all, they believed in polygamy, which Americans were not supposed to believe in. They had a book, a bible called the Book of Mormon. Well, in the big debate over whether Mormons should be admitted, the only issue was polygamy. Once they decided to abolish polygamy, which they enjoyed, they were admitted into the Union. I am certain that not a single one of the members of the House of Representatives or the Senate actually ever read the Book of Mormon. How many people here have ever read the Book of Mormon? There you are, a couple, a couple Mormons, maybe. No? Well, maybe you did your PHD thesis on the Mormons.
There are in Washington today dozens of people, married with children, who are observant, but do they have faith? Who knows? They believe it’s good for children or good for them to go to church or go to synagogue, and they do, in large numbers, and while we in some ways lost the culture wars, we have definitely won the religious wars.
Forty years ago to be religious was to be a kook of some sort. Today, it is perfectly respectable to take your children to Sunday school, and to go to synagogue or church regularly. Whether you believe or not is not the issue. That is between you and God. Whether you are a member of a community of believers—that is the issue. Whether you are a member of a community that holds certain truths sacred—that is the issue. In any case, the culture wars are lost in the universities, but won in the churches, so far, and how that will work out remains to be seen. But there has been nothing like that in Europe.
Leo Strauss’s writings have only in the past five years been available in Europe, and the result is that we developed a group of professors who were pro-religious, but may or may not believe. Who were civilized in their religious beliefs, that is, they thought religious beliefs are good for a civilized human being to have. And if you have them long enough, you will be a better human being. The question of truth in the scientific sense is not something that applies to religious beliefs.
Let me now move on to neo-conservatism’s influence on conservative political thought. Very hard to explain to people today what conservative thought was like prior to1960. What to read? You have a young person, you want to show him conservative thought at its best, what do you give him to read? There was nothing to give him to read. There was nothing.
The only book that came out in the 1950s to make any effort, which had considerable success, was Russell Kirk’s. It’s not a good book, but you know, it’s well written, and people read it, and he did one valuable thing. He rediscovered, for our day, some interesting thinkers, including, of course, Adam Smith, and the more secular of the religious thinkers [NOTE: Kirk does not actually discuss Smith in TCM]. He discovered Burke again, and Burke had vanished from the American curriculum. No one read Edmund Burke. His books weren’t even available. It was Russell Kirk, I must say, to do him justice—I’m not a great admirer of his writings—he performed a great service by reviving Burke for us today. And I want to tell you—1960—Burke was out of print. If you wanted to read Edmund Burke, you couldn’t even find his books, except for old collected sets, which you picked up at rare bookshops.
Now what happened is that neo-conservatism came along, and college-educated people, conservative people, who weren’t satisfied just having a political philosophy based on Herbert Spencer’s Our Enemy, The State [NOTE: That book was written by Nock, not Spencer] and Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, two books estimable in their own way, but really quite irrelevant to current concerns, and you can’t give those books to young people and expect them to respond positively. And, I must say, it was the neoconservatives who made a radical change, a very important change, and one not sufficiently noticed, that the enemy of conservatism was not the state, but liberalism. That is, the state could be neutral, even if the state did more than we thought states should, that’s not important. Civilization does not decline because Social Security is owned by the state. A lot of these things we can live with, but liberalism, which teaches an alternative set of ideas, an alternative set of political thoughts and political obligations, is another matter.
There was a big change that took place with the election of Ronald Reagan. People forget about this. Ronald Reagan admired Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, which sort of shocked Republicans, but they went along. What alternative did they have? But that completely changed the basic accent of American conservatism. If you can say that FDR was a great president and still be a conservative, the conservatism you have is not the conservatism that existed 10, 20, 30 years ago. It’s something quite new. Attitudes toward the welfare state changed with Ronald Reagan. Relations with religious conservatives changed with Ronald Reagan. I think back to Barry Goldwater’s campaign: Did he reach out to religious conservatives? I don’t think so. I don’t remember it.
I must say, Ronald Reagan did, though Ronald Reagan himself was not exactly an enthusiastic believer, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, the emergence of religious conservatives as part of a neoconservative upsurge has played a very important part. It has produced conservatives who are anti-liberal but not anti-state; who are willing to use the state for certain important purposes. Reform the state, of course, but don’t have that instinctive hatred of the state that you find in Herbert Spencer’s book, Enemy of the State, which is the attitude that prevailed prior to the 1960s.
The 1960s saw efforts to reform the welfare state. We’re still coping with that. It doesn’t occur to anyone to abolish the welfare state, which was the original enterprise of conservatives in the 1950s. It’s that influence on conservative political thought is with us today, and it will stay with us, and it was done by really a small number of people, in the course of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, who called themselves neoconservatives and who wanted to see religion brought into public life, but, in such a way as to be acceptable to the American people, which they have done.
Now to one last, most contentious thing: supply side economics. When Ronald Reagan was running for president, he appointed a Council of Economic Advisers: twelve—not thirteen, twelve—like the disciples. Twelve men. I don’t think there was a woman. I can’t remember. In any case, it doesn’t matter. Very distinguished economists, all of them—Milton Friedman, of course, George Schultz. You know, go down the line. One supply-sider, young man from California named Art Laffer. I suppress his name for reasons. Art Laffer, who was a very good young economist but just a young staffer, and the question of a tax cut came up. Jack Kemp had learned about supply side economics from Jude Wanniski, who spent a year here in Washington at the American Enterprise Institute writing his book, and Jack Kemp was very close with Ronald Reagan, and he persuaded Ronald Reagan that this was the right thing to do—to cut tax rates. Ronald Reagan didn’t understand economics at all, but he did understand politics, and he thought cutting taxes was pretty good.
I mean, pretty good as against the prevailing conservative wisdom, which still prevails in many parts of this country. That conventional wisdom is, first you cut government expenditures, then cut taxes. That’s the responsible way to proceed. Well, it is the responsible way not to proceed, because you never do cut spending enough to cut taxes. The only way to cut spending is you cut taxes first, and you force them to cut spending, and Ronald Reagan understood this immediately. His Council of Economic Advisers did not. But, they were also very shrewd people and men of the world, understood politics, and he said to them, I’m going for tax cuts. They decided they were all for cutting tax rates. So, his Council of Economic Advisers—this was before he was elected—decided they were all for something called supply side economics, namely, well, what? You cut tax rates and force politicians to cut spending, and the important thing in any case was not to balance budget. Yes, a cut in tax rates preceding spending cuts means a deficit, a large deficit, but never mind deficits. A deficit resulting from a cut in tax rates will create incentives, encourage people to invest, encourage economic growth, and sooner or later—it turned out to be a lot later than sooner, but never mind.
Sooner or later you’ll get enough economic growth to compensate for the deficits. In other words, they were saying, there are good deficits and bad deficits, and the good deficits are the deficits that encourage growth, and bad deficits are the deficits that discourage growth. Deficits resulting from giving people money to spend—that does not encourage growth, might for a month or two, but not over the longer run.
That was supply side economics, and I must tell you, Ronald Reagan put it through. Most of these economists didn’t understand it. To this day, Alan Greenspan doesn’t quite understand it or, if he does understand it, doesn’t agree with it. And Alan is a very smart man, but he is an economist formed in a certain way at a certain time, and they just can’t see things the way supply side economists see things.
I liked supply side economics. I wrote about it quite a lot in the Wall Street Journal. What did I like about it? Well, if you’re going to play football, you can’t be defensive all the time. Sooner or later you have to try to score a touchdown. You have to figure out plays that are offensive. Conservatives, ever since World War II, have been playing defensive economics. They would say, you’ve got to balance the budget; you’ve got to cut government spending. And Democrats would say, we need money for this that and the other thing, and in the end they won. They will then screw up, and the conservatives will go back, and the conservatives will try to cut the deficit. And probably fail.
The Conservatives were never able to cut the deficit. The supply siders said, you’ll cut the deficit by growth, and they said, oh that’s nonsense. They didn’t believe that you could get enough growth to cut the deficit. Well, we did cut the deficit, and barring unforeseen developments we would have had a whopping surplus this year. Supply side economics said the function of economic policy is not stability. It’s growth. Growth takes priority, and if you think that’s banal, just look at what the IMF and the World Bank are doing to poor Argentina. Argentina’s economy is an absolute mess. They are running a huge deficit, and what are they recommending, cut government spending, raise taxes, to reduce the deficit. Absolutely the worst advice you could give any government, I think. That was the supply side argument, but the old, non-supply side economics still prevails in large sections of the business community, in large sections of the banking community; less so in the academic community, but the academic community doesn’t like it really. Of course it leads to free enterprise, and they have other ambitions for economic theory
and economic programs.
It’s very hard to get people to understand that not all tax cuts are equal. Two tax cuts involving the same amount of money can be very different in their effects, depending on how they’re structured, depending on what it is a tax cut penalizes, and what it encourages. A tax cut encourages something. In any case a focus on economic growth has become a centerpiece of the Republican Party’s economic program. It’s not clear that they know what they mean, and it’s not clear that congressmen who talk the game actually walk the game, but it’s worked. We have done very well with versions of supply side economics.
Now the timing was a little off. It took twenty years instead of two—well, all right, that happens. But it got there in twenty years. You know in Europe, they haven’t got there at all, and you can’t get anywhere in Europe with supply side economics, or in Australia. Nothing you can do, they just think this is wrong. This is spendthrift. This is irresponsible. And the fact that we did it doesn’t impress them, because we’re Americans. What do Americans know about public finance? And so the English don’t do it. The French don’t do it. The Germans don’t do it. Their economy moves up a little bit, and then stalls. It doesn’t have an inner movement of growth. Essentially that’s the thing I want to cover.
What has happened is a really nothing less than a revolution of thought as a result of the intrusion into public debate of that group of people we call neoconservatives, who have changed our thinking about social policy, politics, and economic policy. Foreign policy is another matter. I’m not going to discuss it, and the reason I’m not going to discuss it is neoconservatives are all over the lot on foreign policy. The whole thing at the moment is unclear. So we’ll let that ride. But there is no question that on social policy, on the culture, on political thought, that what we call neo-conservatism is now ingrained into conservative thinking, though not very deeply. It is so easy to revert to previous ways of thinking, which the Republican Party frequently does. I think the change has occurred, and the United States has the only democracy with a thriving conservative party. Thriving.
The Republican Party is doing fine. Look at opinion polls. It’s as popular as the Democratic Party. It’s not true in England. Not true in France. Not true in Germany. Not true in Eastern Europe. Nowhere. We really now have a two party system. Up until Ronald Reagan we had a one and half party system. Republicans exist now. Once upon a time, you couldn’t meet a Republican. I grew up never meeting a Republican. Literally. In the first twenty-two years of my life I never met a Republican. Even in college, I never met a Republican. I met Trotskyites, ex-Stalinists—all sorts of exotic breeds. Never met a Republican. But in any case, the neoconservative revolution that occurred, beginning in 1965, has had, I think an enormously good effect on American public life, and on American politics. And if there are people here who disagree, I’ll listen. Thank you.
Q: Yes, you talk about how it looked as though neo-conservatism had become part of the whole mainstream of the American conservative movement. There was one point where the fissure seemed to reopen and that was one and a half, two years ago, during the last struggle for the Republican nomination, when a lot of the people who had been associated with neo-conservatism seemed to support senator McCain while most of the rest of the conservative movement seemed to be leaning towards Mr. Bush. Despite the fact, that senator McCain sounded less conservative every time he opened his mouth. Could you comment on that please?
Kristol: Not a very delicate problem. I can. There’s some eager support for Senator McCain in some neoconservatives for a very special reason—foreign policy. I mean it isn’t that they disagreed with George Bush on social policy, economic policy. Foreign policy for them was the key. And they did not trust George Bush to have an independent foreign policy, a strong foreign policy. Yeah, to some degree they’ve been vindicated. I mean every time we face a big crisis of foreign policy, the first thing we do is go shopping around the world for allies, and we are the largest power, the biggest power, the richest power, the strongest power, and you know, you’d think we couldn’t move unless we had all these allies.
Here we are, engaged in a conflict in a part of the world that we never expected to be engaged in—central Asia—and what do we do? Our State Department signs up Japan. The Japanese are with us. Great. I mean, they’re all the way over there. Australians are with us. Of course the Australians are with us. Australians are always with us. The Chinese are with us. That’s a victory? What do we want with the Chinese? We don’t want to say truce, god forbid. But that’s the way the State Department thinks, and I think to some degree the rebellion against the way the State Department proceeds, and behind the support for McCain among younger, some younger, many younger neoconservatives, was a desire to some freedom of action, so we wouldn’t have 30 allies frustrating us every time we turned around and tried to do something. Does that answer your question? Ok.
Q: Mr. Kristol, I found the whole discussion interesting. I’m a little younger than you are, but when I was an undergraduate at Berkley in the 1950s, I called myself a conservative. And what I depended on, and I think this is a matter of cultural traditions in America, was Kirk’s book, and Kirk contributed not only Burke, but he contributed to Tocqueville when nobody really talked about him. It was also Nisbet at the time. Nisbet was just emerging, and his whole thing on sense of community.
There was also Buckley, and Buckley for those of us who had read McMohan O’Neil [NOTE: No idea who this refers to]. There are some other strands out there, I don’t think there’s a single thing that you and I probably disagree on, but I call myself a modern conservative, not a neoconservative, and I think we’ve left out one crucial person, and you may say, well, he’s really an American today, and that’s Paul Johnson. I would put him at least at the level of Strauss. And without Paul Johnson’s incredible productivity, I think it would be just very difficult to maintain a sustained cultural conservatism. And maybe he is so American now, that his past book on American history didn’t really make a difference. I’m not really disagreeing with him, I’m just saying there are more paths than one might think. I am even an alumnus of Scoop Jackson’s staff, so I am a standard neoconservative in another way, but even then we had other strands than the Public Interest, which I enjoyed very much.
Kristol: Well, you have a good point. I don’t know. First of all, if you want to see the effects of the Public Interest, this requires a lot of research, and you’ll have to read a lot of back issues of National Review. I reviewed it when in first came out, and I said, who needs this magazine, and I don’t take that back at all. But the magazine changed, the magazine evolved over the years, away from the old, rather ghetto-like conception of conservatism.
One of the things neoconservatives wanted to see happen was the Republican Party become a majority party. Not to be a good opposition. Bill Buckley was the one to say, a long time ago, after the magazine was founded, we must to stand in front of history and say stop. Well, he did it, and it didn’t. And that was never my conception of politics. But National Review today is very different than the National Review of forty odd years ago. It’s much better, in my opinion. And the gap between National Review and neoconservatives today is much, much narrower. Every now and then they publish something and I say, well, there they are, back again. But it’s not that often, really.
I don’t know what to say except that, the things you mentioned, and the people you mentioned—I have a problem with the people. They idolize Alfred J. Nock, the anarchist writer, who for many years was very popular in National Review. I get bored when people say I’m against the state. Great, you’re against the state. The state doesn’t care. Frank Meyer was better than most, but still it was a very strange group originally. But it has evolved. The difference now between neoconservatives and conservative, National Review and say, Public interest, is much narrower, much narrower. And you know the old isolationist impulse, which they had, has almost vanished. And they are almost more interventionist than I would be. So look, now there are many different strands of conservatism, and welcome to all of them. But one does discriminate, and I’ve always discriminated in favor of the neoconservatives, as against the paleo-conservatives.
Q: Thank you, of what utility is the victory in what you’ve described as the religious war, if we’ve lost the culture war, and the left controls the foundations, the universities, and the media? Is it convincing that because there are people going to church and synagogues, that necessarily in a culture in which, as you say they’ve lost, or we’ve lost, does the religious behavior of going to church or synagogue on Saturday or Sunday, necessarily inform peoples behavior through the rest of the week?
Kristol: I’m sorry I didn’t get that. What was the question?
Q: The question is, if we lost the culture war, what good is it to win the religious war?
Kristol: Well, you know. It’s interesting. We lost the culture war. Look at what happened just recently, a couple of weeks ago. We found ourselves shocked by this attack in New York City. 6,000 people killed, Pentagon bombed, we found ourselves shocked by it, yet how did we respond to it? And I think what has happened, is that the American have decided that they know how to respond to it. I think it’s 8 percent of the people support the point of view that is dominant in the major universities, not just in the smaller colleges. Now the major universities are still thought of as the breeding grounds for the elite. Which in a sense they are, I mean there’s no question about it. They get the brightest students; they have the most money for fellowships. On the other hand it’s a big country, there are a lot of colleges out there, there are a lot of universities out there.
I think we’re getting through the defeat in the culture wars. We just have to accept the fact that the administration, even more than the faculty, of these major colleges are products of the 60s, and to a large degree the faculty in the humanities are a product of the 60s. And, having lived in universities all their lives, they have had no reason to change. Occasionally now and then there’s somebody to extort, but most of the time people change because of a change in their experience. And most of the faculty in the major universities has not had any new experiences since they became a professor, and as a result they stay with their views. And what’s interesting is that the students don’t seem to be listening. I get the impression, or at least the polls suggest that the students don’t seem to be listening.
Unfortunately some of the private schools, the graduate schools, are the big problem. But we have a funny world, a funny system we live under, this capitalist economy, and this democratic system. Just when you say, well, how in God’s name are we going to live with universities that are so hostile to capitalism, and to our own economic system, what happens is some of these schools of business explode, become huge, get rich.
Students flock to schools of business. Sociologists and anthropologists will go on saying what they said 30 years ago, but fewer and fewer students will be paying attention. Students these days are well to the right of faculty, and I really think the faculty is somewhat to the right of administration, because administration is stubborn in a way that not all faculty members are. They just will not change. They will not yield anything, but it’s all right. Things are better today than they were ten years ago, much better, and religion has played an important role. Having lost the religious wars, even though they won the culture wars, the universities, and the people associated with the universities, the intellectual community, are not nearly as influential as they once were.