WASHINGTON -- On Monday, April 25, The Public Interest passed away at the ripe old age -- for a quarterly journal of public policy -- of 40. It was a peaceful death, almost serene. Irving Kristol, co-founder and co-editor throughout its life, presided at the interment, a small dinner of past contributors and friends of the magazine.
He presided the same way that he presided over the magazine's life: with self-deprecation, sobriety and no fanfare. Magazines are not meant to live forever, said Kristol. New generations bring new ideas, and besides, the very idea of a quarterly magazine might no longer have a place in a time of such ferociously fast information flow. They had had a good run.
Kristol was being characteristically modest. For 40 years, The Public Interest has been perhaps the finest scholarly magazine in America, and, in relation to its small and exclusive circulation, surely the most influential. Heavy on empirical data, short on polemics, and always lively, it challenged conventional wisdom on all the great domestic issues of our time: welfare, crime, dependency, automation, poverty, inequality, pornography and more.
It gathered around it a remarkable constellation of writers. The cover of the first issue, reprinted in the current and last issue, features articles by Kristol, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Robert Solow (future Nobel Prize winner in economics), Jacques Barzun, Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer. By the third issue they had added Milton Friedman, James Q. Wilson and Peter Drucker. For 40 years, an all-star team of social thinkers tilted at windmills and, unlike most brainy journals, knocked them down. The magazine's increasingly neoconservative bent over the years quietly shaped, and then came to dominate, political discourse in America.
This was due to many people, but above all to its guiding editor. Kristol's influence and intellect and importance to the political history of our time are well known. The most remarkable and least known thing about him, however, is his temperament. He is a man of unique equanimity. His preternaturally even temperament betrays not a hint of angst, bitterness or anguish. He is not a happy warrior, just a calm and confident one; not Hubert Humphrey but Cool Hand Luke.
This makes him unusual among conservatives because conservatives tend to believe that the world is going to hell, and that tends to make them grumpy. But not Kristol. Both on the field of battle and off, he always retains a serenity and grace that express themselves in a courtliness and a quiet (yet devastating) humor.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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