"I am so nostalgic." That's the phrase I associate most with Irving Kristol, who died last week at the age of 89.
What piqued Irving's nostalgia, at an American Enterprise Institute conference I worked on in 1992, was old-fashioned censorship. In the good old days, he explained, local communities were able to determine their own standards without inviting lawsuits from the ACLU and overwrought invocations of "Fahrenheit 451." In fact, hanging a "Banned in Boston" banner in a bookstore window, he explained, was the surest way to sell that book in New York. Local censorship, tethered to common sense and grounded in community norms, gave communities a say in how they would live. It made the world a more diverse, sane place.
I'm not doing the argument justice, but what captured my attention was the calm, reasoned and even folksy way -- for a New York Jewish intellectual -- Kristol managed to slice through layers of liberal cant.
I am a National Review guy, and William F. Buckley would be the first face etched on my American-conservative Mount Rushmore, but, aside from my father, no single person had a bigger impact on my political thinking than Kristol, whose funeral was Tuesday.
The obituaries have focused on Irving's role as the "godfather of neoconservatism" and the founder of the Public Interest. That is as it should be. From that perch, Kristol led a massive counteroffensive on what he called the "new class -- statist intellectuals, lawyers, social workers, educators et al."
"Though they continue to speak the language of Progressive reform," Kristol wrote, "in actuality they are acting upon a hidden agenda: to propel the nation ... toward an economic system so stringently regulated in detail as to fulfill many of the traditional anti-capitalist aspirations of the Left."
Kristol's formulation wasn't entirely new. He expanded an argument made by such figures as economist Joseph Schumpeter and James Burnham, another Trotskyist turned conservative (and a founding editor of National Review). But two things set Kristol apart. The first is that he understood the new class intimately; he spoke its language and was from the same cultural milieu. The second is that he did something about it.