Irving Kristol, RIP

Irving Kristol, RIP

By Christian Brose

I just saw the sad news that Irving Kristol passed away this afternoon at the age of 89. I had the pleasure of working at the two magazines that Irving was best known for — first at The National Interest and then very briefly at The Public Interest. By the time I showed up, Irving had long since ended his day-to-day involvement in both (he was never as much involved in the NI as he was in the PI), but I did have a chance to meet him on a few occasions when he came into the office for lunch with the staff. My memory, to my everlasting shame, is mostly that of a dumb young kid running his yap, overeager to engage with and impress the founder of the place, and him smiling and listening politely, arguing with me and asking me questions, but never doing what he should have done, which was told me to go sit quietly in the corner and color.

Others will have far better, and more personal, recollections of Irving Kristol. I knew him mainly through his writings and my brief time working in the institutions he built. For a young person fresh out of college, there was nothing quite like coming to work at the "Kristol palace," as the editors used to call both magazines. It was a four-day work week with lunches on the house — from which came the joke, pretty antiquated by the time I got there, that we were dedicated to fighting socialism in the world while practicing it in the office. A professor of mine even tells the story of a student of his looking for a job that he sent to see Irving, who promptly met with him and talked with him for awhile, liked him, but didn’t have anything to offer him. So he told the kid to put down on his resume that he’d worked for Irving for six months, and if anyone brought it up, he would happily serve as a reference.

As someone who actually got to work at Irving’s magazines, I’d say it was about as close to a "workers’ paradise" as we’re ever likely to get. As a 22-year-old assistant editor, I was expected to handle magazine business from Monday to Thursday (which mainly consisted of reading and talking with my colleagues about policy, history, philosophy, culture, and everything in between), but I was then expected to use those remaining three days to do my own work, write my own articles, publish under my own name, and however the magazine could help me do that, it would. That had been Irving’s policy for decades, and it remained as much a mission of each magazine as what was published quarterly in its pages. The roster of significant (and diverse) thinkers who got their start because of Irving’s investment in his young staff — from Bob Kagan, to Michael Lind, to Mark Lilla, to many others — is as worthy a legacy as what he achieved through the countless articles he wrote himself and published from others.

And that achievement was nothing less than the revitalization, indeed the redefinition, of conservative thinking in America. It would be a poor tribute indeed for me to prattle on about Irving’s work and that of his magazines. Far better for the interested reader to start with this selection of Irving’s pieces that the Weekly Standard has posted, and then dig into the archives of The Public Interest (newly online thanks to the outstanding work of National Affairs, the new magazine that will carry the PI’s torch for a new era). Read through all of that, while trying to keep up with the deluge of tributes and reminiscences that will pour forth in the coming days from people who truly knew him the best, and you’ll begin to have a sense of how much Irving Kristol meant to so many people — and how sorely he’ll be missed.