Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Post No. 135c: Three Cheers for Irving Kristol

Last year, a giant of modern American political thought, William F. Buckley, Jr., passed away. Earlier this month, we lost another giant, Irving Kristol. Although their views of the Universe did not always mesh with ours, we respected their thought processes, and the fact they did not rigidly adhere to the positions of any particular party.

They had the ability to analyze each issue objectively and present their positions with clarity. Perhaps more importantly, they did not find the need to yell or scream, thus prompting more people to listen to their views. We were big fans.

David Brooks of the New York Times has written a column about the life of Mr. Kristol, and his thoughts are provided below. To give you some sense of Mr. Kristol, the following is a quote attributed to him:

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

David Brooks: Three Cheers for Irving Kristol

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

By David Brooks

“Irving Kristol was born into a fanatical century and thrust himself into every ideologically charged battle of his age. In the 1930s, as a young socialist, he fought the Stalinists. In the 1940s, as a soldier, he fought fascism. In the decades beyond, as a writer and intellectual, he engaged with McCarthyism, the cold war, the Great Society, the Woodstock generation, the culture wars of the 1970s, the Reagan revolution and so on.

“The century was filled with hysterias, all of which he refused to join. There were fanaticisms, none of which he had any part in. Kristol, who died on Friday, seemed to enter life with an intellectual demeanor that he once characterized as ‘detached attachment.’”

To view the remainder of the article, click here.


  1. A glowing tribute, but the thought remains: to the extent that he approved of his son William's activities, there was something wrong with the guy.

  2. Rodak: We assume that by "activities," you are referring to his son's conservative views, as reflected in his writings and positions. Are you suggesting that a father should not express support of a son whose views differ from those of the father? Or are you suggesting that a father and son should have the same view of the world?

  3. The main point which we wanted to get across through the review of this article was the following:

    "He would champion certain causes. He could arrive at surprising and radical conclusions. He was unabashedly neoconservative. But he also stood apart, and directed his skeptical gaze even on his own positions, and even on the things to which he was most loyal.

    'There are no benefits without costs in human affairs,' he once wrote. And so there is no idea so true and no movement so pure that it doesn’t require scrutiny. There was no position in this fallen world without flaws."

  4. Are you suggesting that a father should not express support of a son whose views differ from those of the father?

    He should support (as in love) the son, but (to the extent that he disagrees with them) denounce the political views.

  5. Rodak: We'll have to think about the notion that a father should the "denounce" the opposing political views of a son. Out of curiosity, does that also apply on the upstream, namely that a son should "denounce" the opposing views of a father?

  6. Of course it does. Blood does not wash away moral responsibility. Simply apply that which Jesus had to say about family:

    Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.

    Matthew 12:48-50 "He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

    Any questions?

  7. Interesting Rodak. We think that we have your construct down: any relative who has views which are different from those of another relative, should "denounce" the other.

    Some questions along this line:

    Should the "denouncement" be openly and affimatively expressed, or just kept to one's self?

    Does this also apply to people who are friends?

    Does it also apply to people who are strangers?

    Does it also apply to people who are public figures, such as entertainers and politicians, but not in the same area of influence or association as the denouncer?

    Moving to another line of thought, your construct suggests that a son with views, which are diametrically opposed to those of his father, has a moral responsibility to denounce his father.

    Are you suggesting that the failure to denounce constitutes immorality, or that if two relatives have differing views of the world, one is a moral being and the other is not?

  8. "any relative who has views which are different from those of another relative, should "denounce" the other."

    You don't get it. So be it.

  9. Rodak: You are correct about our inability to fully understand your construct in its statement and application. However, that is obviously our failing, for which we take full responsibility, since you put the effort in to explain it. Perhaps one of our readers, who is more more enlightened than we, can take a shot at their understanding of your construct.

  10. Let me ask a question, then: How can one assume that a family member is obligated to give moral sanction to words or actions that disinterested, objective parties would morally condemn (unless, of course, the family member also holds those views, and approves of those actions)?

  11. Rodak: We (of little sophistication) must sadly admit that we still do not fully comprehend your construct. We were having significant difficulty with the use of the word "denounce," (which according to our dictionary is defined as follows: to condemn openly as being evil or reprehensible; to accuse formally), in its application to a parent-child relationship.

    Now another concept has been introduced, namely the concept of "sanction." Our dictionary defines sanction as: authoritative permission or approval that makes a course of action valid; support or encouragement; a consideration, influence, or principle that dictates an ethical choice.

    It just seems to us that the mind does not naturally trend toward denouncement and sanctions in delineating the parameters of a parent - child relationship, at least not a relationship where the child is also an adult.

    Respecting the values of others, even the values with which we have disagreement or about which we have concerns, seems to us to be implicit in the nebulous concept of "love" between a parent and a child.

    Perhaps those more sophisticated can help us out.

  12. The parent-child relationship of the Kristols, wrt public policy matters, however, is not a private thing. Both men actively seek to sway public opinion, as well as the forces of government. If the son, therefore, is advocating positions which would involve the entire nation in morally reprehensible policies, then the father should publicly denounce those policies, unless (as I said before) he agrees with them.
    I would have thought the bible quotes to be support enough on this issue.

  13. Rodak:

    Many of our readers are far brighter, more sophisticated, and better read than any of the Fellows associated with our organization, and consequently there are times when we have difficulty appreciating certain concepts espoused.

    It appears that we misunderstood a particular aspect of your position. We never understood that you were limiting your construct to instances where both relatives or friends were in the media and positions of power and influence, capable of communicating their views to the general public. We thought that it was your view that your "denouncement of opposing views" construct was applicable to ALL relationships, public, private, and familial, and for that we must apologize.

    We now understand (or at least we hope we understand) the "denouncement of opposing views" construct to be applicable to this particular fact situation involving two influential public figures, both of whom disseminated their messages through their writings, publications, speaking engagements, and appearances. (We're still not sure whether it is applicable to two relatives simply in the public eye, let's say an entertainer who makes statements about societal issues, and a professional athlete relative who does not, for example, and who are not in the full time business of influencing public policy.)

    While we might not fully agree with you that the "denouncement" need be affirmative in nature, and be compelled by virtue of moral and ethical considerations, we do have some appreciation of the notion, if we now have it appropriately circumscribed.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. No apology necessary. While the public face of the Kristols is certainly a special factor in their instances, I do also maintain that any father, confronted with his son's immoral words or actions, has the moral reponsbility to denounce those words or actions, and to do so publicly if that is warranted in a particular instance. One does no person, much less one's own son, any favors by supporting his bad behavior. Our responsibility--as human beings--is first and foremost to doing the good to the extent that doing the good is possbile for us. Again: blood does not trump morality.

  16. A follower of our blog sent this article to us earlier today. It raises some interesting questions regarding the status of the Republican Party / conservative movement.

  17. A glowing tribute, but the thought remains: to the extent that he approved of his son William's activities, there was something wrong with the guy.


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