Irving Kristol

I'm going to let others do the heavy lifting as tribute to Irving Kristol, who died last week at the age of 89. What's striking in all the eulogies is that everyone who knew him recalls him as kind, modest, and impossibly slow to anger --insults just brushed right off him. And all the eulogists, too, note the strength of his marriage to Gertrude Himmelfarb, and his gratitude.

It reminded me of my contention that charity is among all the other things it is, an intellectual virtue. If you're busy being angry and affronted, it clouds your judgment. Strictly speaking, since Kristol, as a Jew, didn't have the theological virtue of charity, which is imparted by baptism, I suppose what I really mean is temperance. Whatever. If you can't think well of others, you can't think, period.

Meanwhile, enjoy these. It's a delight to read about a good man, for we see not only the impact of his ideas, but the simple and hidden power of goodness to touch people and multiply itself. And we get a window into a beautiful family in the process.

Bill Kristol's eulogy for his father.

During the 1960s and 1970s, when Liz and I were growing up, everything is supposed to have become complicated and conflicted and ambiguous. Not so with respect to my parents' love for each other. Or with respect to the love and admiration that Liz and I--and, later, Caleb and Susan--had for my father. Our love for him was always straightforward, unambivalent, and unconditional.

As was the love of his five grandchildren for him. And as was his love for them. Almost seven years ago, my father was scheduled for lung surgery. As we were talking the night before, my father matter-of-factly acknowledged the possibility he might not survive. And, he said, he could have no complaints if that were to happen. "I've had such a lucky life," he remarked. (Actually, I'm editing a bit since we're in a house of worship. He said, "I've had such a goddam lucky life.") But, he said, it would be just great to get another five years--in order to see the grandchildren grow up. That wish of his was granted. He got almost seven years. So he was able to see Rebecca and Anne and Joe graduate from college. He was able to attend Rebecca and Elliot's wedding. He--a staff sergeant in the Army in World War II--developed a renewed interest in things military, as Joe trained to be, and then was commissioned as, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

And he was able to see Liz's children grow up too, to watch Max and Katy become poised and impressive teenagers--it turns out that's not a contradiction in terms. My father was able to get to know them, and to talk with them, in a way you can't with much younger kids. So that too was a great source of happiness.

Joseph Epstein, A Genius of Temperament
Irving himself did not provoke. I never saw him angry. Polemical though he could be in his political journalism, I never heard him put down political or intellectual enemies in conversation. If I could have any of his gifts, it would be his extraordinary ability not to take things personally. Accusations, insults, obloquy, all seemed to bounce off him. He had a genius of temperament.

He also seemed to be without vanity. I never heard him claim credit for any of the things that obituarists are now claiming for him: helping to elect Ronald Reagan, launching neoconservatism, discovering youthful talent, and the rest of it. I never heard him quote himself, or remind other people of things he had written, or make any claims about himself whatsoever. I once told him that I thought Encounter, which he edited with Stephen Spender in London, and on which, I am certain, he did the lion's share of the work, was the best intellectual journal of my lifetime, but my praise appeared only to embarrass him. He didn't seem to wish to talk much about it.

Mary Eberstadt: My Irving Kristol & Ours This one's about her internship with him at Public Interest, the long line of interesting folk he mentored, his keen understanding of young people, and his moral and philosophical advice to them. She also has funny stories from those years, including the interns reading allowed the nutty conspiracy letters they'd get.
Sometimes whichever intern was lowest on the totem pole would read aloud these ravings about how the Public Interest magazine was the red-hot center of one or another Jewish conspiracy--a ritual that we junior editors found all the more entertaining since most of us during those particular years were cradle Catholics.

She also collects his bon mots, among which this is a favorite of mine:
The danger facing American Jews today is not that Christians want to persecute them but that Christians want to marry them.
And she notes his ability to see through the zeitgeist. Here's an example:
In "God and the Psychoanalysts," for example--written in 1949, a moment when Freudian thought was preeminent, and decades before it would finally be forced into intellectual exile by the accumulated weight of criticism from all sides--Irving not only anticipates the coming psychoanalytic crackup, but also foresees why it is coming: because the understanding of human nature on which the Freudian edifice depends is itself fundamentally cracked. Man's "flight from God," he observed in this essay written six decades ago, "has also been a flight from his true self, which had been made in His image. So it was that Freud could build a theory of human nature on the basis of his experience with hysterics and neurotics." This fact, Irving could see clearly, was "a unique and strange achievement which testifies to our modern psychic equilibrium."
Here's Mona Charen's tribute, and Charles Krauthammer's.
The wonder of Irving was that he combined this lack of sentimentality -- he delighted in quietly puncturing all emotional affectations and indulgences -- with a genuine generosity of spirit. He was a deeply good man who disdained shows of goodness, deflecting expressions of gratitude or admiration with a disarming charm and an irresistible smile. That's because he possessed what might be called a moral humility. For Irving, doing good -- witness the posthumous flood of grateful e-mails, letters and other testimonies from often young and uncelebrated beneficiaries of that goodness -- was as natural and unremarkable as breathing.
Not bad for a cunning neo-con conspiracist.

I suppose we must have some official obituaries for the external hard drive. Here's WaPo's, which goes through his political career, but gets into his upbringing as the son of a Jewish immigrant garment worker, his Trotskyism, which was more or less killed by his service in World War II, etc. Even WaPo notes his modesty. Despite Mr. Kristol's influence in public life, he kept a low profile.
"People like Arthur Schlesinger go to 'in' restaurants, hang around with beautiful people," he once told The Washington Post. "I never do that. I stay home and watch TV. I like Westerns and cop shows. Nothing solemn or instructional."
And a more informative one from the Formerly Gray Lady.

May he rest in peace.

Update: Good round-up of other tributes and a look at his influence at Against the Grain.