Irving Kristol has died at 89.
Kristol is the primary intellectual godfather of the neoconservative movement — which his son Bill Kristol helped transform into a major political force.
Kristol and his wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, were and are respectively profoundly significant intellectuals whose work and public commentary had an enormous impact on Washington’s political culture.
But what now will be interesting to watch is the race between those who want to inherit Irving Kristol’s mantle as the “real neoconservative” and who will take the movement into a new generation.
This title will not automatically go to his son, Bill Kristol, who committed a great sin in the eyes of many neocons by animating the political pretensions of the anti-intellectual populist former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
When neoconservative scholar and author Francis Fukuyama was once venting his frustration about the neoconservatives who were driving America into the wreckage of the Iraq War and defending himself from attacks by Charles Krauthammer, he once shared at a public meeting at the Nixon Center, paraphrasing, that he had grown up at the knee of Irving Kristol and was one of just a few in an original group who participated in the salons and discussions in the Kristol household.
Fukuyama said, as I recall, that he didn’t need lessons from Krauthammer on what neoconservatism was all about. In fact, Fukuyama felt that what Krauthammer and some others were writing and speaking about Iraq contradicted neoconservative perspectives. He said that he and other neocons used to criticize government’s hubris for thinking it could change school test scores in Anacostia — and now some of these same people were arguing that America could easily generate social outcomes in Baghdad.
In other words, Fukuyama was intimating that the Iraq escapade was a violation of everything Irving Kristol taught him and stood for.
This vignette is important because I think that a number of leading neoconservatives — including Fukuyama and David Frum as well as others like Kenneth Adelman — never really left neoconservatism as much as the modern variant left them.
This leads me to suspect that in the wake of Irving Kristol’s passing, there may be an effort to redefine an alternative version of neoconservative thinking and perspective than that which Bill Kristol and his close ally, Robert Kagan, have fashioned.
The church split with Fukuyama, but the neoconservative church may split yet again, and again.
— Steve Clemons