In my intellectual life, there is a very long list of people about whom I know a little and would like to learn more, but who fall outside my primary research areas. Since there is an endless amount of reading to be done in those subjects alone, the people on the “B list” never quite get my full attention. I never read their biographies or anthologies, and they inevitably remain on that list for long periods of time, or, in far too many cases, permanently.
One of those people is Irving Kristol. (Maybe that’s not true for you, dear reader, but I am certain you have your own B list.) Now, thanks to the New Republic, I will be able to shrink the B list by one. The current issue of that magazine features a lengthy article by Franklin Foer about Kristol. Ostensibly a review of Kristol’s posthumous essay collection, the piece actually features Foer instead offering an overview of Kristol’s background and biography, charting his major positions and their shifts in time, and assessing his most lasting contributions. The essay is thoughtful, well-informed and articulate, and I cannot recommend it enough.
The piece is behind a paywall, but it is in the current issue. In my opinion, the article alone is worth the price of the magazine.
Behind the paywall is also a quote from Kristol that I thought was particularly relevant to a group of intellectual historians, occasionally besieged by the perception that ideas themselves are of less value than other sorts of things. “What communists call the theoretical organs always end up through a filtering process influencing a lot of people who don’t even know they’re being influenced. In the end, ideas rule the world because even interests are defined by ideas.”