Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Life

Irving Kristol, Godfather of Neoconservatism, Dies at 89

Political writer and public intellectual Irving Kristol — a former Trotskyite who would break with the left and come to be known as the godfather of neoconservatism — died Friday in Washington. He was 89, and the cause of death was complications from lung cancer, The New York Times is reporting.

Here is an excerpt of an appreciation of Kristol by John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine, which Kristol edited between 1947 and 1952:

The clarity of his thinking and the surety of his purpose were one and the same; they were immeasurably enhanced by a powerful curiosity for the way things worked and the ways in which things could be made to work better. His was a resteless intelligence, always on the move; there was not an idea he didn’t want to play with, and there wasn’t a new idea for a think tank or a magazine or a center for the study of something-or-other that didn’t excite him. He was a conservative by temperament and conviction, but he was an innovator to the depths of his being.

The number of institutions with which he was affiliated, or started, or helped grow into major centers of learning and thinking is hard to count. There is this institution, COMMENTARY, where he began working after his release from the Army following the conclusion of the Second World War. There were two other magazines in the 1950s, The Reporter and Encounter, which he helped found and whose influence on civil discourse was profound and enduring, even legendary. There was The Public Interest, the quarterly he co-founded in 1965 with Daniel Bell and then ran with Nathan Glazer for more than 30 years, which was the wellspring of neoconservative thinking on domestic policy issues. He helped bring a sleepy Washington think tank called the American Enterprise Institute into the forefront. And he made Basic Books into a publishing powerhouse that was, for more than 20 years, at the red-hot center of every major debate in American life.

Read the entire appreciation here.

Podhoretz noted that Commentary would be making available online the 45 articles that Irving Kristol penned for the magazine, between 1946 and 1994.

The editors of The Weekly Standard, whose founder and editor is Kristol’s son, William Kristol, released this statement on Irving Kristol’s passing:

Irving Kristol, writer, editor, and social philosopher, has died in Washington at the age of 89. His wisdom, wit, good humor, and generosity of spirit made him a friend and mentor to several generations of thinkers and public servants.

Kristol’s ideological formation and his political shift to the right is detailed in the 1998 documentary, “Arguing the World,” about four Jewish students who attended the City College of New York during the 1930s.

Read The New York Times obituary of Irving Kristol here.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.