- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (January 11, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465022235
- ISBN-13: 978-0465022236
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
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The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009 Hardcover – January 11, 2011
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It's difficult to write a review that can convey the scope, depth, and power of wisdom contained in these collections of articles, but it would be more difficult to write a separate review for each collection. Duplication of the articles in more than one book is a problem. At least twelve of the essays are reprinted verbatim in their entirety in the "Reflections" and the "Autobiography of an idea" edited by Kristol. Half the essay, "The Right Stuff" is duplicated word for word in Himmelfarb's collection as well as the complete "An Autobiographical Memoir" which is reprinted from Kristol's "Autobiography of an idea". The three volumes total 118 essays and 1,100 pages
These articles were originally written for "think" magazines (Encounter, Commentary, The National Interest et al) which Kristol edited or co-edited with prominent public intellectuals such as Daniel Bell. Kristol also appeared in many symposiums, gave many interviews and lectures, and was Professor of Social Thought at New York University. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. This is but a small sample of his prestigious affiliations and honors. He died aged 89 on Sept. 18, 2009 from complications of lung cancer.
Since all three volumes contain essays that cover the same fifty year time frame, there is no continuous connection; they are not in sequence, each volume is a self-contained selection covering the same basic themes and time frame as the others. The articles are brief, some only three or four pages, the average being perhaps eight or nine pages. This is not the kind of writing for a gripping read although Kristol is lucid and fluent. These are not books. They are collections of condensed critiques of the political and cultural issues of modernity and post modernity by one of the finest minds of this era. Kristol's insights are as viable today as when they were written.
In the "Reflections" edition (pp. 76-77) Kristol lays out the creed of the neoconservative which is abbreviated here:
(1) Neo-conservatism is a current of thought...provoked by disillusionment with contemporary liberalism....
(2) ....neo-conservatism is anti-romantic in substance and temperament.
(3) ....the teaching and writing of the late Leo Strauss are of importance....Neoconservatives are admiring of Aristotle, respectful of Locke, distrustful of Rousseau.
(4) The attitude of neoconservatives to bourgeois society and the bourgeois ethos is one of detached attachment (sic).
(5) Neoconservatism is inclined to the belief that a predominantly market economy...is a necessary precondition...for a free society. It also sees a market economy as favorable to economic growth.
(6) Neoconservatives believe in the importance of economic growth...as indispensable for social and political stability.
(7) A conservative welfare state...is perfectly consistent with a neoconservative perspective...a state that takes a degree of responsibility for helping to shape the preferences that the people exercise in a free market.
(8) Neoconservatives look upon family and religion as indispensable pillars of a decent society.
Each collection of essays deserves five stars, yet I would not recommend buying all three. The first edition, "Reflections" (1986) is the best. I recommend this book without reservation. It is shorter, and more focused on political thought. It contains the important articles on Adam Smith and Machiavelli and Kristol's thoughts on both. This book is sufficient for a good grasp of the early history and content of neoconservative thought.
A good, but not necessary, companion to Kristol's own Reflections is Himmelfarb's compilation (2009); although it contains many articles on Judaism and Christianity which are tangential to the principal theme of neo-conservatism. Kristol`s "autobiography of an idea" edition (1999) suffers from too many duplicated articles from the "Reflections" edition. It is also over-long and less politically focused.
Kristol has been a towering figure in the political thought and culture criticism of the modern era. His adult life was devoted to a relentless attack on the utopian nonsense of liberalism, in all its guises. But Kristol's neo-conservatism was almost exclusively concerned with domestic issues.
After the collapse of the Soviet empire a new generation, which included Irving's son, William Kristol, turned the focus of neo-conservatism outward, to include foreign policy. This wave of neocons evolved in the mid-1990s. Their ideas were born in a context where America suddenly became the uncontested and dominant world power. Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan are two leading thinkers of the new neo-conservatism, which holds that American power is a force for good and the expansion of democracy will be a good thing for the world, as well as for America. This is the neo-conservatism that is so controversial today.
Irving Kristol did not live long enough to engage himself in this new direction of neo-conservatism. By the time the "new" neoconservatism evolved he had long since started referring to himself as a "conservative." His legacy is the essentially conservative influence he brought to bear on the domestic liberal thought of his generation.