Un néoconservateur est un homme de gauche qui s’est fait braquer par la réalité. Un néolibéral est un homme de gauche qui s’est fait lui aussi agresser par la réalité, mais n’a pas porté plainte. Irving Kristol
Les Soviétiques font passer les canons au-dessus du beurre, mais nous plaçons presque tout au-dessus des canons. (…) Mais (…) la puissance militaire soviétique ne disparaîtra pas juste parce que nous refusons de la regarder. Margaret Thatcher (1976)
There is good reason — perhaps even right reason — for the administration’s position. It has to do with our definition of the American national interest in the Gulf. This definition does not imply a general resistance to ‘aggression.’ … And this definition surely never implied a commitment to bring the blessings of democracy to the Arab world. … [No military] alternative is attractive, since each could end up committing us to govern Iraq. And no civilized person in his right mind wants to govern Iraq. Irving Kristol
The only innovative trend in our foreign-policy thinking at the moment derives from a relatively small group, consisting of both liberals and conservatives, who believe there is an « American mission » actively to promote democracy all over the world. This is a superficially attractive idea, but it takes only a few moments of thought to realize how empty of substance (and how full of presumption!) it is. In the entire history of the U.S., we have successfully « exported » our democratic institutions to only two nations — Japan and Germany, after war and an occupation. We have failed to establish a viable democracy in the Philippines, or in Panama, or anywhere in Central America. Irving Kristol
Neo-conservatism is not at all hostile to the idea of a welfare state, but it is critical of the Great Society version of this welfare state. In general, it approves of those social reforms that, while providing needed security and comfort to the individual in our dynamic, urbanized society, do so with a minimum of bureaucratic intrusion in the individual’s affairs. Such reforms would include, of course, social security, unemployment insurance, some form of national health insurance, some kind of family assistance plan, etc. In contrast, it is skeptical of those social: programs that create vast and energetic bureaucracies to “solve social problems.” In short, while being for the welfare state, it is opposed to the paternalistic state. It also believes that this welfare state will best promote the common good if it is conceived in such a way, as not to go bankrupt. Irving Kristol (« What Is a ‘Neo-Conservative’?”, Newsweek, January 19, 1976)
La question légitime à se poser au sujet de n’importe quel programme, c’est: « cela marchera-t-il »?
Car il y a une chose que le peuple américain sait au sujet du sénateur McCarthy: il est, comme eux, irrévocablement anti-communiste. Conviction qu’ils ne partagent en aucune façon concernant les porte-paroles de la gauche américaine. Et avec une certaine justification. (1952)
C’est l’engagement pleinement assumé des néoconservateurs d’expliquer au peuple américain pourquoi il a raison et aux intellectuels pourquoi ils ont tort.
Aux Etats-Unis aujourd’hui, la loi insiste sur le fait qu’une fille de 18 ans a le droit à la fornication publique dans un film pornographique – mais seulement si elle est payée le salaire minimum.
Aussi loin que je me souvienne, j’ai été néo-quelque chose: néo-marxiste, néo-trotskyste, néo-gauchiste, néo-conservateur et, en religion, toujours néo–orthodoxe, même quand j’étais néo-trotskyste et néo-marxiste. Je vais finir néo-. Juste néo-, c’est tout. Néo-tiret-rien. Irving Kristol
Au lendemain de l’annonce, dans son obsession à se démarquer du néo-conservatisme de son prédécesseur, de l’abandon du bouclier antimissile et à nouveau (contre les promesses faites mais ils doivent avoir l’habitude!) des pays de l’Europe centrale et de l’est comme la Tchécoslovaquie ou la Pologne par le nouveau Chamberlain de la Maison Blanche …
Et de la disparition, à 89 ans bien remplis, d’Irving Kristol, parrain du néoconservatisme et de tous les gens de gauche qui comme lui avaient, selon son mot fameux, été « braqués par la réalité » et avaient dès lors décidé de placer le pragmatisme au-dessus de l’idéologie et du mépris des aspirations des gens ordinaires.
Retour, en guise d’hommage et d’avertissement renouvelé à la fois, sur sa tribune classique de février 1990 (que le NYT venait d’ailleurs de ressortir).
Rappelant les faux calculs de ceux qui critiquaient la très faible hausse des dépenses militaires présentées par le ministre de la défense de Bush père Dick Cheney.
Au moment où revenait sur le tapis avec la fin de la guerre froide (comme aujourd’hui avec la fin de la guerre en Irak et la crise financière) le vieux débat (déjà à la veille de l’entrée en guerre des Etats-Unis en 1917 suite à la démission du Secrétaire d’Etat pacifiste William Bryan Jennings et au sujet notamment de la construction d’usines de nitrates en Alabama « pour l’engrais en temps de paix et la poudre à canon en temps de guerre ») sur les « dividendes de la paix » et du « beurre contre les canons » …
There Is No Military Free Lunch
The New York Times
February 2, 1990
Now that the cold war is over and I need worry less about my personal safety and welfare, I find myself contemplating with pleasure all the money I shall save and be able to spend. These savings are of a peculiar kind: they represent expenditures I had thought of making but that no longer seem necessary.
To cope with the prospect of nuclear war, I had wondered about the advisability of purchasing a large country estate, which would shelter my wife, children, grandchildren and perhaps the families of a few nieces and nephews. To reach this refuge, I would need a large, fast station wagon, perhaps two. There would be other expenses, too, and I have calculated the total cost in the vicinity of $1.5 million, with maintenance costs of about $25,000 a year.
What a blessing to be relieved of such expenditures! There are so many needs I can satisfy with this saving. We can at last have our kitchen redone; we can take a long-delayed, unhurried holiday in Europe; we can double our contributions to charity – and more. We shall, of course, pay for these expenditures with a credit card. We shall also, of course, end up filing for bankruptcy.
A combination of hypothetical savings with actual spending is a clear path to financial ruin. Nevertheless, much of the discussion of a peace dividend, and the uses to which it might be put, revolves around exactly such a combination.
Those hypothetical savings are enormous. If we simply forget about providing ourselves with new land-based nuclear missiles, consigning the MX and Midgetman to oblivion, we would save $10 billion annually in the years ahead. That’s a lot of money, and under present circumstances a sensible idea. But while forgetting the MX and the Midgetman, we ought to remember that they barely exist. This is a hypothetical saving of a hypothetical expenditure. It gives us no cash in hand. Surely, however, there are real cash savings, in addition to such hypothetical savings, that will be available from a reduction in the Pentagon’s budget? Yes, there are – but they will be far more modest than one realizes. The villain is inflation.
Let us assume that we insist the Pentagon’s budget should remain exactly at its current level, with no adjustment for inflation. Let us further assume that we can look forward to economic growth of 3 percent a year, with inflation at 4 percent. Neither assumption seems particularly radical, and both allow more of the resources created by economic growth to be allocated to nonmilitary purposes. What’s wrong with that? Is it not a prudent and responsible reaction to the end of the cold war? Indeed, might we not think of a real (inflation-adjusted) cut in the military budget of another 3 percent, which would provide us with far more »extra » money? Many liberals in Congress have exactly such thoughts.
Well, we had better not think too seriously along any such lines, because the interaction of these »modest » assumptions will engender immodest results. This flows from the compounding effect of inflation, which can be devastating to anyone or anything with a static or declining income. If we take the more ambitious cut of 7 percent annually (4 percent inflation plus 3 percent cash), in 10 years we shall have a military budget, in 1990 dollars, of less than one-half the present size.
Even with fixing that budget at its current level, and with no further cuts, a decade from now it will be about 33 percent smaller (in 1990 dollars) than is the case today. We are talking about a truly radical shrinkage in our military establishment.
One does not wish to exaggerate. After any combination of these projected paths for the military budget, we shall still have a military establishment that will be more than negligible. It will probably be slightly superior to Japan’s, though perhaps not quite a match for Syria’s tanks and air power. It ought to be sufficient to deter a hostile power from invading our territory. Our military condition would be comparable to Sweden’s today.
Will we tolerate such a diminution of our position as a world power? Are we willing to relinquish the possibility of intervening anywhere, ever, to help shape a world order in flux? Will we count on our nursing homes and day care centers, rather than our Navy, Air Force and Marines, to deter foreign nations from taking actions offensive and hostile to us? Are we content to become a larger Sweden, existing comfortably, if a bit precariously, on the margin of world affairs?
I don’t believe it. Such a prospect goes too profoundly against the grain. Even Congress, which would dearly love to spend every penny of that dividend – if it existed – is likely to find such a future intolerable.
So we shall discover, after the dust has cleared, that there is a consensus in the vicinity of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s proposal to increase the defense budget, but only by a couple of percentage points below the inflation rate. If we have decent growth, we’ll end up with a small cash dividend next year, maybe $6 billion to $8 billion. If we have a period of slow growth, the dividend will not materialize. Meanwhile, our military establishment will experience a moderate (though real) decline – one that does not disarm us precipitously.
The odd thing is that since 1985 the military budget has been experiencing, under Congressional pressure, almost exactly the nominal increase and real cut Secretary Cheney proposes.
So where has the »peace dividend » gone? In part, it has been spent on social programs, and in part it has been used to keep the budget deficit from getting even larger than it is. All in all, it has been virtually invisible. It would take at least a decade for this »peace dividend » simply to pay for the bailout of the savings and loan industry.
Discussion of the »peace dividend » is a distraction from the main debate taking place in Washington: To what degree should the fruits of economic growth, represented by increased Government revenues, be spent on social programs as against reducing the budget deficit? Conservatives will say that reducing the deficit must take priority. Liberals may not deny the importance of reducing the deficit but will demand a tax increase to cope with our social problems and social needs.
That is the real debate. As it proceeds, you will not hear serious people in Congress or the executive branch chattering about a »peace dividend, » which has already been swallowed up by the deficit and mandated outlays on the environment, the drug war, medical services to the elderly and other popular programs.
Irving Kristol was publisher of The National Interest and co-editor of The Public Interest, quarterly journals.
Irving Kristol, Godfather of Conservatism, Dies
The New York Times
September 19, 2009
Irving Kristol, the political commentator who, as much as anyone, defined modern conservatism and helped revitalize the Republican Party in the late 1960s and early ’70s, setting the stage for the Reagan presidency and years of conservative dominance, died Friday in Arlington, Va. He was 89 and lived in Washington.
His son, William Kristol, the commentator and editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, said the cause of death was complications of lung cancer.
Mr. Kristol exerted an influence across generations, from William F. Buckley to the columnist David Brooks, through a variety of positions he held over a long career: executive vice president of Basic Books, contributor to The Wall Street Journal, professor of social thought at New York University, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
He was commonly known as the godfather of neoconservatism, even by those who were not entirely sure what the term meant. In probably his most widely quoted comment — his equivalent of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame — Mr. Kristol defined a neoconservative as a liberal who had been “mugged by reality.”
It was a description that summarized his experience in the 1960s, along with that of friends and associates like Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. New Deal Democrats all, they were social scientists who found themselves questioning many of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society ideas.
Mr. Kristol translated his concerns into a magazine. In 1965, with a $10,000 contribution from a wealthy acquaintance, he and Daniel Bell started The Public Interest. Its founding is generally considered the beginning of neoconservatism. “Something like a ‘movement’ took shape,” Mr. Kristol wrote, “with The Public Interest at (or near) the center.”
The Public Interest writers did not take issue with the ends of the Great Society so much as with the means, the “unintended consequences” of the Democrats’ good intentions. Welfare programs, they argued, were breeding a culture of dependency; affirmative action created social divisions and did damage to its supposed beneficiaries. They placed practicality ahead of ideals. “The legitimate question to ask about any program,” Mr. Kristol said, “is, ‘Will it work?’,” and the reforms of the 1960s and ’70s, he believed, were not working.
For more than six decades, beginning in 1942, when he and other recent graduates of City College founded Enquiry: A Journal of Independent Radical Thought, his life revolved around magazines. Besides The Public Interest, Mr. Kristol published, edited and wrote for journals of opinion like Commentary, Encounter, The New Leader, The Reporter and The National Interest.
All were “little magazines,” with limited circulations, but Mr. Kristol valued the quality of his readership more than the quantity. “With a circulation of a few hundred,” he once said, “you could change the world.”
Small circles and behind-the-scenes maneuverings suited him. He never sought celebrity; in fact, he was puzzled by writers who craved it. Described by the economics writer Jude Wanniski as the “hidden hand” of the conservative movement, he avoided television and other media spotlights; he was happier consulting with a congressman like Jack Kemp about the new notion of supply-side economics and then watching with satisfaction as Mr. Kemp converted President Ronald Reagan to the theory. Mr. Kristol was a man of ideas who believed in the power of ideas, an intellectual whose fiercest battles were waged against other intellectuals.
A major theme of The Public Interest under Mr. Kristol’s leadership was the limits of social policy; he and his colleagues were skeptical about the extent to which government programs could actually produce positive change.
Neoconservatism may have begun as a dispute among liberals about the nature of the welfare state, but under Mr. Kristol it became a more encompassing perspective, what he variously called a “persuasion,” an “impulse,” a “new synthesis.” Against what he saw as the “nihilistic” onslaught of the ’60s counterculture, Mr. Kristol, in the name of neoconservatism, mounted an ever more muscular defense of capitalism, bourgeois values and the aspirations of the common man that took him increasingly to the right.
For him, neoconservatism, with its emphasis on values and ideas, had become no longer a corrective to liberal overreaching but an “integral part” of conservatism and the Republican Party, a challenge to liberalism itself, which, in his revised view, was a destructive philosophy that had lost touch with ordinary people.
Neoconservatism maintained a lingering sympathy for certain aspects of Roosevelt’s New Deal, but its focus had shifted to the culture wars and to upholding traditional standards. Liberalism led to “moral anarchy,” Mr. Kristol said, arguing the point with one of his wisecracking encapsulizations: “In the United States today, the law insists that an 18-year-old girl has the right to public fornication in a pornographic movie — but only if she is paid the minimum wage.”
Mr. Kristol’s rightward drift, though it brought him new allies like Buckley and Robert Bartley, the head of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, broke up the original Public Interest family. Mr. Moynihan went on to a celebrated career as a Democratic senator from New York, and Mr. Bell gave up the coeditorship of the magazine in the early ’70s, declaring himself a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture. (He was replaced by Nathan Glazer.)
But neoconservatism turned quite literally into a family affair for Mr. Kristol. His wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, a distinguished historian of 19th-century England, wrote books and articles critical of modern permissiveness and urged a return to Victorian values. His son, William, who had been Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, became a leading spokesman for neoconservatism in his own right as a television commentator, the editor of The Weekly Standard and briefly a columnist for The New York Times. Friends referred to them as America’s first family of neoconservatism.
Mr. Kristol’s weapon of choice was the biting polemical essay of ideas, a form he mastered as part of the famed circle of writers and critics known as the New York Intellectuals, among them the ferocious literary brawlers Mary McCarthy and Dwight Macdonald. Mr. Kristol once described feeling intimidated at a cocktail party when he was seated with Ms. McCarthy on one side, Hannah Arendt on the other and Diana Trilling across from him.
He learned the hard way that he was not destined to be an author of books. In the late 1950s he spent three months researching a study of the evolution of American democracy, only to abandon the project, he said, once he realized “it was all an exercise in futility.” An attempted novel was consigned to his incinerator. “I was not a book writer,” he said.
The four volumes published under his name — “On the Democratic Idea in America” (1972), “Two Cheers for Capitalism” (1978), “Reflections of a Neoconservative” (1983) and “Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea” (1995) — are collections of previously published articles.
As an essayist, Mr. Kristol was sharp, witty, aphoristic and assertive. “Equivocation has never been Irving Kristol’s long suit,” his friend Robert H. Bork said of him. Before achieving his reputation as a writer on political and social affairs, he was a wide-ranging generalist. In the 1940s and ’50s, his subjects included Einstein, psychoanalysis, Jewish humor and the Marquis de Sade.
His erudition could burst out at unexpected moments. An attack on environmental extremists uses a quotation from Auden; a passage about American men’s obsession with golf cites T.S. Eliot. But he could be a verbal streetfighter as well. John Kenneth Galbraith, he wrote, “thinks he is an economist and, if one takes him at his word, it is easy to demonstrate that he is a bad one.” After it was revealed that Magic Johnson had tested HIV positive, Mr. Kristol wrote: “He is a foolish, reckless man who does not merit any kind of character reference.”
Mr. Kristol seemed to need enemies: the counterculture, the academic and media professionals who made up what he called the New Class, and finally liberalism in its entirety. And he certainly made enemies with his harsh words.
Yet underlying the invective was an innate skepticism, even a quality of moderation and self-mockery, which was often belied by his single-mindedness. This stalwart defender of free enterprise could manage only two cheers for capitalism. “Extremism in defense of liberty,” he declared, taking issue with Barry Goldwater, “is always a vice because extremism is but another name for fanaticism.” And the two major intellectual influences on him, he said, were Lionel Trilling, “a skeptical liberal,” and Leo Strauss, “a skeptical conservative.”
“Ever since I can remember,” he said in summing himself up, “I’ve been a neo-something: a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-liberal, a neo-conservative and, in religion, always a neo-orthodox, even while I was a neo-Trotskyist and a neo-Marxist. I’m going to end up a neo. Just neo, that’s all. Neo-dash-nothing.”
Irving William Kristol was born on Jan. 20, 1920, in Brooklyn into a family of low-income, nonobservant Jews. His father, Joseph, a middleman in the men’s clothing business, went bankrupt several times; his mother, Bessie, died of cancer when he was 16. “We were poor, but then everyone was poor, more or less,” Mr. Kristol recalled.
In the late 1930s he attended City College, the highly politicized, overwhelmingly Jewish New York institution where his indignation at the injustices of the Great Depression pushed him to the left, but not the far left. In the large, dingy school cafeteria were a number of alcoves where students could gather with like-minded colleagues. There was an athlete’s alcove, a Catholic alcove, a black alcove, an ROTC alcove. But the alcoves that later became famous were Numbers One and Two.
Alcove One held leftists of various stripes; Alcove Two housed the Stalinists, including a young Julius Rosenberg. The Stalinists outnumbered the anti-Stalinists by as much as 10-1, but among the anti-Stalinists were Mr. Bell as well as the future sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset and the future literary critic Irving Howe.
Mr. Howe recruited Mr. Kristol into the Trotskyists, and though Mr. Kristol’s career as a follower of the apostate Communist Leon Trotsky was brief, it lasted beyond his graduation from City College, long enough for him to meet Ms. Himmelfarb at a Trotskyist gathering in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He fell in love, and the two were married in 1942, when she was 19 and he was just short of his 22nd birthday. Besides William, they also had a daughter, Elizabeth. They, along with their mother and five grandchildren, survive him.
After marrying, Mr. Kristol followed his wife to Chicago, where she was doing graduate work and where he had what he called “my first real experience of America.” Drafted into the Army with a number of Midwesterners who were street-tough and often anti-Semitic, he found himself shedding his youthful radical optimism. “I can’t build socialism with these people,” he concluded. “They’ll probably take it over and make a racket out of it.”
In his opinion, his fellow GI’s were inclined to loot, rape and murder, and only Army discipline held them in check. It was a perception about human nature that would stay with him for the rest of his life, creating a tension with his alternative view that ordinary people were to be trusted more than intellectuals to do the right thing.
After the war he and Ms. Himmelfarb spent a year in Cambridge, England, while she pursued her studies. When they returned to the United States in 1947, he took an editing job with Commentary, then a liberal anti-Communist magazine. In 1952, at the height of the McCarthy era, he wrote what he called the most controversial article of his career: “ ‘Civil Liberties,’ 1952 — A Study in Confusion.” It criticized many of those defending civil liberties against the government inquisitors, saying they failed to understand the conspiratorial danger of Communism. Though he called Senator McCarthy a “vulgar demagogue,” the article was remembered for a few lines: “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy: he, like them, is unequivocably anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing. And with some justification.”
After leaving Commentary, Mr. Kristol spent 10 months as executive director of the anti-Communist organization the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, and in 1953 he removed to England to help found Encounter magazine with the poet Stephen Spender. They made an unlikely pair: Mr. Spender, tall, artsy, sophisticated; Mr. Kristol, short, brash, still rough around the edges. Together, they made Encounter one of the foremost highbrow magazines of its time.
But another explosive controversy awaited Mr. Kristol. It was later revealed that the magazine had been receiving financial support from the C.I.A. Mr. Kristol always denied any knowledge of the connection. But he hardly appeased his critics when he added that he did not disapprove of the C.I.A.’s secret subsidies.
Back in New York at the end of 1958, Mr. Kristol worked for a year at another liberal anti-Communist magazine, The Reporter, then took a job at Basic Books, rising to executive vice president. In 1969 he left for New York University, and while teaching there he became a columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
It was during this time that Mr. Kristol became uncomfortable with liberalism, his own and others’. He supported Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in his 1968 presidential campaign against Richard M. Nixon, saying that “the prospect of electing Mr. Nixon depresses me.” But by 1970 he was dining at the Nixon White House, and in 1972 he came out in favor of Nixon’s re-election. By the mid-’70s he had registered as a Republican.
Always the neoconservative, however — aware of his liberal, even radical, roots and his distance from traditional Republicanism — he was delighted when another Democratic convert, President Ronald Reagan, expressed admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1987 he left New York University to become the John M. Olin Distinguished Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
By now Mr. Kristol was battling on several fronts. He published columns and essays attacking liberalism and the counterculture from his perches at The Wall Street Journal and The Public Interest, and in 1978 he and William E. Simon, President Nixon’s secretary of the treasury, formed the Institute for Educational Affairs to funnel corporate and foundation money to conservative causes. In 1985 he started The National Interest, a journal devoted to foreign affairs.
But Mr. Kristol wasn’t railing just against the left. He criticized America’s commercial class for upholding greed and selfishness as positive values. He saw “moral anarchy” within the business community, and he urged it to take responsibility for itself and the larger society. He encouraged businessmen to give money to political candidates and help get conservative ideas across to the public. Republicans, he said, had for half a century been “the stupid party,” with not much more on their minds than balanced budgets and opposition to the welfare state. He instructed them to support economic growth by cutting taxes and not to oppose New Deal institutions.
Above all, Mr. Kristol preached a faith in ordinary people. . “It is the self-imposed assignment of neoconservatives,” he wrote, “to explain to the American people why they are right, and to the intellectuals why they are wrong.”
Mr. Kristol saw religion and a belief in the afterlife as the foundation for the middle-class values he championed. He argued that religion provided a necessary constraint to antisocial, anarchical impulses. Without it, he said, “the world falls apart.” Yet Mr. Kristol’s own religious views were so ambiguous that some friends questioned whether he believed in God. In 1996, he told an interviewer: “I’ve always been a believer.” But, he added, “don’t ask me in what.”
“That gets too complicated,” he said. “The word ‘God’ confuses everything.”
In 2002, Mr. Kristol received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, often considered the nation’s highest civilian honor. It was another satisfying moment for a man who appears to have delighted in his life or, as Andrew Sullivan put it, “to have emerged from the womb content.”
He once said that his career had been “one instance of good luck after another.” Some called him a cheerful conservative. He did not dispute it. He had had much, he said, “to be cheerful about.”