BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Irving Kristol, author of "The Autobiography of an Idea: Neo-Conservatism," when was the first time you ever heard that word uttered?
Mr. IRVING KRISTOL (Author, "Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea"): It must have been sometime in the mid-1970s. It was not my term. I did not invent it. I believe it was invented by someone who was criticizing me and thought that that was a term of opprobrium. I decided that it was a pretty good description of, in fact, what I was thinking and feeling, so I ran with it.
LAMB: What does it mean?
Mr. KRISTOL: What it means is that--it refers to a constellation of opinions and views that is not traditionally conservative but is conservative and is certainly not liberal. And since I and others who have been called neo-conservatives move from being liberals to being a kind of conservative, then neo-conservatism seemed like a pretty good term.
LAMB: I did some calculations on the 41 different essays you have in the book as to what year they were written. I don't know if you've done this.
Mr. KRISTOL: No.
LAMB: Forty-one pieces, and they were written from the 1940s to the 1990s. The most were written in the '70s--18 of the 41. Why would you guess that the ones you chose for this book were written in the '70s?
Mr. KRISTOL: I think it's because things, particularly intellectual, political things, intellectual and political ideas, were more in flux in the 1970s than either before or after. I mean, that was the decade of transition, so far as I was concerned. Now in 1968, I still voted for Hubert Humphrey, but by the nine--by 1974, I realized I was going to become a Republican, and by that time the term neo-conservatism had been invented, and I decided I was also a neo-conservative.
LAMB: A couple of other numbers here: Only two come from the '80s, and then 12 come from the '90s. Why that big jump?
Mr. KRISTOL: I'm sure that's just an accident. I mean, there are many essays I've written that are not in this book, more journalistic essays, more timely essays I did not bother to include. And I think I wrote a lot of such essays on economics, for instance. Even though I'm not an economist, I was sufficiently well-versed, I do think, to write on economics. But I did not include most of those or strictly political analyses of particular elections. So I would think that's why it's so, but, frankly, I don't remember all the essays I wrote in the 1970s.
LAMB: At one point in one of the essays, you admit to working for the CIA.
Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah.
LAMB: What's that about?
Mr. KRISTOL: Oh, back in the 1950s, I was in London, co-editing Encounter magazine with Stephen Spender, and I left in 19--the end of 1958. Stephen and I founded the magazine in early '53. I left at the end of '58. And then I guess it was in the mid-'60s or thereabouts that it was revealed that, in fact, we thought we were being subsidized by an American foundation called the Fairfield Foundation, and, in fact, that was a front for the CIA, and it was CIA money, and...
LAMB: How'd you find out?
Mr. KRISTOL: It was made public in the press. I don't know how they found out. Somebody leaked, obviously. But I didn't inquire and I didn't care, really.
LAMB: What was your reaction at the time?
Mr. KRISTOL: I was annoyed. I didn't want to work for the CIA. If I had known there was CIA money involved, I would not have taken that particular job.
LAMB: Why would they want to fund the Encounter magazine?
Mr. KRISTOL: Now that's why an--there were rumors that there was some government money behind it, but the question occurred to me that just occurred to you: Why on Earth would they want to fund a magazine that Stephen Spender and I were editing and which--whose general political outlook was liberal, not at all conservative? This was, after all, in the Eisenhower years. Mr. Dulles, I believe, was then head of the CIA. It didn't make any sense to me.
But it turned out, in fact, there was a liberal group within the CIA that thought it very important to have an intellectual magazine in Europe and, indeed, worldwide. We were an English language magazine and, in the end, pretty much a British magazine, but the idea was that we were supposed to be more cosmopolitan than that. And they decided to support the magazine, and once they started supporting it, it was a very successful magazine. They became very proud of it and didn't let it go until they had to.
LAMB: The first 39 pages of this book are--you say are fresh, brand-new, no one's ever read them before. What are they about? Why did you...
Mr. KRISTOL: It's an autobiographical memoir about my own personal intellectual development, and I didn't want to pre-publish it. Some of it is quite personal. Some of it--well, let me put it this way. This is a book in which all the other essays have previously been published. This essay I wanted to be fresh. It's in some ways the most important essay, from my point of view, that I ever wrote since it's about me, and I wanted that fresh in the book.
LAMB: You start off in the very beginning and you say that--get past the preface here to that--you say that you've been a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-socialist, a neo-liberal and finally a neo-conservative.
Mr. KRISTOL: That pretty much traces the trajectomy of-trajectory of my political beliefs. I--I've never been comfortable with any of those doctrines because I always saw problems inherent in those doctrines. I even see problems inherent in conservatism today. I think anyone who has studied the history of political thought would be bound to see problems with conservatism today, which is why I still call myself a neo-conservative, though in truth, those who would 10 years ago have been called neo-conservatives these days simply call themselves conservatives. The conservative movement has expanded to include us.
LAMB: What's a neo-Marxist?
Mr. KRISTOL: It's a Marxist who never accepted the full doctrine of Marxism and who had some severe doubts about some of the important doctrines of Marxism, as I always did from the beginning.
LAMB: What's a neo--is it--is it Trotskyite or Trotskyist?
Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah. Well, it's the same thing as a neo-Marxist, except that I did not want ever to be a Stalinist. I was always critical of Stalinist Russia. On the other hand, I found myself, when I was a young socialist, more and more critical of the teachings of Leon Trotsky, more and more skeptical of them. So I was a neo.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Mr. KRISTOL: In Brooklyn.
LAMB: What kind of family did you have?
Mr. KRISTOL: A very stable, traditional family.
LAMB: Brothers and sister?
Mr. KRISTOL: I have one--I had one older sister. She's gone now. And my mother died when I was 16, and we formed a very harmonious household, nevertheless.
LAMB: What did your dad do?
Mr. KRISTOL: He was in the garment trade, boys' clothing, and sometimes business was OK and sometimes, instead of being an employer, he became an employee, depending upon circumstances.
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
Mr. KRISTOL: City College.
LAMB: What was City College like in those days?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, it was a wonderful place. It had a lot of very bright students, very much interested in politics and very much interested in ideas along with an interest in politics. And I don't--let me put it this way: The faculty, I don't think, was all that distinguished, but it didn't matter. Most of us students ended up educating each other, and we learned a lot. I learned a lot. It was--I got a very good education at City College, not all of it in the classroom.
LAMB: You talk about the different alcoves where people sat.
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes.
LAMB: Which one were you in?
Mr. KRISTOL: Alcove one, which was the anti-Communist or anti-Stalinist alcove, where socialists of various kinds and some liberals would congregate and argue and exchange ideas, and it was a very nice alcove. It was my second home.
LAMB: Was that in the cafeteria?
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes. All the alcoves were--when--were in an arc around the cafeteria.
LAMB: Anybody in that alcove that we would know? Any names we would recognize?
Mr. KRISTOL: Oh, yes, some of them anyhow: Daniel Bell, Melvin Lasky, Philip Selznick, now professor emeritus of sociology at Berkeley; Seymour Martin Lipset, also had been a professor for many years at Berkeley. A lot of people who became fairly well-known academics were in that--Irving Howe was in that alcove, became a well-known literary critic. So in terms of subsequent careers, the alcove produced quite a lot of people of some distinction.
LAMB: Who was in alcove two?
Mr. KRISTOL: The Communists; that is to say, the Stalinists, the people who were apologetic for the Soviet Union. And they did not produce, I think, as many distinguished people as we did, because they didn't have the kind of intellectual stimulation that we had.
LAMB: Who were some of the people that were in alcove two?
Mr. KRISTOL: I honestly don't recall. They meant nothing to me.
LAMB: Did alcove one or alcove two ever meet?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, alcove two was forbidden to even argue with us. I mean, that was the way the Communist organization worked. Young Communists dominated alcove two, and they felt bad having conversations or even disputes with Trotskyists or socialists or any sort of non-Communist, left-wing person.
LAMB: Who is Sydney Hook?
Mr. KRISTOL: Sydney Hook was a professor at--of philosophy at New York University and a very distinguished professor of philosophy, who was a peculiar kind of Marxist; that is to say, he rejected about half of what I would call Marxism, but nevertheless retained some elements of it. He was a wonderful educator and a great writer, and I learned a lot from his writings. I was never technically a student of his, though I became a very good friend of his, subsequently, and I learned a lot from his writings.
LAMB: Lionel Trilling.
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, Lionel Trilling was a professor of literature at Columbia and a man whose writings I much admired when I read them in Partisan Review back in--when I was in alcove one. Alcove one was a very intellectual alcove. We read Partisan Review. We were all interested in modern literature, modern poetry, as well as modern politics, and I admired him a great deal. Subsequently, b--when I became an editor of Commentary, I met Lionel Trilling, and we became good friends.
LAMB: What was Commentary?
Mr. KRISTOL: Commentary was founded in 1945. It was published by the American Jewish community--American Jewish Committee, and it aimed at reaching both a Jewish and non-Jewish audience. It was a--we would now call a somewhat highbrow magazine, and it published a lot of the intellectuals from Partisan Review. It published a lot of non-Jews, of course, and I was an editor there for five years.
LAMB: I want to make a connection for the audience that may not follow these things in detail. From a BOOKNOTES in April, let's watch this and get your reaction to it.
(Excerpt from April, 1995, BOOKNOTES)
LAMB: How did you and Irving Kristol originally hook up?
Ms. GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB (Author, "The De-Moralization of Society"): That's a rather peculiar story. It goes back to our youth. I was very young--I think I was 18 when--when we met, and I think he was probably all of 20 or something like that. And we were both Trotskyists. We were both very m--you're surprised at that. We were very much involved in the radical movement. And we met at a Trotskyist meeting, and we were married a year later.
Ms. HIMMELFARB: And that's our--in--in New York, in Brooklyn. It was actually in Brooklyn.
LAMB: Now what were--what were those meetings all about?
Ms. HIMMELFARB: Well, they were rather f--they were rather-rather ludicrous from any point of view, and even at the time, I think we thought that they were rather--rather odd, rather bizarre. Well, there we were, young, very militant socialists who thought we were going to reform the world. I forget what we--the Young People's Socialist League Fourth International, I think, was the grand name that was given to this little group, and we were going to convert this little group of--of--we, this--this handful of people, were going to convert the masses to socialism, I suppose, was the idea. So that--that--that's--that was the--the ostensible background of all of this.
(End of excerpt)
LAMB: Your wife.
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes. Well, one of the reasons I have always looked back with some good feelings toward my ra--rather brief period as a Trotskyist is I met my wife there. I was, in fact, 20, and she was 18. We were married a year later and have been married now for 53 years, so that--that successful marriage came out of the Trotskyist movement. Also I met many of my lifelong friends there, and also I got a very good, intensive, early education in Marxism and Leninism, which carried me right through the Cold War. I really didn't have to do any studying in Marxism and Leninism after I had left the Trotskyists.
LAMB: Who is Leo Strauss?
Mr. KRISTOL: Now, Leo Strauss was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago. I got to know him much later--oh, I guess it would have been in the late 1940s. He was a teacher of some friends of mine who said, `You must read this man and learn from him,' which I began and did. I then met him. He's called Mr. Strauss. To this day, the students of his students call-refer to him as Mr. Strauss. No one ever first-named Professor Strauss. And never `Professor Strauss,' only `Mr. Strauss.'
He was a very impressive teacher who--whose basic idea was you want to study politics, study Plato and Aristotle, and then try to understand modernity and modern politics in the light of their ideas. And it's a very fruitful way of looking at modernity. And he has produced dozens and dozens of first-rate students, whose students have now produced first-rate students, who are now into the fourth generation, as it were, of so-called Straussians.
LAMB: Back in those days, did you seek out this kind of training, or did you happen on it?
Mr. KRISTOL: Both. You know, I was a young intellectual. I mean, it was in the pre-TV er--era. I was a bookworm, had been a bookworm. I was very interested in ideas. The so-called deeper the idea, the more interesting I found it. I had never really studied Plato and Aristotle, but when I began to read Leo Strauss, I did begin to study them on my own. This was after I was out of college. And it seemed to me that he was on to something very important; that they knew things about us that we did not know about them; that in some ways they understood us rather better than we understood them. And so I became very--oh, I wouldn't say reverential, but certainly very-very respectful of classical political thinking, namely pre-modern political thinking, and I read a lot in that field.
LAMB: Of those early writers, who would be your favorite? Who would--who's--what's the one book you would read for the basis of thought that's brought you through these years?
Mr. KRISTOL: I think it would be Aristotle's "Politics" or his "Ethics." Hard choice. I--it would be Aristotle, not Plato.
LAMB: Did he preach in his writing?
Mr. KRISTOL: No, no. For--but he--he didn't even write, so far as I know. He--he talked, and people wrote it down. He may have written. But did he preach? He had disciples, he had students. They used to walk around, and he would talk to them.
LAMB: What was his theme?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, his theme was: What is the purpose of life? Nothing less. And the purpose of life is to lead a fully human life, and a fully human life is determined not by some ca--capricious idea, but by nature, what nature intends us to live; that we are a species with a destiny, special destiny, and to realize our full humanity, we had to first live in society and then we had to think about the implications of everything we knew.
LAMB: You say in the introduction that `reading theology is one of my favorite relaxations.'
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes. Well, it is a way of being introduced to and getting acquainted with very deep and large ideas, and I like those deep and large ideas. I'm no theologian, though I've written about religion, but I find them stimulating. I--I like being stimulated by those very large ideas, about the meaning of life and whether there is God and what is God, if there is God, and what is the relation of organized religion to morality. All of those questions tantalize me.
LAMB: Jumping from your alcove one and that group way beyond to just a few years ago, you write about, at the American Enterprise Institute, having lunches every day with Robert Bork and Nino Scalia and Laurence Silberman and then Jude Wanniski. What was that all about?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, I was--I had taken a leave of absence from my teaching at NYU, a sabbatical, to learn economics. I felt at that point, economics was becoming important. Up until that point, I assumed that lor--John Maynard Keynes had said everything there was to say about economics. But once we got stagnation and inflation at the same time, it was quite clear that someone had to revise economics. And although I knew I couldn't do it myself, I--at least I wanted to understand what was going on.
So I took the year off, and I came to Washington at the American Enterprise Institute, and Mr. Ford had just lost the election, so that Laurence Silberman and Bob Bork and Nino Scalia all came out of government. And before going on to their other careers as judges or as professors, they spent something like six months at the American Enterprise Institute. And we had no cafeteria then, we had no lunchroom, so we--the four of us brown-bagged it every day and just talked. Then Jude Wanniski came down on a fellowship--he was writing his book then--and he started talking to us about supply-side economics, which was very interesting and about which we knew nothing, and those were a very stimulating peri--that was a very stimulating period for all of us.
At our luncheons, we never talked about law, about which, of course, I knew very little. We talked mainly about religion and economics, religion being my subject and economics being Jude Wanniski's subject. And everyone was interested, and we became very good friends and have been very good friends, all of us, since then.
LAMB: Did you ever talk about some of the things we've just talked about in--in the s--like Aristotle and Plato and whether...
Mr. KRISTOL: Oh, sure.
LAMB: Of those three men, like Judge Silberman at the Appeals Court here or Justice Scalia at the Supreme Court or Robert Bork, the former Appeals Court judge--did they read all the same kind of things that you read?
Mr. KRISTOL: I think some of them were moved to. Yeah, some of them probably had already. I don't know. But they were interested. I mean, these are not just lawyers, these are not just legal thinkers. All of these people are what we would call intellectuals, namely have a very broad interest in ideas. And the thing they liked about being at AEI is they were able to indulge that interest in ideas.
LAMB: Do you have to be--I don't know how to ask this--do you have to be smart to be an intellectual?
Mr. KRISTOL: It helps.
LAMB: And when I say smart, do you know what that means? Is there a cut-off point at that IQ level?
Mr. KRISTOL: No. No. It means you have to be able to cope with abstract ideas comfortably--or uncomfortably sometimes, but that's all right too, wrestling with them. But, I mean, there are a lot of people, I suppose most people are--can get along very well without coping with abstract ideas, and that's OK, too. But, yes, I think you have to be pretty smart to be an intellectual.
LAMB: You mentioned reading about theology. Where do you come out in your--I think you wrote in here you're 75, right?
Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in your 75th year about God?
Mr. KRISTOL: Oh, I've never had a problem with God, never. Even when I was a young Trotskyist, I never had a problem with God. I mean, the so-called existence of God was never a problem for me. I mean, I--however you define God--and that is a serious theological matter, what you mean when you use the word `God' is a serious theological matter. But I had no doubt, ever since I read the opening of the Bible, that, yes, there is such a thing as original sin, and we all live with it. And if you want to understand the human condition, reading the f--opening of the Bible is as good a place as any, the best I think. And so that part of religion has simply never been a problem for me.
LAMB: The last several essays in your book, of the 41, is about Judaism or about being a Jew.
Mr. KRISTOL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Where are you? Are you a practicing Jew?
Mr. KRISTOL: Sort of. That is, I'm a member of a Jewish congregation, and I go to synagogue on the high holidays. I attend bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. I do not observe Jewish law because I never did. I think if I had it to do over again, I would be more observant. But I don't have it to do over again, and I'm not going to completely change my life now. That's rather silly, I think. But being Jewish has never been a problem for me.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, I--I--you know, I...
LAMB: What is being Jewish? I mean, what i--what's the culture?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, it's not a question of culture. It's a question of identity. I always knew I was Jewish. I never thought of not being Jewish. I was always very pleased to be Jewish. After all, not everyone is a member of the chosen people, and so I just went along. Even when I was not all that observant--I still am not all that observant--being Jewish just came naturally to me.
LAMB: Another thing that I counted up in the book was mentions in the book about different people. This is not scientific, and I actually checked the index, counted them up--but I thought it was interesting on presidents, how many times presidents were mentioned, and I don't--I don't even know if you know this or not.
Mr. KRISTOL: No.
LAMB: The president mentioned the most was Ronald Reagan. He's mentioned on 11 different pages. By the way, John Kennedy, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter are not mentioned at all. Talk about that.
Mr. KRISTOL: I admired John F. Kennedy and voted for him, but the importance of Ronald Reagan for someone like myself, a neo-conservative, is that he brought neo-conservatism into the conservative spectrum.
Ronald Reagan was he first Republican president to praise Franklin D. Roosevelt. Newt Gingrich has since followed him in that. Now this was a breakthrough. It meant that the Republican Party, unlike, say, the Goldwater Republican Party of 1964, was no longer fighting against the New Deal; that it was possible to think of reforming many of the institutions bequeathed to us by the New Deal, but that the issue of the New Deal was behind us. And acceptance of the New Deal in principle, if not in all of its details, was one of the basic differences between neo-conservatives and traditional Republican conservatives, who were still fighting against the New Deal.
But once Ronald Reagan began praising Franklin D. Roosevelt as a kind of predecessor, and as I say, Newt Gingrich does exactly the same thing now--the Republican Party has changed. Not everyone in the Republican Party has changed, but it is an important fact that these two leaders of--who helped define the modern Republican Party spoke so well of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
LAMB: Any idea of why you wouldn't write much about John F. Kennedy or Jimmy Carter?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, Jimmy Carter didn't exist for me. It's as simple as that. John F. Kennedy I admired; as I say, I voted for him. I thought he had the potential to be a great president, and then, of course, he was assassinated. I was somewhat disillusioned by the time he was assassinated. But why didn't I write about John F. Kennedy? Maybe I did at some point. I don't know. I think what happened is that he was out of the picture, as he had been gone, before I started writing steadily on current affairs, which really began in the late '60s, early '70s.
LAMB: Today do you still have a relationship with The Wall Street Journal?
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes, I still write occasionally on their op-ed page, a short essay. I used to write much more frequently. It--I think age is beginning to show, and also I don't want to keep repeating myself, so I don't write unless I feel I have something to say. But, yes, I'm still happy to have this wonderful relationship with The Wall Street Journal.
LAMB: Go back and trace, as you do in the book, all the connecting points with the National Review and The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Bob Bartley and you and on and on and how you get to where you are today.
Mr. KRISTOL: A lot of connections. I never had much of a connection with National Review. I--I think I've written for it once, but I became more and more friendly with Bill Buckley in the course of the late '60s and 1970s. So now...
LAMB: Where--where were you in the '60s? Where'd you live?
Mr. KRISTOL: I was--before go---getting a teaching position at NYU, I was executive vice president of the publishing house Basic Books, then a very small publishing house. It has, by now, grown. And I was in the book publishing business. But I was, at the same time, writing. And in 1965 I had started, along with Dan Bell, this quarterly magazine of ours, The Public Interest, which is just celebrating its 30th anniversary. Where were we?
LAMB: Well, we wanted to go from there--we were talking through the National Review. As a matter of fact, you say in the--in the early days that the National Review and you didn't agree.
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes, I wrote about the National Review in rather critical terms. It was not my kind of conservative s--view. It-it was really old-fashioned Republican conservatism--Herbert Hoover conservatism, you might say, or Calvin Coolidge conservatism. Neither of those two presidents have ever been icons of mine. So I was aloof from them.
Now in the case of The Wall Street Journal, it w--that was, to some degree, just happenstance. Bob Bartley read The Public Interest after it was founded in 1965 and, apparently, he got very interested in it sufficiently to write a piece for The Journal, which--whose title I well remember, as you can understand why. It was: Irving Kristol and Friends.
LAMB: And Bob Bartley is today the editorial page...
Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah, Bob Bartley was then...
Mr. KRISTOL: ...in the Washington office, a reporter for The Journal. He then became editor of the editorial page. Today he's editor of The Wall Street Journal. In those days, he--once he became editor of the editorial page, he asked me to write regularly for them, which, of course, I was happy to do. And that began a relationship which has lasted--and a friendship which has lasted to this day. What other connection are you interested in?
LAMB: Well, I--I could jump to the fact that your son now has a new publication. And when I ask you that...
Mr. KRISTOL: Right.
LAMB: ...called The Weekly Standard.
Mr. KRISTOL: I'm sure it's going to be an excellent publication.
LAMB: But in--in the middle of all this, you've r--more than once referred to the--ideas matter. And I guess that's what I'm getting at is: How do ideas move in the society and--and your public-interest publication went to The Wall Street Journal, you know, and now this is--new publication. Is your--what would--how would you assess your son's position at this point with that publication? How does that relate to the discussion going on in town?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, my son's magazine is going to be a conservative magazine, independent conservative, and I--whether it could be called neo-conservative by now almost doesn't matter. But ideas do matter, and my son, I guess, learned that in our household, since both his mother and father believe that, always. We have always believed that. That we learned from the left, by the way. I mean, the left has always understood that ideas matter, since--if you look at the Russian Revolution, it was created by a small handful of people with ideas, as was, in fact, the French Revolution.
Ideas do matter. The right has rarely understood that, the right being more interested in--in pragmatic affairs: business and government and--as an administrative organism. And one of the things I think neo-conservatism has contributed to contemporary conservatism is a strong belief and a strong acknowledgement that ideas do matter. Newt Gingrich believes that ideas matter. And I think the presidencies of Reagan and the current control of Congress show that ideas, in fact, do matter.
LAMB: Where is the--i--in the society today, where's the influence? Where do you see the--the power of ideas coming from today?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, they clearly are not coming from liberalism, which is in terrible trouble intellectually. I mean, I can point out how much trouble it is simply by asking you to name me the leading liberal columnist of the day. The best and most well-known columnists are conservative or neo-conservative: George Will, Charles Krauthammer and others.
Ideas are coming from the left. The left is an--the left is an idea-generating organism, but they are very peculiar ideas, very seditious, which is obviously what the left always wants, but half the time not quite comprehensible. The left has become so academic in our days, so irrelevant in one sense, except in the educational system, where it is very relevant, but it no longer is populist as it once was. The right has become populist; that is, conservatism has become populist aiming to speak to ordinary people. And I think the most interesting ideas today--and I don't know anyone who really disagrees with this--come from the various conservative think tanks, plus some individual conservative scholars in the universities.
LAMB: You say in the book that your wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, is a Anglophile and you're a Francophile.
Mr. KRISTOL: I've become something of a Anglophile since then.
LAMB: What is--what do either one of those mean?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, an Anglophile is someone who thinks Britain is an especially admirable country to be studied and learn from. The Francophobe--Francophile believes that about France. As it happened, by sheer accident, I spent my last year in the Army after the war in Marseille, and so I got relatively steeped in French literature and French thought, and so I was more of a Francophile than an Anglophile. My wife did her PhD thesis on the great British historian Lord Acton, so she became an Anglophile. But by now, the two have merged, as a result of 53 years of marriage. Both phileas are now one.
LAMB: You write about historians. What do you think of historians today?
Mr. KRISTOL: Historians today?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, there are some very good historians today, but of course historians today in this country, as in o--other Western countries, have been influenced by what is called post-modernism; that is to say, relativism of an extreme kind, plus all sorts of other ideas as to what the function of a historian is. So I think, like many of the academic disciplines in the humanities, history is in a state of crisis, and historians are muddling around in this state of crisis.
LAMB: You say that no one's ever written a book about the Federalist papers?
Mr. KRISTOL: That--at the time that I wrote...
LAMB: It was 1970 or something like that.
Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah--no one had ever written a book about the Federalist papers.
LAMB: Has that changed?
Mr. KRISTOL: You know, I'm not sure. One Swiss scholar wrote a book about the Federalist papers. I think--I haven't followed it that closely. I think there may be a--a few books.
LAMB: What--what was...
Mr. KRISTOL: But, you know, it's interesting the way it's ignored. I mean, it's almost impossible, if you're a political science major at any university, to take a course in the Federalist papers--or in law school school, for that matter. You'd think law school would be interested in finding out what the Founders really thought. But, no, there are no courses in the Federalist papers, or at least not many, either in law schools or in political science departments.
LAMB: Why do you think--let--what's--how important were the Federalist papers?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, I think if you want to understand the political philosophy of the Founders, they're very important. I mean, what else do you have to go by? You have to go by the arguments that they proposed for the ratification of the Constitution. I mean, this was their explanation of why the Constitution should be adopted. You have the debates of the Constitutional Convention, plus the Federalist papers, plus, I guess, the ratification proceedings in the various states.
But the Federalist papers are so brilliantly written, largely by Madison, some by Jay, and are full of so much political wisdom that I really feel that as part of a--an education in American politics, students should be required to read a lot of the Federalist papers, not just one or two, which is what often happens today.
LAMB: In a lot of these books that we do, there's a thread that comes through them. You may have started the thread, but the thread are things like Hayek and Milton Friedman and a Frenchman named Tocqueville and almost--and you write about the fact that you wanted to do a follow-up to the Tocqueville "Democracy in America" book. What--what would--what's your connection to Tocqueville?
Mr. KRISTOL: I read him. My connection with Tocqueville--I didn't know Tocqueville until around I guess it was the 1950s or late '40s, something like that, when "Democracy in America" was reissued. It had--was out of print, and I read it and I said, `This is an absolutely wonderful and profound book.' It's still probably the best book ever written on Amer--on American democracy. And when I left--when I left The Reporter magazine at--in 1960, I decided I was going to write a book on democracy, and I tried. And I collected a lot of notes, and I spent three months on it, working very dilgently--diligently, and I realized it was beyond me; that I just didn't--I had a lot of ideas. They didn't cohere and wouldn't cohere into a book. So I decided to become a professor instead. But, yes, Tocqueville was a great and profound thinker.
LAMB: You say that no one ever calls himself a Tocquevillian.
Mr. KRISTOL: No, but, of course, look, I mean, he--he did not found a school, and for many decades in the United States he was ignored--many. As I say, when I was in City College, no one read de Tocqueville. Hardly anyone had ever heard of him.
LAMB: I--I don't know whether you can do this, but you--when you read a book like yours, and it's--as I--again, it's got 41 essays--you get a sense that there's these different strata in the United States, and there's a strata up here that pays attention to Hayek and Tocqueville and all these names, and then it comes down to a next level, goes all the way down to the average person. Wh--h--what do you think of people that are just--the common person that never gets into this? How much of this influences them, and where--and how does it come through the system?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, it'll influence them obliquely and indirectly. Look, those people are my family, goodness. I mean, I've no problem with ordinary non-intellectual people. I have 34 first cousins, and so far as I know, I was the only intellectual in the family. But I love them all. They're fine people.
But the ideas filter down through the educational system, through the media, through a few politicians who are always hungry for ideas by which to distinguish themselves from the crowd of other politicians. And before you know it, an idea has gained some momentum, and there it is on the agenda. A lot of it is accident. You never know how and where and when ideas are going to impinge on reality.
Ronald Reagan was persuaded to adopt supply-side economics by Jack Kemp, who got it from Wanniski and, to some degree, from myself. And he had a Council of Economic Advisers during his campaign. Of the 12 members of that council, one was in favor of supply-side economics. All the other very distinguished economists were originally against it. But Jack Kemp persuaded Ronald Reagan this was the way to go, and in the end, they all fell into line, and that's the way ideas have impact. I mean, it's not--not quite predictable what's going to happen.
LAMB: So you're saying that somebody watching this out there, who might consider themselves a benefactor or a victim of supply-side economics, that it all started back here with you.
Mr. KRISTOL: With me? No.
LAMB: And if you go back beyond...
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, i--it started with Jude Wanniski and a--a few other people.
LAMB: But where did they get--or where do you get your base for supply-side economics?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, I got it from Jude Wanniski.
LAMB: And where did he get it?
Mr. KRISTOL: He got it from a couple of economists, one out in California, one that--down at Columbia, who were rather unorthodox economists.
LAMB: Where did they get it?
Mr. KRISTOL: They invented it.
LAMB: Just dreamed it up.
Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah. They invented it. I mean, it was an original idea with them...
LAMB: You can't go back...
Mr. KRISTOL: ...in some version or another.
LAMB: You can't go back to Aristotle or Plato or Montesquieu...
Mr. KRISTOL: No, no.
LAMB: ...or somebody for this thing?
Mr. KRISTOL: No, no. There is original invention in the--in the history of ideas. People do have original ideas sometimes.
LAMB: You defend the critics. Your--the people that--you defend yourself, basically, here on supply-side economics, saying--you tell us why. I mean, the people that criticize the Ronald Reagan era for bankrupting the country.
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, it--it really is not fair. He proposed to cut tax rates. The Democrats in Congress panicked and said, `We can't let them get away with this,' so they doubled him. They made the increase in cuts far more extensive than he had asked for, and it was very difficult for him to veto it, after all. And then the Democrats in Congress proceeded, over the next eight to 10 years, to spend far more money than economic growth, in all rationality, would have persuaded them to spend.
They--I think, really, they were quite deli--deliberate in their irresponsibility, and they kept inventing programs, giving them as entitlements, regardless of the financial consequences. And they had managed to persuade a lot of people in the media it was Ronald Reagan who is responsible for the increase in the deficit. He's not. He tried to veto many of those bills. He could not because the Democrats controlled Congress, and so he was forced, willy-nilly, if you're going to have a budget at all--and Mr. Clinton is going to discover this--you just have to go along, in the end, with Congress. And he did not bankrupt the country. He did--he tried to control spending. He was just in too weak a position to do so.
LAMB: So you just wash your hands of any of the problems today that were brought about by supply-side economics.
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, the problems ex--they weren't brought about by supply-side economics. They were brought about, I would say, by irresponsible congressional expenditures. But it doesn't matter. The problems are real. I mean, they're with us. I mean, Medicare, Medicaid, things that originally were thought to involve the expenditure of perhaps a few billion dollars suddenly are s--going at the rate of tens of billions of dollars, which no one really anticipated, but which a thoughtful person might have-not anticipated, but say at some point, `We have to take another look and check it out.' So I will defend Ronald Reagan's economic policies. I think he's been given a raw deal by liberal publicists.
LAMB: You've got 493 total pages in your book. Out of this, what would you say that you bel--you feel the strongest about when it comes to your beliefs and--and in order of importance?
Mr. KRISTOL: I think that I feel strongest about those pages-and there aren't that many--which deal with my personal feelings and my personal beliefs about being a father, being a husband. I think these came from the bottom of my spiritual depths, so to speak, and I have a personal relationship to those short articles that I don't have to a more philosophical article.
LAMB: Where do you write? Where?
Mr. KRISTOL: On my lap. I write by hand, on my lap, at home.
LAMB: Have you always done it that way?
Mr. KRISTOL: Years ago I used to type, but my hands got tired, and I was never a good typist, and I found that writing by pen on a yellow pad was much more relaxing and I enjoyed writing more.
LAMB: Is there a certain time of day that you enjoy it the most?
Mr. KRISTOL: Only in the morning. I write only early in the morning. My mind is fresh then.
LAMB: And is there a way that you prepare to write? I mean, do you spend days before you're ready to sit down and...
Mr. KRISTOL: I think I brood. I meditate, yes. But sometimes I actually take notes if I'm going to write something long, but if I'm going to write a shorter piece for The Journal, say, I just brood on it for some days and then sit down and write and see what happens.
LAMB: You suggest that you wrote a piece once on Joseph McCarthy that really made people react strongly.
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes.
LAMB: What was that about?
Mr. KRISTOL: Well, it was during the McCarthy goings-on, and, of course, I was anti-McCarthy, as we all were at Commentary magazine, where I was then the managing editor. And I wrote this piece attacking a lot of the Communist fellow travelers, who were being either fairly or unfairly attacked by Senator McCarthy. Some of them were being fairly attacked, I do believe. And I s--explained why McCarthy was so popular, whereas the liberal intellectuals were having so much trouble. And I wrote one sentence which did the trick.
The sentence was to the effect that the one thing American people know about Senator McCarthy is that he's an anti-Communist. They don't know this about the liberal intellectuals, with some good reason, because so many of the liberal intellectuals were fellow travelers at the time. And for some reason, that got me into disfavor with a lot of people, both for calling McCarthy an anti-Communist--they said he wasn't sincerely an anti-Communist. Well, I don't know that he was sincere about anything, but that's not the issue. He was certainly perceived to be a sincere anti-communist. And, of course, a lot of the intellectuals thought I was being unfair to liberal intellectuals.
On the whole, I don't think I was. I mean, I wasn't attacking all liberal intellectuals. The particular article attacked those-I recall three who were demonstrably very foolish about Soviet communism, had very naive and childish ideas about what kind of system it was and what potential threat it was to us, and this exposed liberals in general to a lot of ridicule and considerable scorn.
LAMB: Ag--again, there's one individual that leads the way in your book, who is mentioned the most often. Do you have any idea who that might be?
Mr. KRISTOL: No.
LAMB: Karl Marx. Why would you so often mention Karl Marx? What would be the reason? What's the--what role has he played in our-our lifetime?
Mr. KRISTOL: Huh. Well, of course, Karl Marx founded the doctrine that established the Soviet regime, and, in a sense, the whole-the whole Cold War was a testimony to the power--testament to the power of Karl Marx's ideas. You ask of the influence of ideas. I mean, just imagine a great power, a totalitarian system, threatening the rest of the world all based on Karl Marx's ideas, as interpreted by Lenin, as it happens, but nevertheless his ideas. And Lenin did not distort his ideas, just carried them along to what seemed to be their logical conclusions.
Now since so many of these essays were written during the Cold War period, I guess that's why I mention Marx, though Marx was a very shrewd thinker, a very shrewd political tactician, infantile in his aspirations, but he was very learned. He took ideas seriously. He thought ideas had consequences, and I suppose that I may have mentioned him out of respect for a worthy opponent.
LAMB: Do--what do you think the--his li--if people 100 years from now were thinking about Irving Kristol and the life you led and pick this book up and thought about ideas that came out of your writings over the years, how would your world and your life have differed from what Karl Marx's life was back--back in the 1800s and the role of the printed word in the society?
Mr. KRISTOL: I don't know that there would be that much difference, you know. I mean, there was not much higher education--or less higher education in those days, but nevertheless the ideas generated by the intellectual classes had tremendous impact on society, as they do today. Somehow people don't think that the printed word is as important today as it was 100, 150 years ago, and a lot of people seem not to think that the printed word is going to be as important 100 years from now as compared with what it is today. I think they're both wrong.
I think the printed word is the--is the place where ideas get generated. Now television can take them over, the other media can take them over, movies can take them over, the newsmagazines can take them over. But the printed words, particularly those developed by the intellectual community, are the source of the ideas by which people define their place in the world and the destiny of their country.
LAMB: Would this book that you've written here--would you want people to pick this up in 100 years and say, `That's Irving Kristol'?
Mr. KRISTOL: Sure.
LAMB: Is it right here?
Mr. KRISTOL: I don't want them--I don't want them to confuse me with anyone else.
LAMB: No, but is this the work that you would want them most to read?
Mr. KRISTOL: Yes. Yes. For better or worse.
LAMB: You know...
Mr. KRISTOL: I'm committed to that book.
LAMB: ...since this program started, we've had over 325 authors, and I've always wondered--I mean, I always ask, `How many of these s--books do you sell?' It was interesting to hear--see you write in this book about one of your favorite people--and I'm not sure I even pronounce it right--Michael Oakeshott?
Mr. KRISTOL: Oakeshott, yes.
LAMB: ...who--you published a book of his, and it only sold 600 copies.
Mr. KRISTOL: Exactly.
LAMB: Was that a failure?
Mr. KRISTOL: Very disappointing. Y--oh, was it a failure? Yes.
LAMB: Who was he?
Mr. KRISTOL: He was a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. He succeeded Harold Laski in that chair at LSE, and he was a conservative, which created a scandal since the idea of Harold Laski being s--who was a socialist, being succeeded by a conservative upset a lot of people. He was a brilliant thinker and a brilliant writer, but a little offbeat so far as the United States was concerned. I mean, he was very English. He died only--What?--seven, eight, 10 years ago or something like that--and a very elegant writer, and some of his essays, I think, are classical.
LAMB: How many years did you teach total?
Mr. KRISTOL: Seventeen.
LAMB: You write a lot about your early teachers in here and people that you admire. What do you think makes a good teacher?
Mr. KRISTOL: Oh, there are many things that make a good teacher. One is you have to respect your students; that is to say, I mean, you have to think that what you're saying means something to them. If it doesn't mean something to them, which we would call, I guess, a failure to communicate, then you're not teaching well. I mean, there's no excuse for students not understanding what you're saying. Whatever level the students may be at, it's your job to make them understand what you're saying and, if possible in the process, stretch their minds.
I think there are an awful lot of good college teachers in this country who do exactly that, but, of course, after you've taught for a long period of time, certain routinasion--routinization sets in, and you begin to go through the motions, and you lose your energy and your inspiration, and the new faces blur with the old faces. There's something to be said for a professor retiring after 20 years.
LAMB: What made Leo Strauss such a favorite of everyone?
Mr. KRISTOL: Because he cared passionately about his ideas, and he conveyed that passion to his students. He didn't have that many students, but the passion for ideas caused his students, in turn, to really engage in the passionate study of ideas, and they, in turn, encouraged their students to engage in the passionate study of ideas. So in that sense, he was a very great teacher.
LAMB: Of all the 41 essays and the 39-page introduction that you said is the most important part of this, which other essays are you--do you think are the most important in here, the one that captures the essence of what you think? Any one in particular?
Mr. KRISTOL: You want me to look at the table of contents?
LAMB: Well, we're about running out of time. You know, you have the--the--the section on history and capitalism, the democratic idea, the section about some backward glances: Cold Warrior, Trotskyists,Cold War--any of those...
Mr. KRISTOL: Aside from the me--I think the memoir is the nicest part of the book, but--I mean, there's one little essay there on, you know, the c--which is essentially about the cultural contradictions of capitalism, which is the title of a book by--that my friend and former colleague, Daniel Bell, wrote, namely the kinds of problems that a capitalist system experiences as it moves away from an older, bourgeois ethos into a modern corporate ethos. I think that stands up well today, and it's still a big problem for American and modern capitalism in general.
LAMB: What's your prediction for the future in this country?
Mr. KRISTOL: I think the country will survive. I'm an optimist, or perhaps I should say I'm a cheerful pessimist. I refuse to be discouraged. And terrible things are going on in the world and terrible things are going on in this country, but I've lived long enough now to live through lots of terrible things, and I'm optimistic about the future of this country.
LAMB: Here's the cover of the book: "The Autobiography of an Idea: Neo-Conservatism, Selected Essays 1949-1995," and our guest has been Irving Kristol. Thank you.
Mr. KRISTOL: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1995. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.