Saturday, September 26, 2009

Joseph Epstein on Irving Kristol

When a thinker as influential as Irving Kristol departs this life, it is remarkable. But when one of our Modern Wise Men writes about it, that is more remarkable still. Here is Joseph Epstein on Kristol:

He wrote with clarity and force, subtlety and persuasiveness, but, unlike a true writer, didn't feel the need to do it all the time. He was a splendid speaker, non-oratorical, casual, off-the-cuff division: witty, smart, commonsensical, always with a point to make, one that one hadn't considered before. I recall once hearing Irving introduced by Christopher DeMuth in a room that had a large movie screen behind the speaker's desk. "I see," said Christopher, "that Irving has brought his usual full panoply of audio-visual aids." "Yes," replied Irving, "a cigarette," which he took out of his pocket and tapped on the desk before beginning to speak.

Irving's reigning intellectual note was that of skepticism. As an intellectual, he lived by ideas, but at the same time he greatly distrusted them. All ideas for him, like saints for George Orwell, were guilty until proven innocent. "Create a concept and reality leaves the room," Ortega y Gasset wrote, and my guess is that Irving would have seconded the motion. In the realm of ideas, he preferred those that existed in the world as it is as against those that had to be imposed by elaborate argument or government fiat.

Read the rest here.

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