William Kristol is a political activist and pundit. Kristol, the son of Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, was the leader of a new neoconservative generation that focused its efforts on foreign policy. As the editor of the Weekly Standard and a commentator for Fox News, Kristol was a shrewd political operative who wielded considerable influence in the Republican Party. Kristol ensured that neoconservatism, whose demise had been predicted after the Soviet Union collapsed, remained a potent intellectual and political force. Where the older generation of neoconservatives focused on writing essays and books, Kristol was the first neoconservative media star.
Kristol, who was born in New York, did not experience the political conversion of his elders from liberalism to neoconservatism. He attended the Collegiate School for Boys in Manhattan before entering Harvard in 1970 where he studied under disciples of the German émigré philosopher Leo *Strauss, who emphasized the enduring wisdom of the ancient philosophers rather than what he viewed as facile doctrines of progress. At Harvard, Kristol drew on Strauss to denounce what he saw as left-wing relativism and passivity in the face of communist totalitarianism in Vietnam and elsewhere. Kristol went on to earn a Ph.D. in political science in 1979 at Harvard.
Upon graduation, Kristol taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, but his true love was politics. In 1972, he had organized the Harvard-Radcliffe Students for Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson's abortive run for the presidency and in 1985 he served as chief of staff to Education Secretary William J. Bennett in the Reagan administration.
Kristol first came to public prominence when he served as vice president Dan Quayle's chief of staff in the first Bush administration and became known as "Quayle's Brain." Never himself a candidate for political office, Kristol was following the Straussian precept of serving as an intellectual advisor to the prince.
Kristol solidified his political base in 1995 when he met with the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose holdings include Fox Networks, and persuaded him to fund a magazine called the Weekly Standard. The magazine did not hit its stride until it focused on foreign policy. The shift toward foreign affairs began when Kristol and prominent neoconservative Robert Kagan insisted in a controversial 1997 Foreign Affairs essay upon a return to Ronald Reagan's aggressive foreign
Though Kristol had backed Senator John McCain during the 2000 GOP primary, he supported Bush wholeheartedly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Weekly Standard became the leading neoconservative voice explicitly endorsing the creation of an American empire. In essence, Bush, who had entered office as a cautious realist who shunned nation-building, seemed to espouse this neoconservative view as he launched the war in Iraq.
Whatever the outcome of the war, Kristol's will remain a leading voice in Republican debates about domestic and foreign affairs in coming decades. More than any other neoconservative, he has succeeded in wedding ideas to actual policies and aggressively promoting them in articles and on television.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.