Irving Kristol died Friday night, aged 89. He was godfather, so to speak, of neoconservatism.
The label of "neoconservative" was disparagingly given to him in 1973 by a political adversary, but he liked it and made it his own.
Here there is a subtle terminological question. The prefix "neo" was supposed to distinguish him from those who defined themselves "conservative" by a staunch ideological defense of the free market as capable of self regulation, in opposition to "liberals" who thought necessary a more or less strong State intervention to regulate it.
I'd like to advert the American reader of a peculiar difference between the Italian and the English use of the word liberal: "liberali" were in fact called in Italy those who in the States are called "conservative" in the ideological sense I just signaled. Keeping this in mind, that between conservatives and liberals there is a dispute internal to liberalism, that ideologically doesn't go beyond the temporal range of the Nineteenth and the Twentieth century.
Both appear to grant, as a matter of fact, the primacy of the economy.
Not so Kristol: more than the economy, he stressed the importance of culture and tradition. He was in this a true conservative, in the meaning of the word that I like, i.e. of one who wants to keep what is worth keeping. But he was also a true liberal, if we give to the word the meaning that it has when we speak of a "liberal (i.e. non servile) education".
In any case, neoconservatism culturally permeated American politics, so that even its adversaries took from it. Such is the case of President Obama. We can well say that if he hadn't adopted some neocon themes, he would have never been elected.