In the 1990s, I helped organize a weekly meeting of young writers in Washington, D.C. A guest would talk and we’d ask questions. One week, we hosted Irving Kristol. His subject was (something like) “how to become a good writer.” The first step is to read good books, he said. That was common advice. Then he pulled out a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets and urged everybody to read them in order to write with grace and concision. It was an unexpected suggestion, coming from a man usually associated with social science.
Kristol’s appreciation for literature is on display in The Neoconservative Persuasion, his brand-new posthumous collection of essays. The first one, written in 1942 under the Trotskyite pen name William Ferry, is on the poet W.H. Auden. The foreword is by his son William Kristol, who is this week’s podcast victim.
The title of the book reminds me of the title I had wanted to use for A Gift of Freedom. My plan was to call it The Freedom Persuasion, which comes from a line in a document from the early history of the John M. Olin Foundation. But nobody else seemed to like this title, so “The Freedom Persuasion” became the title of the second chapter. Peter Collier, my editor at Encounter Books, came up with A Gift of Freedom. Irving Kristol appears throughout the book and is thanked in the acknowledgments as a source.
Next week’s podcast: Ralph Peters on his new novel.