Faster, Please!

The Wonderful Irving Kristol

I have had trouble writing about the death of Irving Kristol.  He is one of those whose death is particularly hard to digest, because he was so full of life.  Blessed are those fortunate enough to have known him.

You will have read a great deal about Irving’s wisdom, of which he had a great abundance.  Not just smarts, but real wisdom, of a particularly Jewish sort, which was anchored to meaningful anecdotes.  Some of these were personal (when I wrote a book on Machiavelli he told me about a Tuscan farmhand who crossed himself when Irving asked for directions to the Machiavelli estate), others were drawn from history or from others’ experiences.  Each illuminated the point he was trying to make, or–for this too was a very important part of his wisdom–not make.  You see, Irving was one of those rare important people who was always willing to admit that he did not know the answer to some tough question.

There is a Jewish law, or perhaps regulation, called Lashon Harah, which forbids telling nasty tales about others.  It’s a very annoying restriction, especially in a place like Washington where gossip, especially “juicy” (that is, damning) gossip is the common currency.  None of us lives up to it, and I sometimes think that the only people who can possibly fulfill the law is someone who lives in a cave, or maybe in a very small town populated with saintly people.

Of all the people I have known, Irving is perhaps the only one who seemed to me to fulfill the requirements of Lashon Harah. I cannot ever remember him saying anything nasty about anyone.  Every now and then he would laugh out loud when someone’s name came up in conversation, and I suppose you might have interpreted that laughter as criticism, but there was never any sign of nastiness, let alone the intense bitterness that characterizes so much of life here.

In short, he was the nicest person I’ve ever met.  Incredible.  So yes, his ideas were important, and certainly the help he gave to young people was memorable and wonderful, but the emptiness I feel these days is because I know I will not hear that laughter, or see those twinkling eyes, or feel the uplifting of the spirit that always came from being near him.