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Now in paper

By Merle Rubin / May 2, 1986

Reflections of a Neoconservative: Looking Back, Looking Ahead, by Irving Kristol. New York: Basic Books. 336 pp. $9.95. ``Whenever I read about neoconservatism,'' Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell is quoted as saying, ``I think, `That isn't neoconservatism; it's just Irving.' ''

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Of all the New York intellectuals noted for rightward tendencies, Irving Kristol has been the least reluctant to accept the label ``neoconservative.'' In these essays, culled from his work over a number of years, Professor Kristol gives us something of an intellectual autobiography, showing the path by which he came to his present political position. Included are his memoirs of being a youthful ``Trotskyist'' (an important source for Alexander Bloom's recent study of the New York intellectuals), his more recent views on politics, pornography, religion, capitalism, and foreign policy, and essays on Freud, Einstein, and the American Revolution. Kristol's writing is informed by a wealth of learning, yet is lively, witty, and direct: sometimes persuasive, sometimes provoking, but always stimulating. Writing in a State of Siege, by Andr`e Brink. New York: Sumit Books. 256 pp. $8.95.

These poignant essays by South African writer Andr'e Brink brilliantly illuminate the situation of the dissident Afrikaner novelist writing in a language that addresses a very limited audience and who is subject to the further limitations of censorship. But this book is more than a protest against all forms of censorship: It is an eloquent and thoughtful defense of writing itself, be it the writing of the journalist committed to reporting the truth as he sees it, or the writing of the artist exploring the labyrinth of human nature, whether he writes to warn his fellow citizens or pursues the themes that seem vital to him as a private individual. Men and Ideas: History, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, by Johan Huizinga, translated by James S. Holmes and Hans van Marle. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. 378 pp. $9.95.

That the works of the great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) are repeatedly reissued for new generations of readers all over the world is testimony to the centrality of his vision and to his special gift for conveying the methods and problems of historical scholarship in calm, yet enticingly colorful language that is free from jargon, pretense, and obfuscation. In these essays we hear his distinctive voice, the voice of the ideal teacher: humane, affable, wisely skeptical, and critical in the best sense. Among the essays included here are Huizinga's urbane, comprehensive discussion of cultural history, his seminal comparison of patriotism and nationalism, his justly famous portraits of Abelard, John of Salisbury, Erasmus, and Grotius, and a critique of Bernard Shaw's version of Saint Joan. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, by Robert L. Wilken. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 214 pp. $7.95.