The news of the impending death of Charles Krauthammer, released in the form of his noble letter to his readers several weeks ago, followed by the event itself, was a devastating blow to the intellectual community and to the quality of reasoned public discourse at a time when we most need it. This is a huge loss of intellectual honesty and civility that will leave a void not easily filled. In my experience he has no peer as a public intellectual from right, left, or center, not even William Buckley or Walter Lippmann.
Although I read him occasionally in The New Republic in the early 1980s and later in syndication, I first encountered his deeper philosophical thought when he was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics under George W. Bush in 2002 and wrote a comprehensive essay on the threats to human dignity of human cloning as an appendix to the final report on the subject submitted to the President. This essay is included among others in his collection of writings published five years ago as Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics, which was everything I thought it would be–intellectual, concise, insightful, erudite, and funny in places. And the range of “things that matter” is impressive. I skipped over some of the essays, the ones on chess, for example, but substantially all of the 80+ essays are worth the time and are still timely. In addition to the essay on bioethics, the closing Three Essays on America and the World, which are longer than the others, are alone worth much more than the price of the book. He will be greatly missed and right now I can’t think of anyone who might even come close to filling the space. RIP.