Hilton Kramer’s death deprives the intellectual world of one of its brightest lights and his friends of a raconteur as spellbinding and pithy as Doctor Johnson. He was one of the last of the New York Intellectuals, who did so much to shape the twentieth-century American mind, and whose stature seems all the larger in our era, when “public intellectual” often means no more than political pundit. As the art critic of The New York Times, he wrote long, beautifully crafted articles, more thought-provoking than usual in a daily newspaper, even then. When he founded The New Criterion, that magazine more than lived up to its name as a standard of excellence in cultural criticism.

Hilton’s splendid 1999 collection of essays, The Twilight of the Intellectuals, aimed to dispel the illusion that intellectuals dwell in a light-drenched realm of reason, disinterestedly searching for truth. Among the...


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