EDITOR, author and teacher Irving Howe, who died last week at age 72, was the quintessential New York intellectual. He had opinions about everything, from politics to literature to popular culture to religion, which he expressed in vigorous prose sharpened with broad learning and wit.
He was the founder and editor of Dissent magazine, one of the "little magazines" of the post-war years whose influence reached well beyond its modest circulation of 10,000 subscribers. His philosophy was that of a man of the left, but he bitterly attacked both Soviet-style totalitarianism and the American New Left as morally bankrupt purveyors of cynicism and despair.
When contemporaries like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz reacted against the excesses of 1960s radicalism by organizing the neo-conservative movement, Mr. Howe refused to abandon his liberal principles. To the end he called himself a democratic socialist.
Mr. Howe was born in New York City of hard-working Russian Jewish immigrant parents. Years later he would chronicle the Jewish immigrant experience in "World of Our Fathers," a history of Eastern European immigration to the United States that won the National Book Award in 1978. Over the course of his 50-year career he turned out a steady stream of essays on art, literature, politics and culture as well as critical studies of William Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson and a biography of Leon Trotsky.
Mr. Howe lived long enough to see the world he was born into change irrevocably, and with it many of the concerns to which he was most passionately attached. Through it all he insisted on going his own way, a disciple of none but his own rigorous vision of the just society. He will be remembered not only as one of the era's most engaging intellectuals but also as one of its most principled and persistent dissenters.