The Remarkable Life of Charles Krauthammer

Yesterday we learned that Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and conservative commentator, has passed away. This comes just shortly after announcing that the cancer that has plagued him for the past year is terminal, and he had weeks left to live. In his last column for the Washington Post, he wrote “I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.” Since receiving the tragic news of his impending end, he faced death with a dignity and introspection that is truly amazing.

Born in New York City and raised largely in Montréal, Québec, Krauthammer studied at Oxford before returning to the U.S. to pursue a career in medicine. When Krauthammer was in medical school, he suffered an accident while diving that left him permanently paralyzed. At 22 he was told he would never walk again and had been in a wheelchair ever since. This kind of personal hardship would lead many people to give up on ambitions for their lives. Charles Krauthammer did not.

Six years after his accident, Krauthammer was working in the Carter administration and not long after he had begun contributing to the New Republic, in addition to writing speeches for Vice President Walter Mondale. By the late 1980s his politics had turned to the right, and he had become one of the most respected columnists in America.

What is remarkable about his writing is its versatility. Krauthammer’s insightful views on the post Cold-War world shaped our understanding of international politics. In his 1990 influential article in Foreign Affairs entitled “The Unipolar Moment,” Krauthammer predicted a period of unipolarity in which the United States was the sole superpower, following by a new period of multipolarity where the U.S. would be one of several actors in a world who’s structure would “resemble the pre-World War I era.” Today, the continued strength of the United States as well as the emergence of potential superpowers such as China and others led many today to echo Krauthammer’s prediction.

Though he is often considered among the brightest minds in American politics and foreign policy, Krauthammer’s observations on non-political subjects were just as insightful. A lifelong baseball fan, he supported the Washington Nationals fervently through its difficult early years. By his own admission this puzzled his friends. He saw beauty and truth in baseball, as well as chess, a game which he had a great passion for.

Raised Jewish, Krauthammer is by his own admission was not particularly religious, but he wrote extensively about the spiritual aspects of life. Noting the monotony of the funeral of Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, he eloquently described the atheist society’s spiritual deadness, echoing the words of Arthur Schlesinger and G.K. Chesterton on the dangers of an atheist society and its tendencies toward totalitarianism, and concluding with his own observation that “the case against a public life bereft of all spirituality rests less on its danger than on its utter desolation.”

Krauthammer saw the true, good, and beautiful, in all of human life, noting “the deep harmony of the spheres” present in the ever-predictable return of Halley’s Comet as well as the nobility of dogs and their relationship to man.

What perhaps made Krauthammer such a unique and fascinating figure was that he could bridge the hard nosed topics of political journalism and commentary with more deep and spiritual questions about life and society.

I noted that many people would allow being paralyzed to destroy their lives. But there is a different reaction. Perhaps going through such an experience in life allows one to see the meaning in the every day: the beauty of baseball, the power of the universe, and the nobility of spirituality. He also had a keen insight into the great ideas that would shape the world and the forces that shaped our politics, a subject he recognized was essential. As he wrote in his book, “get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933.”

In conclusion, Charles Krauthammer had a unique gift of writing, and never allowed the adversity he faced to prevent him from using his platform to discuss, to use the title of his book, Things that Matter. Like all lives, Charles Krauthammer’s has come to an end; but during his life, his writing and commentary added positively to the never-ending conversation about the great things in life, and for that, his has had a life very well lived.