William Safire (search), whose op-ed columns in The New York Times have provided provocative and insightful discourse for 31 years, said Monday he has decided to "hang up his hatchet."

The 74-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's last op-ed column will be published on Jan. 24, 2005.

"After more than three decades of opinionated reporting on the world's first and foremost political battle page, it's time to hang up my hatchet," Safire said in a statement. "The Times said at the start of this run that it wanted 'another point of view,' which was what it surely got."

Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (search) said Safire's commentary has captivated readers since his first op-ed piece appeared in 1973.

"Reaching for his column became a critical and enjoyable part of the day for our readers across the country and around the world," Sulzberger said in a statement. "Whether you agree with him or not was never the point. His writing is delightful, informed and engaging."

A successor has not been chosen.

The Times said Safire will continue his "On Language (search)" column, which has appeared in its Sunday magazine since 1979 and spawned 15 books by Safire.

The self-described conservative Republican with libertarian views said he has been invited to occasionally write an essay for the op-ed page and will do so if he feels he has something to say.

"About 18 months ago, I told Mr. Sulzberger that I wanted the next campaign to be my last hurrah," Safire told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his Washington office.

"I've been a Times man for three decades," he said. "It's the greatest paper in the world."

Although he has supported most of President George W. Bush's policies, Safire has criticized the administration over privacy issues such as the Patriot Act, which he believes has encroached on civil liberties.

"Personal privacy and liberty is what the American dream supports," he said. "That is why I am pro-choice. I believe government should stay out of the bedroom and the boardroom."

Safire won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1978; he has served on the Pulitzer board since 1995.

Before joining the Times as a political columnist, Safire was senior White House speechwriter for President Nixon. He began his career in 1949 as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune.

Besides his language books, Safire has written 10 works of fiction and nonfiction and edited five anthologies.

Safire is chairman of the Dana Foundation, a philanthropy supporting brain science, immunology and arts education. He plans to make it his principal occupation, the Times said.