Irving Kristol was known as “the godfather” of neoconservatism, though the person who conferred that title upon him is lost in the fog of memory. One would not be surprised to learn the title was self-assigned, such were Kristol’s subtle and ironical ways. In any case, he was undoubtedly amused by the thought that a religious Jew should bear a designation consecrated in the Catholic Church or that a genial and avuncular figure such as himself should be honored with a title made famous in the popular culture by film about gangsters. The title also implies that he was only present at the christening of neoconservatism but played no paternal role in its creation, a political sleight-of-hand that reveals something important about a thinker who, though much appreciated, was nevertheless much underestimated.

This comes through clearly in The Neoconservative Persuasion, a new anthology of Kristol’s essays...