The essays in "The Neoconservative Persuasion"—all but one never before brought together in a book—are a remarkable introduction to one of the few people who actually liked being called a neoconservative. As Gertrude Himmelfarb, his widow, notes in the book's fine introduction, Irving Kristol was "neo" from the very beginning, whether writing (under the party name of "William Ferry") for a short-lived Trotskyist magazine, or serving as a co-editor of Encounter magazine or as an editor at the Reporter or Commentary, or creating (with Daniel Bell) the Public Interest, the influential quarterly journal about policy and politics. Kristol himself conceded, looking back, that he had been "neo" from the start: a neo-Marxist, a neosocialist, a neoliberal and a neoconservative.
What was "neo" about Kristol was not an ideology (he found all of them incomplete) but his view that no ideology could match the complexity of human nature, take properly into account the significance of religion or cope with the unintended consequences of public policies.
Kristol was disturbed by "the transformation of [traditional Jewish] messianism into a shallow, if sincere, humanitarianism," by the retirement of "Jewish thinking" into sociological platitudes. His critique of the thinness of American Jewish theology is even more striking today than it was at the time....Kristol marveled that the liberalism of Jews, who ought to have been the first to rally in defense of the goodness of American society and its values, remained "especially rich in illusions." [...]
In a climate of cultural conformism, the elites being, as Kristol reminded us, much more conformist than the average American, this Jewish intellectual, as independent-minded as they come, gave American Jews the best guidelines for becoming at once fully mature citizens of their country and fully mature representatives of their people.