Commentary Magazine


How We Are

Like Everyone Else, Only More So?

The ancients knew it and we learn it anew every day: no opinion is so absurd as not to be professed by some learned man. A favorite and long-lived absurd opinion of many who are learned and many who are intellectual (they are not entirely identical), especially if they are Jews, is about the Jews. In a current formulation, by a Jewish professor-social scientist-intellectual-radical (M.M. Tumin, “Conservative Trends in Jewish Life,” Judaism, Spring 1964), it is this:

. . . it would indeed be radical in American politics if there were an identifiable Jewish vote . . . [which] stood for a morally radical position on the political spectrum. And it would be a beautiful challenge to America. . . . [But] what do Jews stand for in America? For a normal distribution of political opinions along the same spectrum and in the same proportions as non-Jews. . . .

The American Jewish community seems to be living on the rapidly shrinking psychic income from the capital investment of Jews of the last two thousand years—or the last thirty years. What can it mean, in all honesty, for the average Jew in America to claim . . . a heritage and tradition of social justice, of respect for knowledge and learning, of concern for culture? He appears today to care for these things no more than anyone else around him.

Here is an important sociological generalization. It would be all true if it were not, transparently, all false.

First, as to the assertion that we “stand for . . . a normal distribution of political opinion . . . in the same proportions as non-Jews”: if Tumin had tried, he could not have said anything more unreal. In 1948 Public Opinion Quarterly published a graph of attitudes toward guaranteed economic security. It was an ascending line from predominant hostility in denominations with a low proportion of manual workers, like the Congregationalists, to predominant support in denominations with a high proportion of manual workers, like the Baptists and Catholics. Seven major American denominations were represented by points on that line. One was not: the Jews, as low in manual workers as the Congregationalists, were as high in support for guaranteed security as Catholics and Baptists. When seven successive points are on a graph line and an eighth is completely off the line, the thing represented by that point must differ materially from the things represented by all the other points.

If a similar graph were to be drawn today, for voting, the Jewish point would still be off the line. In November 1964 we voted about 90 per cent for Johnson, i.e., against Goldwater—more than any other white group, whether defined by income, region, religion, or ethnic character, and possibly as much as the Negroes. (Of those Jews who did not vote for Johnson, not all voted for Goldwater. There were some Jewish votes for minority parties and some abstentions from voting for any Presidential candidate.) In Memphis, Tennessee, a defeated Republican candidate for the House of Representatives annoyed the Jews by his bewilderment about them: “I had hoped against hope that the Jewish group would see things my way. I am a businessman. They are businessmen. Apparently I didn’t succeed. I am amazed that I couldn’t. If ever there was a group that should be conservative, they should.”

Earlier in 1964, in a Democratic Presidential primary, the Jews of Baltimore and the rest of Maryland voted against Governor Wallace of Alabama more than any other group of whites, and almost as much as the Negroes. In 1960, at each level of income, proportionately many more Jews voted for Kennedy (or against Nixon) than anyone else—including the Catholics, with their special reason for wanting to see Kennedy elected. In 1952 and 1956, and again during the Democratic convention in 1960, Jews were more enthusiastically for Stevenson than any other body of Americans. Tumin’s “last thirty years” must mean the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt. We have not changed, in any essential way, from what we were then. In 1965 whose political worship is oriented to Roosevelt’s shrine but the Jews’?

Second, as to a living tradition of social justice: in Tumin’s 30’s, as we know, Jews made up half of the membership of the radical movements. (Let us not inquire too closely into the beauty of some aspects of that “beautiful challenge,” which as late as 1948 drew so many Jewish dupes to the other Wallace—who later realized he himself had been a dupe—that Truman lost New York to Dewey.) In the COMMENTARY symposium of 1961 a young man not long out of college reported scornfully that only half of the campus radicals in his time had been Jews. In 1964 half or more of the white young men and women who went down to Mississippi to work with the Negroes and risk their lives were Jews. Most of them feel as superior to the Jewish solid-citizen community as Tumin, but are they so totally different from the community as they would like to believe? Proportionately, more rabbis have gone South, and have been jailed or beaten, than any other white clergymen. The Jews of Baltimore are solid citizens, and we have seen how they voted about Governor Wallace. The Jews of Kansas City and Detroit, in referenda on open housing (to benefit Negroes), have voted for it in a huge disproportion to other whites. In California, in November 1964, two-thirds of all the votes were for Proposition 14, an anti-Negro constitutional amendment on housing; but two-thirds of the Jewish votes were against it.

In the 1961 symposium one writer said that he had always been for Negro equality, because members of one minority naturally sympathize with other minorities. Last year was a good one for testing his proposition that minorities naturally sympathize with each other. The commentators singled out, above all, Polish backlash and Italian backlash within the general category of white backlash. Governor Wallace and Senator Goldwater were not strikingly unpopular with the ethnic minorities—who, in the referenda across the country, were almost solidly against open housing. (Yet objectively the others have as much of a stake in a liberal society as the Jews. A country ruled by Goldwaters and Wallaces could not be a happy place for Slavs and Mediterraneans.) These differences between the Jewish and the other minorities just possibly could mean that when the Jewish minority behaves well, it does so less because it is a minority than because it is Jewish.

If we think of social justice to the poor, no others nearly so prosperous as the Jews, on the average, so ardently favor a welfare state. That is as much so now as in 1948, the year of the graph. If we think of social justice as including civil liberties, the polls consistently found a much higher proportion of Jews than others opposed to Senator McCarthy, and more strongly opposed. (Gallup, June 1954, “intense disapproval” of McCarthy: Jews 65 per cent, but Protestants 31, Democrats 38, college graduates 45; Roper, March 1957, gauge of attitudes toward McCarthy expressed as an index number: Jews 46, and executives and professionals—the next most disapproving group—only -18.) And does anyone imagine that the membership and financial support of, say, the American Civil Liberties Union are proportionately Jewish and no more?

Third, as to respect for knowledge and learning: let the colleges and universities testify. At a time when America has broken every precedent the world has ever known by sending almost 30 per cent of its young people to college, the American Jewish community is sending almost 80 per cent. Short of hiring truancy officers to round up abstainers, we could hardly send more. Or are we to understand that few young Jews are studying for advanced degrees? That would be news in the graduate schools. Or is the professor asserting that Jews have been turning their backs on teaching in the universities? The mind, as Mr. Wodehouse might say, boggles.

Finally, as to a deficient concern for culture: who, us? A few years ago someone in the publishing business, writing in the New Leader, estimated that something like a quarter of the buyers of books in the United States were Jews. (We are barely 3 per cent of the population.) In his recent Culture Consumers, Alvin Toffler is struck by the share of Jews among those who go to concerts, theaters, and museums, support orchestras, and buy works of art. What appears in print only confirms what everyone knows by direct observation. That is the way things are, and it is the way they used to be in Berlin and Vienna, Budapest and Prague. When the bourgeoisie stopped saying daily prayers, Hegel said, it started reading daily newspapers. When the Jews of those cities became modern, they put a piano in the parlor and the collected works of Goethe, Lessing, and Schiller in the bookcase; and many, especially the women, went so far as to play the pianos and read the books. Though the outer form may change, the inner substance remains. In America today, where you find culture vultures there you will not find Jews lacking.

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As I was reading Tumin’s jeremiad against the backsliding of the children of Israel, I had a feeling of déjà lu: Jeremiah, of course, and the other prophets; and of course the Jewish preachers in every generation, as Marshall Sklare suggested in the comments accompanying the paper, who were convinced that there had been a sad decline in piety and learning from the days of their grandparents. (A distinguished historian, Jacob Katz of Jerusalem, has discussed the difficulty of using sermons as data for social reality.) But then it came to me. Tumin was raising the standard of the Jewish 30’s, and the Jews of the 30’s had been judged in a 1944 symposium in COMMENTARY’s predecessor, the Contemporary Jewish Record. Alfred Kazin, Lionel Trilling, and Clement Greenberg, among others, took part. Tumin might have been quoting them.

Kazin: “. . . timidity . . . parochialism . . . dreary middle-class chauvinism. . . .”

Trilling: “. . . provincial and parochial . . . . no sustenance to . . . the artist or intellectual. . . .”

Greenberg: “. . . suffocatingly middle-class . . . . No people on earth are more correct, more staid, more provincial, more commonplace . . . .” (There was yet another symposium, in 1951, to discuss Morris Freedman’s anticipation of Tumin—an accusation that the Jewish student was not what he had been in the former, great times. In the meanwhile, the woman who never let you forget her son the doctor was being overtaken and surpassed by the woman who was quick to remind you of her son the assistant professor.)

Tumin is no more alone now than the symposiasts of 1944 were then. In 1964 a Gentile sociologist issued a preposterous report alleging that the Jews studied by his graduate students were more prejudiced than others. The students had done the rating of prejudice. Probably most of them were Jews, and it would be no surprise if they were so eager to see the Jews as no better than the rest that they rated them as worse than the rest. Similarly, in a work that appeared a few years ago on the sociology of a Jewish community, the Jewish authors adduce the Jewish country club as proof that the Jews are as bad as the Gentiles. A few pages later they note that an applicant for membership had better have a record of substantial contributions to Jewish philanthropies. Is that bad? For the authors, it show that the Jews vie with each other in splashy expenditure.

Anyone who looks at country clubs must note real differences between Jewish and Gentile clubs, which ought to be particularly notable to sociologists. Since the sociologists in question are Jews, it is left to Sports Illustrated (March 5, 1962) to instruct us:

Discrimination aside, Jewish country clubs generally differ from their Christian counterparts in a couple of ways. For one, the Jewish clubs put greater emphasis on charity; a prospective member is expected to be philanthropic (one club in the New York area requires that an applicant most have given $10,000 to United Jewish Appeal). For another, members of Jewish clubs habitually eat more and drink less than do Christian club members. It is possible to pick out the Jewish clubs from the clubs surveyed in Horwath and Horwath’s annual anonymous study simply by checking the food and beverage expenditures of the average member. In one Jewish club, for instance, the average member spent $455 on food and only $134 on drink. At a comparable Christian club the average member spent $275 for food and $240 for drinks.

I have never been, am not, and do not expect ever to be a member of any country club; and I am mindful of what Lionel Trilling said in 1944 about American Jews being “self-indulgent” (that would go with eating more than Gentiles) “and self-admiring” (for drinking less, I suppose, and exacting large sums for philanthropy). The point of all this is that on the evidence that has been amassed, even about country clubs, no objective sociologist could deny Jewish difference.

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Radicals and intellectuals may not know it, but they have enthusiastic allies in pretending that the Jews are like everyone else, only more so. Most Jews, at one time or another, believe it and say it, but those who say it loudest and most often are the kind one would suppose to be at the furthest remove from the radical intelligentsia. Tumin says that we stand for “a normal distribution of political opinions . . . in the same proportions as non-Jews.” For its part, the American Council for Judaism is reported in the New York Times as having said, after the 1964 election, that “although [Republican] Senator Keating [of New York] had ‘made the strongest appeal in history [?] to Jewish voters, as Jews,’ he had made only small gains among Jewish voters.” Small gains? In Jewish districts Keating’s Democratic opponent, Robert Kennedy, did more than 20 per cent worse than President Johnson—and more than 15 per cent worse than his brother, the President, had done in 1960. He did not do so poorly in other Johnson-President Kennedy districts. The radicals and intellectuals, on the one hand, and the American Council for Judaism types, on the other, are united in insisting that in those things where we are in fact significantly different the Jews are like-everyone-else-only-more-so.

Why should ACJ and the radicals agree with each other in rejecting the plain evidence of their senses? For ACJ the answer is simple. They do not want the Jews to be different, and particularly do they not want the Jews to look different. Only Jewish invisibility could make them comfortable, and they try by incantation to persuade themselves—even they must know they are not persuading others—that the Jews are an optical illusion.

For the radicals and intellectuals, suitably, the answer is less simple. As the independent repetition of the words must demonstrate, they detest provincialism and parochialism. Particularisms are obstacles in the way of the Messianic Age, secular style. The Jewish community, or Jewish society, is particular and also—so they say—provincial and parochial. But they are upset because something is clearly wrong in this chain of observation, reasoning, and profession of faith. If they were not upset, so many intelligent people would not be saying so many foolish things.

You have to deny the special propensity of Jews, because they are Jews, for the very values you cherish. Otherwise you would have to ask yourself, more insistently than you would like, how attached you yourself would be to those values if you had not been born to Jewish parents. That sort of thing could shake a faith blended of cosmopolitanism and individualism. (Individualism is my shy conviction that when all is said and done, I have achieved my present moral and intellectual grandeur unassisted because in the inmost core of my self, I am—no two ways about it—morally and intellectually pretty grand. In a bourgeois this appears as the myth of the self-made man. “For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding. . . .’”)

Worse still, you might have to recognize that: if you truly want people who care for social justice, respect knowledge and learning, and are concerned about culture—why, the hard fact is that such people are more likely to be found among the Jews than anywhere else. Since that has also been the hard fact in so many other places for so long, a good breeding ground for those desirable propensities might be the Jewish community, that distressingly particular and parochial thing. The Jewish community, though obviously quite awful, must equally obviously be less awful than practically anything else. Instead of your values requiring a dissolution of the Jewish community, may they not rather need a Jewish community to assure that an important base of support for them will continue to exist?

But to go on with such thinking could lead to all kinds of reactionary conclusions, possibly even of a personal character. There is a way out. All you have to say is what your predecessors said—that while the Jewish community may have been all right somewhat earlier, the contemporary Jewish community has practically nothing in common with it; and to say that, all you have to do is to prefer fable to fact. The difficulty is that each succeeding generation has less excuse for the preference.

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Postscript

Engineers know that Murphy’s Law is inexorable: what can go wrong will go wrong. Soldiers have Moltke’s Law: what can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. The more general law is in itself neither pessimistic nor optimistic: what can be will be. Its unceasing operation was again revealed to me after I had finished the part about the unexpected agreement of the radical intellectuals and their opposites, the American Council for Judaism. A colleague showed me some ACJ publications, and there it was, almost as explicitly as if it had been written to make my point. What can be will be.

ACJ’s Briefs for November-December 1964 was shocked because Rabbi Joachim Prinz had declared from his pulpit before Election Day: “A Jewish vote for Goldwater is a vote for Jewish suicide.” It impeached Rabbi Prinz for three sins: violating the political neutrality of the pulpit, unpatriotically suggesting—ACJ is nothing if not patriotic—that the United States was threatened by something fascist, and thus encouraging Jewish self-ghettoization.

On Goldwater and a fascist threat, Tumin must be closer to Rabbi Prinz than to ACJ. Yet ACJ’s Education in Judaism for June-July 1964 is filled with admiration for “Tumin’s article”: “provocative”—O.K.—and “well worth reading.” Why so? Because he said: “No one has a right to self-ghettoization.” Blessed word! For its sake much is forgiven and an embrace is offered.

Politics, as someone said when a candidate went back to living with his wife, makes strange bedfellows.

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When Good Clashes with Good

For most of us it is hard to concede that a passion for one good thing can conflict with a passion for another good thing: if Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity are simultaneously desirable, why should they not be simultaneously attainable?

Professor Tumin takes it for granted that there can be no tension, let alone conflict, between a desire for social justice and respect for knowledge and learning. Yet when the Jews’ zeal for justice is blunted, it is apt to be blunted precisely by their zeal for education. For instance, too many Jews in New York go along with Parents and Taxpayers in opposing Negro demands on the school system, afraid that meeting those demands will result in lowering the quality of their own children’s education.

The particular issue about which PAT has been able to mobilize is the pairing of mostly white and mostly Negro elementary schools. That issue by itself does not come close to justifying the anxiety it has aroused, but if we look beyond we must recognize that as things stand now, there is in fact and in principle a tension, or outright conflict, between the requirements of justice for the Negroes and the requirements of first-rate education. What is more, Negroes seem to think so, too. In essence, they say this: “You whites have so contrived matters that we Negroes are unable to meet what you are pleased to call your objective, color-blind tests. We will no longer submit to rules that put us at a disadvantage. Admit us to your schools. If that means a lowering of standards for you, it will mean a raising of standards for us—and it is the only way for them to be raised. The lowering of standards will be temporary, until we have been qualified to compete with a fair chance of success. But whether it is more temporary or less, that is the price you must pay now for the profit you have reaped all these many years from keeping us down.”

To which whites respond with the old self-evident truths—which apparently are not evident to Negroes—about impersonal tests and les carrières ouvertes aux talents. Jews, especially, hold those truths to be self-evident. They are our ideology and they are our self-interest, because we do well when they prevail. For us those rules, those truths, define justice itself. Most of us are not even aware of a tension between our desire for justice and our passion for education. In resisting Negro demands that give a secondary place to objective standards, we really think we are on the side of justice.

Negroes are more candid with themselves than Jews in recognizing privately, and often publicly, that their ideology is designed to serve their interest. A good illustration, in which a conflict over high educational standards figures centrally, is an alliance now in the making between New York City Negroes and conservative upstate Republicans favoring tuition fees in the City University of New York, against the liberal city Democrats fighting to maintain the century-old policy of no fees. Why should Negroes, mostly poor, ally themselves with conservatives, and why should they want to get rid of the City University’s no-fee policy? Professor Lester H. Granger, formerly the executive secretary of the Urban League, lets us see why in a report to a State Senate committee. According to the newspapers,

The report . . . suggested that by charging tuition the university could take in 3,000 students now excluded by entrance requirements that are artificially inflated [i.e., traditionally high] because of lack of facilities.

Scholarship assistance to low-income students [i.e., Negroes, mostly] would limit the tuition charges to those who could afford it [i.e., lower-middle-class Jews, mostly]. . . .

Professor Granger proposed that admissions to the university “be allocated among the various high schools of the city—a uniform percentage of the ranking graduates of each school.” [This would mean fewer students from the better high schools, with their heavy Jewish concentration, and more from the other schools, especially the mostly Negro ones.]

Is justice on Professor Granger’s side? If so, it is at odds with high educational standards. To prefer it to those standards would mean the city colleges having to abandon their old norms even more than they are alleged to have done already. Or is justice on the conventionally liberal side, which would retain the no-fee, entrance-by-merit, color-blind policies? If so, it would favor the well-fed over the ill-fed. One is rightly suspicious of that kind of justice.

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In New York today, the educational self-interest of Jews clashes with the educational self-interest of Negroes. It is a serious clash because education is a serious matter, determining how much your children will earn, what kind of life they will live, and what they will be able to do for their children. It is also a matter in which Jews have a big investment of tradition and emotion; and Negroes, of aspiration and resentment. Wherever justice lies in that clash of self-interests, there is going to be a fight.

Nevertheless, if there is no way of solving the dilemma, there may be a way of bypassing it. The fight is over the distribution of a scarce resource, cheap higher education. Make the resource more plentiful and there will be less need to fight. To do that, much more money will have to be raised in taxes for higher education. Fortunately for our moral credit and our consciences, Jews always vote enthusiastically for improving or expanding education, on any level—even when the direct beneficiaries are not our children.

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The Case of Senator Keating

There must have been something about Kenneth Keating that caused the Jews of New York State to give him a far greater share of their votes (though not a majority) than they normally give a Republican. In looking for that cause, the first thing we can rule out is conservative trends. For the Jews who backed Keating, he was more, not less liberal than Robert Kennedy. Even if they were prepared to admit that the two were equally liberal, they thought a vote for Keating would serve liberalism better.

The most compelling urgency of all was to defeat Goldwater—crushingly, conspicuously, exemplarily. Keating had made an honorable, acceptably liberal record for himself. He won sympathies by firmly dissociating himself from Goldwater and so earning the hatred of the Goldwater enthusiasts that the rightist Conservative party ran a candidate and directed most of its propaganda against him. In voting for such a man, his Jewish supporters reasoned, they would be rewarding someone who deserved it and at the same time helping to discredit right-wing fanaticism. Especially if he won, but even if he did not lose badly—while Goldwater was losing very badly indeed, they hoped—the Republican party thenceforth might see the advantage of nominating people like him, and America might be blessed for a long time to come with the happy necessity of choosing between liberals called Democrats and liberals called Republicans.

Since his election to the Senate in 1958, Keating had been cultivating the Jews. He had made himself heard repeatedly in favor of Israel and against Soviet anti-Semitism, and he had seen to it that his person and his words came to the attention of people assembled as Jewish audiences and people whose names were on the mailing lists of Jewish organizations. During the campaign he could not be accused of neglecting this means of recalling to the Jews who he was and what he stood for. Neither could Kennedy. Both, of course, worked just as hard at doing the same sort of thing with the Italians, the Negroes, the Puerto Ricans, and all the rest.

To determine how much this helped Keating with the Jews, or how much it ever helps any other candidate who does it, is extraordinarily hard. The more sophisticated the politician, the better he knows that the Jews are fairly sophisticated, too, on the whole, and that you have to approach us with something else than simple pro-Jewish oratory. What we want is a broadly liberal program and tone, with a subtle, barely audible Jewish undertone of recognizable Jews on the speaker’s platform and recognizably Jewish names on the letterhead or in the advertisements.1 The Jews I heard praising Keating did not mention his specifically pro-Jewish stands, but presented the “unparochial” argument I have been summarizing. If anything, they were probably a little embarrassed by the Jewish note that was sounded. (Of course, there are Jewish voters, generally less sophisticated, who respond to political appeals couched in explicitly Jewish language. It is a question of proportions. More than others we have, or want to think we have, a broad view of political questions.)

But perhaps the subtleties are even subtler than that. Some who spoke the language of unparochial liberalism on behalf of Keating—and meant it—may have secretly wanted, too, to show their approval of his specifically pro-Jewish deeds and intentions. Either they were uneasy about it within themselves or they feared that even to mention it would get them lectured at by the other Jewish liberals they were talking with—who themselves may have had the same feelings, and therefore did not say anything aloud, either.

Possibly, also, some would have been more dissatisfied with the absence of an explicitly pro-Jewish appeal than they were embarrassed by its presence. If a groupy appeal is made to everyone else, if it is normal American practice, what could be the meaning of not making one to the Jews? Are we abnormal? Or so taken for granted that a candidate can believe that only for us need he not bestir himself? If a big part of politics is the competition of interests, and if in many things the general interest is defined as a kind of moment of the forces of particular interests, why exclude ours? Jewish abnegation would not abolish self-interest, it would only injure Jewish self-interest; and by remaining quiet while everyone else was shouting, we would be allowing the final consensus to be worse (from our point of view, at least) than if we, or our representatives, had spoken up, too.

This kind of thinking should not prevail at the expense of liberalism, but neither is it to be disdained. It has intrinsic worth. And let those who dislike it for extrinsic reasons, out of an anxiety about what the Gentiles will say, remember this: what is natural rarely puzzles or alarms, and nothing is more natural than the ties of like people with each other. One knows where one is with that. It is familiar, limited, of the same order as all the other ties of all the other families of mankind. More than a hundred years ago it was an American, a naval officer leading his squadron without authorization to the rescue of a British flotilla in China, who said that blood is thicker than water.

An apparent lack of such natural impulses, a devotion to what seems to others only abstract, general, ideological, altruistic—that is what puzzles and alarms. There is something almost uncanny about it, making for discomfort in the beholder. If that Republican candidate had had it explained to him that the Jewish businessmen of Memphis were voting as they did because they saw in the Goldwater movement a threat to themselves as Jews, as well as a threat to liberal values, even he might have understood. What no one can understand is claptrap—like a denial of anything specifically Jewish about the way all those individual businessmen, who happened to be Jews, also happened to vote differently from the Gentile businessmen.


Footnotes

1 See Roma Lipsky, “Electioneering Among the Minorities,” May 1961.

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