Jewishness & the Younger Intellectuals: Introduction
Introduction: In February 1944-some two years after America’s entry into World War II and less than two years before the end of the war-COMMENTARY’S forerunner, the Contemporary Jewish Record, published a symposium entitled “Under Forty: American Literature and the Younger Generation of American Jews.” The theme of the symposium was apparently a literary one, for the editors in their introductory statement announced that their intention was to cast light on the question of whether there was any important difference between the work produced by American writers of Jewish descent (who had only recently become “full participants in the cultural life of the country”) and that of their “Christian colleagues.” It seems clear, however, that this approach was something of a stratagem employed by the editors to get at another and more elusive question- a question at which they merely hinted in asking “to what extent, and in what manner, has [the Jewish writer's] awareness of his position as artist and citizen been modified or changed by the revival of anti-Semitism as a powerful force in the political history of our time?” What lay behind this question, I feel sure, was the editors’ awareness that most of the writers they had invited to contribute were assimilationists and that their assimilationism was grounded in the belief that the “Jewish problem”-as it used to be called-was on its way to being solved in the modern world. The Dreyfus Case had persuaded Theodor Herzl that assimilationism would never work; surely the Nazis ought to have taught American Jews the same lesson. And if a Jew becomes convinced that there is no escaping the disabilities of Jewish birth, isn’t he then required to abandon assimilationism as a program, even for himself, and search for some other solution?
About the Author
Norman Podhoretz has been writing for COMMENTARY for 56 years.