Commentary Magazine


Revolutionism & the Jews:3 - The Role of the Intellectual

It is notoriously difficult to frame a definition of “intellectuals” that will serve for all times and all issues, but let me suggest a working one: Intellectuals are people who make a living from ideas, and are in varying degrees directly influenced by ideas. Thus they live off ideas and they live for ideas. Politically, as we know, the intellectuals have in general been critical of established institutions and values, sometimes from the Right, much more often from the Left. Only very rarely have they been conservative in the sense of approving of established institutions and values.

Intellectuals possess most of the attributes of an interest group: they are concentrated in a limited number of occupations, they commonly share a certain orientation to society. Nevertheless, is there any point in talking about them as a distinctive group in relation to other groups in the United States? In talking about intergroup relations, we know we will have to talk about Jews, Catholics, Protestants; about whites and blacks and other deprived non-white or quasi-white groups; about skilled workers, the lower-middle class of white-collar workers and low-paid professionals, the upper-middle class of better-paid professionals and managers and proprietors; about the urban underclass and the suburbs. But why is it necessary to talk about intellectuals? Are they not encompassed in these other groups? In a measure of course they are. And yet there are a number of recent developments in American society that make it to my mind more and more relevant to speak of intellectuals as a distinct group affecting the future of group relations in America.

First, intellectuals have found a new locus, a home, which is quite different from their previous locations, and which is itself far more central in American life: this is of course the university and college campus. Now there have always been intellectuals in universities and colleges, but I think it is true to say that throughout the period between the two world wars the main seat of American intellectuals was Greenwich Village (and even to some extent Paris), their outlets a few magazines of small circulation, their institutions ad hoc associations designed generally for political purposes. There were at best a few friendly publishing houses—and even these were not run by intellectuals. One can get a sense of this world, and some notion of the narrow hold intellectuals then had on American life, from Daniel Aaron’s book, Writers on the Left. In the 1920’s—and indeed up through the end of World War II—no one would have dreamed of going to the colleges and universities to find out what was happening in American intellectual life. One need only look at the college literature of this period—a good compendium is A. C. Spectorsky’s The College Years—to see how great a distance there was between the American campus and the central, shaping ideas of the time.

_____________

 

The great change in this situation began to take shape after World War II, symbolized perhaps by the fact that William Phillips and Philip Rahv, the editors of that key intellectual journal of the 1940’s, Partisan Review, became college professors. But so indeed did most of their contributors. Yet this was only the most superficial aspect of the change. Originally intellectuals in the academy thought of themselves as outsiders—a Leslie Fiedler teaching at Montana, an Irving Howe teaching at Stanford and Hunter, a C. Wright Mills teaching at Columbia, might quite easily see their role in the academy as peripheral. Intellectuals first, college professors by chance. But as time went on, the curriculum of the colleges and universities became more contemporary, in part under the influence of the intellectuals themselves who in turn became more numerous, particularly in the younger academic ranks. Then, beginning with a bang at Berkeley in 1964, the political concerns that were so important to intellectuals began to become more important on the campus, once again pushing intellectuals into a larger role. From being marginal to university life, intellectuals became central.

A second development paralleled the move of intellectuals into the universities, and their growing influence there: this was the enormous increase in the universities themselves, in their student bodies, which now number seven million, and in their faculties, which now approach 600,000. Thus, not only was a new field of action captured: the field of action itself became immeasurably more important. It reached many more, proportionately and absolutely, of the youth, it involved an ever higher share of the Gross National Product, it had closer and more significant relations with government—relations which, when sentiment on the campus turned against the government, could be used to influence government policy. But even before they began making sensational copy for the mass media late in 1964, colleges and universities were increasingly becoming a focal point of interest—for businessmen, for politicians, for the mass media, and all the more, of course, with the subsequent spread of student revolt.

_____________

 

The capture of a new and growing field of action for intellectuals did not mean giving up old fields of action. Quite the contrary. In the past, intellectuals had controlled a few magazines with tiny circulations. Partisan Review, despite its great influence, had a circulation of less than 8,000 in the middle 1950’s; COMMENTARY never went above 25,000 until after I960. The circulation of other intellectual magazines was far below these figures, and the intellectual weeklies, the Nation and the New Republic, struggled along with a few tens of thousands. Intellectuals controlled no publishing houses, despite their heavy contribution of literary properties. In the mass media—magazines, radio and television, newspapers—they played almost no role at all.

The transformation in this general area has been as phenomenal as in the case of the universities and colleges. The circulation of intellectual magazines has generally increased in an extraordinary degree, while many of the mass magazines such as Esquire and Playboy regularly publish leading figures of the intellectual world, and not as ornaments alone, but as valued contributors who provide perhaps one of the strongest selling points for these periodicals. Publishing houses are now typically controlled by young editors, with strong ties to the present-day intellectual community. TV production staffs often share the concerns of intellectuals, and increasingly even newspaper reporters are to be considered intellectuals. All this is only a natural consequence of the intellectual conquest of the campuses, since editors, producers, and reporters are almost always recruited from the campuses.

Finally, there is one other factor that has contributed greatly to an expansion of the role of intellectuals: this is the inability of the American hinterland to develop spokesmen and leaders of substance. By the hinterland I mean the people, probably still the majority, that H. L. Mencken abused as the booboisie and that Sinclair Lewis satirized—people who were attracted in varying numbers to the Ku Klux Klan, Father Coughlin’s Social Justice movement, isolationism, McCarthyism, Senator Goldwater, and Governor Wallace. One describes this phenomenon with hesitation, because it has a shifting make-up and constituency. The kind of social groupings (for example, small-town businessmen and professionals, city shopkeepers, policemen) from whom supporters of an anti-Catholic movement such as the American Protective Association in the 1890’s were drawn will be found in support of the radical Right today; but today these groupings include Catholics. The constant element would seem to be an exclusivist (or, following Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab in The Politics of Unreason, a “preservatist”) tendency, and one finds it among those who have not done too badly, but also not too well; who are not exposed to cosmopolitan—“intellectual”—influences; who are suspicious of foreigners and of new ideas.

This exclusivist tendency, I submit, is weaker today in America than ever before. When one remembers how many distinguished political leaders and even intellectual leaders supported American exclusivism during the fight against immigration in the 20’s, during the heyday of isolationism in the 30’s, during the anti-Communist purge of the later 40’s and 50’s—one is simply astonished at the almost complete absence of any such respectable support for right-wing tendencies in America today.

There are many reasons for this: the collapse, militarily and intellectually, of fascism is certainly one, but the main reason, I would guess, is that it has become very nearly impossible for conservative, let alone reactionary, thinking to flourish in the colleges and universities during the past two decades. And since the universities and colleges now provide almost all the intellectual leadership we have, there is precious little such leadership to be found for rightist constituencies. Thus there now exists no powerful force within the intellectual world to challenge the intellectuals on the Left.1 Even many Catholic schools and colleges are now dominated by the concerns and ideas of the Left intellectuals, and form no bulwark, as to some extent they once did, against intellectual domination.

One can point to two facts which suggest the extent of this dominance by the intellectuals of the Left. Until the 1950’s, the distinctions between highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow were universally considered critical in discussing American culture and American intellectual life. They have quite disappeared—but not because, as many in the 40’s and 50’s argued would happen, highbrow ideas have been coopted and swallowed up by middlebrow culture. Quite the contrary: I believe that highbrow ideas, the ideas which were sharply critical of the bourgeoisie and its culture, have by now captured the old audience of the middlebrow. The loss of confidence and nerve that follows when the bourgeoisie is inundated by an anti-bourgeois culture—which is just what is happening today—can scarcely be exaggerated.

A second fact: For a long time, analysts of the campus scene made a distinction between elite and non-elite schools. The non-elite schools maintained a collegiate, anti-intellectual culture; the elite schools, while they included such tendencies, also maintained an intellectual culture. Today it is no longer possible to make an important distinction between the two kinds of campus. There is one culture, and Kent State is a part of it no less than Princeton. Despite its strong anti-rational—and therefore anti-intellectual—bias, it is a culture molded by the intellectuals: by their ideas and attitudes, even if their ideas and attitudes are no longer communicated through reasoned discussion.

_____________

 

II

If it is true that the intellectuals are a distinct grouping within American society, it is also true that a high proportion of the members of this group are Jews. Recent studies of college faculties, the largest single concentration of intellectuals, report that Jews, who form 3 per cent of the American population, or less, characteristically form more than a third of the faculties of elite schools, and more than 10 per cent of the faculty population as a whole. Among college students, from whom intellectuals are recruited, there is a similar picture (though the proportion of Jews among students is smaller than it is among faculty). The change is not only visible on the campus, however. Publishing, which as late as the mid-1950’s was a field in which few Jews worked, has been transformed in the past fifteen years into a largely Jewish industry. In the field of mass entertainment, of course—especially movies and popular music—there have been large numbers of Jews for a long time. But in the past two decades this field too has been “intellectualized” to an astonishing extent. Song lyrics are no longer confined, as we well know, to moon and June, which used pretty well to sum them up. So too with movies and mass magazines.

Because so many intellectuals are Jews (even if most Jews are not intellectuals), one of the most serious issues affecting the position of Jews in general during the coming years may very well stem from the circumstance that it was intellectuals—college students, faculty members, intellectual periodicals, the “intellectualized” mass media—who most strongly opposed American participation in the Vietnam war, and who in addition attacked and overthrew the traditional restraints—on sexual behavior, on anti-authoritarian behavior, on violent behavior in certain settings—that had been established in American society.

To consider the war first: I have always believed American intervention in Vietnam to have been a terrible mistake and a disaster from the beginning, and that we only evaded this recognition—and still evade it—through the typical American pattern of trying to reverse a failure of policy by technological means, in this case massive destruction. But in this I only reflect the views of . . . intellectuals. I do not believe that even now the majority of the American people see the matter in this way. They can select quite different facts for emphasis, and interpret the same facts differently: that it was the boys who did not go to college who fought the war, the children of “Middle America”; that it was the boys who stayed behind, who were part of the intellectual class, or hoped to become part of it, and their teachers, who opposed the war and made impossible a united national commitment to those fighting it; that the war was lost in large measure because the intellectuals undermined patriotism, nationalism, the authority of government and army. The conceivable end of this line of thinking—and many of the parents and relatives of the 300,000 dead and maimed Americans may take it—is that the intellectuals are responsible, the “faggots,” as the construction workers in New York call the students, the long-hairs, and (if the inhibitions against anti-Semitism raised by the war against Hitler should be overcome) finally the Jews.

I think anyone who looks to the future in America must consider this possibility—almost a probability—of the rise of a stab-in-the-back myth, in which it will not only be students and professors and intellectuals who are attacked, and not only Jews in their role as members of this general community, but conceivably Jews as Jews. The parallel between Weimar and America is often raised. There are many, many differences. And yet this parallel cannot be dismissed. We must end the war—that is the first order of business. But let no one deceive himself that all will be well when the country contemplates a futile and useless and costly war, the first war it has lost, as President Nixon reminds us, in its history.

As serious in its implications for potential conflict between the intellectuals and “Middle America,” and therefore for Jews because of their prominence among the intellectuals, is the radical transformation in the tone of moral discourse and of the character of private and public behavior in the United States in the past ten years. If, for example, one considers the flooding of the bookstores with what until recently was considered hard-core pornography and was illegal to print, import, or distribute, one finds that Jews have been prominent in this revolution. The Jewish role in any case would be large because it was in paperback publishing and distributing that Jews made their mark in publishing in the 50’s. (As is true with all new entrepreneurs in an established field, they had to find new product lines.) Similarly with the transformation of films to the point where the family movie has become a small part of the whole. Similarly with the liberalization of abortion laws, in which Jewish state legislators in California and New York played a leading role. Some of the chief propagandists for drugs during this period—Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin—have been Jews too, as have many leaders of the attack on authority—the authority of school administrators, policemen, government officials. Obviously Jews are not the only people who have been involved in this moral revolution. Obviously, too, much of it has been directed against an outmoded and provincial puritanism, and much of it represents a real advance of freedom. But the moral revolution in Weimar Germany also had much to commend it—the 20’s in Germany were indeed one of the great cultural eras in world history—and many besides Jews were involved. That did not prevent Hitler from successfully blaming the moral “degeneration” of Germany on the influence of the Jews.

Anyone concerned for the future of Jews in America who sees what the intellectuals have accomplished will certainly think twice before applauding or rejoicing in the Jewish role in the transformation of the United States. This revolution was carried out in the cosmopolitan centers, and spread to the hinterland. After all, the hinterland does not make its own movies, publish its own books, produce its own television programs. It takes what the cosmopolis gives it. And I believe there is a good deal of resentment over what the cosmopolis has been giving it. Now conceivably the cultural victory is so complete that there is no longer any effective way for the hinterland to fight back. Its children, too, in large measure oppose the war in Vietnam, approve the new sexual freedom, smoke pot, and thumb their noses at authority. Perhaps America will simply lick its wounds, and blame no one but its own ignorance, arrogance, and hubris for the disaster of Vietnam. But we see here, in the potential backlash at what the intellectuals have done in relation to Vietnam and to the overturning of traditional moral values, perhaps the greatest single danger to Jews in the next ten years.

_____________

 

III

The prospects are equally ominous when we turn our attention from what the intellectuals have done to what they have thought and said and the impact of their ideas on the country.

There are three aspects of the thinking of intellectuals that are troubling for the Jewish position. First is the disappearance of any important group of intellectuals or stream of intellectual activity that finds anything positive or good about America and American life. There was a unique moment in the 1950’s when the intellectuals approved of a good deal about America. This had not been the case, at least not on such a scale, since the early decades after the founding of the Republic. Intellectuals, true to their calling, had attacked, and quite properly, American expansionism in foreign wars (Mexico), slavery, big business, political corruption, imperialism, materialism. In the late 1940’s and 50’s, in the aftermath of a war against the unmitigated evil of Nazism, and when we were confronted in the Soviet Union by a foreign enemy that combined in paramount degree dictatorial brutality and cultural vulgarity, intellectuals for the first time in a hundred years discovered something to celebrate in America: its encouragement of group life of various kinds; its ability to change without violence; its altruistic and generous assistance to war-ravaged countries; its openness to foreign and immigrant influence; its relative classlessness.

All this, of course, has changed. America is not approved of by the intellectuals today. Its encouragement of group life is denounced as hypocritical sham; its ability to change without violence is radically questioned (violence indeed is given more praise and more support than was ever dreamed possible—and by intellectuals); its foreign role is seen as an expression of the most brutal, cruel, and selfish of imperialisms.

This change in the way intellectuals think is bound to have consequences for Jews. A country in which the authority of government is undermined, a society in which violence becomes more common and more accepted, do not represent an environment in which Jews will flourish. Jews, in fact, have already been hurt by violence. Given the oddities of Jewish social distribution, it is the property of Jews that gets destroyed when there is rioting in the ghettos, just as the long haired students in New York who are attacked by enraged construction workers are likely to be Jews and just as it turns out that three of the four students who were killed at Kent State were Jews. At present all these are simply statistical consequences of Jewish distribution. What one must fear is that the actual statistical associations will enter the consciousness of the violent ones, and the old anti-Semitic, conspiratorial explanations of conflict, tragedy, and failure will be revived.

But it is not only the possibilities of backlash here which constitute a threat to Jews. The greater danger is that American opinion in general will be influenced by the view prevalent among intellectuals of the American role in world politics. American intervention has in the past helped Jews in cases where they were being persecuted. Many trends—in particular the increasing circumspection with which the influence of great powers is or can be used—reduce the value of this source of possible aid for threatened Jewish interests, including, of course, aid to Israel in the form of arms. But it is further reduced if public opinion, influenced by intellectuals, comes to assume that American intervention is always and inevitably selfish, or imperialist, or racist in character. In this case, obloquy may even fall upon those for whom American help is intended.

Similarly, in the domestic sphere, if America is believed to be inherently discriminatory and racist in its treatment of minority groups, then the very success—economic, political, cultural—of the Jewish group becomes suspect: it becomes a success based on collaboration with the enemy. This is already the argument that is made by those Jewish members of the New Left who are professedly most sympathetic to Jews; they see the Jewish position in this country not as the product of worthy Jewish effort in a benign environment, but as the consequence of an unmanly accommodation by the “Uncle Jakes” to an arrogant, racist society. Here, then, is another way in which the assault on the reputation of America—an assault which has already succeeded in reducing this country, in the eyes of many American intellectuals, to outlaw status—must affect the position of Jews.

_____________

 

There is a second aspect of the current outlook of intellectuals that one must soberly consider as a factor of potential influence on the position of Jews. This is the view now held by most intellectuals of the moral quality of Jewish life, both in the United States and in Israel. Nazism, fascism, the Second World War, the slaughter of the six million, and the almost miraculous creation of the State of Israel with the remarkable momentary support of both the United States and Soviet Russia—all this combined for a time to raise Jewish prestige among intellectuals to the highest level it had reached since the intelligentsia emerged in Europe, regardless of whether we date that emergence from the Reformation, the Enlightenment, or the Industrial Revolution. Intellectuals had never thought well of Jews before. Until the late 19th century, Jews were conceived of as medieval, backward, money-grasping, clannish. Even those Jews who joined with the radical intellectuals, pouring into the socialist parties of Europe and becoming some of their leading theoreticians, were ready to adopt a view of their own people as either medievalists or capitalists. Throughout the 19th century, and right through the history of fascism, there was, in addition, always a body of influential right-wing intellectuals who held exactly the same view of the Jews, the only difference in this respect being that on the Right there was no Jewish participation to moderate the excesses of anti-Semitism.

All this changed in World War II and its aftermath. Indeed, there has never been such a wave of philo-Semitism among intellectuals as that which rose to flood tide in 1945—and, I would suggest now, ebbed in 1967. Many factors contributed to the ebbing of the philo-Semitic outlook of the intellectuals. One was the overwhelming military victory of Israel in 1967. Intellectuals in the present era do not look kindly on the military, if it is not formally a revolutionary military. Another factor was the rise of the Third-World revolutions, and the sometimes fortuitous association of these revolutions with the enemies of Israel. The Arab world was scarcely revolutionary, but Algeria, whose struggle against French colonialism had been turned by French intellectuals into a paradigm of Third-World revolution, spoke Arabic; the Arabs became allied with elements of black Africa; and, through an odd chain of circumstances, Israel became the perceived enemy of revolutionary intellectuals, black as well as white. The victory of Israel over the Arabs in 1967 put the finishing touches on this development.

There were other factors in the decline of philo-Semitism among intellectuals. After World War II, not only America but capitalism gained new credibility and support among intellectuals. It was capitalism after all that was producing a high standard of living in America and Western Europe, and it was under capitalism that a high degree of personal liberty seemed to obtain, in contrast to the situation under socialism in Russia and Eastern Europe, which provided neither freedom nor a high standard of living. Now Jews, despite their prominence among the intellectuals criticizing capitalism, seem to flourish as a group under capitalism. For businessmen and free professionals (and for intellectuals, I would add) it could scarcely be otherwise. Thus when capitalism got into trouble with the intellectuals once again, as it did in the 1960’s with the surprising recrudescence of Marxist and other radical doctrines and with the even more surprising turn by many intellectuals toward the support of authoritarian regimes, Jews quite naturally turned up once again as a backward element and an obstacle to progress.

There is a third aspect of the declining philo-Semitism of intellectuals, and this is the declining credit of religion in the modern world. A religious revival took place after World War II. Religious thinkers, old and new, were held in high repute by intellectuals. No matter that these were largely Protestant thinkers; their prestige spilled over to Jews as well. Today religion has credit only to the extent that it becomes political or “relevant” and participates in current struggles, and whatever the efforts of various groups of Jews to insist on the social role of Judaism, the fact is that if Judaism is to be taken seriously because it works for social justice, it will not be taken seriously at all. Judaism has to some degree, and individual Jews have to a much greater degree, worked for universal social justice, but this is not the distinguishing mark of Judaism—a religion whose true strength and authority lie rather in its unbending monotheism, its historical depth and weight, its focus on a single people in all its concrete reality.

Finally there is the fact that Jews have depended on liberal values for their security and their prosperity, and never have liberal values been in worse shape among the intellectuals. Interestingly enough, even the one liberal value that has defined the main thrust of Jewish defense organizations over the years—tolerance—has come under severe attack from such leading intellectuals as Herbert Marcuse, Barrington Moore, and Robert Paul Wolff. Nor is the attack confined to them, as one can see (to take a random example) from the catechism entitled “Answers to Liberal Questions on Campus Uprising” circulated by the New University Conference and published last spring in the Guardian. Now both the Guardian and the NUC may be considered relatively moderate representatives of the New Left: they are not Weathermen. Yet this catechism explains why it is unnecessary to respect the rights of minorities of students who want to attend classes during strikes or to enlist in ROTC, and it also defends the kinds of violence that are used to support this refusal of tolerance. If liberal values, and particularly the value of tolerance, decline, Jews are in trouble; if arguments are made for violence and violence is encouraged, Jews are in trouble. Perhaps not immediately—so many Jews after all are engaged in the attack on tolerance and the encouragement of violence. But soon enough. More than most people, Jews need a civil society, one in which rules exist and are enforced, because they are a small minority whose very security is based on rules of civilized intercourse. When these go, Jews will suffer.

_____________

 

IV

I have argued that if we look at intellectuals, we will see less understanding of and support for Jews and Jewish interests than we have had from that quarter in many years. At the same time, I have argued that the role intellectuals have played in this country in recent years is likely to arouse a nasty opposition which—since so many intellectuals are Jews—may spread to Jews as such. These two arguments apparently come down to saying that if, on the one hand, intellectuals maintain their prominence and power, and hold to their present intellectual stance, Jews will suffer; while on the other hand, if they decline in power and influence, Jews will suffer. Is there no contradiction here?

No, there is none. First, groups can act against their own interests. Second, the fact is that while intellectuals are in large measure Jews, Jews are not in large measure intellectuals. What is good for intellectuals may not be good for Jews, so that intellectuals may maintain prominence and power while Jews and Jewish interests suffer. But aside from this purely formal point, we have to contend, as always in discussing any minority group, with the sticky phenomenon known as “self-hatred.”

Up to now I have spoken as if the only reasons for the declining philo-Semitism. of the intellectuals have been certain developments in the world which place the interests of Jews in opposition to those of groups now favored by intellectuals—revolutionaries of every stripe, both in the Third World and in the United States. But in all truth the matter is not so simple. There is a peculiar bite to the enthusiasm with which intellectuals—and Jewish intellectuals—have taken up these causes. For the anti-Jewish tendencies of Jewish intellectuals cannot be understood merely in terms of concrete interests which they have chosen to espouse. They have also chosen to put down certain things. The virulence of the New-Left attack on “Zionism” around the world cannot to my mind be explained on the basis of a belief that in the conflict between Jews and Arabs, the Jews are wrong and the Arabs are right. It is also explained by the fact that the Jews stand for something—and not only to intellectuals in general, but to Jewish intellectuals, perhaps, in particular. They stand for rationality; they stand for a society of mixed and limited goods; they stand for individual responsibility; they stand for ambiguity and irony; they stand for the virtue of attachment to a concrete people as well as attachment to abstract universal principles; they stand for the modification of the ideal by the real. It is interesting to me that when intellectuals were attracted to the qualities of ambiguity and irony (let us take, as a symbolic example, the work of Joyce, and recall that a Jew stands at the heart of his major novel), they understood and were sympathetic to the Jewish position. As they turn more and more to a world-view in which there is no nuance, but only black and white, a world in which even Soviet Russia seems too acquiescent in its relations to a complex reality and only Mao and Castro and Che in their resistance (or apparent resistance) to such reality satisfy—at such a time the Jews are not in favor. And for the Jewish intellectual, there is the additional element of fighting these hated values of moderation and tolerance as he has experienced them first-hand, up close, and often in himself.

Self-hatred can mean and has meant many things. In the past, when one spoke of self-hatred among Jews, one usually was referring to the embarrassment of being associated with a low-status, pariah people. Individual Jews tried to free themselves from this association by turning against the Jewish group, Jewish practices, Jewish mores—by “passing,” sometimes becoming more anti-Semitic than non-Jewish anti-Semites. This is the classic Jewish self-hatred. Today, when Jewish status has risen, when Jews are no longer generally seen as outcasts from a Christian society (in part because the society itself is no longer so thoroughly Christian), we encounter a new form of self-hatred—a hatred of what Jews have become, the qualities they have come to stand for: rationality, moderation, balance, tolerance. All these qualities are now attacked in their own right, but even more, I am convinced—though it would be hard to prove—they are attacked by Jews because they are also Jewish values which hamper anyone raised in them from becoming as completely committed to the values of irrationality, intolerance, and extremism as many Jewish intellectuals would now like.

But if one element in the present mood of intellectuals is a forcible unlearning of liberal values, and if the victims of this process are Jews and Jewish interests, should not those of us concerned with Jewish interests favor the counter-attack on the intellectuals that I have suggested is altogether likely as a result of the role they have played in connection with the Vietnam war and the change in American moral standards? The answer is no, if only because this counter-attack too will be marked by intolerance and violence. Jewish interests can no more be served by the extremism of the Right than they can be served by the extremism of the Left which so many intellectuals favor today.

Jewish interests are clearly tied up with the fate of liberalism, of tolerance, of nonviolence. This is certainly the case in the United States; it is the case in other countries where Jews live; and despite the permanent war in the Middle East, it is even the case there. It is a liberal, open society that makes it possible for the American Jewish population to raise money for Israel, and to influence the government in support of Israel’s right to exist. More liberal policies in the Soviet Union would undoubtedly serve to limit the ominous attachment of the Russians to the cause of arming the Arab states, and would make possible increased Jewish emigration from that country. Israel itself, despite the need to maintain powerful and terribly costly armed forces, observes the values of a liberal society within its own borders, and will, one hopes, be pushed by its loyalty to these very values toward new approaches to peace.

The aim of those of us within the intellectual community who are committed to liberal values and to Jewish interests as well must be to persuade our fellow intellectuals to give up their attachment to the enemies of those values on the Left while also guarding against the counter-attack from the Right. It will not be easy to maintain such a complex stance, but it is the only one that can serve the interests of an open society, of Jews, and—I also believe—of intellectuals themselves as well.

_____________


Footnotes

1 It would be interesting to study the cases in which books are purged from libraries and teachers fired for putting radical or avant-garde writers into school curricula. It is my impression that the number of such cases declines steadily, even though the fare in question (e.g., Eldridge Cleaver) is much stronger. (By contrast, the New York Times attacks the United States Information Service for the effrontery of adding perfectly conventional and respectable conservative literature to its libraries.) The feelings still persist that would lead to book-banning. Those who have these feelings, however, seem to have lost their former self-confidence.

About the Author




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.