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The Neoconservative Revolution by Murray Friedman

- Abstract

One of the many causes championed by the late Murray Friedman, whose death last May brought to a close a long and fruitful career, was the recovery of a genuine, if largely forgotten, strain of conservatism in the American Jewish past. Given the unwavering commitment to liberalism of most American Jews, a more counter-intuitive proposition would have been hard to find. But Friedman, an accomplished historian who served as mid-Atlantic director for the American Jewish Committee, vice chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and founding director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, was a patient and a hopeful man.

Nor did the goal of excavating an American Jewish conservatism seem any more quixotic to Friedman than Russell Kirk’s project a half-century earlier in The Conservative Mind (1953). After all, when Kirk’s book was launched, conventional wisdom had it that America possessed but one intellectual tradition, namely liberalism, outside of which there was nothing but an uncharted territory of (in Lionel Trilling’s sardonic characterization) irritable mental gestures. Kirk provided a plausible historical background for a very different collection of ideas, and a very different intellectual and moral disposition—an American outlook that had been there all along but that lacked the means of identifying itself.

About the Author

Wilfred M. McClay, who holds the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, contributed “Is Conservatism Finished?” to the January COMMENTARY. His latest book is Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past.