An Act of Affirmation
It is traditional to begin a new magazine with brave declarations. If we do not, we trust we shall be forgiven.
We begin at a moment heavy with a sense of human destiny. Every school-boy who listens to the radio knows that 1945 marks an epoch in world history. World War II has ended; the United Nations have won the greatest military victory of the ages; yet we stand troubled and hesitant before the glorious era of peace which we have awaited so long, and which now we seem not to know how to deal with.
In war, our country has demonstrated a giant’s strength, in production, in cooperation, in planning, in courage. It remains to be seen—and present omens are ambiguous—whether this same giant’s strength can be mustered as greatly and as wisely for the arts of peaceful living and the problems of peaceful world governance.
And since August 7, shadowing every moment of our thinking and feeling, there is the fearsome knowledge that through our inventiveness we have unleashed a power that has proved it can end a world war by a single blow, and that only waits to prove that it can—by other well-directed blows—build new, undreamed civilizations, or end the human race. Though ten thousand editorial writers the world over have said it again and again, it is still true: here man faces an ultimate challenge. Here, in its starkest form, we sometimes think, is what the scripture must have meant by the haunting phrase “the knowledge of good and evil.”
As Jews, we are of an ancient tradition that, in a very special sense, keeps a vigil with history. We are peculiarly sensitive to the march of events, perhaps because, as some say ruefully, they have so often marched over us. So, at the least, we share with the rest of humanity the deep unease of breathing air almost visibly clotted with fantastic utopias or unimaginable cataclysms. And, in addition, we suffer our own special questionings, which in all candor, we believe humanity should share with us, possibly for the common good.
As Jews, we live with this fact: 4,750,000 of 6,000,000 Jews of Europe have been murdered. Not killed in battle, not massacred in hot blood, but slaughtered like cattle, subjected to every physical indignity—processed. Yes, cruel tyrants did this; they have been hurled down; they will be punished, perhaps. Yes, there were men and women in other lands who raised their voices in protest, who lent helping hands. But we must also record this fact: the voices were not many, the hands were not many. There was a strange passivity the world over in the face of this colossal latter-day massacre of innocents, whether Jews or other “minorities.”
And we must face this fact, too: that the kind of thinking and feeling that set loose this nightmare phenomenon still burns high in many countries, and lies latent in all. We have no gauge to measure the potentialities of this great Nazi secret weapon of World War II. But there are many—and they are not guided by personal hurt alone—who believe that here is a force that, in the political and social scene, can wreak destruction comparable to the atomic bomb itself. It was the ignis fatuus that lured the German people to their doom. It was the flame of the torch that kindled World War II. To resist it; to learn how to stamp it out; to re-affirm and restore the sense of the sanctity of the human person and the rights of man:—here, too, our world is greatly challenged. How that challenge is to be met is, of course, of particular interest to Jews, but hardly less to all mankind, if there is to be a human future.
At this juncture, in the midst of this turbulence and these whirlwinds, we light our candle, COMMENTARY. Surely here is an act of faith.
It is an act of faith of a kind of which we seem peculiarly capable, we who, after all these centuries, remain, in spite of all temptation, the people of the Book.
We believe in the Word. We believe in study—as a guide to life, for the wisdom it brings to the counsels of men, and for its own sake. We have faith in the intellect, in the visions of visionary men, in the still, small voices of poets, and thinkers, and sages.
COMMENTARY is an act of faith in our possibilities in America. With Europe devastated, there falls upon us here in the United States a far greater share of the responsibility for carrying forward, in a creative way, our common Jewish cultural and spiritual heritage. And, indeed, we have faith that, out of the opportunities of our experience here, there will evolve new patterns of living, new modes of thought, which will harmonize heritage and country into a true sense of at-home-ness in the modern world. Surely, we who have survived catastrophe, can survive freedom, too.
In the search for light on the basic issues of peace and freedom and human destiny which challenge all mankind, COMMENTARY hopes to be of service. It goes without saying that the best magazine in the world will not solve our problems. But we have faith that a good magazine can help—by fairness, by searching out the truth, by encouraging fresh and free-ranging thinking, by bringing to bear upon our problems the resources of science, philosophy, religion, and the arts, by seeking out authentic voices and giving them open-house in which to be heard.
In this spirit, and with these aims, to publish the best magazine we know how to, hospitable to the broadest range of worth-while opinion—this is the sole mandate the editors have from COMMENTARY’S sponsor, the American Jewish Committee. Few projects have a charter so free, so generous-minded, so full of faith in the value of honest thinking and decent writing. The Contemporary Jewish Record, which is to be incorporated into COMMENTARY, has had a charter in the same spirit, and under it gained its reputation for fairness, high standards, and an unfailing sense of responsibility.
We think we have a kind of mandate from the people, too. A few weeks ago we addressed an inquiry to several thousand men and women, coast to coast, most of them active in Jewish affairs, some not so closely affiliated. We asked whether a good Jewish monthly was needed today, and, if so, what kind?
We were overwhelmed with replies, and not a little moved by the enthusiasm, interest, and warm good will for the project. Amidst the flood of counsel, advice, and admonition, there were five or six recurrent themes: “Give us authentic information, undistorted by propaganda and factionalism . . . give us the broadest discussion of the various Jewish creeds and philosophies . . . reflect our American life . . . make our Jewish heritage available . . . try not to be narrow, sectarian, parochial . . . encourage our best young minds. . . .”
It is a many-sided task. But COMMENTARY, as its name implies, aims to be many-sided. Commentary means a “record, a history, a memoir.” We will reach back for the riches of the past. Commentary means a “running comment.” We will keep abreast of the march of events. Commentary means “interpretation.” We will present significant discussion by many minds on the basic issues of our times.
But there is also a traditional Jewish meaning of commentary—somewhat private, but very real, we think—which we as editors cherish. Our ancient scribes and sages, as we know, only wrote commentaries on the revelation which was the Law. But we know that these ever-changing interpretations of the past by the men of wisdom and men of insight of each generation, became for that generation more than merely commentaries. It became the truth that men lived by. Truth, as someone has said, is an ever-flowing, ever-renewing stream. . . .
We said we would not speak brave words, but we almost have. As editors, we know our place. It is really a humble function. We are like well-diggers. We roll up our sleeves and in the sweat of our brows, we dig. And if the time and place are right, and the omens are propitious—of a sudden, fresh, cool, flowing waters. . . .
To this task, soberly and earnestly, we dedicate ourselves.