Run­ning Com­men­tary: The Con­tentious Mag­a­zine That Trans­formed the Jew­ish Left into the Neo­con­ser­v­a­tive Right

  • Review
By – September 8, 2011

In metic­u­lous detail, Balint traces the steps by which this influ­en­tial and para­dox­i­cal­ly anti-intel­lec­tu­al month­ly recon­fig­ured itself from a post-World War II voice of lib­er­al­ism to a post-Six­ties voice of con­ser­vatism. Though Balint pays sig­nif­i­cant atten­tion to the con­tri­bu­tions of each of the three key edi­tors of Com­men­tary—Elliot Cohen, Nor­man Pod­horetz, and Neal Kozodoy — he makes it clear that the tran­si­tion was in good mea­sure a reflec­tion of the per­son­al jour­ney and per­sua­sive pow­er of Podhoretz. 

Balint pro­vides a use­ful pre­am­ble on the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in Amer­i­ca, par­tic­u­lar­ly its intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. He defines Com­men­tary as the voice, first of all, of The Fam­i­ly” — a clus­ter of first-gen­er­a­tion Jews with cul­tur­al roots in the motives and immi­grant expe­ri­ences of their par­ents. Almost exclu­sive­ly prod­ucts of New York’s City Col­lege, these young men (and the women with whom they toiled and built house­holds) artic­u­lat­ed an under­stand­ing of Jew­ish self-inter­est as coin­ci­dent with Amer­i­can val­ues and prosperity. 

When The Fam­i­ly was most cog­nizant of its out­sider sta­tus, lib­er­al­ism offered itself as the hos­pitable polit­i­cal vision. Even­tu­al­ly the out­siders came to see them­selves as insid­ers, and as such adopt­ed what was coined the neo­con­ser­v­a­tive” ori­en­ta­tion. Balint explores the rich com­plex­i­ty of this tran­si­tion, includ­ing its con­nec­tion with chang­ing atti­tudes toward Israel, offer­ing col­or­ful por­traits of the key mem­bers of The Fam­i­ly and their intri­cate, shift­ing rela­tion­ships. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, notes.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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