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.