The cherished yet divided life of diasporic Jews in America exemplified in Kissenger, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Irving Kristol, Isaiah Berlin, Norman Podhoretz, Einstein and hosts of other brilliant minds relieved from the tyranny of Fascism in Europe was on full display last September in light of Irving Kristol’s death; as Americans favorably considered the Jewish embrace of liberalism, the Democratic Party Post World War II and its intellectual achievements from Roosevelt down to Johnson’s domestic resolve reveal an intellectual reversal fit for Sophocles. Whom else to quarry the threads leading to a birth of a new order demonstrated in Reagan. A birth whose pangs ran deep within the life of Irving Kristol himself. As we travail the reversal, the contours of those mentioned above, we arrive at a deadly earnest for whom only the most ardent and sincere would survive. For if Whittaker Chambers passionate reluctance ran foul, whom else would survive the turning back? Among those privileged either to know Iriving Kristol himself or the ideals that beckoned him, one thing was clear, the man had the courage of his convictions.
Irving Kristol, Isaiah Berlin and many other intellectual Jews of the wartime period exemplified a seriousness of mind that is permanently amiss from the clerics of our time. It’s difficult to exhort to another the power that ideas held over many between 1880-1947. American innocence did not suffer as did France in the war 1918. We embodied that innocence to a fault. Yet it too paid interest under Marshall. How to reveal the passionate innocence open to being shaped by a cold calculating foreign rubric that became Marxism? Kristol, Berlin, Podhoretz and legions gave themselves over to a lie that hardened them to a political and intellectual reversal that blazes America today.
How did it begin?
The life of a diaporic Jew can ask what others can’t witness. Can Torah shape an answer to the challenges of secularism and the appeal to modernity? Is such an answer appealing? Can a love of Israel embodied as an ‘eternal promise’ be enough? Is not the response of witnessed exile the full embodiment of a felt integrity par excellence? And what of the ovens?
In the end, many such Jewish intellectuals knew that sentiments alone were insufficient. To survive Israel and its heritage must alloy itself to partners outside its tradition, the geopolitical challenges threatening it were insurmountable. It either maintained a rigid posture of unaccomodation or vanish in another onslaught. Kristol, Berlin, Podhoretz tried and succeeded in finding the needed resolution in neoconservatism.
In lieu of Kristol’s death conservatives and Marxist’s witnessed a metanoia unbecoming political life. For the Jew who remembers the heady nights of fin de siecle Paris, New York or London, the west was expected to fail in light of the fierce convictions of those passionately wedded to determinism. Their are lessons here for those who believe that passion alone is sufficient to effect political desire. We should quarry Kristol’s decisive turn away from Marxism, to find a Socratic mien known as intellectual responsibility.
Only those who openly acknowledge ‘the burden’ of liberty, the fragility of the means required to live in accord with conscience, and the terrible challenges that secularism brings to both American Jewry and exceptionalism can understand the price of such turn away from the cherished beliefs of one’s youth.
Irving Kristol’s reversal, achievement and consequent death is monumental when you consider the sheer force of his personal challenge: the belief that ideas matter!
There is within such people an optimism born from and informed by the tempered solitude of texuality; a Strauss, Tocqueville, or Burke.
Being a head of his time, we see him in Leon Kass’ admonishment that contemporary life being indebted to a Jewish diaspora shaped its contact from Angelo liberty is still held in suspicion from revelation. A constant tension between Athens and Jerusalem, only resolved in favor of Rome or Washington!
We can submit that very few people ever see the shape of their convictions embodied in the drive of citizenry, in framed institutions worthy of sacrifice or commitment. As such, Kristol and the others are the worthy stepchildren of our Founders. For them, Zionism emptied herself from ghettos of Europe to embrace the prophetic ethos of modernity outside the moral and liturgical traditions of their faith. For them alone, revelation was not abandoned, it was politically acceptable alternative given the time and choice. If America, and by extension the free world was to win in the battle between liberty (America) and equality (Russia), then nationhood as understood within the confining traps of geopolitical strategy must be renewed from within.
They began the step to thwart an impending demise by choosing liberty over determinism. The personal price paid was steep, longtime friends, and lovers fiercely attacked them as traitors. All wrote personal accounts of the social and psychological impact of such encounters. Remember Chambers and the epiphany of his recognized daughter! The strained witness of relief only to surrender to the mystery that is a grace communicated to the soul alone. In such he held company with Thomas More, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitzen. Not bad company. But the price was steep nonetheless. As such he put faith in integrity over social status or the false conviction of consistency that fortifies useful idiots. Because he pressed onward alone, like Lincoln, we have a future today.
The birth of neoconservatism is witnessed in the mature reversal of several men and women committed to the belief that man is free, and everywhere he is in chains.