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'An Audacious of Appropriation' Jewish Intellectuals, The Legacy of the Second World War and the Emergence of Neoconservatism

Author(s): Nadja A. Janssen

Journal: United Academics Journal of Social Sciences
ISSN 2212-5736

Volume: 2;
Issue: 9;
Start page: 24;
Date: 2012;
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Keywords: Jewish Intellectuals | neoconservatism | Jewish neoconservatives | Holocause | American Jews | Integration | assimilation | identity

The 1930s and the 1940s were characterised by intense bigotry and some of the most concerted efforts in the American Jewish experience to exclude Jews from mainstream American society. Yet, in the aftermath of the Second World War a more inclusive and universalistic approach to Americaness emerged in which particularistic identities, while still subordinated, came to play an ever-larger role. In the growing pluralistic Zeitgeist of post-Second World War America, particularistic contributions to American culture and life not only came to be understood as desirable, but necessary - especially in light of the developing struggle with the Soviet Union. Within this context, and in reaction to the Second World War and especially the Holocaust, Jewish communal debates of the 1950s and 1960s were defined by efforts to develop patterns of identification, which would bring further integration, while at the same time provide possibilities to be openly and outwardly Jewish. One such pattern, to emerge fully in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was that of neoconservatism, directly and consciously opposing widespread ideas that American Jewish identity was directly related to a politically liberal outlook. The author shows how the Second World War and the Holocaust played an important role in defining debates of integration, assimilation and identity amongst a number of Jewish intellectuals, who moved within the realm of so-called New York intellectuals, and some of whom would later become known as neoconservatives. While many of these intellectuals remained silent while the Holocaust unfolded, they began to reclaim both their Jewish and American identities emphatically in the immediate aftermath of the war – a process that was accompanied by an often-divisive discussion of the Holocaust and its lessons for the American scene and especially for American Jews. Renegotiating their Jewishness and their Americaness simultaneously, they began to promote a rigid and hyper-nationalist defence of the American status quo as well as a highly defensive and ethnocentric approach to Jewish identity based almost exclusively on concerns with Jewish safety and vulnerability. Scrutinising how they discussed the Holocaust and the Second World War demonstrates that American Jews were far from silent in discussing the Holocaust in the immediate aftermath of the war – as is often contended. Moreover, in the case of budding neoconservative intellectuals, analogies of the Second World War and the Holocaust foreshadowed an argumentative repertoire which became an integral part of neoconservative thought in an effort to promote neoconservative ideas, justify the conservative turn and convince fellow Jews to follow Jewish neoconservatives’ example in breaking with the left.
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