A Shift in the Political Spectrum
Norman Podhoretz answers why most Jews are liberal
NEW YORK, February 12, 2010—Norman Podhoretz, author of Why are Jews Liberal?, said that the Jewish community holds to liberalism so tightly that it has “become a religion in its own right.” He says that for many Jews, liberal ideology is a new Torah; it has replaced the old Torah as their guide to thought and behavior.
Wherever the old Torah “conflicts with the new one,” he said, “the new will always trump the old.”
Podhoretz made his comments at The King’s College in New York City on Jan. 27, 2010, as part of the college’s Distinguished Visitors Series.
Though many consider him a founder of neo-conservatism, Podhoretz did not always claim its principles. When he became the editor of Commentary magazine, he had been “involved in the earliest stirring of what got to be called the New Left.” Accordingly, he helped push the moderate magazine in a more radical direction.
By 1967, he said, he “became increasingly unhappy” with the new left’s radicalism. “What I was mostly unhappy about was the spread of anti-Americanism.” Even in his most radical phase, he said, “I didn’t hate this country. I thought we were going to perfect it.” Perfecting it would require an appreciation for America’s unique socioeconomic experiment, which, “has allowed for more liberty and more prosperity for more of its citizens than any other society in history.”
He used Commentary to propound his newfound ideology: neo-conservatism. Commentary helped bring about a “change in the climate of opinion that made it possible for a candidate with the views held by Ronald Reagan to get elected.”
In spite of this success, he still wanted to analyze why Jews remained so steadfast in their “commitment to liberalism and the Democratic party.”
In his book, Podhoretz traced the modern history of the Jews, and found that “those who tended to favor the emancipation of Jews, according them rights as citizens, tended to be on the left.” It thus made sense that they joined leftist parties upon entering secular politics in the 1800s.
Today, however, the left actively criticizes Israel and holds other views that are counter to Jewish cultural self-interest and Jewish religious ideals. But long-standing ties to the left are hard to sever, Podhoretz said. He lamented that they will only begin to consider alternatives, such as neo-conservatism, after a calamity.
Podhoretz said he ends his book with a passionate declaration that he and his fellow Jews are now important stakeholders in America’s future. Whether they believe it or not, “We Jews belong with the defenders of this country against its enemies.”
Article written by student Chris Ross, Class of 2010.
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