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Judaica part 4 — Jewish Intellectuals in the United States

Left, Right, and Centrist

Hannah Arendt was only one of many Jewish intellectuals—artists, writers, philosophers, and numerous scientists, the most famous of whom was Albert Einstein, the leading theorist of modern physics—who came to the United States in flight from Hitler and the Nazis. Einstein helped initiate the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the first atomic bomb; after World War II, he became a prominent advocate for peace and nuclear disarmament.

Sidney Hook Papers

The Sidney Hook papers include Hook's correspondence with Einstein from 1937 until 1952, covering subjects ranging from politics to education. Also in his collection are writings by Hook about aspects of Einstein's life and work. Additional materials about Einstein, including correspondence and writings by and about Einstein, can be found in the Karl Popper papers.

The archives has several collections of Jewish American writers and political activists, especially those who are often referred to as "the New York Intellectuals," a broad term that encompasses a group of individuals prominent in American cultural life in the mid-twentieth century, many of whom were Jewish. The term has often been used specifically to describe those who had been youthful radicals in New York in the Depression era, often participating in the international communist movement, but as anti-Stalinists sympathetic to the positions of Leon Trotsky or other figures in the opposition to Stalin. Frequently, these same intellectuals, although not all, adopted more conservative positions in later years.

Sidney Hook was one such New York intellectual of Jewish background. Starting out as a Marx scholar, he ended up as a vigorous opponent of communism, and was an animator of the Congress on Cultural Freedom, which played an important role in the cultural politics of the cold war. The Sidney Hook papers include Hook's writings on a large variety of topics, including those related to his early interest in Marxist philosophy.

Jay Lovestone, Herbert Solow, and Bertram D. Wolfe Papers

The archives' collections pertaining to figures among the New York intellectuals include such Jewish American personalities as Jay Lovestone, Herbert Solow, and Bertram Wolfe.

Wolfe wrote one of the first English-language histories of the Russian Revolution, Three Who Made a Revolution, and he and his wife Ella had personal experience of the Soviet Union in the early years of Stalin's rule. Later, the Wolfes spent time in Mexico, where they became acquainted with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who was of German Jewish descent on her father's side. Significant materials relating to Rivera and Kahlo are in the Wolfe papers.

The Herbert Solow papers include his extensive correspondence series, as well as speeches and writings from both his radical period and his later career as an editor of Fortune magazine. In his early writings, Solow was a left-wing critic of Zionism, having visited Palestine in the 1930s; in his later years, he became firmly pro-Israeli.

The career of Jay Lovestone differs from those of other New York Jewish intellectuals in that much of it was conducted outside the public limelight. Having been in the leadership of the early Communist Party U.S.A., Lovestone abandoned leftist politics in the early 1940s, when he began to work on behalf of the American Federation of Labor, becoming its foreign policy expert. For nearly four decades, beginning at the height of the cold war, Lovestone took part in many American-financed initiatives in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, seeking to expand U.S. influence and to bolster anticommunist forces, especially among trade unions in those parts of the world. The large Lovestone papers are an important documentary source for researchers interested in the cold war politics of American labor and in Lovestone himself.

The increasing conservatism of a number of prominent Jewish American intellectuals is at the heart of today's "neo-conservative" movement in U.S. politics and foreign policy. Characterized by a strong attachment to Israel, and a belief in a strong U.S. military posture in the world, neo-conservatives came to the fore in Ronald Reagan's administration and achieved renewed prominence in the administration of George W. Bush. The Sidney Hook papers contain his correspondence with a number of individuals who helped develop a neo-conservative current in American politics, among them Nathan Glazer, Irving Kristol, Midge Decter, and Norman Podhoretz.

Other Jewish American intellectuals did not make such dramatic shifts from the political left to the right or were never on the left to begin with. Left-wing Jewish American intellectuals are represented in various collections, including those pertaining to the Trotskyist movement (Socialist Workers Party records, Library of Social History collection) and the new left in general (New Left collection). Leftist Jewish Americans opposed the Vietnam War and, in many instances, also took a critical view of Israeli policies after 1967. Attitudes toward Israel and Zionism were to become an important dividing line among Jewish intellectuals in the United States and elsewhere.


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May 22, 2007

Jewish Intellectuals in the United States

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