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THE NEW YORK INTELLECTUALS IN PERSPECTIVE

The New York Intellectuals are the first influential critics to rise from America's working classes. During the 1930s, these sons and daughters of turn-of-the-century East European Jewish immigrants formed an obscure intellectual circle where radical politics and the cultural avant-garde collided.

By the late 40s they were rising to prominence as left-wing political and cultural critics in post-war America through magazines and journals like Partisan Review and Commentary. Embroiled in the controversies of the Cold War, and challenged by the rise of the New Left in the 60s, the group's politics began to diverge and its members now occupy places across the political spectrum.

Both journalists and scholars, they have created some of this century's most influential essays. Few groups of friends have argued ideas so passionately, so publicly and over so many years.

The group spans three generations, the first, born in the 1900s and 1910s, a second born in the 1920s, and a third born in the 1930s. ARGUING THE WORLD is the story of four of the most prominent second generation New York Intellectuals as told in their own words, the words of their friends, their critics and through historians.

Although Marxists during the 30s, by the Cold War these men were strongly anti-Communist. But they also opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy's witchhunts, and thus were at odds with both the radical right and the radical left.

Distancing their fight against communism from McCarthy's political opportunism, they carved out a place for themselves in America's liberal anti-Communist center. This political center yielded, however, divergent opinions that led to strong disputes between members of the group as to whether the civil liberties of their mutual communist foes were being violated in the blacklisting hysteria.

In the post-war years, the New York Intellectuals were making their mark as cultural critics and writers, establishing the importance of modernism as a revolutionary, tradition breaking movement. They championed the work of authors like T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Ezra Pound and artists such as Picasso and Matisse through their essays, magazines and books. Once outsiders, now they were professors at some of the country's most prestigious universities. By 1956 Time magazine was hailing their growing influence.

With the rise of the New Left in the 60s, a new generation claimed the New York Intellectuals' old political turf on the Left. Antagonism between the generations was inevitable. At universities like Berkeley and Columbia, protesting students met with the opposition of their professors, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell, who had disapproved of the students' tactics.

New Left leader Tom Hayden sought out both Daniel Bell and Irving Howe, only to fall into intellectual disputes with each about political tactics and the nature of communism. Frustrated with what he saw as liberalism's acquiescence to the radicals, Irving Kristol moved to the right.

After the turmoil of the 60s, Kristol became a founder of the neo-conservative movement. Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer, both critics of liberalism found places nearer the political center while Howe, still committed to socialism, formed new alliances with his former generational foes.

 

 
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