The Magazine

An Apprenticeship

Chronicling Commentary's early years.

Dec 11, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 13 • By BENJAMIN BALINT
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In 1945, Commentary had been born into a marginal, impoverished, immigrant-based subculture and an intellectual milieu that touted 'alienation' and 'critical nonconformity' as the true marks of the intellectual vis-à-vis his own culture. Two generations later, Commentary stood in the mainstream of American culture, and even of American conservatism, as a celebrant of the fundamental goodness of the American regime. . . . It was a stunning achievement.

In chronicling that achievement, a biography of Commentary must explain--as Abrams does not--how the magazine both reflected and contributed to a growing appreciation among Jews of certain American democratic principles and freedoms; how, as sons of immigrants, and beneficiaries of these freedoms, they were well placed to discern them especially clearly, and to defend them especially vigorously. Such a book would tell the story of how a little Jewish magazine, gathering to itself the great American political and literary themes, transformed--and was transformed by--America.

Benjamin Balint is a fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.