The education and polemics of the eminent editor, literary critic, and neoconservative.
Podhoretz (Ex-Friends, 1998, etc.) edited Commentary for decades and, in parting from the received wisdom of the left, has earned the undying enmity of his erstwhile colleagues and collaborators. Now a 70-year-old sage, he opens his account with an autobiography, describing his forcible early assimilation (administered by his public-school teachers, who put him into a remedial speech class) from the Yiddish ghetto of his parents into the broader culture of American society. He emerged from the melting pot so well done that he was soon off to Columbia and Cambridge on major scholarships. Podhoretz thus believes strongly, from firsthand experience, that bilingual education and multicultural curricula will only serve to impede immigrant newcomers from entering the mainstream of American culture. Once out of Brooklyn, Podhoretz’s years in England and the Continent helped him to focus on the relatively classless charm of the US (where, he claims, even the anti-Semitism is muted). “The anti-Americanism I encountered [abroad] . . . strengthen[ed] my deepening recognition that America was my true home; it also resurrected the patriotic zeal that I had grown up with as a child.” Podhoretz attempts to re-create the America he knew and loved, taking us into his mother’s Depression-era kitchen, sharing his schoolboy poem celebrating America’s victory in WWII, and discussing the works of the many essayists, novelists, critics, and pundits with whom he has locked arms or horns with since 1960. He also sounds the warning against public policies (such as affirmative action) and academic theories (such as deconstruction) that he believes have imperiled American culture and politics.
Equally opposed to conservative despair and liberal nihilism, Podhoretz prescribes an optimistic, grateful patriotism as the best antidote for moral decay.