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"[M]asterfully weaves together several strands of American and Jewish intellectual, cultural and social history . . . this important book succeeds brilliantly."—Paul Lerner, Times Literary Supplement
"[A] groundbreaking, wonderfully researched and consistently provocative book. . . . Heinze has a fluid, readable style and supports his larger arguments and history with an abundance of compelling anecdotes and facts. . . . [He] writes splendid social history. This is an important addition not only to Jewish studies, but to American cultural studies as well."—Publishers Weekly (boxed and starred review)
"Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the full history of [the] psychologization of American ideas about the psyche and human nature without considering the vast influence of Jewish writers. . . . This is a sharply argued contribution to American cultural and intellectual history that will deservedly be cited for decades to come."—Robert C. Fuller, American Historical Review
"Heinze's argument is that Christian America doesn't realize how Jewish it is. And while it would have been simple enough to round up the usual suspects . . . Heinze's choices are refreshing."—Joel Yanofsky, National Post
"[This] fascinating and innovative book could not have arrived at a better time. . . . The book deserves a wide readership."—Elaine Margolin, Jerusalem Post
"[O]utstanding . . . . Heinze cogently and elegantly traces the flow of Jewish values, attitudes, and arguments into the mainstream of American thought."—Ilana Mercer, Jewish Chronicle (London)
"This ambitious undertaking raises many very interesting questions about the role of Jewish thinkers in exploring the American mind. Andrew Heinze presents 20th-century Jewish psychiatrists, psychologists, and rabbis who have never been included in discussions of this topic before."—Choice
"One of the more remarkable revelations of Andrew Heinze's Jews and the American Soul is . . . The interpenetration of the American and the Jewish outlook . . . Ranging from the thunderous impact of Freudianism through the popular ministrations and down-to-earth advice of Dr. Joyce Brothers. . . . Heinze writes well and often colorfully."—Charles Morris, Commonweal
"A major contribution. . . . Anyone interested in the afterlife of European psychology in America; anyone interested in the difference between Jewish and non-Jewish attitudes towards psychological structures needs to read this book. . . . You will find it a pleasure to read and you will learn something new on every page (and in virtually every footnote)."—Sander L. Gilman, American Jewish History
"Heinze makes an admirably detailed study of how Jews in America became party to the important discussion of the place of the psyche in the lives of Americans."—Edmund Connelly, The Occidental Quarterly
"Andrew R. Heinze's Jews and the American Soul: Human Nature in the Twentieth Century is a sweeping, ambitious study of Jewish contributions to Americans' self-understanding. . . . In his chronicle of Jews who have aided Americans in their search for meaning, Heinze has provided us with fascinating insights into the cultural work of many of these conversations."—Marjorie N. Feld, American Studies
WHEN THOMAS JEFFERSON drafted the Declaration of Independence, he took "life, liberty, and property"-the standard trio of rights assumed by British citizens-and, for reasons unknown, replaced "property" with an elusive psychological ideal: the pursuit of happiness. In doing so, he anticipated what would become a national passion for achieving peace of mind.
Though often described as the most religious of modern societies, America is certainly the most "psychological," for it has been a tireless host to new ideas about the psyche. Since the late 1800s, when psychology began to vie with religion for the right to determine how we understand ourselves, Americans have developed an extraordinarily large and dynamic market for psychological, as well as religious, advice. However, if we are curious about the history of American ideas of human nature in the twentieth century, we quickly encounter a problem.
That problem might be called the myth of Protestant origins, if we understand myth to mean not a false story but one that, for all its richness, remains radically incomplete and therefore misleading. According to this myth, modern American views of human nature are aftereffects, mutations, orextenuations of Protestant modes of thought, starting with the Puritans and moving up in time through such seminal thinkers as John Dewey and William James, who were raised as Protestants and ended up as great post-Protestant thinkers of the twentieth century.
If American history had stopped at 1900, this account would be sound enough. But standing on the other side of 2000, we must dismiss it as outmoded. Where are the Catholics, who became a more and more significant presence in the United States after 1900? And perhaps even more urgently, we must ask, where are the Jews, whose numbers include some of the most eminent commentators on human nature to be embraced by Americans in the twentieth century? (By the opening of the twenty-first century, we should note, a new wave of non-Christian newcomers from Asia and the Islamic world had formed a foundation for further additions to American thought about the human condition.)
Because thinkers of Jewish origin were so important in this domain of American life, they pose an especially blunt challenge to the old Protestant story. It is well known that Jews authored many of the terms Americans use to describe their pursuit of happiness-the search for identity, the desire for self-actualization, the wish to avoid an inferiority complex and to stop compensating for inner weaknesses, rationalizing powerful drives and projecting them on to others, and the quest for an I-Thou relationship-to name a few. Nevertheless, historians have been content to treat Jewish thinkers as isolated individuals inexplicably dotting a post-Protestant landscape. About a thinker like Freud, whose impact on America was simply too conspicuous to be ignored, we are told that his ideas lost whatever Jewish aspect they may have possessed once Americans adapted them to meet the needs of a Protestant public.
This book explores a new hypothesis: that modern American ideas about human nature have Jewish as well as Christian origins. Only by looking at the interaction between Jews and Christians (both Protestants and Catholics) will we arrive at a more complete picture of popular thought in the twentieth century.
The story to be told here uncovers ethnic and religious elements of American thought that have lingered in the shadows of history. We will bring together parts of the national past that are usually studied in isolation: the history of immigration, ethnic identity and race, popular psychology and religious inspiration, and the moral traditions of both Jews and Christians. Because the United States is an ethnically and religiously complex society with a buoyant consumer demand for psychological and spiritual advice, we will see how new ideas about the mind and soul have ricocheted back and forth between natives and newcomers, Christians and Jews, intellectuals and the mass media.
Jews and the American Soul focuses on psychological and religious thinkers whose ideas attracted a mass audience. The book highlights a variety of psychologists and psychiatrists, rabbis, philosophers, intellectuals, journalists, and creative writers. My goal is straightforward: to uncover and track the flow of Jewish values, attitudes, and arguments into the mainstream of American thought.
A word should be said here about the term "Jewish values." Since Jews first arrived in North America, they have lived not in a segregated world of their own but alongside other Americans in a society of ever-shifting values and complicated involvements between people of various faiths and backgrounds. And even in other times and places, "Jewish values" have never existed in a vacuum, subsisting unchanged from generation to generation, immune to the winds of history. Instead, the ways in which Jewish people have chosen to live constantly changed, for the simple reason that the conditions and surroundings in which Jews found themselves constantly changed. The very definition of "Jewish" has been unstable since ancient times. And yet, Jewish values exist as a real, identifiable, and consequential force in the history of Western civilization and, as we shall see in the pages that follow, in the history of modern American culture.
Over the years our histories of colonial New England have produced profound observations about the transformation of a Puritan mentality into a distinctive American culture. From them we have learned that certain cultural tendencies and myths-about the wilderness, about an American sacred destiny, about the possibility of a morally self-regenerating society-grew in the ideologically rich soil of New England Puritanism.
The story to be told in these pages runs parallel in some respects to the Protestant narrative of spiritual pilgrimage, dissarray, and quest for redemption. The extensive Jewish engagement with modern psychologies happened not by accident but as a result of the religious and moral transformation of Jewish life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Jews in the Western world embarked on an errand not in the wilderness, like that of the American Puritans, but into modern culture. Their errand was not to create a City on a Hill, a moral place from which to regenerate the world; it was to create a moral space within European and American culture, from which to secure themselves as citizens and to purge the evils they associated with Christian civilization.
Before we begin, I want to explain the meaning of my title, Jews and the American Soul. "Jews" does not refer to all or even most Jews but to a select group whose ideas entered into the mainstream of American thought. The Jewish background of the people I discuss was significant; it made a tangible difference in their values. In what follows, I avoid the parochial assumption that the mere fact of being a Jew automatically makes one's ideas or values Jewish. That might have been true for shtetl Jews living a fairly cloistered life in communities that operated on the basis of Jewish law, but it is certainly not true of Jewish men and women living in modern societies. Imagine an American of Jewish parentage who has had no contact with Judaism or Jewish culture and whose social life does not differ from that of other Americans. Unless we indulge in a kind of genetic mysticism, we would have no reason to describe that person's ideas or values as Jewish.
By the same token, neither should we be so cautious as to assume that a Jewish perspective will be found only among those who are immersed in Judaism or Yiddishkeyt ("Jewishness," Jewish culture). Half a century ago Albert Einstein gave a vivid, though not definitive, answer to the question of what makes a person a Jew. In an attempt to explain the apparent paradox of people, like him, who had abandoned Judaism but still considered themselves thoroughly Jewish, he rejected as insufficient the definition, "A Jew is a person professing the Jewish faith":
The superficial character of this answer is easily recognized by means of a simple parallel. Let us ask the question: What is a snail? An answer similar in kind to the one given above might be: A snail is an animal inhabiting a snail shell. This answer is not altogether incorrect; nor, to be sure, is it exhaustive; for the snail shell happens to be but one of the material products of the snail. Similarly, the Jewish faith is but one of the characteristic products of the Jewish community. It is, furthermore, known that a snail can shed its shell without thereby ceasing to be a snail. The Jew who abandons his faith (in the formal sense of the word) is in a similar position. He remains a Jew.
In short, the integrity of our story depends not on quick assumptions about whether someone is capable of speaking from a Jewish point of view, but on solid evidence and plausible suggestions that a particular statement, attitude, or idea comes out of a clearly identifiable Jewish context. In order to say that a point of view is Jewish we must make the case that it either derives from Judaism or Jewish culture or reflects a state of mind shared by Jews in response to bigotry or social ostracism.
The other phrase in my title, "The American Soul," must be understood figuratively. I do not mean to imply that a nation has a soul, or that the people of the United States are so fundamentally similar as to have one common mentality that we refer to as a soul. I use the phrase "American Soul" as a metaphor for public ideas about the psyche and human nature ("psyche" being Greek for "soul").
This leads to the question, which public? Americans have always encompassed a variety of "publics" based on racial, religious, ethnic, gender, regional, and socioeconomic differences among others. There are also "taste" publics: groups of people who share a passion for a certain kind of music, art, recreation, or hobby. The public with which this book is most concerned cannot be profiled precisely, but it includes that great multitude of Americans who have taken an interest in mass-marketed inspirational literature and have been eager to know (via books, newspapers, magazines, radio, and television) what psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as spiritual leaders, think about human nature. Those who make up this public have often belonged to religious communities but, rather than restricting themselves to religious doctrine, have remained open to the mass market of ideas.
Our story opens with the era of the great mass immigration that brought two million Jews from Europe. That era, from the 1880s to the 1920s, also witnessed the rise of modern psychology as a force in American society. New ideas about the divisibility of the psyche appeared simultaneously with new ideas about the ethnic divisibility of the nation, and Jews played an important symbolic and intellectual role in that transformation of popular attitudes.
In order to fully understand why psychological ideas became so important so quickly in America, and why Jewish psychological thinkers were disproportionately involved in the dissemination of those ideas, we will travel back in time to examine the rise of new concepts of the psyche, especially in the nineteenth century, to see how closely interwoven they were with varieties of Christian thought and to identify some of the Jewish religious innovations that made Judaism more attentive to the psychic condition of the individual.
As a point of departure, we will look at an unusual, and quite early, interaction of American and Jewish values of individual development-the adaptation of Benjamin Franklin's famous self-improvement plan into the Hebrew ethical literature of eastern Europe, a genre known as musar-in the early 1800s. The intellectual and moral restlessness that led Jews to adapt new techniques of self-improvement also led to the psychoanalytic moralism of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, the first major approach to the psyche to emerge out of a Jewish moral environment.
Once we have viewed the trajectory of Western and Jewish conceptions of the psyche, we will return to America and examine the reasons why popular psychology became a booming cultural industry, outstripping theology and philosophy as a guide for a literate mass audience seeking advice about how to live. We then turn to Jewish thinkers in the field of psychological advice between the 1890s and 1940s. Through them, Jewish concerns and values first entered into American popular thought.
As popularizers of psychology, a number of men conveyed a Jewish moral perspective into American conversations about the nature of intelligence, personality, race, the subconscious mind, mass behavior, and evil. Jewish interpreters of the psyche, no less than Protestants, hoped to move public values in a direction that would produce the kind of society they wanted to inhabit. Sensitive to both overt and implicit Christian biases in popular thought, they campaigned against them and counterpoised Jewish moral reference points, which had previously been rare in public forums. For them psychology was a potent instrument with which to combat pernicious stereotypes about ethnic minorities in general and Jews in particular. It also gave them a means of reaffirming a rationalist code of emotional restraint that, in America, had become outmoded by more spectacular views of the psyche as a source of divine power or a machine that could be programmed for perfection.
As they went about the business of issuing prescriptions for the psychological and moral improvement of America, they encouraged greater public appreciation for the sensitive and intellectually intense individual and greater vigilance about the evil people produced when they formed a mob. According to their moral critique of society, the proverbial neurotic Jew, whose credentials for assimilation had been challenged by nativists, possessed certain characteristics that were ideally suited to a fast-paced urban America. By the same standards, the bigot was redefined as a psychopath and as the primary obstacle blocking the road to a more democratic future.
After World War II, Jewish interpreters of the psyche increased in both numbers and variety. The most popular inspirational book to appear since 1900, Peace of Mind (1946), was written by a rabbi, Joshua Loth Liebman, who became not only the first rabbi with an interfaith audience of national dimensions but also the clergyman most closely associated with the problem of psychic pain, mental readjustment, and the Freudian vogue after the war. Liebman was the first American clergyman of national stature to have undergone psychoanalysis, and his Peace of Mind heralded a postwar romance with the psychological and therapeutic values that had been growing steadily since the 1890s. Religion needed the insights of depth psychology, Liebman argued; without them it could not guide Americans toward spiritual maturity.
Liebman's career marked a turning point in American culture. Jewish psychological thinkers had written popular books before, but his was the first best-seller by a religious Jew. For the first time Judaism, and an explicit Jewish theology, had to be taken seriously in the arena of public opinion about the human condition. Peace of Mind contained a strong polemic beneath its appealing message about the healing of American psychic pain. Liebman defined Judaism as a religion of love, not the legalistic faith Christianity had traditionally deemed it, and unflinchingly asserted Judaism's unique ability to lead Americans toward the ideal of loving the neighbor as oneself. He called for a new democratic "God-idea for America" rooted in Jewish values.
Excerpted from Jews and the American Soul by Andrew R. Heinze Excerpted by permission.
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|Introduction : Jews and the American soul||1|
|Ch. 1||Jews and the psychodynamics of American life||11|
|Ch. 2||Benjamin Franklin in Hebrew : the Musar sage of Philadelphia||39|
|Ch. 3||Jews and the crisis of the psyche||50|
|Ch. 4||Freud and Adler : the rise of Jewish psychoanalytic moralism||64|
|Ch. 5||Popular psychology : the great American synthesis of religion and science||87|
|Ch. 6||Jewish psychological evangelism : a collective biography of the first generation||103|
|Ch. 7||The moronic immigrant and the neurotic Jews : Jews and American perceptions of intelligence, personality, and race||140|
|Ch. 8||The specter of the mob : Jews and the battle for the American unconscious||165|
|Ch. 9||Rabbi Liebman and the psychic pain of the World War II generation||195|
|Ch. 10||Peace of mind : a new Jewish gospel of love||217|
|Ch. 11||Clare Boothe Luce and the Catholic-Jewish clash over Freud in America||241|
|Ch. 12||Jews and the creation of American humanism||261|
|Ch. 13||Joyce Brothers : the Jewish woman as psychologist of suburban America||295|
|Ch. 14||Holocaust, Hasidism, suffering, redemption||321|
Posted November 29, 2005
This is a fascinating look at how American culture (very broadly defined) has been shaped by Jewish (also very broadly defined) thought over the past 150 years or so, but especially post WWII. The author writes in a scholarly yet thoroughly readable style which, as has been noted, gives us no reason to put it down until it is finished. Heinze's understanding of the different layers of American culture is refreshing. His use of the word 'Jewish' is also interesting, since he does not use it in a strictly religious sense, making the writing very approachable to those of different faiths, though potentially disagreeable to the very Orthodox or to those that are not willing to accept these premises, and herein lies the strong point of the book: Heinze's lack of pretense as to his subject matter. He invokes Einstein with as much ease (and importantly vice-versa) as he does pop-icons like Ann Landers and Dr.Joyce Brothers as well as Rabbi Harold Kushner, though I don't know if non-Jews consider Kushner a pop icon. (For that matter, I don't know if Jews consider him a pop icon. Regardless, he is inarguably a part of the literature of pop culture that has arisen over the course of the last 50+ years) Taking the majority (i.e. popular) conception of culture, we are drawn into and realize ultimately regardless of our background that we as Americans are in part a product of the expression of Jewish thought and values that have played, thankfully, a very pivotal role in helping to shape a more moral and spiritual society and culture. Is there work left to do? Of course. But we can be thankful that Heinze has taken care to remind us, especially now, that the job of shaping American society and culture has been a joint venture of sorts between Jews and Christians and that it has not been and should not be left to extremists on either end of the socio-political spectrum. Bravo!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 7, 2004
Really good! Original, intelligent, and unusual. I took this book on a United Airlines flight - just for something to read on my way to New York. It was so interesting that I kept reading until I finished it three days later. Make sure that you have free time once you start it (if you like history and such), because you won't want to put it down until you're done.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.