Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In a fourteen-page introduction, John Cuddihy sets forth his thesis: the existence of a cultural collision between the standards of civility required by “the Protestant Etiquette” (that is, the norms governing public behavior in bourgeois Western society) and Yiddishkeit (that is, the values, feelings, and beliefs of the premodern Jewish shtetl subculture of Eastern Europe). “The secularizing Jewish intellectual, as the avant-garde of his decolonized people,” Cuddihy explains, “suffered in his own person the trauma of this culture shock, . . . caught between ‘his own’ whom he left behind and the Gentile ‘host culture’ where he felt ill at ease and alienated.” Cuddihy finds this plight the motivating force behind the ideologies spawned by Diaspora Jewish intellectuals—not simply Freudianism, Marxism, and structural anthropology, but Reform Judaism, Hebraism, and Zionism. Notwithstanding their surface differences, those ideologies shared a dual thrust.On one hand, they have “designs” on their Jewish audience, which they wish to change, enlighten, or reform; on the other, however, they constitute an elaborate effort at apologetics, addressed to the “Gentile of good will” and designed to reinterpret, excuse, or explain to him the otherwise questionable public “look” of emancipating Jewry.

Cuddihy applies this thesis to Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Claude Levi-Strauss. He does so most fully in regard to Freud’s discovery (or invention, depending upon one’s perception) of psychoanalysis. The twelve chapters on Freud in part 1 of the book constitute one-third of the text. The final chapter in this section (“Reich and...

(The entire section is 679 words.)

The Ordeal of Civility Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Alter, Robert. “Manners and the Jewish Intellectual,” in Commentary. LX (August, 1975), pp. 58-64.

Bernstein, Richard. Review in Time. CV (April 7, 1975), p. 78.

Burnham, James. “The Artifice of Modernity,” in National Review. XXVII (January 17, 1975), pp. 49-50.

Ritter, H. R. Review in Library Journal. C (June 1, 1975), p. 1142.

Williamson, Chilton. Review in The New Republic. CLXXVII (October 18, 1975), p. 27.