Form and Content

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 679

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.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Ordeal of Civility Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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 Later Variations”) discusses how Wilhelm Reich went beyond Freud in openly attacking the hypocritical and artificial politeness of Gentile society. Cuddihy also notes how Reichian ideas about the stultifying effects of bourgeois Christian civilization entered American culture through the writing of such members of the second-generation of Eastern European Jewish immigrants as Norman Mailer, Karl Shapiro, and Saul Bellow.

Cuddihy’s treatment of Marx and Levi-Strauss is much thinner. In the three chapters in part 2 dealing with Marx, he does at least make an attempt to present evidence in support of his argument that Marx transmuted the distaste he felt for the money grubbing of his fellow Jews into an attack upon bourgeois capitalism generally. The single chapter of ten pages on Levi-Strauss, however, does no more than state as a self-evident proposition that Levi-Strauss’ repudiation of the Durkheimian model of social solidarity deriving from tribal solidarity reflected his resentment at the “demeaning” place which that model “assigned to Judaism and, by implication, to Jews.”

Part 3 (“The Demeaned Jewish Intellectuals: Ideologists of Delayed Modernization”) argues that the Jewish difficulty with modernity—while having its unique features—had parallels with the experience of other groups who suffered the “self-disesteem” of being recent arrivals to modern ways. “Jewish and Irish: Latecomers to Modernity” explores the parallels between the Jewish response and that of Irish Catholics in the United States attracted to Coughlinism and later McCarthyism. The other, “Secular Jewish Intellectuals As a Modernizing Elite: Jewish Emancipation and the New Nations Compared,” does the same for the postcolonial societies of the Third World.

The material in part 4 (“Children of the Founding Fathers of Diaspora Intellectuality: The Contemporary Scene”) is tangential to Cuddihy’s major themes and appears almost to have been tacked on to pad out what otherwise would have been too short a work for publication as a book. One of the two chapters examines the trial of the Chicago Seven growing out of the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic national convention to suggest that contemporary American society had made adherence to bourgeois standards of decorum the prerequisite for the enjoyment of full civil and legal rights. The other is a critical appraisal of post-World War II American-Jewish writing, his principal targets being Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow. This section is not without flashes of insight—for example, Cuddihy’s complaint that “the pages of contemporary American Jewish fiction swarm with incognito Christs passing as suppositious Jews” and his description of the struggle between Jewish and black intellectuals for the culturally prestigious status of victim—but it is too brief and disjointed to be fully effective.

Bibliography

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 54

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.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Previous

Critical Essays