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In 1915, Horace M. Kallen, the son of an immigrant rabbi and a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, entered the intense public debate over immigration. He published in the prestigious journal, The Nation, an essay titled “Democracy versus the Melting Pot,” which sketched a philosophy of public life that became the basis for his reputation in the American intellectual community. Since the mid-1890s, many prominent American social scientists—including Kallen’s senior colleagues at Wisconsin, the sociologist, E. A. Ross and the historian, Frederick Jackson Turner—had observed an immigrant working class growing rapidly in dilapidated districts of major cities. These newcomers, they argued, seemed to be unskilled laborers who depended for their livelihood on corporate employers and for leadership on political bosses. In books and magazine articles they argued that Italian and Slavic immigrants constituted a rootless proletariat subverting the nation’s legacy of skilled workers and independent citizens. Ross added that spokesmen for Jews were actively subverting all efforts to limit immigration. 1

For Kallen this xenophobic literature expressed a deep-seated fear of cultural diversity by a social elite losing its authority. Ross, Turner and their colleagues not only misrepresented the people among whom Kallen had been raised, but they ignored America’s constitutional ideals. For Kallen immigrants were complex people struggling to succeed in a new locale. 2 Their inherited cultures, which had given them a parochial but [End Page 57] nevertheless moral vision, were now challenged by the industrial city, while they and their children absorbed America’s democratic practices in the settlement houses and the public schools. Indeed, Kallen noted, “The institutions of the Republic have become the liberating cause and the background for the rise of the cultural consciousness and the social autonomy of the immigrant [groups].” Jews in particular, he noted, welcomed American citizenship, which allowed them to exchange their unique European alienation as “sojourners” for equal status among America’s other newcomers. He concluded that America continually revitalized itself not by forcing everyone to emulate an Anglo-Saxon norm, but by allowing each person to draw on the comforts of his ethnic group, while respecting the tenets of a democratic politics. This evolving relationship between American democracy and ethnic identity he called “cultural pluralism.” 3

Neither academic scholars nor American Jews have appreciated the sophisticated grounding for his defense of pluralism nor how comprehensively he analyzed the dilemmas of constructing a new identity. Perhaps because Kallen lived so long and wrote so much, they have not read broadly enough in his writings to see how he addressed most—though not all—of the criticisms that they came to raise. Academics like the sociologist Orlando Patterson and the literary critic Werner Sollors who have criticized Kallen’s analysis of pluralism have not explored the pragmatic revolution in philosophy out of which it grew or the dilemmas of Jewish identity with which he was struggling. Examining only his essay in The Nation, they argue that he undermined individual choice by attributing ethnic loyalty to a genetically determined “ancestral endowment.” 4 Likewise, the historian David Hollinger has argued that Kallen [End Page 58] not only oversimplified the actual ethnic origins of most Americans but ignored their ability, indeed their right, to choose to identify with a variety of ethnic or cultural groups. 5 For Sollors, Patterson and even Hollinger, Kallen remained locked in a deterministic explanation of ethnic cohesion whose arbitrary demands shackled the personality.

Similarly, Jewish scholars have rarely related his voluminous writings on broad topics like religion, individualism, the cooperative movement or even Israel to his writing on identity and loyalty within the American Jewish community. They have accepted Kallen’s pluralism because it defended the status of Jews, giving them parity with Protestants and Catholics as America’s major religious groups. 6 But when these writers discuss diversity within American Jewry, they either refer to denominational differences or discuss a spectrum of Jewish educational and defense activities 7 rather than examining the secular philosophical defense of pluralism that Kallen provided. Yet as a professionally trained philosopher, Kallen synthesized observations from a wide array of topics, so that his thoughts on the function of religion in any human group would strongly influence his pronouncements on the role of Reform or Orthodoxy in Jewish life. To appreciate how Kallen set Jewish identity into the American context, we need to examine the larger body of his writings and the intellectual and political struggles from which they grew.

To assess Kallen’s place as a critic of both American society and of the Jewish community growing within it, let us focus on two related issues. First, how did Kallen identify a Jew within the long stream of Jewish [End Page 59] history and within the context of the America he encountered? How did he understand the sources of loyalty in the human psyche, and the way these bonds enabled the individual to identify with a descent group? Second, why did he believe that attachment to a descent group was more powerful than other significant attachments that a person could make? Did he identify any options or complements to ethnicity? 8

The response to the first question is certainly the most complex, and for the Jewish community the most compelling. Sociologically Kallen was the self-conscious son of immigration and resettlement, while professionally he was a philosopher encountering the scientific revolution in human thought. Virtually all that he thought and wrote was caught in the tension between these two forces. Rabbi Jacob Kallen, Horace’s father, was born in Latvia, emigrated to Silesia, where Horace was born in 1882, and brought the family to Boston in 1888. Rabbi Kallen opposed his son’s attendance at secular schools; as Horace recollects, only the intervention of a truant officer forced his enrollment in public schools. As a precocious youth in the 1890s Horace experienced both the intellectual disorientation that scientific modes of thinking posed to religious faith and the social and cultural discontinuities that America presented to the children of immigrants. As a new American Kallen sought an identity that could reconcile what was culturally distinctive about the ethnic group from which he had come with the emphasis on individual freedom that characterized the political culture in which he now lived. He accepted a scholarship to Harvard, where he learned not only to evaluate behavior scientifically but to frame experience historically.

At Harvard he discovered the philosopher William James, who emphasized the evolutionary and amoral character of Nature, the contingent character of knowledge, and the responsibility of the individual to apply his intelligence imaginatively in the pursuit of truth and justice. James, he wrote, was “the liberator whose being and whose teaching set me free from superstition—the superstition inherent in science, as well as the superstition natural to religion . . .” 9 From William James Kallen learned to understand philosophy, and ultimately all [End Page 60] thought, not primarily as a set of logical systems but as intellectualized responses to the inner strivings of their formulators. Kallen earned a doctorate at Harvard under James, and published a book comparing what he depicted as the unflinchingly scientific thought of his mentor with the compromisingly mystical views of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. 10

Like any philosopher, Kallen wishes to see a broader purpose in human existence than the aggregate of individual interests. The central question in philosophy for him, as for James, is the relationship between “the many” concrete things that one observes, and “the One” unifying concept or process that imparts a mutually intelligible identity. 11 James teaches that philosophers, like other living things, are part of Nature. They do not contemplate timeless ideals, but as conscious beings they are embedded in a stream of perceptions shaped by emotions, and their responses express their needs. Their perceptions “become true” because they restore equilibrium to an emotional “imbalance.” 12 But the same combined intellectual and emotional process need not have the same satisfying effect on others. Truth depends on the very complex problem of verification. As James himself once reminded Kallen, “truth is constituted by verification actual or possible, and beliefs, however reached, have to be verified before ‘true’. . . It is usually poor policy to believe what is not verified.” 13

Pluralism—ontological, cultural and political—provides the key to Kallen’s understanding of what is “real” and therefore what must be most authentically Jewish and basically American. For Kallen the circumstances of living and the angle from which perceptions are evaluated constantly change. Happily, he believes, both the Jewish people from which he is descended and the American nation to which his father had brought him have within their respective traditions philosophic [End Page 61] beliefs that accept uncertainty and diversity and that defend the integrity of the individual. Once having understood the philosophical foundations of pluralism, American Jews could revitalize their own traditions with a greater sense of freedom.

Rejection of his father’s Orthodoxy as well as his own elite academic status, therefore, did not dissuade Kallen from seeking modern ways of acting Jewishly. His attachment to his younger sisters, Deborah and Miriam, who were also launching professional careers, his teaching in a social settlement in Boston, and his reading in psychology led him to understand how the familial bonds of childhood anchor one’s emotional loyalties. 14 In addition, new approaches to the psychological and social origins of religion pioneered by James and Emile Durkheim demonstrated the relationship between a power expressed through natural forces, a power felt through individual emotions, and the energizing effects of sacred objects, especially when encountered in a prescribed group setting. Once Kallen understood religion as a socially organized link between the power observed in Nature and the emotional energy loosed in individuals he reevaluated his father’s ritualistic expressions of “faith” far more compassionately. 15

Just after his father’s death from cancer in 1917 Kallen wrote to many of his friends about long conversations with him over the past few months on the importance of ritual for sustaining community. He saw his father’s generation of rabbis as the last to demand orthodoxy, not because of an unquestioning faith in a benevolent God but because they believed that only ritual, law, and what Kallen called “self-control and loyalty” could sustain the national body of the Jewish people. Writing to I. B. Lipson, a friend in Chicago, he said of his father, “He is among the last of the old school of Jews who would make absolutely no concession to their environment wherever they went . . . He insisted the rituals be [End Page 62] followed to the letter because in them the life and soul of the community consists, and their continuity involved something providential.” 16

The ghetto and the attendant Orthodoxy embodied in his father represented to Kallen a forced retreat, a stifling of the Jewish spirit, which thrives only when associated with more cosmopolitan cultures. For Kallen Judaism represented the sacred expression of the Jews as they, over the generations, have reconciled their observations of a life force in Nature, the emotional energy within themselves, and their collective need for an ethical group life. But, he wrote in 1918, “The place and function of Judaism in Jewish life is like the place of any religion in any national life. It is an item in that life; only an item, no matter how important, in a whole which is determined by the ethnic character of the people that live it, by their history, their collective will and interest.” 17 The same intensity of feeling that he saw in his father’s religious behavior, Kallen believed could be channeled to support the Jewish people, even in an age requiring scientific criteria for truth and secular rationales for group loyalty.

But Kallen was never attracted to the ideological and social message of Reform. He found the effort by Reform rabbis to recast Judaism as a creedal religion expressed through genteel ceremonies not simply an escape from Jewish law but an abandonment of what was distinctively Jewish. The Jews as a people embodied a culture far broader than Jacob Kallen’s ghetto Orthodoxy and deserved to persist because of the many particularities which had made them unique. But Reform required such limited conduct and such limited beliefs that it could arouse only meager inspiration. Its proclamation of a “mission of Israel” seemed to Kallen a pretentious ideological effort by spokesmen for a wealthy elite not simply to assert superiority to the gentiles but to dissociate themselves socially from the body of the immigrant poor. Its only achievement was not theological but social, because it did require new respect and social roles for the wives and daughters of its members far beyond what Orthodoxy allowed. 18

In his search for the distinctive Jewish symbol, Kallen finally identified an archetypical character who had experienced all of the confusions of modern man. The allegory of Job, Kallen believed, demonstrates how the [End Page 63] Jew’s search for integrity in a universe of distortion, suffering, and false counsel exemplifies the Jamesian search for truth. 19 Two years before “Democracy versus the Melting Pot” appeared, Jewish students at the University of Wisconsin had produced Kallen’s play, “The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy.” In the brief preface he acknowledges assistance from his father in interpreting the Hebrew commentaries, a collaboration which no doubt breathed new life into their relationship. Whatever its literary merits, as a philosophical statement Kallen’s “Job” radically reinterprets the intent and format of the biblical story to address modern problems of loyalty and moral choice. Kallen believed that “Job” had originally been a cultural hybrid, in which a Jewish author used the classic format of Greek tragedy to depict a pious Jew preoccupied with the Greek concept of “fate.” Like Oedipus destined to kill his father and marry his mother, Job was destined to lose all worldy comforts, to hear advise that betrayed his integrity and to suffer destruction because of his enduring faith. When the biblical canon was prepared, Kallen argued, the redactors had rejected the Greek literary format and its challenging Greek theme of man enduring an ineluctable fate. Instead, they redrafted the original to conform to the biblical narrative style and they contrived an ending to reassert the authority of a benevolent God.

Kallen, in turn, redrafted the biblical account to reflect its original format. The drama of an unfolding tragedy, he believed, would better depict the Jew as one who could face the uncertainty of the Jamesian universe with intelligence and dignity. The Jew, Kallen feels, should be neither a pious victim nor an actor who can do nothing but accept his destiny. Instead, he must assert himself as a cultural standard bearer and choose the path which he believes to be true. In the face of the Nazi menace three decades later, Kallen told Rabbi Stephen Wise that Jobian courage remained for him the deepest expression of the Jewish tradition. Later, when the United Nations partitioned Palestine, promising a portion to the Yishuv, Kallen told Jacob Billikopf that the Jews were again left standing alone, as “the Job of the peoples of the world. . . .” 20

For Kallen, a member of the first generation of Jewish intellectuals educated in America, the “pluralism” of William James supplemented by a view of American cultural history advocated by the Harvard English [End Page 64] professor Barrett Wendell, resolved his own dilemmas of cultural positioning. 21 For Wendell continuity in American culture rests not on social institutions, as in Europe, but on ideals, especially liberty, union, and democracy. These were inspired by the Puritans, who emigrated from England prior to the carnage of the Cromwellian revolution. In the Eighteenth century those ideals were refracted through Jefferson’s democratic vision. While liberty and union had preoccupied the country in the past, since the 1890s, Wendell argued, immigration has precipitated a debate over the defense of democracy. He assures his readers, however, that the children of recent immigrants he has taught have accepted America’s basic ideals: a representative government under the rule of law that protects the liberties of the individual. From Wendell, Kallen came to believe that the United States differs from other countries because of its broad interpretation of freedom. Its founders venerated his own Old Testament forbears, while the author of its fundamental document, Thomas Jefferson extended the freedom to dissent even into his own ethnic community. 22 Despite the pronouncements of a theocratic elite, which include Kallen’s own father, American pluralism demonstrates that one could not only freely be Jewish, but should feel free to be Jewish in many ways. In 1954 he reminded his former Harvard student, T. S. Eliot, that “the entire intent of the American Idea focuses on men’s equal right freely to differ in their individualities, beliefs and thoughts, and to communicate their differences to one another freely and safely.” 23

For Kallen “the American Idea” also recognized that citizens of the United States must normally bridge gaps between cultures. To be born into a European culture and then to absorb ideas labeled “American” defines the normal process of identity formation for all immigrants, so that the worldviews of American Jews must be more cosmopolitan and their social attitudes more tolerant than those of Jews still residing in European shtetls. As he wrote in the 1930s, “the disassociation of individuals from deep-rooted communities of the past has opened them to a great variety of contacts, rid them of many superstitions, and [End Page 65] provided the basis for the potential of widespread fellowship.” 24 “The Americanization of Jewry,” he once told Abraham Neuman, President of Dropsie College, “would be tantamount to the orchestration of the diversity of Jewish interests.” 25

Though the Jewish tradition could be reinterpreted to meet the scientific revolution in philosophy, Kallen had still to demonstrate why persons of Jewish descent would feel a need for such a revitalization. When Kallen began to explore his own sense of self, scholars were not clear on the source of the individual’s mental and emotional characteristics and disagreed about the ties that bound a person to a group. As a philosopher Kallen looked for these ties within the individual, in the vague concept of “mind,” where “stimuli” were received, aligned, and formulated into “percepts,” a term James had used to designate one’s initial impression of an object. Before the 1920s Kallen saw society as an “organism,” and like James he drew vague analogies between the “personality” of the individual and the “collective consciousness” of the descent group. 26 Influenced by his other Harvard mentor, Josiah Royce, he tried to understand how the individual inheritance of “instincts” was related to the presence of a “group mind” on which loyalty to the descent group seemed to depend. 27 The relationship stood somewhere between the hereditary inheritance of physical characteristics and the voluntary affiliation of the Jeffersonian citizen. Royce established the general principle that while moral judgments were made voluntarily by individuals, they grew from hereditary instincts nurtured in descent [End Page 66] groups. 28 Rabbi Solomon Schecter, the president of Conservative Judaism’s Jewish Theological Seminary, whom Kallen had met in 1906 and with whose views on the Jewish people he agreed, helped locate the Jew within this voluntaristic American philosophical and political nexus. Schecter taught that while Jews were a descent group, the experience of living as a Jew required creative responses to changing environments. Jews migrating to America, Schecter argued, would constitute an ethnic group whose various immigrants had been nurtured in different European and Middle eastern cultures. In the new American setting they could successfully build new institutions to preserve what was sacred in their common tradition only by respecting the diversity of their own origins. 29

Following Schecter’s lead, Kallen skirted the question of a biological source of group loyalty and progressed through different levels of organizational participation. At first, like so many volunteers, he turned to philanthropy to raise funds for the victims of Russian pogroms. 30 By 1906, however, he observed a cultural disorientation among Harvard’s Jewish students, and joined Henry Hurwitz, Harry Wolfson, Felix Frankfurter and others to form a Harvard Menorah Society to bind Jewish students to the ethnic group by bringing Jewish issues into the world of secular scholarship. By 1914 he was lecturing at universities in the Mid-west and the Mississippi Valley to encourage isolated Jewish academics to overcome their self-consciousness and to assert their ethnic identity by placing Jewish historical and cultural topics on the campus agenda. 31 The Menorah work also connected him with a network of American rabbis like Schecter and Mordecai Kaplan, as well as a few secular academics like Hurwitz and Wolfson who were inspired by the writings of the “cultural” Zionist, Ahad Ha’Am to create in Palestine a center for modern Jewish scholarship.

Kallen’s commitment to Zionism, with its ideological rationales and [End Page 67] political activism, might seem to contradict his pluralistic view that the truth was constantly in flux. But forty years after his initial attraction to Zionism, Kallen told the young historian John Higham that he had come to the movement through his philosophic commitment to American pluralism, not as a fulfillment of prophecy or as a cover for utopian social visions. 32 Within the Zionist world movement, Kallen was eclectic in his view that Palestine should first be a refuge from European anti-Semitism, that it should sustain agricultural and medical projects, and that it should be a cultural center focused on a modern university. He openly expressed his disgust with the European Zionists, especially Chaim Weizmann, who seemed to prefer political maneuvering for an independent state over a rational allocation of funds for schools, hospitals and electrification projects that would secure a social infrastructure. Kallen accompanied Brandeis, Julian Mack and others out of the World Zionist Movement in 1922 precisely because they believed Weizmann placed old cronies in leadership positions rather than allowing young men with expertise to build an efficient, modern society out of the Yishuv. His visit to Palestine in the late 1920s only reinforced his thorough dislike of a Zionist leadership based on ideological posturing rather than professional expertise. 33

Within the American context, Kallen’s Zionism emphasized a participatory process over visionary goals. 34 The American Zionist Movement, under the direction of Louis Brandeis and with the influence of Henrietta Szold, planned to convene an elected American Jewish congress which would wrest control of communal priorities from the wealthy German Jewish elite. Scheduled to meet in late 1917, the American Jewish Congress was called off just before the British government issued the Balfour Declaration. Kallen, like Szold and many other activists who had organized delegations to the Congress, was bitterly disappointed over the lost opportunity to democratize Jewish leadership. 35 The Congress that was reorganized in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power did not represent the broad spectrum of American Jewry that Kallen had envisioned. He [End Page 68] told Rabbi Stephen Wise, “Zionism has committed the great wrong of keeping young people out and of not driving old people out. We must not make the same mistake.” And as Wise planned the reorganization of the Congress, Kallen insisted that it should not be seen as a “cover” for Zionism but as an effort to convene Jews of all sects and opinions “to meet their common problems in America.” 36

As Kallen worked with emigre Jewish agronomists from Palestine during World War I, he discovered a basis for group cohesion that complemented ethnic attachment by placing individual judgment at the center of social action. During a fund-raising tour to the Pacific Coast for the Zionist Organization of America in 1915, he met several students at the University of California at Berkeley. They were attracted to studies of the cooperative movement, which, they believed, would enable them to democratize the settlements they hoped to establish in Palestine. 37 Cooperative theory, even more than Marxism, dissociated the individual from his cultural origins. But where Marxism treated the individual as a hapless victim within a proletariat of industrial producers, 38 cooperative theory depicted the individual as a rational planner determining productive goals and expressing consumer tastes through voluntary association. While many cooperatives in Scandinavia, Palestine, and the United States drew their membership from only one ethnic group, Kallen never mentioned ethnic descent as a cement for membership. Instead, he discussed cooperative affiliation exclusively from the perspective of the individual citizen. 39 In a series of books promoting consumer cooperatives, he argues that “no group is ever an ‘organism’ with its own imperatives.” Only people were organisms and they could enter and [End Page 69] leave groups as they chose. 40 Drawing the logical inference from his study of cooperatives, from the 1930s forward he concluded that ethnic loyalty, at least for adults, like cooperative membership, required the individual’s consent.

After World War I his views on the relationship between individual identity and group loyalty rapidly evolved to allow for the greatest possible diversity. 41 Teaching many children of immigrants at the newly founded New School for Social Research in New York in the 1920s, he continued to believe that a person could not reject his ancestry without serious emotional trauma. But as psychologists in the 1920s rejected the idea of genetically endowed “instincts” as the source of behavior, Kallen still tried to understand where emotional needs arose, why young people sought to fulfill them in groups, and how the individual was related to the group. Writing in 1931 to his friend Rose Alschuler, director of the Parker Practice Nursery of the Chicago Normal College, he noted that he was not interested in churches but in the “well-springs” which give rise to them. He wanted to learn from her whether children developed group loyalties through “repetitious patterns.” 42 As Kallen clearly recognized in writing to John Dewey in 1932, “we must lay more emphasis on the seat of value, the personality, which acts on the environment and makes choices.” 43

The insights derived from Schecter’s historical overview of a Jewish diversity, combined with cooperative theory’s emphasis on the primacy of individual tastes led Kallen ultimately to a voluntaristic definition of the American Jewish community. In the 1930s, working against the Nazi racial definition of Jews, he argued that Jews descended from many “races” and coalesced around an “historical culture.” 44 By the 1950s he [End Page 70] was arguing that a Jewish community included any individual who chose to affiliate because of cultural identification and ethical intent. In a symposium on “The Goals of Jewish Education” sponsored by Dropsie College in 1955, Kallen responded to the other panelists by praising Jewish diversity and emphasizing the need for a scientifically grounded education that encouraged self-criticism. Rabbis Jacob Agus and Joseph Lookstein, who also participated in the panel, had defined the Jews as a religious community, while Judah Pilch presented the conventional Zionist view of Jews as the scattered segments of a fundamentally unified people. Kallen saw the Jews as a set of communities who differed in their organizations and beliefs because of their different surroundings. They were unified neither by religious beliefs nor by nationalistic sympathies. For Kallen, the bond between Jewish communities was the practical perception that they were all heirs of ancestors who had struggled for millennia with anti-Semitic or assimilative pressures.

In America the Jewish problem was neither alienation nor anarchy, but the need for mutual respect among different kinds of Jews as each responded in different ways to the free environment. 45 In 1958 Kallen reiterated for Columbia University philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser that cultural heritage did not depend on any “hereditary” ties. “To me the basic question is the relationship of the personal memory and group memory to personality, and the relation of perception and innovation to repetition, and of variation to identity.” 46 Kallen had shifted the terms for understanding the loyalty of the individual to the group from a genetic instinct to a moral obligation created in childhood and acted on in daily encounters by different Jews in different cultures acting in different ways. 47 But however Kallen tried to explain the source of ethnic loyalty, the line between sub-conscious needs and freedom of choice remained inexplicably vague.

For Kallen Jewish “identity” had come to mean memory, which was reshaped daily in the dialogue between the various branches of Jewry. Once having identified as a Jew, one constantly reshaped that identity through the sifting of memory and the interaction with other people, Jews and non-Jews alike. In 1972, only a year before his death, Kallen argued that the Jewish heritage was fundamentally plural. It derived [End Page 71] from “the changing form of an on-going give-and-take with the diverse cultures of the many peoples among whom ours struggled to live. . . . Yet living course of events that this is, it appears to be seen not ‘like it is,’ but measured and shaped [by some Jewish ideologists] to some preferred doctrine such as “ethical monotheism,” galut, chosenness, and so on. . . .” 48 To Kallen’s view of an ever-changing Jewishness a concept like galut had become an archaic ideological artifact, surviving from a time when a “return” to Palestine had been a compensatory theological doctrine rather than a moral choice. 49 When Jews were no longer enclosed within a social or intellectual “ghetto,” their memory would be constantly reshaped as they left their community of nurture to interact with communities round about it.

By settling on a sense of ethnic identification grounded in the tension between emotional attachments and “memory,” Kallen virtually discounted the permanence and therefore the value of attachment to other social forms. A concept like social class, for example, could not satisfy his sense of historically conditioned moral obligation that ethnicity evoked. The major intellectual obstacle to his treatment of class arose from his belief that attachments deriving from relations to the modes of production varied according to chance social mobility. The immigrant Jews and Italians he had taught at settlement houses, for example, were only temporarily part of a working class. They were, he wrote, “futile people of good will,” worn out with labor, who sought in socialist or anarchist literature compensatory dreams. Their children would move on to a higher status, with different tastes, but they would still express a variant of Italian or Jewish culture. Conversely, the leaders of working-class radicalism that he had observed were almost all from the capitalist class and chose to identify with workers. He himself had organized classes for Jewish garment workers in New York after World War I, but he identified with his students as secular Jews adjusting to an American culture, not as members of a working class. 50 The possibility of persistent class inequalities seemed to Kallen far less important than the mental and emotional adjustments of individuals navigating between cultures.

The concept of race cut across both ethnicity and class. For Kallen, race as a concept had been drawn from biology, where it denoted species that could not interbreed. Since all humans could interbreed, it could not [End Page 72] be used scientifically to classify people. Instead, race had become a means for denying ethnicity and subordinating people so that power could be imposed on them. It had been used to “transvalue” American Indians from “the idealized natural man” whose cultures had guided the English settlers into a “cruel savage” whose lands could be expropriated. Europeans had also used race to turn the African into “a tool with life in it,” the definition of a slave that Kallen borrowed from Aristotle. Once having denied Africans the dignity of a cultural heritage, Europeans could exploite them without qualms of conscience. 51 Unlike ethnicity, race had no cultural referent and should engender no group loyalty. Specific Indian tribes, of course, had cultural traditions, and blacks had created a culture whose impact on other Americans Kallen slowly came to appreciate. But race remained a way of examining the misuse of a concept to mask the fears and prejudices of white exploiters.

Racism for Kallen was a compensatory idea that rationalized a spectrum of fears. He realized that the Anglo-Protestant elite and the general public had treated blacks differently from Catholic or Jewish immigrants, and the social trajectory of blacks through American society remained different. While immigrants could be absorbed through indoctrination, blacks were deliberately segregated and exploited. His limitation, like that of most liberals before the 1960s, was to see racism as just another form of compensation for individual limitations, rather than as a profound building block of American culture. In 1955 Kallen delivered a eulogy to Alain Locke, a professor of philosophy at Howard University and a friend since both had been students at Harvard. Kallen commented on the latter’s popularization of African cultures which were intended to develop among Blacks “an inner strength based on self-knowledge,” without which no individual could be truly creative. 52 But an identification of Black Americans with African achievements rather than with 300 years of American exploitation would fail to explain how the social and political structure of at least the southern region of the United States had been built. Kallen was certainly correct to see that racist ideology provided psychic compensations. But it had also rationalized the structure of a whole society since the late 17th century.

As our understanding of the effects of culture on personality deepen, we can appreciate how Kallen understood that an American identity provided both the critical freedom and the political obligation to reexamine the ties that bind us—often unthinkingly—to our past. [End Page 73] Despite his initial emphasis on the hold of an ancestral culture over personality, Kallen in his later books and articles focused primarily on the forging of a “healthy,” self-critical Jamesian self. As he sifted through the relationship between ethnic origins and personal choice, Kallen brought us much closer to understanding how identity must be the outcome of struggle. For American Jews this would be particularly complex, as their memory extended down the long, diverse history of Jewish experiences, and across a rapidly changing American society, where issues of class and especially racial tensions persist. Can Kallen’s image of a struggling Job provide the cultural assurance and personal courage to allow his Jewish followers to pursue it?

William Toll

Dr. William Toll of Eugene, Oregon has recently published “Gender, Ethnicity and Jewish Settlement Work in the Urban West,” in An Inventory of Promises: Essays on American Jewish History in Honor of Moses Rischin, eds. Jeffrey S. Gurock and Marc Lee Raphael (Brooklyn, 1995), and “Permanent Settlement: Japanese Families in Portland in 1920,” Western Historical Quarterly (February, 1997).


1. Frederick Jackson Turner, “Italian Immigration into the United States,” and “Jewish Immigration,” Chicago Record Herald, September 11 and October 16, 1901, clippings in Frederick Jackson Turner Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California; Edward A. Ross, The Old World in the New: The Significance of Past and Present Immigration to the American People (New York, 1914), 113, 119, 126, 133–6, 149–54, 219, 274. While Ross sees the south Italians and Slavs as genetically inferior, his comments on Jews are ambivalent, mixing condemnation of their “inherent” greed with admiration for their ability to produce intellectually gifted, altruistic leaders. For Turner’s view of immigrants see also Richard Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians, Turner, Beard, Parrington (New York, 1969), 108–9.

2. Horace M. Kallen, “Democracy versus the Melting Pot, A Study of American Nationality,” The Nation (February 18 and 25, 1915), 190–4, 217–20. Subsequent quotations can be found in these pages.

3. Horace M. Kallen, “Alain Locke and Cultural Pluralism,” The Journal of Philosophy, LIV (February 28, 1957), 119, says, “As an expression in the American language ‘cultural pluralism’ is about 50 years old. I used it first around 1906 or 1907 when Alain Locke was in a section of a class at Harvard where I served as assistant to Mr. George Santayana.” Kallen uses the term in print in Horace M. Kallen, Culture and Democracy in the United States (New York, 1924), 11, where he states, “The standpoint of these essays can be described briefly as Cultural Pluralism. The outcome of the observation they embody is the view that democracy is an essential prerequisite to culture, that culture can be and sometimes is a fine flowering of democracy, and that the history of the relation of the two in the United States exhibits this fact.”

4. Kallen used this language in The Nation essay, and remained uncertain on this point through the early 1920s. Orlando Patterson, Ethnic Chauvinism, The Reactionary Impulse (New York, 1977), 167–9, identifies James’ metaphysical pluralism as the source of Kallen’s thought, but judges Kallen’s effort to reconcile it with “cultural pluralism” a failure because of the confines that ethnicity places on one’s identity. Patterson, however, does not trace Kallen’s views through his later writing or correspondence, where individual choice, within the context of diverse cultural origins, plays a central role. Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture (New York, 1986), 183, argues that by 1918 Kallen “had completely naturalized ethnicity as an immutable category.” We will explain below why Kallen’s views on ethnicity changed drastically through the 1920s.

5. David Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (New York, 1995), 92–4, correctly criticizes Kallen for ignoring the multiethnic roots of many Americans (more so today than in 1915), but in characterizing Kallen’s social vision he refers to his most extreme description of America as a federation of ethnic groups. Hollinger ignores Kallen’s many subsequent discussions of the mutual obligations of citizenship and the effects of “Americanization” on the identity of the individual Jew.

6. See, for example, Abraham J. Karp, “Jewish Perceptions of America: From Melting Pot to Mosaic,” in A. Leland Jamison, ed., Tradition and Change in Jewish Experience (Syracuse, 1978), 253–5. This is the position stated in the classic text, Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (New York, 1960 ed.), 38–9, passim.

7. See, for example, Jack Wertheimer, A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America (New York, 1993), 152; Samuel C. Heilman, Portrait of American Jews: The Last Half of the Twentieth Century (Seattle, 1995), 107–9.

8. According to Werner Sollors, “A Critique of Pure Pluralism,” in Reconstructing American Literary History ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (Cambridge, 1986), 260, “Kallen’s polemically anti-assimilationist metaphors direct the pluralist’s attention to unhistorical ethnic persistence rather than to historical change and to group survival rather than to group emergence.”

9. Horace M. Kallen, “Remembering William James,” in In Commemoration of William James, 1842–1942 ed. Horace M. Kallen (New York, 1942), 12–3.

10. Horace M. Kallen, William James and Henri Bergson: A Study in Contrasting Theories of Life (Chicago, 1914). Kallen argues that while Bergson, like James accepts the process of evolution in Nature, unlike James he posits a “perfect” force above Nature which emanates into existence to create the specific natural objects which became the items which the human senses then experience.

11. Susanne Klingenstein, Jews in the American Academy, 1900–1940: the Dynamics of Intellectual Assimilation (New Haven, 1991) 18, argues that philosophy provides the culturally neutral media for the children of immigrants to communicate across ethnic lines.

12. Note how James characterizes the soul as sick or healthy. The sick soul “needs” a monistic explanation to resolve its anxieties while the healthy soul can accept a pluralistic reality. See William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York, 1958 ed.), 115–8.

13. William James to Horace Kallen, August 1, 1907, James Family Papers in Horace Kallen Papers, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio, hereafter cited as AJA.

14. Kallen was a close friend and thoroughly familiar with the work of another student of William James, Edwin B. Holt, who published The Freudian Wish and Its Place in Ethics (New York, 1915).

15. See Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (New York, 1961), 15, “In reality, then, there are no religions which are false. All are true in their own fashion; all answer though in different ways, to the given conditions of human existence.” In many passages, Durkheim examines the relationship between “feeling” or emotion in the individual and ideas sanctioned by society that allow the individual to satisfy his “conscience.” At several points Durkheim cites James to verify the relationship between faith and collective or group experience. Kallen’s ability to ground the personality in an historically conscious social setting is ably analyzed in Gerard A. Postiglione, Ethnicity and American Social Theory: Toward Critical Pluralism (Lanham, Maryland, 1983), 107, 110, 113, 115.

16. Horace M. Kallen to I. B. Lipson, December 8, 1917, Kallen Papers, AJA.

17. Horace M. Kallen, Judaism at Bay: Essays Toward the Adjustment of Judaism to Modernity (New York, 1932), 110.

18. Kallen, Judaism at Bay, 23–8, 47, 70–1, 103. Horace M. Kallen, Of Them Which Say They Are Jews, and Other Essays on the Jewish Struggle for Survival (New York, 1954), 37.

19. Horace M. Kallen, The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy (New York, 1959 ), xvii–xviii, cites his father’s assistance in helping him understand the Jewish commentaries on the Hebrew text. On the last page of Kallen, James and Bergson, 242 he calls James “a philosopher with the Jobian courage to face the universe knowing that he will be slain.”

20. Horace Kallen to Stephen Wise, March 20, 1941, Kallen to Jacob Billikopf, December 31, 1947, Horace M. Kallen Papers, YIVO, New York City.

21. Patterson, Ethnic Chauvinism, 165, notes how pluralism fit the needs of young Jewish intellectuals “who wished to maintain the trappings of liberalism but reman loyal to group needs.”

22. Barrett Wendell, Liberty, Union and Democracy: The National Ideals of America (New York, 1907), 8–11, 42, 174. Kallen acknowledges his debt to Barrett Wendell in Kallen to Mark Anthony deWolfe Howe, February 11, 1924, Howe Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University: “I got my key concepts regarding the spirit of this country from him.” See also Horace Kallen to John Higham, January 16, 1948, Kallen to Sidney Hook, June 12, 1942, Kallen Papers, YIVO.

23. Horace Kallen to T. S. Eliot, December 23, 1954, Kallen Papers, AJA.

24. Horace M. Kallen, Individualism, an American Way of Life (New York, 1933), 97.

25. Horace Kallen to Abraham Neuman, August 28, 1945, Kallen Papers, YIVO. Arthur Mann, The One and the Many, Reflections on the American Identity (Chicago, 1979), 144, is simply wrong to assert that Kallen never realized the pluralistic aspects of the ethnic group.

26. James believed that biological inheritance greatly influenced the individual personality and at times argued that nationality groups differed in the degree to which they were endowed with specific instincts. He could never bring himself to believe, however, that one group was more intellectually capable than another. See Larry C. Miller, “William James and Twentieth Century Ethnic Thought,” American Quarterly, 31,4 (Fall, 1979), 543–5.

27. See Josiah Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty (New York, 1908), 32. “This imitative social activity is itself due to our instincts as social beings. But in turn the social activities are the ones that first tend to organize our instincts, to give unity to our passions and impulses, to transform our natural chaos or desires into some sort of order.” The book was first published in 1908, and had a powerful influence on Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. Kallen explains Jewish cultural continuity as a consequence of an “historical group mind” in an essay published in 1916 and reprinted in Judaism At Bay, 82. Horace Kallen, The Structure of Lasting Peace: An Inquiry into the Motives of War and Peace (Boston, 1918), 31, “Irishman or Jew is born; citizen, lawyer, or church-member is made. Irishman and Jew are facts in nature; citizens and church members are artifacts in civilization.”

28. Royce, Loyalty, 177, argues that while “conscience” is a product of social interaction, it could not be developed without an innate power to become “reasonable.”

29. Solomon Schecter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers ( Cincinnati, 1915), 10. Kallen met Schecter at a Zionist retreat in 1906 and recalled how Schecter “brought alive the things that his father had killed.” See Horace M. Kallen interview with Milton Konvitz and Dorothy Oko, August 31 and September 3, 1964, tape held at AJA.

30. Edward E. Hale to Horace Kallen (ca. 1903); Charles Eliot to Kallen, November 3, 1909, Ralph Barton Perry to Kallen, October 29, 1913, Kallen Papers, AJA.

31. Horace Kallen to Henry Hurwitz, January 21, 1916, March 22, 1916, May 18, 1916, July 26, 1916, Henry Hurwitz Menorah Association Papers, AJA. Moses Rischin, “The Jews and Pluralism: Toward an American Freedom Symphony,” in Jewish Life in America: Historical Perspectives ed. Gladys Rosen (New York, 1980), 14, sees Kallen’s Menorah work as his effort to bring cultural pluralism to the university.

32. Horace Kallen to John Higham, January 16, 1948, Kallen Papers, YIVO.

33. Horace M. Kallen, Frontiers of Hope (New York, 1929), 107–9.

34. On Kallen’s ideological influence within the Zionist movement, see Yonathan Shapiro, The Leadership of the American Zionist Organization, 1897–1930 (Urbana, 1971), 70–1, 75.

35. Horace Kallen to Jacob deHaas, May 24, 1917; Henrietta Szold to Kallen, October 19, 1917; Kallen to Nathan Strauss, November 12, 1917; Strauss to Kallen, November 7, 1917; Kallen to Louis D. Brandeis, November 20, 1917; Kallen to Leon Simon, November 20, 1917, Kallen Papers, AJA.

36. On the hopes placed in the American Jewish Congress and the reasons for its postponement see Melvin Urofsky, American Zionism, From Herzl to the Holocaust (Garden City, 1976), 163–80. See also Nathan Strauss to Horace Kallen, October 9, 1917; Henrietta Szold to Kallen, October 19, 1917, Kallen to Strauss, November 2, 1917; Strauss to Kallen November 7, 1917; Kallen to Strauss, November 16, 1917, Kallen Papers, AJA. On reorganizing the American Jewish Congress in the 1930s, and its struggles with Zionists, Communists and others, see Horace Kallen to Stephen Wise, June 30, 1933; July 26, 1933; March 8, 1934; May 3, 1934 (quotation); July 9, 1936 (quotation), Kallen Papers, YIVO.

37. David Shapiro to Horace Kallen, November 22, 1915, Kallen Papers, AJA.

38. For the view that Communists were also anti-Semitic see Horace Kallen to Jacob Billikopf, November 1, 1933, Kallen Papers, YIVO.

39. Horace Kallen to Jacob DeHaas, April 28, 1919; DeHaas to Kallen, May 7, 1919; Kallen to Norman Bentwich, December 17, 1920, Kallen Papers, AJA; Horace M. Kallen, Zionism and World Politics: A Study in History and Social Psychology (Westport, 1921), 302–18.

40. Horace M. Kallen, A Free Society (New York, 1934), 76–8 notes that freedom meant that “an alternative existed for every claim to paramountcy upon an individual’s devotion and allegiance.” He felt his own contribution to cooperative theory had been an emphasis on the individual who coordinated his producer and consumer interests through voluntary association. See Kallen to Fola LaFollette, May 14, 1934, Kallen Papers, YIVO.

41. Gary Gerstle, “The Protean Character of American Liberalism,” American Historical Review, 99, 4 (October, 1994), 1065, is the only scholar to appreciate Kallen’s reassessment of the hold of ethnicity over the individual. Gerstle, however, focuses on the political consequence of an identity that transcends ethnicity, not on the “pluralistic” character of identity itself. While examining the source of Kallen’s turn during the 1920s from ethnic politics to economic issues, he does not discuss Kallen’s reassessment of individual identity.

42. Horace Kallen to Rose Alschuler, October 23, 1931; August 27, 1932, Kallen to John Dewey, February 16, 1932, Kallen Papers, AJA.

43. Horace M. Kallen to John Dewey, February 16, 1932, Kallen Papers, AJA.

44. Horace Kallen to Stephen Wise, November 6, 1935, Kallen Papers, YIVO.

45. Horace Kallen to James Marshall, April 7, 1959, Kallen to Phil Lown, April 14, 1959, Kallen Papers, AJA.

46. Horace Kallen to Sidney Morgenbesser, November 15 1958, Kallen Papers, AJA.

47. Horace Kallen to Harry Golden, October 27, 1962, Kallen Papers, AJA. These were also the views of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, to whom Kallen referred as “my rabbi.” See Mordecai Kaplan to Herman Rubenowitz, September 17 1914; Kaplan to Henry Hurwitz, March 17, 1916, Mordecai M. Kaplan Papers, AJA.

48. Horace Kallen, “Cultural Pluralism, the Judaisms and the Jews,” (unpublished talk given at a B’nai B’rith Symposium at the New School for Social Research, December 7, 1972), 7.

49. Horace Kallen, “Are We in Exile?” Dimensions (Spring, 1971): 4.

50. Horace Kallen, Individualism, An American Way of Life ( New York, 1933), 9.

51. Horace Kallen, Cultural Pluralism and the American Idea: an Essay in Social Philosophy (Philadelphia, 1956), 76–7.

52. Kallen, “Alain Locke,” 125.

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