OUISE BECAME UPSET BY the lavishing of kisses and attention upon Ludwig by younger women at a New Year’s Eve party, though Ludwig, finishing much of the cognac he had brought (“so as to be sure to have something wholesome to drink”), thought it “very silly” of her, “considering my years.” Not that he was too old to appreciate such affection. “A man is not sorry at any age not to be mechanically relegated to the mere role of the venerable senior.” Still, he was acutely aware of his years, and of just how little time he had left for pursuing the many interests and obligations given to him over a lifetime. “I’m getting stingy with time—not without reason,” Ludwig again observed not long before the new year of 1950 began.1
How, then, to apportion his days when so much excited his curiosity? “I’m afraid I won’t be able to learn much more,” he wrote after “reading with a small but steady excitement” the work of the “new criticism,” some of which seemed reminiscent of insights found in Expression in America, he believed. Without sufficient time, he would have to be satisfied with only a cursory exposure, as with so many other areas of study. “I’m hindered by the very multiplicity of my interests and so I often have the feeling that I’m a dilettante at everything.” Worse, he was “repressing [his] creative instincts for reasons rather unworthy” but, to him, quite reasonable. To write fiction to be read by only a few thousand was a poor use of his time. “It’s not primarily the question of money. We get along and are comfortable. It’s a question of being read; it is my vast irritation over the illiteracy of American Jews.… I am tired of fighting against the age.”2
Two weeks into the new year, with the usual round of professional and social activities under way, he would note that “the days have flown. Not unpleasantly.… Must, however, meditate strictly on my future articles on Jewish situation” already being accepted by the Jewish Frontier. A recent appearance in Providence before a Jewish audience, and the negative response by some to his assertion that Jewish day schools ought to be established throughout the country, and not only because the public schools were “Godless and shoddy,” was proof again of the need to complete this analysis as soon as possible. “That a few assimilationist die-hards rose up against me in Providence once more illustrates the degradation of the fashionable exilic Jew. Poor things! They annoy me, yet I sorrow over them. Will they never learn? Of course, the alternative of truth is bleak and hard in some ways. We are in a certain sense homeless. But we are homeless anyhow, except in Israel. And those poor people deny themselves all possible mitigations. Upon the whole, however, I take these things more tranquilly than I used to do.”3
So, too, must that December’s “Christmas Tree Controversy” at Brandeis have served to emphasize the timeliness of his new work. The campus newspaper, the Justice, ran a strongly worded editorial calling for “a clear, constructive answer” to an issue that had “provoked, and rightly so, a great deal of discussion and a great many varied and conflicting opinions.” The editorial writer had called for an answer that “must evolve from the students.”4 But Ludwig was certain that he could articulate one for them and others that was clearer and more authentically Jewish, “poignantly out of the depth of his Jewish soul and experience,” as he had noted that January in an introduction to a collection of poetry by Judah Stampfer, who, writing as “a Jew authentic by both faith and deed,” had offered his readers “a genuine contribution.”5
Amid the “extraordinarily cluttered month,” he continued to pursue this goal. But there was, as usual, a host of distractions—exam papers to grade, two lectures to give at other colleges, book reviews, descriptions of new courses to write for the next Brandeis catalog, and a talk to be given at the McGill University Hillel in Montreal (“a bore. But with the frightful expenses [Jimmy, etc.] I really need the fee”). Not that he was complaining, even to himself. So much else now provided “mitigations of whatever was not wholly satisfactory.” Proofs of The Magic Word had arrived together with a “handsome jacket design” from which he “took a fresh sort of pleasure,” while the next chapters of his “Reflections” were now taking shape in his thoughts. Similarly, he had already begun to think through his book on the “four men,” including the possibility of having his say, in the opening of the study, on “the detestable Ezra Pound … [whose] bitter reaction to his American origin and fate was that of a sick, vulgar, pagan soul” (though “the reaction itself I quite understand”).
Thoughts of taking up his own poetic pen had come to him in the shadow of this next project, “a very subterranean impulse” that he might have acted on if he could have found “a period of freedom from obligations,” though he knew otherwise. “What keeps me from following certain impulses is my fear of the characteristic of Jewish talent in Galuth… of doing everything with a certain accomplishment and nothing supremely well. Deep waters. Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”6 He refused to dilute what time and energy he could rescue from his “involvements … very many—more, it seems to me than ever,” as he explained his long silence to Spiro. “You will be the last to blame me for being penurious with one thing—time.” For to his “small book in which the Jewish situation is measurably thought through” and his study of “the masters of contemporary literature,” there was yet one more waiting to be written, time permitting. “Behind that I see already, please God, the shadow of another book on the great religious philosophers of our time which will certainly include Berdyaev and culminate in Martin Buber.”7
In early February, Ludwig addressed Brown University’s annual “Religious Embassy,” at which a representative of the three major religious bodies—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish—was invited to speak on some aspect of his faith. A great many students and faculty were in attendance, hoping to garner insights which Ludwig believed, before and afterward, could not be imparted in such a way. “What even most over-simplified statement of such quite ultimate matters can be effective under these conditions?” he asked in his diary, adding acerbically that “the belief that anything can be accomplished witnesses the shallowness of our academic attitudes.” If he had left a strong impression upon the campus rabbi (“thought and wrote that my contribution to the discussion was a kiddush ha-shem [sanctification of God]”) and upon “a group of Jewish students [who] sat with me till latish,” the occasion otherwise left him rather “sad,” knowing that these young people would resist those deepest religious feelings now so out of fashion. They were, it seemed so clear to him, “Wistful but buttressed against their own wistfulness by the circumambient intellectual climate, which is coldly, drearily, belatedly ‘naturalistic.’”
Equally disturbing to him was news of Brandeis’s decision to earmark a number of its scholarships specifically for Protestant students, which Ludwig saw as a manifestation of the university’s failure to establish an unapologetic self-affirming identity. “The disgusting degradation of the Golus [Diasporan] Jew!” Not that he advocated a discriminatory admissions policy. “We must accept worthy students irrespective of descent or faith. But that is different from going out into the very streets with bribes, as though we were otherwise not valid.” Why, he protested, must the American Jewish community always hesitate to be itself uncompromisingly? Why could it not admit to its youth’s need for some place in which they could develop unimpeded by perceptions of obligatory conformity? “Ça me dégoute [It disgusts me]. Ça m’emmerde [It fouls me]. In point of ultimate fact an argument could be made for excluding Gentiles on the ground that our poor frightened, contorted Golus children could learn to be more self-affirmative and spiritually dignified if left alone for a while.”8
Still, when Harry Wolfson of Harvard spoke “quite negatively” of Brandeis a week later, “I found evoked in me a slightly defensive attitude on the basis that there is or ought to be every hope here in our direction.” Wolfson, long an advocate of the assimilationism that had brought him to Harvard, disputed the existence of anti-Semitism in America. To hold to this nonsectarian abstraction was far from wise or productive, Ludwig argued in his first encounter with Wolfson, a philosopher who had done little to open his own university for his co-religionists. “We were faced in America by situations which had to be taken into account, unhappy as they are, and not simply be swept aside. Absolutism of that kind may be venerable, it is not fruitful.”9
“If only some of my thinking will penetrate, it will do real good,” Ludwig wrote of his “Reflections,” hoping that a suitable title could be found for the volume when ready for publication, one that would “reach in order to kindle.”10 The writing of it was now flowing easily, and he wondered if “that is not a bad sign.” With the third chapter finished on February 23, he was somewhat glad that other work, including a long lecture on Thomas Mann for Brandeis’s Adult Institute, would slow his progress. “On one side impelled, of course, to go straight ahead now and write the other chapters. Just as well, perhaps, that that’s not feasible.”11 Ideas needed time to germinate, and they needed, as he wrote the well-respected young rabbi and theologian Milton Steinberg, the reactions of those few whose thoughts he valued, “observations, positive or negative, before I gather the [Jewish Frontier] pieces in a book.” Steinberg’s own critique of Mordecai Kaplan’s “Program” had prompted Ludwig’s request for a response, seeing that Steinberg, too, objected to the use of American cultural attributes as any basis for reconstituting Jewish life. “It is a sorry spectacle to see this civilization or, rather, this foul relapse into Godless barbarism in which we live made the criterion of faith and practise. This world, this America, are worth helping to save, not worth imitating. That is what I find so supremely shocking.” Rather would he grow peyoth (earlocks) “and retire to Avenue A and 3rd Street and live as one of the Hasidim there” than to refashion Jewish life after the world around it, a world straining for “ease, breadth, accessibility, [and] equivocal values.” Such a Judaism would have “no persuasive power.” Religious thoughts that were not compelling were, inevitably, without the “kindling power” Ludwig knew to be needed at this moment, post-Holocaust, post-statehood, post–“modern things.” “That sort of thing is neither challenge nor demand. It cannot reach or kindle. The people who wrote that program never had a religious emotion in their lives. Nor did they know its nature. No cry that is not a cry and a cry for redemption will ever be heard but with the outer or indifferent ear.”12
Why not, as an alternative, push for massive immigration of American Jews to Israel if the prospects for a Jewish renewal in America were so bleak that its most vocal advocates could offer only a program characterized by “theological thinness”?13 Such a solution was, of course, being advocated by the Zionists in Jerusalem. “Fascinating and moving,” Ludwig said of their proposals, “but quite out of contact with American reality.… It is unrealistic to expect this peripheral, emotionally half-dejudaized people, bedevilled and bewildered by the liberalistic slogans of 40 years ago to know and feel and execute their ultimately necessary destiny.” They were unaware that, ultimately, “the alternative is catastrophe—a Hitler or Mussolini in America.”
Though absolutely convinced that anti-Semitism would eventually descend upon America with unexpected force, he, too, was not taking his family to Israel. Like so many other American Jews, he had found a livelihood and a place in contemporary America that was too comfortable to leave behind. “Yet I am a Zionist by unfathomably deep conviction as well as by piercing, cleaving experience.” And so he knew well “the tragedy of our crippled condition—crippled by ignorance, by habit, by the need of bread and speech,” and hoped that his book “could start a movement for the recovery of Jewish historic awareness and Jewish spiritual re-integration among a small number of souls, from whom then a spontaneous chalutziuth [immigration] might come—a chalutziuth like the falling of ripe fruit from an autumnal tree.” As for himself, he was resolved to live with this inner contradiction between what he should do, what he was ultimately advocating, and what he, in fact, was doing. “Despite all … I have attained, I thank God, a great measure of serenity. ‘Voluntary acceptance of the obligatory,’ as Otto Rank used to say. Submission to the will of God who placed me in this here and now in which I seek to function as fruitfully as I can within the limitations of destiny.”14
Louise proved to be Ludwig’s best critic throughout the process of writing his “Reflections,” “the moral center about which I revolve in my broken-winged way,” as he wrote her during her return to Des Moines to care for a hospitalized aunt that January.15 Reading the fourth chapter, she had given him a “humorous account” of all those Jewish groups he was certain to “have mortally offended”—“liberals of all nuances,” the Orthodox (“unwavering Shulchan Aruch [Jewish Legal Code] people”), and the Reconstructionists. Louise assured him that once published, the book would force him into a narrowing circle that would exclude all but herself, Cupcake, and one old friend.16
Paradoxically, it was the “orthodox” Jew and the “Catholic in full communion” whom he thought most capable of a meaningful life. “These two patterns, universes, call them what you will, alone fit the nature and destiny of Western man.… With them one can live and die in conformity to those needs which, obviously, God has given us. We are what we are, we are what we are destined to be. And only those two satisfy the need of that destined being, the cries of that destined heart.” In the end, all attempts to intellectualize those needs away, and with them the “patterns” that best satisfy them, were “of the second order” and led to the “ineffable anguish, bleakness, hopelessness of a world without God.” Yet such conclusions could not be so boldly stated, lest he lose his audience. “What little influence for good, for less evil, let us say, that I have, would be wiped out. Who would listen to one so obviously meshugah [crazy]? Nevertheless … nevertheless…”17 His concern was well founded, as many would soon come to see him, mistakenly, as a proponent of Orthodoxy rather than as someone who valued the notion of grounding one’s life in the traditions of Judaism.
He hoped in the days ahead, when the Mann lecture would be completed, that he would set aside some time for “miscellaneous reading,” something less serious, though it seemed as if he had already read “all the books that are for me.” How could he not have throughout such a life? A few things lately had impressed him, particularly Camus’s La Peste (The Plague), which he had gotten through membership in a French book club. But “new books? There aren’t any that are palatable.” Perhaps he would change the focus of his attention. “Would like to read some book that says the last word—as of 1950—on genetics,” he noted in his diary on March 11. “Wish somebody would send me a bouquin [old book] that would really feed me, nourish me a little.” Roger Straus had sent him a great many new things to read, but there were none of substance or beauty. “You cannot dredge up beauty unless you go deep. And these people don’t go deep.”18
If he felt restless, perhaps it was, as he admitted to his diary, a sign that what he really longed for was some artistically creative act. He felt the need and the impetus, but something held him back, something that affirmed “the stuff I’m doing.” It seemed more in keeping with his “station” and his years. Yet he couldn’t help being envious of Thomas Mann, embarking on “yet another great creative work at his age.” But their lives had been so radically different. “He gave up life pretty completely for art in the Otto Rank sense. I didn’t; I couldn’t. I knew all along. I have less character than he in one sense—more, perhaps, especially as concerns my involvement in the Zionist cause etc., in another.” As a longtime friend, he knew Mann well, better now than he had decades earlier. And not all of what he had learned was as noble as was widely believed. Perhaps someday he would publish on this, but not now, not in his Brandeis lecture which he would make a part of his “four men” study. Yet he wanted it said, nonetheless, somewhere, and left it untouched when he later returned to edit his diary.
I grasp him, enigmatic as he is at bottom, despite his vast and intricate confessions, but the essay needs to be built and documented. I suspect that at the core of his enigma are the following elements: repressed homoeroticism, a passion for romanticism in his pejorative sense which he has sought to curb and transcend; the primordial guilt-feeling attached to his “betrayal” of his clan, class, tradition; a rather sharp distaste for Jews which he has turned upside down and compensated for by his marriage, by the Joseph epic, by his defense of Jews in all his public and political expressions and activities…. More of that some day. He has always been generous and handsome to me and, though my essay must be critical of him here and there, I shall not write anything to wound him, to stab, as it were, into the heart of his mystery.19
The weeks before Passover that year were filled “to the brim” with activity he hoped had been “altogether fruitfully” undertaken. It was hard to judge as he traveled to a half dozen spots in New England within so short a period. At least he had not felt a “sense of rusting after the habits of the many years.” And though pleased with the still developing Mann essay, and convinced of its importance relative to more “weak-minded” work on Fitzgerald and the others of that type, he felt guilty in taking time away from his “Reflections,” whether for lecturing or for literary scholarship, however necessary or personally gratifying.
And never more than when he saw around him apologists for Stalin and communism, bemoaning every attack upon their evil intentions. Though no supporter of Joe McCarthy, having more than once been a victim of government witch-hunting, Ludwig had no patience for those taking such positions, particularly not for bright young Jews like “that fool and Jewish renegade H[oward] Fast” and the “hysterical” Max Lerner, the latter now heading the American Studies program at Brandeis. To Ludwig, they were condemning the world to the forces of chaos, and Jews to their death once again. “I cannot by the farthest stretch of the imagination conceive of such utter besottedness.” Could they not see what had become so totally obvious so many years before? In his judgment, they had betrayed not merely the principles of freedom upon which their own country had been founded, but more importantly, they had forsaken the deeper human need which myopically they thought they were, through their political choices, upholding. (Fast would himself confirm this assessment in his 1957 confession, The Naked God.)
If we are to understand the uncompromising stridency of Ludwig’s condemnation of even the mild Max Lerner, we need to remember his own struggle against all those, from the Right and the Left, who murdered Jews—Stalin’s repeated attacks upon his Jews made more emphatic by the world’s disregard for the Holocaust. “The censors swing. The libations are poured. The slave camps flourish. Jews are hounded. The everlasting picture. Socialism is not Communism or, at least, not Stalinism, they answer me. It is today the road, that road, the road straight to hell, to damnation, to enslavement, to utter ruin and utter chaos. And these men, Matthiesen and his fellows (Howard Mumford Jones too) are all traitors, traitors of deepest dye—oh, not only to the U.S.A. That’s the least. But to good and freedom and God—to Judaism and Christianity, to any conceivable redemption from ineffable evil.” Little wonder that the philosopher Ernst Simon had spoken of “the principle of evil … [as] a necessary concept in today’s world” during the academic conference that opened Brandeis a year and a half earlier, Ludwig now recalled. How much greater the imperative to finish his “Reflections”? “God give me strength and guide me to write persuasively the rest of the chapters on Jewish Destiny! The book is so bitterly needed.”20 Relieved and thankful that a small growth removed from his hand had proven benign, he pledged to “go on gratefully doing my best [for] … our people,”21 even “here on this muddled but by possible implication precious campus.” For all its faults, Brandeis had proven a good setting in which to wrestle with these problems.22
“Spring very late,” he wrote on April 23. “I get up every morning to watch for the first green of bursting buds on the trees on this beautiful campus.” Watchful of the seasons changing, conscious of time’s passing, he had grown more fond of his new home, and with this growing affection, had become ever more determined to see Brandeis become all that it should. “Must watch like the proverbial hawk.” Having brought Marie Syrkin, the editor of the Jewish Frontier, into the English department, he would make certain that the next appointment would similarly not go to “a dunce appointed just because he is not a Jew…. The servility of spirit around here is nauseating. Useless … [a] creeping attitude” that unmasked an “inner corruption … worse than persecution from without.” Had he himself not recently been a victim of this servility in Lionel Trilling’s critique of his work? “I resented what he said not personally so much as I did as a Jew. I resented his taking out his Jewish self-contempt and self-disgust on me … [while] he creeps before any goy [Gentile] who scribbles anything.”23
Ludwig was as determined as he had ever been over other issues to do all that he could to diminish this self-destructive impetus among American Jews. A meeting with Roger Straus left him concerned over the fate of his “Reflections,” now tentatively retitled Jewish Destiny. Though sales of Crump and Goethe had gone well, they could have been more aggressively handled. The Magic Word had similarly suffered. “Spilt milk, but I can’t let him [Straus] botch Jewish Destiny and he’s beginning to ‘belly-ache’ already. A serious problem. Perhaps Schocken for J.D.???” he wondered, disturbed that, given “the quality of what I write,” he had to search for a really first-rate publishing house. Not that he was unaware of why Gentile and Jew alike were often troubled by who he was or what he had to say. So very little had changed in the half century since leaving Charleston for worlds equally unwelcoming.
It all comes down, however—and this lets F & S out—to the old, old circumstance. If my name were Brockton or MacAlister and I wrote as I do and have—qualitatively—I’d be the dean of American letters and all the old aristocratic houses would be for me. And I wouldn’t be writing Jewish Destiny and scaring poor Roger, who maybe goes on Yom Kippur (full of dinner) to Temple Emanuel, half to death. He, poor lamb, can’t even imagine the needs of the Jewish masses of America. It’s totally beyond him. Even a little pogrom wouldn’t give him pause. So-o-o? If COMMENTARY ever asks me for another article, which is doubtful, I’ll do one on The Man of Letters in Galuth. That would be sweet on the tongue and not bitter in the belly. Odd and dreadful how a tiny group of Jews, Roger’s kind, and they’re ever such decent people, can exist in such complete alienation from the Jews, the real Jews, the Jewish millions in America.24
How little, ultimately, had changed in Ludwig’s view of his world. It was that day the second anniversary of the State of Israel’s independence, yet fundamentally so much had remained, for him, unaltered, for it was, as well, “my dear mother’s” birthday. “Next October 12 it will be 38 years since she went out of time and she is as real to me as ever—more real than during that last troubled, tragic year. I am sure that she is,”25 he concluded with a glance at his own mortality, ever closer as the days passed and the tasks continued undiminished. “It’s after all no wonder that I’m a little tired inwardly he wrote a week later, attributing his near exhaustion to a strenuous academic year and to a long and difficult life. “My life has been no easy one. How many vacations have I ever had? So I welcome this summer legitimately, I suppose.” Classes would end in four weeks, he would finish Jewish Destiny, and then “get in a couple of weeks of surf-bathing on the North Shore [of Massachusetts] and get large draughts of pottering around and meditation. That always does me good…. I seem to feel the need of some continuing tranquility and restfulness.”26
Perhaps this would be best, though Ludwig had been greatly disappointed that spring by the cancellation of his planned trip to Israel over the coming summer months. There just wasn’t enough money, in spite of a rather good income. “Jimmy’s horrendous expenses,” among others, had made the return after a quarter century impossible for him and Louise—and he would not go without her. “I want Louise to share the experience with me.” The only possibility was an advance for a book on Israel itself, which he didn’t want to do, given his current feelings about the new country’s politics, especially its attitude toward the Soviets. Perhaps it was best that he wait a while longer. “I search myself and see, despite the sense of deprivation and nostalgia, that it would be a rough spiritual experience. I’m deeply unhappy about Israel’s neutrality between West and East and deeply unhappy over the Mapam [Labor Party] pro-Soviet orientation. It seems to me so deeply—blasphemous, so accursedly unJewish.… Well, there are no words.” With God’s help, “if I live … and am well, I can go another year.”27
There was certainly enough else to keep him going in the interim, enough to exercise his mind and emotions. On his table for reading that summer were Reinhold Niebuhr’s Human Character and Destiny (“Can’t follow him to ultimate conclusions but infinitely prefer him to the beastly pagans”), Brander Matthews’s own copy of Matthew Arnold’s letters (“discarded by Columbia Library; next discarded by Brandeis Library”), and the Buddha’s discourses. The latter, in particular, struck him, “despite their pessimism, their yearning for the reant, for nothingness, [as] a triumph of the human spirit of the first order,” especially in Karl Eugene Neumann’s exquisite translation, an “unimaginably great achievement.” Yet he couldn’t help thinking that here again was “another terrifying instance of the losses which assimilation inflected on the Jewish people.” Why hadn’t Neumann devoted such brilliance to Jewish texts instead?28
Mixed with this tragic sense were Ludwig’s own feelings toward all things German, which, despite his voluminous work on Goethe and his renewed contact with the “egregious” Viereck, he could not shake. Listening to a recording of Mahler’s songs, he was struck by this inner conflict. “Moments of sublimity…. Very exciting. Too exciting for me. Blood and tears. Must keep away from German and Jewish-German music. There (and in a good deal of German poetry and scholarship too) was the one—to me—highest and heavenliest realm in the domain of Western culture. And that had to break down into filth, ordure and utter bestiality.”29 That so much Jewish effort had been put into becoming a part of this world, while so much had been robbed in the process from the study of their own culture, was a “wound [that] does not scar.” If “not the deadliest wound it dealt me and mine by far,” the betrayal was damaging enough. “No wonder that I am bitter against assimilation.… I studied Old English and Gothic and middle English and Middle High German and did not dream of the one thing needful to such a being as I am in such a world as the present.”30 Listening to Mahler one evening in early May at the home of a young Protestant colleague, the novelist Tom Savage, he thought of all that had been lost to the Jews in their struggle to find a place in a world that had never wanted them. “Both Louise and I enjoyed thoroughly being with Betty and Tom,” Ludwig recorded in his diary the next day. “So intelligent and sensitive and well-bred; so exquisitely unweighed down and contorted compared to our Jews. Lucky people,” he thought. “Not that we would change. But one can’t objectively help making the observation.”31
Several dinner parties and gatherings attended or held by Ludwig over the next week sharpened this observation. “Some dreadfully desolate people. Jews without any faith, any center, any place where to lay their head.” There was the elegantly dressed woman who, “with unchanged smiling mask,” spoke of her husband’s heart condition as “hell right here,” of which Ludwig wrote, “No hope of any hope. Dark to any vision. Dour. Emphasizing with a sort of hard self-torture meaninglessness, nothingness.” And the distinguished scientist, who spoke of God as a mere “syllable” and asked, “What do you expect me to do with that syllable?” How tragic, Ludwig thought. “How do they live? How do they keep from cutting their throats” in the bleakness of their lives? And then there were those others who had found a “center,” but one without foundation, emptied of all underpinnings by the realities of recent history. Of these, Max Lerner seemed tragically emblematic (though Lerner returned the compliment, thinking Ludwig a symbol of the past, as well). “Very charming, intellectually agile, cultivated, sensitive, good humoured. All that. And that able mind of his missing always the last point of penetration so that, in the last analysis, it is filled with tripe. Just tripe. The withered fallacies, the Utopian escapist hopes of 40 years ago that have demonstrably led to the Soviet hell. Now Max and his minions repudiate the results but cling to the means by which those results were brought about.”
“Last truth on this matter,” he concluded.32 There were, after all, other concerns at the moment: “How to make over the next two years an additional $10,000 to finish the worst part of Jim’s education and to pay for a trip to Israel for Louise and myself.”33 Jim had made steady progress over the last year, and Ludwig saw hope in his continuing at his present school. Ludwig’s fears over Jim’s return home for the winter break had not been realized. “His psychical condition is better. No doubt,” he had written in his diary on December 15. “He is better balanced, less wildly impatient, less—in a word—neurotic. But he has thus merely risen to an unstable mediocrity of behavior and outlook which is tragic to me.” He had worried over how he would amuse his son, unable to see himself engaging in those things he thought “a proper father should … movies and ballgames.”34 But it had all gone better than anticipated, and he hoped now to continue what change had begun. The cost, though, would be high, necessitating a further postponement of their trip to Israel at a time in life when second chances had grown ever more unlikely.
“I ought to write an elegant bawdy novel to go into the quarter book,” he pondered, thinking of Crump and Stephen Escott, and, recently, of For Ever Wilt Thou Love in their paperback editions. Still, how could he at this stage in his life. “That I can’t bring myself to do.” Instead, if he still had the ability to write fiction, he wanted it to say something of value, something worth his efforts, a “novel … seeking for the core of evil.” Could he, though, he wondered. The mere “idea of creative work” had made his “fingers really itch … but the deterrents are so many and so powerful…. I don’t really believe I’ll write it…. The inner censor is so strong that it would doubtless be difficult to do so.” Resigned, he left unspoken even to his diary what it was he had chosen to censor.35
Instead, he would try to see his other work through to the reception it deserved, about which he had grown concerned over the last months, enough to arrange a meeting with Straus in New York on May 17. He flew to the city the day before, dined at the Paramount Restaurant (“Always to my own amusement feel so decent when I eat kosher”), and caught Katherine Hepburn in As You Like It (“She, now in her forties, wan, skinny, with a metallic edge to that husky voice, still has her old style and plasticity of movement, still gives that impression of a lithe ironic intelligence”). Armed for confrontation, he met with both Straus and Farrar the next morning, and in an “agreeable” manner, a timetable for publication and promotion was reached, along with a new title, The American Jew: Character and Destiny. With November 2, 1950, as the decided publication date, all copy had to be completed by mid-July. Pledging his every effort, Ludwig left the meeting and made his way uptown to the Jewish Museum where he was to address the Jewish Book Council, for whom he had written a long essay on the American Jewish novel, to be included in its Jewish Book Annual. Preaching to the converted on the need for more Jewish books and an expansion of an audience for such work, he was warmly received, before being driven back to Brandeis by Sumner Abrams, arriving home at 4 A.M., exhausted.36
A week later, with the press of the year’s final academic exercises and numerous small obligations still upon him, he remained quite tired. “Got up unrefreshed and sleepy this morning and so wrote only two pages on introduction to book on ‘Great Jewish Books’” requested by the American Jewish Congress. “I’m trying to clean my desk of secondary tasks and then proceed to write second half (hardest!) of small book [American Jew],” he recorded that day. The continuing exhaustion was not without its consolation, however. The night before, he had given a small party for his creative writing class, a handful of students he thought rather well of. “Realists. Their eyes are keen. Their judgments (according to their lights) severe. They’re quite capable of cruelty. Nothing fraudulent gets by. No question about their talent.” Their feelings about Ludwig were equally positive, honoring their mentor with a gift of “6 dainty liqueur glasses” and a note, “To our teacher and friend.” Ludwig was moved by their thoughtfulness. “I like that better than the plaudits of crowded halls after lectures. For this is straight—uninfluenced by myth, reputation, desire to shine in reflected pseudo-splendor.”37
His fall from public grace had taught him the harsh lesson of transitory adulation and of the currents that shaped it. Though he had spent a lifetime toiling in literary fields, not one anthology of fiction or criticism carried a single word of his. Searching anthologies for his courses in the fall, he found “every dolt represented. Not I anywhere. I don’t exist…. It was not so bad ever anywhere.” He blamed “the spiritual riff-raff” for the climate that had made him an outsider. “I have against me the anti-Semites, conscious and repressed, the Reds, the crypto-Jews, the Nihilists, the pseudo-scientists, the Dewyite instrumentalists, the ‘liberals,’” attributions assigned to those who had been his critics for more than three decades, many of whom had, in fact, shaped the American cultural and social environment in which he labored. “I’m taboo with God. Very grim. Very funny. And then a Jewish gentleman, a clever man, apparently, a brilliant lawyer, says to me: ‘But aren’t we rooted here in America?’ Obscenely funny.”38
More palatable and, for Ludwig, genuinely amusing was the good-natured chiding he and Max Lerner gave each other several days later at a Brandeis Women’s Associates dinner held to honor the membership’s great efforts in raising funds across the country, with special focus upon the university’s library. For all their criticisms of one another, and Ludwig’s deepening disdain for his colleague’s beliefs, there appeared to be a sense of mutual respect at play. “Max Lerner and I spoke—spoofing each other, differing and agreeing, being amusing and eloquent by turns, deliberately and without previous consultation putting on a show for them which delighted them. Rather fun. Max and I differ crucially on most things. But he’s such an agreeable fellow and we both know this game, so to speak, and toss the ball back and forth.”
Ludwig was not, after all, without some perspective on his own beliefs, even some ability to assess them lightly at times. It had come at great expense, but not without appreciation for the road heavily traveled. All in all, it had been a good journey, he judged on his sixty-eighth birthday, that May 30, 1950, though “thoroughly tired at the moment,” with all of his final exams yet to grade and The American Jew only half finished. “My birthday. Any reflections? None that wouldn’t be fairly banal. If I were to draw up a balance-sheet as of today (not a very nice image) I’d have to say that morally (which is all that counts—moralement) the accounting would show a profit balance—despite disappointments, griefs, inadequacies. So I pray that this and my present state of health continue.”
Brandeis, too, had reached a demarcation of sorts, a second academic year completed, a second convocation now held. A “rather wild succession of dinner-parties” was enjoyed before faculty and students gathered to hear the day’s major address by Eleanor Roosevelt, recently joining the university as a trustee (and in the future as a teacher). “She’s full of goodness. No doubt,” Ludwig commented in his diary three days later. “But every problem really begins where her thinking ends…. She made one or two superficially acute observations with a rather disarming pride in them. Hasn’t, of course, good woman, an even faintest notion of what psychologically etc. goes on here.”39
Roosevelt had spoken eloquently, but in generalities that day, of the world still resting uneasily in the shadow of the last war, of the hunger for freedom wherever it was absent, of the world’s enslaved turning to America for hope and direction, placing a special responsibility on the young to liberate humanity. With allusions to the McCarthy witch-hunting then in progress, she talked of this role being assumable only if America remained true to its fundamental belief in basic human freedoms, particularly “the right to be ourselves, the right to stand up as individual human beings and be trusted with the dignity which every human inherently should have.” But her address lacked the analytical bite and the curative agenda Ludwig required of all who would raise these issues. “You must have spiritual and moral strength,” and act “through courage, through real crusading belief in your ideals,” she told her audience. “We know that we have to live in uncertainty and that the solution … is going to depend on how well we live in uncertainty, on how well we live our daily lives.” There was truth in what she said, but Ludwig had wanted more than the platitudes of a sunny spring afternoon amid the fresh green grass and budding trees. He listened attentively as she continued. “I hope that this country is going to have the vision to find new ways to meet the problems of the world, the faith to try new things, the courage to live in uncertainty. I hope we are going to grow in intellectual achievement, and I hope that Brandeis University is going to be one of the institutions in this nation that will make a great contribution through its students and through its supporters, not just to the salvation of the United States, much as I hope for that, but to the salvation of the peoples of the world.”40 Sitting but a few feet from her on the ceremonial platform, Ludwig “caught a glimpse of what must once have been a sort of persuasive charm of personality, although she could never have been otherwise than rather homely,” he concluded.
Not so Golda Meyerson (Meir), whom he had heard speak at the Labor Zionist Convention late the night before. “She’s 63 and not, I’m told, in very good health,” he observed. “She’s a stoutish medium tall woman. Yet she was beautiful. Never have I seen the human form more irradiated by moral beauty, by intelligent devotion to a chosen cause, by the mild and restrained sense of triumph which that devotion helped to bring about.” It wasn’t that she had spoken in support of his views. On the contrary, there were so many “respects in which I sharply differ from her.” The socialist thrust of the Labor program had long ceased to win his assent. He was, in fact, closer to Eleanor Roosevelt’s views than to Meyerson’s, though he objected fundamentally to both. But Roosevelt’s “facile liberalistic patter was surface bubbling compared to G.M. who opened depths of immeasurable tragedies, soaring moral risks and decisions, who easily, simply, utterly unaffectedly spoke of historic crises, of Israel’s history and destiny, of man’s fate and burden and aspiration.” He assured himself and those who might one day read his assessment that this was “no overstatement,” merely “sober fact.” For all his disagreements with her, Golda Meyerson was an example of all that was best in humanity—“A luminous mind, a luminous soul, a personality that moved me deeply, that makes one prouder of being a human being, that adds to one’s concept of man, of Mensch.”
The second year thus ended with as much cheering excitement as the first had begun. Exhausted, he concluded his birthday with the promise to “rest up in order to go on with [the] book.”41 Ludwig completed the grading of his exams on June 4, and worked six days a week, writing from ten in the morning until one, finishing The American Jew on June 28—two weeks ahead of schedule, he proudly noted in his diary, an event rarely experienced in his long writing career. He and Louise now planned a two-week seaside vacation in Gloucester, Massachusetts. “I need the refreshment enormously.” It had been “a chilly, uncertain summer,” as much for the weather as for the human storms brewing around him. “War-scare about the Korean incident” and “the central problem of how to deal with” the Russians, their “attitude very obscure. Do they know that every word they utter is a lie?… Doubtless governments have always tried to bend the facts in their favor. But here we have a cold imperturbable reversal of fact. Very strange. What is encountered is an inhuman—unhuman state of mind. That of a different species.” Once again, with Nazi Germany barely cold in its grave, “the barbarism is at the gate. For the second time in a generation, the Devil, the principle of evil, is upon us.” Eschewing the greater subtleties distinguishing Nazi from Stalinist, Ludwig saw them both in a similar vein, their ultimate goals the same danger to individual freedom and the safety of his people.42
Adding to his unease through these weeks was a promotional appearance for Brandeis he had made at Sachar’s request at the annual gathering of the Jewish fraternal order B’rith Abraham in Atlantic City one weekend. The town appeared “more ragged and garish than ever,” recalling for him “not unpainful recollections of Zionist Conventions.” Here had been “the greatest of causes served in part and generally at the top by people afflicted with a strange kind of wickedness,” among them Abba Hillel Silver and “above all, his henchman, Emanuel Neumann, both sincere Zionists, but ugly contorted souls, impure in every motive” by Ludwig’s judgment. “Even resisting those people made oneself impure. It rubs off.”43
The consolation in all this was the role he had assumed after leaving. “Thank God I can serve the Jewish people more purely now.” The American Jew was proof—“my best thinking, deepest, clearest. I can’t even imagine a valid argument to the contrary,” though he was, nevertheless, willing to grant that such self-assurance “may be my lack of imagination and my self-opinionatedness. But how else can one write on a question like this?” It had all come to him in a rather mysterious fashion, as all of his writing had, full-blown, left unchanged for the printer to set in type, trying always “to hold myself in check against undue intricacy, against purple patches. I tried for sobriety and consecutive thinking.” Had he succeeded? He could not judge any more than he could explain this single-minded “act of composition.” But he believed he had and was ready “to go to the stake for the essential truth of all I’ve said,” as certain as he was that the book’s writing had been an “unfathomably mysterious process” like all of human life. “We know nothing about anything of the first importance at every point,” Ludwig admitted, invoking the mystical he had found great kinship with in his later years. “We experience our experiences but half and outwardly. We must see face to face some day. Otherwise … v’ani yedathi goali chai [and I know my redeemer lives]. It must be so. It must be so.”44
“I am freer of any pressing obligation than I have been for many, many years,” Ludwig noted with relief two days before he was to leave for Gloucester. Straus had acknowledged receiving the manuscript of The American Jew, the last of his reviews for the journal Tomorrow had been sent out,45 and advice had been forwarded to Harold Ribalow for a proposed anthology of Jewish fictional works, including among those pieces suggested a fair bit of Trumpet of Jubilee, “which, despite recognizable faults, I consider my best book—the book in which I clove deepest and reached highest.”46 “Meta-Jewish, meta-Zionist,” he claimed for the novel.47
In contrast, he demanded that Haven be treated “as non-existent.” It was an embarrassment now, born of an “episode” in his life that he still did not fully understand, though in part, he was certain, the product of “despair at the fate of the Jewish man of letters in Galuth.… I listened to substitute voices of comfort. I plunged into various adventures—none, I can truly say, dishonorable; all a little meshugah.” He had survived this period, the years he shared with Edna, and had been helped to recovery by Louise. “As I often tell my dear wife: in a certain sense she picked me up out of a spiritual gutter and made me a Mensch again.” Providing an anchor for his life, Louise had enabled Ludwig to reconcile himself “to fate and history … in this matter of the fate of the Jewish artist in an alien tongue and land. I am tranquil now and happy and I enjoy my job here and my writing.”48
But he was genuinely tired, hoping for “hot bright weather so that I can go surf-bathing” in Gloucester. “Need some tone badly—very badly. Have been very productive these past ten months or so,” writing, teaching, and lecturing. “One pays for it, I suppose. No symptom but a slight malaise, a tendency to be very sleepy.” He was still troubled by Israel’s reluctant, but affirmed, alliance with the West, and deeply concerned that the war in Korea “will be a hard one,” yet necessary. Critics of the United States (“unpopular everywhere. Man cursed by the most desperate folly of the ages”) were certainly correct (“we don’t press for agrarian reform … we are allied to some fairly unsavory regimes”), but a Soviet victory would not be free of these faults, and far worse. If they were to win world domination, “There will be nothing but utter slavery, utter hopelessness—the uprooting of civilization in its totality. Darkness for ages. This is not the time for anything except to defend the citadel. The West is no City of God. But it is still a city of man and not of the Devil.” Moreover, Jews in Israel and America had “no business” defending Stalin and his policies, “that base and infamous delusion.”
Though adamant, and increasingly so, he would put all this aside. For the first time, he would go to the sea without work in his luggage, only a stack of books—some Shakespeare, a little Goethe, a few nineteenth-century novels to which he would give a rereading after so many decades, and whatever else he might find among the Brandeis library’s discards “that strikes me as being for me. Something new in Philosophy or Semitics or something among the new French books—something amusing—really amusing.”49 And then, after “sixteen fine days in Gloucester,” Ludwig and Louise returned home. “I found it most refreshing,” often taking two swims a day, though the water temperature never rose above sixty-two degrees. “I suppose it’s my early conditioning in Charleston which makes the sea seem natural and homelike, while remaining cosmic and infinite…. I gaze upon mountains, not unimpressed, but as alien and remote to my mind.”
Much of his time out of the water had been equally relaxing, wading through his accompanying books, finding only the Shakespeare truly to his liking even though, “Of course, he was a barbarian, completely enmeshed in the delusions he delineates” in his historical plays, “quite at one with these proud and angry savages and their notions of ‘honor,’ ‘loyalty,’ etc.,” notions that were without legitimacy, and worse. “One also understands better the eternal empty paganism of the whole ‘loyalty’ business—to club, college, team, city, the Dodgers, Giants, what not, the concept of loyalty without content of meaning or value. Amusing how in these plays they mouth the Christian phraseology totally untouched by what that phraseology is supposed to mean.” Yet he realized with some wonderment, even after a lifetime of reading Shakespeare—or was it because of his long exposure to the world of which it was its primary example of literary artistry?—that through the “Noachic primitiveness” of these conceptualizations there “breaks again and again the divine beauty and poignancy of speech.”
Not so with the barbarism of the Soviets. Still troubling to him was “the rather bitter pill of our feebleness in Korea.” Though admittedly the West was “beset by a thousand impurities,” its primary responsibility was to “resist … the monster” from the East (an old theme in his life, dating to the Great War). At the very least, “with us there is hope; there there is none.” For at its core, communism, Soviet or otherwise, was an insurmountable fallacy, “The core-sin of this age: the abstract belief in Utopia, a perfect society to be achieved by mechanical outer techniques including as much murder as may seem convenient.… The utter irreligion of forgetting that man is a sinful creature who can achieve good only through an inner change.… The refusal to accept life as tragic per se and man as needing redemption…. Social justice with the emphasis on justice or, rather, on freedom and compassion, may indeed advance moral ends. But these must remain the ends.”
Ludwig thought of omitting this portion of his diary years later when he began to revise it for publication. He was unhappy with this negative picture of man as basically unredeemed, deluding himself that he was, at heart, a rational being capable of creating a just world founded upon his own ever expanding knowledge of the “laws of a ‘rational universe.’” Such nonsense, Ludwig thought, “the kind of talk my father olav hashalom used to talk…. What does the universe know of reason?… And whence does this extra-natural ‘knowing’ derive?” His had been a knowing that had found “no need of God.” But hadn’t his father’s experience in America and the Holocaust been demonstration enough of this fundamental error? And to see Jews fallen so low as to “exchange their sublime tradition, including the prophetic concern for the oppressed, with that lie of all lies, with that quintessential ordure which is Marxism and the Soviet state”? Even rabbis who knew better had become “so corrupted” by their own flirtation with its less dogmatic intrusions into what had come to be called “liberalism” that they now failed to “arise in their pulpits and point to these wretched boys and say in the name of the Jewish community: gotanu, gotanu [our god, our god (an opprobrium and an appeal rolled into one)].”50
“Did measurably clean up study,” Ludwig recorded on August 14, as summer began to draw to a close. Ten days earlier, he had visited Jim at his Berkshire camp, finding him “better balanced, affectionate, attentive, considerate.” There was noticeable change, a maturing of sorts, but there were worrisome signs as well, a certain impulsiveness, an unreflectiveness that Ludwig saw as indicative of his son’s “misfortunes…. He has remarkable insights and perceptions for his age. But all intuitive. No conscious cerebration of any kind. No anchoring of his mental capacity, which he has, anywhere.” Compounding this deficiency was “the gaping festering wound of American civilization,” its educational system, which allowed students to remain children for too long, not “begin[ning] to teach them till the best time for teaching is over.”
Ludwig and Louise’s visit had included a weekend concert at Tanglewood before returning to Waltham in time for a Monday hospital appointment to have his remaining teeth extracted in preparation for a complete set of dentures. “Now comes the misery—as I always suspected and therefore put off the evil day—of the dentures.” After a three-day stay at Beth Israel, he came home.
Tom Savage stopped in to see his discomforted older friend and discussed religious issues surrounding Jesus’ birth and his place within then emerging Rabbinic Judaism. Savage raised the parallel between the virgin birth of Jesus and that of numerous other gods in the pagan Hellenistic world. Ludwig responded that if we accept the portrait of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and look beyond it, even beyond “his unfortunate anti-nationalism” (at a time of Roman occupation and oppression) and “his illogical hostility to the Pharisees” (of whom he was a member), then we will see a Jesus who “is familiar to me, belongs to me, is within my historic area, though in slight opposition to the trend of Judaism in his time which was prevailing and has since prevailed.” Ludwig saw Jesus within the tradition of the Protestrabbiner, the assimilationists and the anti-Zionists, secularist and Orthodox alike. “Jewish history has not gone the way of these men,” he added, “but they are ours and understandable to us and worthy of all reverence.” Like Rav Kook of Jerusalem in his own age, Ludwig believed their arguments should be met “on their own grounds with all lovingkindness. It is within this framework that the Jewish attitude to Jesus is to be found,” Ludwig asserted in conciliation and acceptance after so many years of working toward this point after bitter rejection by those who spoke in their Jewish God’s name. How very “amusing,” he added as he thought about his recent rereading of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, that “those portentous sermons on hell” recalled in the novel should come from those who accused the God of the Old Testament “of being cruel and vengeful.” Such “ingenuity of cruelty” was beyond the imagination of any Jew. “That could only have been accomplished by those who illustrated their character in the Nazi and Stalinist concentration camps, ‘educational camps’ and extermination-liquidation centers.”51
Several days passed before Ludwig received his new dentures. With “reasonably good sense and steady nerves,” he quickly accustomed himself to their presence, even growing fond of the new look they provided, “a little to my own astonishment. How little we know ourselves—that the improvement of personal appearance and lessening of the stigmata of age raises my general morale and adds to my social engagements.” Among these was his trip to three-year-old Marlboro College in rural Vermont, “housed in old New England barns.” Invited to speak on Thomas Mann and “the problem of the novel in this age,” he received an enthusiastic response. More agreeable, though, was his time spent with Walter Hendricks, the college’s founder, a Quaker who, though mixing his religious convictions with “a lot of ill-digested progressivism,” was a man of “great moral cleanness, of a great decency.”
Best, however, was the time he spent with Edmund Fuller, a teacher of farming skills who had abandoned his editorial position in Manhattan and gone to Vermont with his family to subsistence farm and search for a more meaningful life. There they had joined the Episcopal Church seeking the “framework, meaning, what I call faith,” as Ludwig wrote, fully aware that they could not accept all of its doctrine, but hoping “that God would take these upon Himself.” How like his own coming to Judaism, Ludwig reflected. “I told them how I was fond of saying in regard to Maimonides’ 13 articles of faith [a basic creedal statement of traditional Judaism] that thus it ought to be, that this was the truth I needed to live by and that, using the old Jewish formula, I prayed God that it might be His will that this was so.” When tears came to their eyes, he wondered how many other young people there were like them. Might there be a sufficient number to indicate “the beginning of something better, something that may save this civilization even at the eleventh hour”? Was he witnessing evidence of his vision of a return to the spiritual life as portrayed in his Altar in the Fields, of the next step forward for humanity, the true progress at which the “liberals jeered” when the book appeared? “Once again God granted me an instinct of prescience,” he said more as matter of fact than out of self-pride. It had merely seemed obvious to him then, as it did now. Without meaning in life, life itself was nothing more than a cruel joke. The meaningful life had to be sought out, if one were to endure. “Here is bed-rock,” the one underlying truth that “should someday be elaborated” by him not as a sectarian, but as a part of the larger human enterprise.
What is our whole point? Unless man, unless history have a meaning life is worthless. Less than worthless. For it would be a devil’s hoax, a ribald practical joke perpetrated on man—on the level of the idiot who offers his fellows a cigar that explodes, an ash-receiver in the form of a piss-pot. The vile word is necessary as characterization of life as without meaning, as history without meaning. BUT meaning means meaning to be apprehended by him who needs to know. Man is the knower who must know. Meaning is a relation between a knower and that which is to be known. Therefore, since mortality does not achieve meaning of life, history, the universe, the assumption of personal immortality is necessary if life, if this human experiment, is not to be a hideous, calculatedly hideous farce. In other words, the only alternative to God, freedom and immortality, is a Devil, a devil with the mind of the practical jokester with the piss-pot.52
Had Ludwig not written in the opening lines of The American Jew that “a deep metaphysical anxiety stirs the Western world.… The ground is shaking under the feet of Western man; he is hardly yet poised for flight, nor is he on his knees. [Yet] his heart is still barren and the sky above him empty.”53
“Page-proofs … will be sent off to me tomorrow,” Ludwig noted in his diary at the end of August, pleased that The American Jew would soon be on its way to a wider readership than serialization could provide.54 Out of impatience to begin a public discussion of his ideas, he had already expanded upon a portion of the book in an article for Commentary titled “Future of American Zionism.” Subtitling it “What Is to Be Done?,” he challenged the “modern” secular assimilationists on their home ground, taking to task all those whose myopia and self-destructive behavior were endangering not just the future of American Jewry. So few leaders truly understood the danger of this moment, wed as they were to an ethos of emancipation into a world given the falsely positive face of “modernity,” as if such labeling and the sacrifice to be a part of the world it pointed to were elements that could guarantee survival and enrichment as Jews.
Those who speak in the name of American Jewry from several quarters are often historically conditioned at too short a range; their historical conditioning is of a yesterday in Jewish history, of that yesterday which they are fond of calling “modern times” or “the modern age,” forgetful of the circumstance that we have passed through such analogous “modern” periods before and that this modern history within which they like to dwell has already sunk out of sight. “Modern” is now in this sense old and outlived in the eternal recurrences of Jewish history. The “modern” emancipation was only force applied in subtler forms and to other purposes. The force was used to de-Judaize the Jew, to rob him of himself, to put all the prizes of the world upon self-liquidation. And so many American Jews who speak for their fellows are still the willing instruments of that use of force. They are angry with their fellow Jews who have seen that use of force in its true character and who urge them to resist.55
He had felt this anger, and would again, knowing in his own heart that he was right, that the ends to which the new gods of Social Darwinism and Marxism had driven the Jews were the reduction of more than one-third of world Jewry “to dust and ashes” on the one hand, and on the other, “the immediate Stalinist liquidation of Jewishness … the last link in that inevitable chain.” Why had so many well-educated Jews, under the guise of a “liberalism” that was blinded to the reality of modern enslavements, failed to “embrace freedom or fight for it?… Generally alienated from the groundwork of their origin, character, and destiny,” these intellectuals, younger and older, in leadership positions within secular Jewish organizations or in the universities, seemed never to think “to look for the residual symptoms of vitality among Jews,” whether in the “fervent piety” of the Orthodox or within the souls of those “simple men and women [who] spontaneously arise … and pour out their hearts, not without tears, in the strains of ‘Hatikvah’ [the Zionist anthem].” What have these leaders and intellectuals, then, to offer the masses of Jews starved of a spiritual life, mired in the materialism of the twentieth century, cut off from the roots of their civilization from which they could draw sustenance if shown the way by those to whom they turn? Why have these individuals turned from the challenge of a true freedom, from the struggle to demand, against the passing forces of modernity, that they be accepted in America on their own terms, and not on those conditions imposed by another culture whose motives are questionable despite the talk of freedom that masks them?
The only hope, Ludwig believed, was in the awakening that recent history would inevitably force upon its victims at that moment when the burden of the past would transcend all the empty utopian dreams that had been at the heart of this era of Emancipation in Jewish life—that moment when it would become undeniable that far too much had been sacrificed for so very little benefit, and always at such a disastrous expense to the physical and spiritual well-being of the Jewish community wherever it resided.
Many, many thousands of Jews in America are seeking with some anguish of spirit a way for themselves and their children, a way of life, a way of faith appropriate to them as Jews and as Americans. In the immediate foreground is still tragically often fear, false fear of the precisely wrong forces that are to be feared. There is fear of freedom and its assertion; there is fear of being what ineluctably we are, as though mimicry were ever even security; there is, in brief, still fear, especially in comparatively high places, of facing our problem according to its real terms and not according to repressions and avoidances. It may be that the Stalinist murder of Jewishness coming after the Nazi murder of Jews will complete the historic picture for the still reluctant and that the day draws nearer in which all American Jews will set their feet upon a path of freedom.56
True liberation for Jews would come either in a return to traditional Judaism or in the fulfillment of Zionist aspirations, and more so from the latter because of the failure of Emancipation to truly free the Jewish soul. Rooted in the nationalism that had swept Eastern Europe, Zionism’s origins lay deeper in those exilic “millennial aspirations” forced upon Jews who then found their exit from the ghetto blocked by “the poisonous fumes of that new ‘social’ anti-Semitism that was to end in the torture and destruction of a whole people.” Seeing more clearly than their fellow dreamers, for these European Zionists, “dream and eschatological hope were turned into direct action by the unbearable pressure of a brutal world.”57
In America, many Jews still held on to the Emancipation belief “that reasonable adaptation would insure equality and freedom,” despite the example of Europe in the last decades. Yet in 1950 there were signs to which Ludwig could point that, indeed, some greater awareness of conditions and price was developing. The promise of equality, more often anticipated than truly offered, was continuing to prove, if not illusory, then elusive. Recent immigration restrictions placed upon Holocaust victims by Congress, while access to America was being eased for other Europeans, Nazi war criminals among them, had won the attention of some Jews who had previously been willing to excuse American inaction toward the program of murder that had characterized the war years. The constancy of quotas and closed doors in industry, education, and elsewhere for Jews was helping to add volume to a growing voice of discontent. Before the State of Israel had won its independence and struggle against Arab invasion, many of these Jews had salved their wounded spirits through vicarious struggles, adding much materially to a victorious end. But a new era was being entered, one of state-building with all of its pagan symbols of authority and power, even of a kind of idolatry that set city and state and flag and ruler as ultimate goals and sources of truth. Their appeal, however, could not be lasting, Ludwig believed, nor salvific for the Jewish soul in this post-Emancipatory period of history. Such elements of state were foreign and alien, not a part of the Jewish experience, nor of the nature of Zionism itself, both of whose ends lay in an enterprise of divine origin and assignment. In part because of his faith in the Jews’ future rejection of these largely Christian ideas to which they were now wed, Ludwig wrote with an uncanny prescience of changes yet to come. Anticipating positions to be taken up more widely in the decades after his death, he believed that there was already some evidence of change (those who took “upon themselves voluntarily the yoke of the Law”) and redirection toward the “Divine Will” as expressed by the prophet Amos nearly three thousand years earlier—a belief that the Jewish people, once called by God to be mankind’s suffering servant and light to the nations, would, though straying, return to the path in fulfillment of the unique contractual arrangement entered into by both parties. After all, had not the twentieth century’s disaster and triumph pointed to the need for a renewal of this prophecy?
It is not really our way, the Jewish way, which as long ago as Gideon and Samuel aspired, at least, to live not under the rule of man but under the rule of God. And it is equally a part of our faith, despite the vagaries of youths poisoned by the heresies of the pagan world, the Darwinian heresy, the Marxist heresy, that the State of Israel will not, given time and security, be merely another state among the states of the pagans but will be in some sense which we cannot yet discern a mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The conclusion then is this: the future of American Zionism is identical with the future of American Judaism. And that future is not to anyone who has watched the situation for many years an unhopeful one. As among Christians, so among us, there is a widespread metaphysical anxiety. As among Christians, so among us, there are faint but definite signs of a return from the needless miseries of moral and spiritual nihilism…. If under these aspects the American Jewish community survives Jewishly, its Zionism will be a central aspect of its religious faith—its faith that the Jewish people, the suffering servant of mankind described by the prophet, must survive as a religio-ethnic entity, elected to suffering and service, to exemplary form and sanctification as the immanent core of that historic process which was determined by the Divine Will. Thus Amos proclaimed in the 9th century before the Common Era, and what he proclaimed has quite literally worked itself out in the history of all the succeeding centuries.58
The task before American Jews, then, was to secure their own future by snatching it from “a pagan and unredeemed world,” both in the Diaspora and in their homeland. Both were to be accomplished without apology, “as the expression of God’s will in history,” whether it be in struggle against the “physical slaughter” of Europe, or “against the slower destructiveness of assimilation by an unredeemed world under false and equivocal emancipations.” What needed “still to be done” was to bring to the Jewish people the awareness that Emancipation was a failure, “that Jews were not given liberty and equality except sporadically and briefly at the sacrifice of both their Judaism and their Jewishness,” and that at the heart of the Jewish future lay Israel, not as state or as the home of all Jews in the Diaspora, but as spiritual center, as the culmination of centuries of Jewish spiritual life for which the politics, international and internal, were merely vehicles toward greater ends.59
A final task remained—securing the admission of the Christian world to its central role in the Jews’ suffering and its commitment to the upbuilding of the Jewish homeland, which “the so-called Christian world forced into our hands…. Had the Diaspora communities been left in peace in a truly Christian world, the regathering of the exiles in the land of Israel would have remained a part of the Messianic hope and the Messianic vision of the latter days.” This had not yet happened, nor had the attacks ceased, witness the many speeches against the Jews in the U.S. Congress by John Rankin and Burnet Rhett Maybank without a single objection by fellow members of the House and Senate, and the more scurrilous but honest assaults by openly avowed anti-Semites like Gerald L. K. Smith. While Israel had a religious role to play in the lives of Jews, “to the Christian it is a constant reminder of the fact that modern political Zionism and the colonization of the land and the erection of the state in this generation and in this age were ultimately occasioned by the Christlessness of Christendom.”60
September brought with it thoughts of the coming academic year. Ludwig’s spirits had climbed at the close of the previous year, but now that he would again have to face a symbol of much that was wrong with American Jewry, he felt the return of a familiar unease. He tried to detach himself from some of the “degrading” aspects of Brandeis, but not everything could pass without comment. “Now they’ve bought forty-odd football bruisers, among whom all kinds of riff-raff. Too revolting for further remarks. This could and might have been a distinguished college.”
The student body was now double what it had been when they opened two years earlier, but there had been no accompanying increase in the administration’s commitment to Jewish life on campus. There were as yet no High Holiday services at Brandeis, forcing Ludwig to attend a local synagogue that was “just better than nothing.” He had come to Brandeis “because I was persuaded that there would be a Hillel house on the campus with services every Shabbath and even minionim for shacharit and mincha [daily morning and afternoon services].” But with the third year about to begin, there was still no sign of either’s appearance, though the university’s catalog spoke of the presence of Hillel on campus and its sponsorship of religious services. “This spiritual pig-pen,” Ludwig added angrily. “Deliberate too. Non-sectarian. Self-appointed hermaphrodism. The passionate pursuit of the parve [neither milk nor meat, i.e., uncommitted]. Professional self-emasculators.”61 To Spiro he would write on the eighteenth, midway through the Yamim moraim (Days of Awe, the period of introspection which includes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), that “the spirit of servile assimilation continues. But I’ve determined not to let that upset me.” The American Jew would soon be out, and he would have his say.62
Yet, he wondered if he hadn’t made the book too gentle, displayed too much patience with his readers. Would he be persuasive, immediately, at a time when “American Jewry is crumbling under our very eyes,” the proof of which was Sachar’s ability to raise funds for a spineless Jewishness? “If it were not so,” he was convinced, “Brandeis could not, as it is, get a nickel.” Might he have made an error in having the volume published by Straus, a man of the same spirit as the university? Would Straus promote it properly, or would his own assimilationist fears cause him to hold back? “The best will in the world as a publisher … inhibited as a fleeing Jew. Should really have an all-Christian publishing house.”63
Still, regardless of his complaints, Ludwig knew that his life was now “very good.” On the morning before Yom Kippur he prayed that “all continue for us as well as it is.” Lagging spirits had been lifted by a seaside visit after Rosh Hashanah from which he and Louise had just returned two nights earlier. Though she was now suffering from lupus, and he from diabetes and a mild heart condition, their semi-annual physicals had shown that their health remained unchanged. He was pleased, and with life, willing to take stock of the past year as he readied to attend Kol Nidrei services. “I suppose I should examine myself as to my sins,” he noted in his diary, judging himself not to have “consciously wronged anyone.” Whatever “uncharitable … judgments” he had made had not been meant as personal attacks, but as responses to “certain matters and causes of more import.”
Yet, he wondered if he should have shown more tolerance and patience with Jim, who continued to be a concern despite what academic and emotional progress he had made. Perhaps, but “I can’t be born again and be born different, with an entirely different scale of values and tastes. All I can do is to pray for him and pray for him,”64 though he remained “heavy-hearted … [that Jim] is so miserable in his eccentricities and yet can’t summon the will to break them.” Nor could Ludwig lead him away from them, as he had tried to do in his own life with varying success over the years. Unable to “do something to mitigate the situation, something more than is done now,” he was determined to focus on other concerns. “If I let it gnaw at me as it might and let it impair my health or resistance at my age, of what avail would that be to him?” he concluded ten days later.65
Perhaps most troubling for Ludwig was his own inability to get beyond the anger he still felt over the lack of recognition he had received for his literary efforts when others, whose work was no better, had garnered attention far out of proportion to their contributions—authors like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Farrel. To draw such comparisons publicly would leave others, he quite rightly believed, questioning his sanity, labeling him “a madman of a peculiarly slimy sort.” He should not have needed the approbation of the masses or of the literati, having as he did a firm understanding of the workings of the Diaspora. But realization did not preclude feelings, for which he looked upon himself harshly, while still yearning for some commensurate recognition by a corrupting world. For this meaningless pride he would ask for God’s forgiveness and for the means of release.
Ought I, of all people, not to know better than to harbor that bitterness—I who with all my heart and soul accept my Jewishness, including my tragic situation as a Jewish writer in a non-Jewish language in the Gola? Of course, I do. And I do lead a quite happy life. Yet the insight which is complete does not quite cut out the grief of a whole life of artistic work on no low plane being futile and wasted. Well, this is, I suppose, my besetting sin—this last vestige of hunger for, so to speak, the fleshpots of Egypt, of Mizrayim, and I shall truly pray in schul, as I do now, to be relieved of it and forgiven it.
Yet curiously, despite his repeated affirmation of God and his approach to the divine through prayer, there was a moment of hesitancy in his step as he readied himself to stand once again before his God. Might all of this talk of a spiritual life be a mere illusion? Perhaps it was as Julian Huxley had recently argued, that man was on the edge of extinction unless he could find a way to redress the social ills that beset him. Could such extinction be possible? “If man is no different (not other) than the ichthysaurus and the dodo, why trouble to prolong these futile agonies, these heaven-storming woes, these exorbitant aspirations—in brief, this most diseased of animals?”
Ultimately, Ludwig responded in the only way that could allow him to go forward. “Huxley needn’t worry about the extinction of the species.… Man was made in the image of God and has an immortal soul and history has meaning,” he once again asserted. Should some massive conflagration occur, there would still be a continuation of this human/divine enterprise, as there had been before. “At worst there will be a Noah and an ark,” Ludwig assured himself as the hour drew nearer.66 Of this inherent need of the world for order, of the descent into chaos occasioned by its violation, and of man’s deriving meaning out of the experience of both—of these he was certain, above all else, for all morality flowed from this divinely ordained natural order, both the fragile stability and the corrective elements within it. It was humanity’s greatest task, and the one from which it drew meaning from history, to perceive correctly its role and to participate accordingly in this undertaking.
If Ludwig remained so critical of the Soviet experiment, it was not for jingoistic reasons. For all their stated good intentions, the Soviets would ultimately break the spirits and bodies of those from whom they had exacted the deepest loyalties. Recent and continuing revelations of Soviet trials and executions of veteran Bolsheviks were vindication of what he had many years earlier sensed would happen in the end, even before Emma Goldman’s visit to him in Paris “in the intensity of her tragic disappointment” with the revolution, then no more than a decade old. “There was right from the beginning of the Russian Revolution that cold immeasurable cruelty,” he wrote of the execution of the czar and his family. “Something rang in me: ‘This is not the way.’” Nor were the goals without question. “The whole notion, even the ends proposed, seemed to me so sordid, so lightless, so grim and bare, so ugly and depressing.… My heart and soul tell me that the ends originally proposed which, on paper, had a specious nobility, would not be encompassed.” Man was more than a physical creature. The Marxist curative had not addressed the whole person, but rather had denied the existence of that other, most crucial, part of what made people human—their souls. The failure to acknowledge this truth had destined the revolution to devolve into mass murder and cultural destruction, both of which the Jews under Soviet domination had already come to know all too intimately. “The unseen blasphemy of the ends drove those people to adopt means which transformed into evil even the specious good of their ends.” The murderousness was inevitable, as was its ultimate collapse at some point in the future. Nearly forty years before history caught up with his vision, Ludwig wrote that “Something deep within me always knew that the whole thing was wicked and hopeless and would end in chaos and horror. As it will, as it will.”67 There could be but one direction toward true human liberation—not an economic determinism that reshaped history and society from a set of imposed principles, but the “incorporating of our will into His…. We are in God’s hands—quite literally, according to my belief.” After what he had seen of man’s capacity for destruction, he was certain that “our freedom and immortality” lay elsewhere.68
The fall semester soon filled with “crowded weeks…. No clear days,” he recorded on October 22, having just returned from a three-day lecturing trip to Toronto and Winnipeg. Though tired, he had three courses to teach—Shakespeare, Faust, and Masterpieces of English Literature. On top of this, he was doing all he could to assist with the promotion of The American Jew, its date of publication less than two weeks away. “All these things have a way of cluttering the days.”69
“November 2. Publication day of ‘The American Jew.’ My thirty-first book, not counting anthologies and translations,” Ludwig began the day’s diary entry, though without the pride he might have shown for a career that had been among the most productive of his generation. “Deprecate that apparent outpouring,” he advised himself in private, acknowledging that “Better would have been ten patient works. But much of this productivity—like the American Jew—dictated by the demands of the historic hours.” Of the lot, “surely, surely” this latest was “among the better of these time and fate-determined works.” It seemed “possible that the little book may reach and kindle! Possible…” he felt, for inspiration had derived from a source higher than the muse he previously had followed. Perhaps he had misread the earlier signs. Certainly, there was much similarity now, but far greater clarity of vision and purpose. At the day’s end, he would add to his journal the only handwritten piece—
Incomparable breath as of the South,
As of those lands that are my motherlands.
Those cities that were meant as home to me
Charleston or Nice—Tunis, Jerusalem.
No, I am no longer a poet! I pass for His sake…70
The American Jew, Ludwig told his readers, had been written “with reluctance” and published “with diffidence,” as those with greater learning had failed to come forward in this “time of great need, confusion and perplexity among Jews.” The task “was laid upon me,” and he had labored, however inadequately, to offer a guide for the perplexed of his day so that the “average intelligent Jew” might at last become “aware of and attentive to their true character, task and duty.” He was certain that this book, like the several before it concerning related issues, would meet with sharply differing responses.
What I hope is this: that I have pointed to fact and truth which are as yet but dimly grasped and understood and are at variance with common and popular opinion. Such fact and truth are always the fact and truth of an almost immediate tomorrow. Wise and prudent are those who grasp tomorrow’s fact and truth today. The experience is recurrent. When in 1925 I published Israel, the first American Zionist book on that scale, and predicted the imminent danger in Central Europe and emphasized the recolonization of Palestine as the single hope of the Jewish people, I was called a paranoiac; when in 1934 I published The Permanent Horizon, I was called a reactionary—because I pleaded in defense of the classical forms of human life against the forces of disintegration; when in a novel Trumpet of Jubilee in 1937 I pointed out the accursed identity of the Nazi and the Soviet systems I was not believed; I was accused of the grossest partisanship. Today all that I pleaded for in those years is accepted and known.
Why then be concerned that he would again be condemned? What mattered most was that the truth be spoken and a way shown for those who were willing to open their minds and souls, “for no man … can even begin to apply his reason to the supreme question of what he is and must do to attain any tranquility or any hope, until he has swept from his mind certain definite delusions, errors, gross fallacies which have, with an air of false authority, poisoned the intellectual atmosphere for several decades.” Such had been the task in his own life, a task which he now called others to undertake as a first step toward their own true and lasting liberation.71
“Why are Jews attacked at all?” Ludwig asked as he neared the end of his work, focusing upon this experience as the root cause of their self-denial. Quite honestly, the Jews were in essence different, their very vision of life was different, and in their difference they had appeared as a threat to those whose values were in opposition. Rather than deny the Jews’ difference from others, he demanded that it be embraced as a badge of honor. For Ludwig, to be a Jew meant to stand with the generations since Sinai, upholding the truth revealed on that day when the lie of idolatry had been laid bare and found wanting in the light of an experience of the Eternal to whom alone true allegiance, as the source of all life and morality, was owed. In this light, all else within Jewish history had taken on a special cast, witness Zionism itself, a nationalist movement to be sure, but one whose purpose lay far beyond that of nation building.
At the end of every line of thought or research concerning the Jewish people we come again upon the phenomenon of uniqueness, of something that is torn out of the context of history. Zionism, different in this from all other nationalistic movements, is a religiously inspired force of which the aim is the preservation of the Jewish people in its integral character. And this will of the Jewish people not only to survive but to survive as this people, the people of the experience of Sinai, has always met the resistance of a pagan world—for the one, single moral and metaphysical reason that the Jews by their very existence have issued to the world the challenge of righteousness, the challenge of the demands of God upon man. This reason constitutes the special difference of the Jewish position from all other positions.72
This tradition, begun at Sinai, remained in force, “the chain of re-experienced validation … unbroken from Sinai to this day,” its truth affirmed by the very historical process which saw so much opposition to it and which witnessed the bond between Jews it had provided throughout this long ordeal. Whether “accepted [from God] or created [by man] the Law of our being … has been our Law and our life and the length of our days from that hour to this.” It was this Law which sanctified and preserved the Jewish people and shaped the “form [by] which [it] has resisted the onslaughts of the ages,” rendering all life “meaningful by that way, that Halakka, that interpretative regulation.”
Life and its various manifestations are not to be rejected, as Pauline Christianity does. It is to be sanctified. It is to be rendered significant. We are bidden to love the Eternal with all our hearts. With all. And the sages interpret: “With both impulses, with the impulse toward good and the impulse toward evil.” This view of life is unique—as unique as the total uniqueness of the Jewish people. Man has accepted nature unqualifiedly; man has rejected nature equally grossly. Jews alone have sought to sanctify nature—eating and drinking and labor and rest and procreation and fellowship and study and sowing and harvesting and the relations of masters and servants and homeborn and strangers and man and woman and parent and child and even the animals which are to be fed first because they are helpless.73
To sacrifice this uniqueness, under pressure, for the pale rewards of assimilation was, for Ludwig, a tragedy nearly beyond description, devastating because it had been most subtle and most demanding of self-deprecation. “It was the powers of a world totally outside of us that crushed our pride, our self-affirmation, and robbed us of that residual freedom and self-determination which dwelt, however turbidly, in the pre-emancipatory community.” This world was pagan, filled with “stupid and brutal and godless notions,” demanding conformity and leading Jews toward a degree of self-hatred that was “with us still” as Jews continued to do what was demanded of them to gain entry into this other world.
If Jews at all wished to attempt to build the foundations necessary for “a self-sustaining life in America,” then it was from such “intellectual and moral degradation that [they] … must liberate themselves,” acting with courage to affirm the eternal truths descending from the Sinaitic experience, even when “these assertions did not harmonize with the ‘modern’ theories of a dozen transitory pseudo-sciences.” A total renewal was necessary, an “awakening from the lethargy of materialistic determinism and moral nihilism,” to be shared in part by a handful of others in the West, but undertaken by Jews according to their own destiny as a “holy people” and “a light to the nations.”
We must think through afresh the question of our character, destiny, attitudes, techniques of living, of our hopes and of our faith, wholly influenced by the devices and the demands of the so-called emancipation. A new emancipation must be initiated—an emancipation from the sordid fallacies of scientific materialism, from the ominous identification of the state with society, from the cowardice which will not criticize our Gentile environment, as civilized Gentiles do daily, from that inner servility which consents to our being merely the object, never the codeterminants of the historic process in which we are involved.74
All around him, Ludwig saw signs of decline and of despair, of a community in deepening disarray and of individuals sensing the dissolution of their own spiritual center. Much would be required, but the task was not impossible, nor the individual’s role without central importance. Before the American Jewish community could be redeemed from its moribund state, each individual had to re-create himself by first rescuing himself from the “manifold pressures … to diminish his Jewishness”; only then could he re-identify “with his Jewishness at the deepest level of consciousness.” Only then could “the redemption of the individual Jew in America, [which] is the fundamental condition of Jewish survival,” be realized.
The redemption, the liberation, of the individual American Jew from the thousandfold lie of Galuth must precede the acts which can assure Jewish survival. He must be free of the lie that the idols of wood and stone can ever be his gods except at the expense of his very life; he must be free of the lie that uniformity is a virtue and that it is well for him to feign to be what he is not; he must be free of the lie that in this mimicry there is any measure even of security; he must be free of the lie of lies, the desperate and dastardly lie at the core of a materialized society, that any good thing can be won without suffering, without martyrdom, if need be, or that new devices will be different if employed by the same unredeemed and unilluminated souls. A Jewish community in America can be preserved from dwindling, from corruption and decay, only by Jews, by individual Jewish men and women who, having descended to the depths of their souls, have recovered themselves and with those selves have recovered and regained the history-willing, the history-creating, the self-determining power of the Jewish people.75