A Dangerous Kind of Ignorance
OT THE SCHOLASTIC YEAR well-started now,” Ludwig wrote a few weeks into the fall semester of 1951. On his way home from the South, he had met Louise in New York for a few days of shopping and visiting with friends, and an evening out alone, “once, just ourselves, at Le Chaumiere with the most dramatic bottle of Gewuertztraminer—brilliant, uplifting—that I’ve tasted in years and years.” Rosh Hashanah found Ludwig helping to lead services, followed by a dinner visit from his friend and physician, a bottle of excellent brandy in tow. “Rebono shel olam [Master of the Universe]—what more does one ask?” in this season of self-examination and leave-taking of all that is truly nonessential.1 After all the years of struggling with his world and with himself, he was learning to take sufficient comfort from what he had achieved—recognition for his literary contributions (“a profound student of European belles-lettres and an acute critic of American literature,” noted the recently published American Novelists of Today, before continuing with a discussion of his many novels concerning marriage and Jewish survival),2 and the opportunity to be of some marked usefulness in the cause he held most dear. How much more could he reasonably demand from life? “One does what one can,” he noted as Yom Kippur approached. “So little true inwardness in this very good life I lead here. There is something—if only an unescapable letter—for every hour available. But I do not complain. The confusion of the age is great; the need for the writer is less and less—that is, greater and greater as it is less and less felt or brushed aside. Here I function usefully. American Jew still sells a little. Other books a little. Oh, a very little. Enough for a feeling that one is alive, that a few others are alive somewhere in the land.”3
Brandeis, like much of America that fall, was already besieged by the political chicanery of Joseph McCarthy and his minions, and by those who would profit from the misery they spread. In late spring, the Justice had run an editorial attacking the “Ivy Curtain of Fear” that threatened all educational institutions, though Brandeis had so far withstood all pressures for loyalty oaths and purges.4 The new semester there began with an attack by Eleanor Roosevelt upon this national epidemic, and was followed by similar condemnations from the University of Chicago’s Robert Hutchins, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and from Sachar, who spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of Brandeis supporters in December.5 Regrettably, Ludwig left no record of his reactions. Maintaining little sympathy for communists whose narrowed vision allowed no other way toward just ends, he nevertheless held no brief for those, in government and out, who would strip another of his right to think and speak as he wished, however wrongheadedly. Perhaps Mrs. Roosevelt’s recognition that “the appeal of Communism … is ‘a religious appeal,’ which ultimately can only be met on its own ground” caught his attention as something he had similarly argued for nearly two decades. Military and economic aid were necessary in the struggle to secure a free world in the face of the Soviet challenge, she noted, “but what is most important—and here I am sorry to say we have been least successful—is that we offer spiritual leadership to the less powerful peoples of the world.”6
How to meet this challenge, how to fill this void left by the secularizing thrust of modernity, was at the heart of Ludwig’s review of Will Herberg’s Judaism and Modern Man, written shortly after returning to his study from her talk. “The time has come in which the great modern revision movement in human thought has powerfully entered upon the American Jewish scene. The hour is late; we must be grateful that it is here at last,” grateful that “all the shadings, practical and philosophic, of modern liberalism” looked to as a cure for anti-Semitism had been finally recognized as a “poisonous delusion,” “warp[ing] our religious and philosophic attitudes,” while threatening to destroy Judaism without either political or social compensation. Though they offered themselves as alternatives to communism, these “shadings” were but false idols themselves, without the spiritual element Roosevelt had sought, and certainly of no positive consequence to Jews. How foolish to seek to fill the “fatal vacuum” left by the removal of God from human discourse with the idols of “State, race, progress, economic equality, humanity.” “The gong of eternity has sounded,” but few had yet heard its warning—that “these idolatries (all this avodah zara) turned into man’s idolatry of himself.” In time, Ludwig wished to believe, others would hear this call of eternity amid the clamor of these misperceptions, and would turn from them and toward “that God Whom Israel has encountered on its historic road and Whom, as the Alenu prayer immortally declares, Israel brings to all mankind—in Him and in Him alone the meaning of history and of men’s lives can be recovered.”7
Ludwig spoke again for Brandeis in Chicago and Canton, Ohio, at the end of October, spending a sleepless night in a roomette on board the train to the Midwest, translating early German poetry to pass the long hours. He was tired when he arrived home, poetry in hand (“caught … the right rhythm and note for the translation”), but was flying back to Chicago in a few days to speak for the Keren Kayemeth, before moving on to Philadelphia for the same group, and then to New York where he would speak twice on Brandeis’s behalf. If exhausting, each talk was necessary, the one group to help build the Jewish state, the other to build a Jewish university described by him in a Commentary symposium on the “Jewish student” as “the only campus outside the State of Israel on which there are no anti-Semitic tensions, whether real or fancied.… No one who knows the structure and attitudes of our American society will be surprised at the fact that the overwhelming majority of our students [despite a nonrestrictive admissions policy] are Jewish.” He alone among the symposium’s participants (including David Riesman, Oscar Handlin, and Lionel Trilling) had made so pointed a reference to the continuing problem of anti-Semitism in American society, including its college campuses. While few adhered to traditional Jewish practice, he saw them as increasingly free of the pursuit of some “sordid utopia” that had made the previous generation less open to their heritage. There was hope that exposure to the growing passion for Jewish learning by some on campus, “measurably from year to year, would become contagious.”8 Already there were positive signs as Hillel and Zionist activities were steadily growing in attendance.9
Martin Buber’s appearance on campus that fall as the last speaker in the lecture series titled “Religion and Modern Man,” chaired by Ludwig, aided in his push toward Jewish reaffirmation. Paul Tillich had opened the series with a talk characterized by Ludwig as of “overwhelming bleakness,” drawing the conclusion “that the only mitigation of mortality was the passionate quest for the meaning of things,” but that this quest would be undertaken “without hope of an objective answer being then an evidence that meaning exists,” having suffered a “loss of nerve” in failing to firmly assert the existence of a God from whom meaning in life and history could be derived.10 Ludwig responded in his own talk on “Religion and Literature” with the “hope that the contemporary signs of a lesser rejection are not wholly illusory.” Certain writers—Orwell, Huxley, and others, each in his own way—now seemed willing “to reintegrate a broken world … to express being and its meaning … to say and sing, to speak and chant for the sake of enchantment, concerning being, the wonder, the riddle, the meaning. Given being, to find God is inherent in language itself; given being, to find meaning is the whole purpose of man, of his total expression, of all his works and ways.”11
T. V. Smith of Syracuse University followed Ludwig some weeks later with a “shameful performance” in which “he began by reading here, of all places in the world, a small group of filthily anti-Semitic passages from Santayana’s Life of Reason and then proceeded to an old-fashioned, cheap, nihilistic diatribe against organized religion.”12 Here again was that “deep-seated, not wholly unconscious nativism” which seemed to go on and on. Only “great changes” would see to its end, but then “I’ll be out of time,” as he had told a young colleague some weeks earlier in an attempt to correct “so naive a view of American conditions.” For this very reason, Ludwig noted, his diary could not be published without holding it up to the “jeers” of critics and the marketplace.13
By contrast, Jacques Maritain’s visit proved exhilarating for Ludwig. “Must record this,” he wrote excitedly in his diary. Unlike Smith, Maritain had demonstrated “exquisite tact and delicacy” in presenting his views without reference to his “neo-Thomist theories.” Democracy, Maritain argued, “need not and should not mean a universal relativism in which tolerance is no virtue and in which values perish.” Rather, proposed Maritain, “the test of a good society must be whether absolute truths, absolutely held, can dwell together in their mortal embodiments in friendship,” a position viewed by Ludwig as “wholly admirable.”14
But Buber’s appearance provided the crowning moment of the series. For Ludwig, he was still the “Teacher of my generation,” his Hasidic Tales the “Moreh Nebuchim of our age,” a comparison likening the philosopher to the incomparable Moses Maimonides and his Guide for the Perplexed. Yet Ludwig felt both “disappointed love and reverence” for what he saw in his aging friend.15 If “At the core of things, infinitely worthy of that love and reverence,” Ludwig nevertheless had found Buber to have grown “icy to the very soul.” Was it merely a misperception on his own part? Ludwig wondered. “He seems—he cannot be,” he noted. “Something has frozen within him.” Physically, he looked like an ancient Jew or Greek, “beautiful like a piece of rock-crystal,” but “his conversation [was] sparse, dry, factual, self-regarding in an unobtrusive matter-of-fact way,” though only those who had known him in the past could tell the change. Perhaps his nearly half-century marriage to Paula, “a typical stiff-necked German of the cold arrogant type,” had done this to him. Twenty years earlier in Paris, Buber had not appeared as he did now, controlled by “that German bitch” whose manner had “ground [him] under her heel.” Still, Ludwig felt honored to host Buber. He held him in highest spiritual esteem, the one person who had come “closer than any has yet come to telling us what man is, closer than any has yet come to answering the question of Scripture: What is man that Thou shouldst be mindful of him and the son of man that Thou visitest him?” Buber’s Der Weg des Menschen (The Way of Man) had brought tears to Ludwig’s eyes, finding assurance within it that his own life’s path had meaning and value. “According to that [book], I, too, am measurably justified, a servant not altogether worthless.”
Confirmed in the path he had chosen, Ludwig left Brandeis with Louise for a weeklong Thanksgiving break in New York, another chance to renew old friendships, particularly within the world of Jewish journalism. Writers from the Israeli Press, Ha-Aretz and Davar; and from New York’s Der Tag, all of whom he knew, were invited to dine at the home of a mutual friend. Ludwig found them a “signally brainy and expressive” group, taking special note of a comment in Der Tag that America was “the strangest of countries. The goyim are not goyim, only non-Jews; the Jews are not Jews, only non-goyim,” a reflection, no doubt, of the unique world of New York. Other nights were spent either dining well into the early morning hours at a famous restaurant with which he was “well acquainted from former years,” or attempting to find a moderately acceptable play, “a difficult task” at a time when the theater was “moribund, like all the other arts in this country.” Eventually, they settled on “two tolerable European films [and] a mediocre revival of O’Neil’s Desire Under the Elms.” Before returning to Brandeis, Ludwig met with Roger Straus to discuss sales and royalties, only to be told that even the best-known authors were not selling well. The “country [is] slowly settling into [a] morass of mechanized barbarism,” he told Straus; “progressive education” was creating an undereducated generation that did not read.
In the month ahead, Ludwig would again travel to Philadelphia and Cleveland for Brandeis and to New York for Keren Kayemeth. “Strangely effective nowadays,” he commented in his diary before setting out on the year’s last trip. “The world, the people, have come around to my way of thinking, have caught up, if you like, with me, and now find me their authentic mouth-piece.” But again he had little time left for himself, to reflect, to write, to be alone. “They don’t quite realize how obligations … are piled up on me here. I should get rid of some. I have a perfect right to do so. The hesitation arises from the circumstance that my heart is in this enterprise of Brandeis, despite the aspects which I deprecate.”16
His concern, in fact, reached beyond his students, and to their teachers as well. Chairing the Research Fund Committee, he fought against the more entrenched interests in order to give “preference … to the younger people whose means are restricted,” that they might complete and publish what they had discovered. Elitist at times, Ludwig nevertheless championed the notion that all were entitled to the very best from which to learn. “Research which remains within the confines of a laboratory or within the four walls of a study is of no good to anybody if it is not made available in recorded form.”17 And with so many currents in the academy flowing against the proper order of things, these new insights, if well documented, might act as corrections less easily condemned out-of-hand.
On December 26, while the campus lay “deserted and tranquil,” Ludwig thought of how threadbare theories and the institutions they buttressed were being held up as truths despite their obvious failure; those who dwelt in their shadow remained only too anxious to condemn him as a “reactionary” for repeatedly questioning their ill-founded and unworkable ideas about human nature and the good society, about morality and its true source. Meeting several of Max Lerner’s Cleveland relatives while fundraising for Brandeis, and learning that his colleague had called him “a dreadful reactionary,” though “he loved me nevertheless,” Ludwig noted in his diary, to the accompaniment of his strongest condemnation of the secular society, how
these cheerful liberals never, but never stop to think. They proliferate the same words instead. A man sets out into a new area of space and time. He has blue-prints, maps. Utopia is ahead. Such is the picture or symbol of the secularist liberalistic era. But after proceeding on that road into the unknown he comes upon unfathomable marshes, poisonous snakes, deadly savages, foul diseases. Instead of Utopia he is in a nethermost hell. The man who councils a return to the original base, a re-examination of blue-prints and maps, a revision of plans—he is dubbed reactionary in a pejorative sense. Yet demonstrably everything has gone immitigably wrong. Even the invention of movable types, even the universal so-called literacy has ended today and here in the dissemination of only what is vilest and most trivial, in the shriveling to nothing of the civilized minority instead of an infinite extension of that minority. It has (educationally) merely added insolence to ignorance; more—it has turned a relatively innocent into a dangerous kind of ignorance. Therefore, even here—and I underestimate neither American prosperity or freedom—the electorate consents half humorously to corrupt politicians, to thieves and manipulators. There is hardly a politician, especially in American cities and states, whom one could touch without contamination. Well—the institutions are good, are the best yet devised. The men are evil. The voters wallow in ignorance…. And the final inference from a totality of appearances is that we must return, re-think, abandon this by now idiotic excursion into the quantitative and fix our whole attention for generations on the qualitative which is the human: on man’s separateness from nature, on his sinfulness, on the need for redemption—on starting over again in education.… Humility must be re-introduced and cultivated—a contempt for the world, this world, this tragic failure of secularism.
A book on this theme needed to be written, but who would take it seriously? William Buckley’s God and Man at Yale contained some of these insights, but “he is illiterate in both the higher and lower sense and so blunts his own effectiveness throughout. Easy enough in our present atmosphere to sneer him down,” Ludwig admitted with regret, realizing that even more adequate attempts would be similarly “consigned to limbo,” though such reactions would be the respondents’ own undoing. “That ease will revenge itself some day,” he concluded, wondering “how … a man as clever as Max Lerner [could] fail to have an inkling.”18
New Year’s Eve 1952 for Ludwig and Louise was spent among friends and colleagues from Brandeis—Joseph Cheskis (Romance Languages and Literature), Simon Rawidowicz (Hebrew Literature and Jewish Philosophy), Nahum Glatzer (Jewish History), and their respective wives. “There are no better people in the world than these,” Ludwig noted the next morning, “none that I have ever encountered.” He felt privileged to be among so many with whom he could share himself and his concerns, people learned and gay, “weltfromm [worldly pious], mingling in their conversations things mundane, human, even gossipy, with light but accurate appeals to all the sources, especially the Jewish sources, of wisdom, faith, and hope.” He made no mention of the annual bottle he had consumed in years past out of some need to do so, but wrote only of returning home to rest amid a host of Jim’s “personality problems” and other distractions he could not relinquish. “Slept quite well and yet tired—psychically and physically,” he reported that New Year’s Day, citing diminished energy and “bad irritability” over the break in “the continuity of my inner and outer preoccupations.” At this point in his life, as he neared his seventieth birthday, he thought it “not fitting that I should do anything any more than read, write, teach, speak…. May the New Year continue better than it has begun. ‘What is man that Thou art mindful of him,’” Ludwig asked out of his “muddled existence.”19
With the passage of nearly two weeks and a satisfactory meeting with Jim’s counselor, Ludwig could again write that “All problems [had] notably eased,” and that his “trust in God … [had been] recovered.” Once more he could affirm, “v’ani yedathi goali chai.” He had awakened late that Sunday morning after a particularly satisfying Sabbath in New York, where he had delivered a sermon at the Rego Park Jewish Center. Returning home that evening, he had been met by Louise’s good dinner and Cupcake’s greeting him “with great purrs.”20 In the shelter of his home, his spirit eased.
Receipt of “the handsome original edition of Kafka’s Diaries” three days later, a gift from its publisher, Salman Schocken, brought thoughts of the world out of which they had come, and of the future of his own. “To anyone, like myself, who has intimate access with every fibre into the precise quality of the life of Central European Jewry, the ‘case’… of Kafka presents no riddle.” Kafka’s connection to the Yiddish theater, its writers and performers, had helped him to see the tragedy of those of his friends who had achieved a more complete “liberation” from their Jewish roots, and had thereby found themselves without anchor in seas growing more turbulent between the wars. Before other critics would understand how Kafka’s vision of a disintegrating Western society “derive[d] from that situation,” Ludwig had made a note in his diary, for some future study of twentieth-century literature, of how Kafka had “expressed the very essence of that group and that society and prophesied its dreadful end.”
Might the liberated Jews of America come to a similar end, he wondered, not “through the fire and sword of the barbarians,” but by “self-torture”? There were signs. Alfred Kazin’s memoir A Walker in the City, in talking of “the young returning intellectuals” (and referring to Ludwig as an earlier example), prompted Ludwig to think of addressing this group of “awful milksops” in an “epistle” to some journal. “I should yield to an impulse,” Ludwig argued with himself, and let them know that “their various ‘outs’”—poor teachers in their youth, the pull of secular society, and the rest—“are a bit phony…. When did the virtue and relevance of either knowledge or faith depend upon such mean and parochial considerations?” Once “having come to years of discretion,” such excuses were “feeble-minded and unmanly … woefully lacking in a little intellectual strength and moral energy.” At the risk of “seem[ing] a severe old party,” he wondered how so many could still cling to this same “feeble abstention,” including some with whom he shared the task of building a Jewish future at Brandeis and elsewhere.21
Yet, Ludwig knew that he could not so forcefully alienate so many, that an approach of directed criticism would be damaging. And so, he kept his thoughts to himself and Louise, and to his only other true confidant, Saul Spiro, to whom he wrote a week later of his life at Brandeis—nine hours of teaching each week, the de facto chairmanship of three departments (English, German, and Comparative Literature), fundraising trips, some lectures to supplement his income, and “Sachar [who] drives us crazy with his prestige-appointments of men who are totally useless and so we haven’t budget enough left for our real needs.” Nor was there time enough left for his personal needs (“periods of idleness, of reflective leisure, of reading and my afternoon nap”). But on balance these were good days, if frustrating, seeing Brandeis not yet taking the sharper turn toward its Jewishness that he would have liked. “Considering my entire history … I think I’ve come through very well.” And there was, of course, the satisfaction he could take from the modest sales of The American Jew, indicating that it “did make a deep impression.”22
The depth of Ludwig’s commitment to his own ideas was tested but two days later when he received a request from the Arbeiter Farband, a Labor Zionist group, to allow them to name one of their chapters for him in recognition of all that he had done for the Zionist cause. He was honored by their wishes, as he had been several years earlier when he had been given a testimonial dinner by them. Though hesitant even then, he had accepted in a gesture of solidarity. But the naming of a chapter now would indicate a degree of acceptance of the group’s principles that went beyond the notion that “what unites us is deeper than what divides us.” While this did, in fact, remain the case, he hoped, nonetheless, that he would be understood and forgiven if he now declined this new honor. Though an admirer still of all that Labor Zionism had accomplished, an admiration that dated to his 1924 visits to the kibbutzim (as “one of those who saw and loved, but loved not with entire faith”), to allow his name to be used in this manner would be to deny his critique of the secular thrust of the movement and of its leadership of the new state, for whom he could not vote “if God had given me the grace to live in Eretz Yisrael.” He felt this more strongly now than in the past, “especially today, when what is so desperately needed by Jews is a return to deeper motivations for their indivisible Judaism and Zionism.”23
Throughout these years, Ludwig’s diary and letters had made numerous references to literary theory and the criticism of authors contemporary and ancient, English, American, German, French, Eastern European, Greek, and Latin. As professor of Comparative Literature, he had been compelled, “on account of teaching,” to give “renewed attention to these matters” by drawing upon his broad background of languages and texts. Literature, despite all that he had given to his Jewish involvements, had continued to be a focus of his attention and energies. In it he saw so much more than the form and artistry of its practitioners and theoreticians. It was, as he had stated in “Religion and Literature,” a means of human expression, with the potential for giving voice to the spiritual in man. “Quite, quite understandable” the turn toward “Anglican theology” as a tool of literary criticism for some, as he had heard from Albrecht Straus of Harvard. “So much more pertinent to the business of human learning.” Others, with their esoterica, were “just fiddling while Rome burned,” among them many of the Jewish critics appearing in a host of journals, literary and Jewish. “What a walking anachronism,” he said of one who, with several others, had recently written negative assessments of his and Will Herberg’s work. “The picture of the age is rapidly defining itself,” Ludwig noted with a measure of bitterness.24
And then, two weeks later, on the day he was to travel to Michigan to lecture to a local Jewish community (“Good fee and badly needed”), he found he just couldn’t. The malaise of earlier years had taken hold once again, and “not even suddenly,” he admitted to his diary. “When the day came I was simply morally (moralement) immobilized.… I could not bear to go.” His physician wired that he was too ill to travel, and the community accepted his postponement. The bleak winter and the need to withstand yet again being improperly lionized by well-intentioned but Jewishly self-disinheriting people, unaware of what plagued them25—and all within the midst of a bland American landscape made even more unbearably so by the death of Edward Titus a week earlier and the images of a more vital life left behind in Paris now two decades ago26—all of this had suddenly proven too much to bear, paralyzing him with a deepening depression he could not, for the moment, overcome.
What overcame me was a solid wall-like sense of sordidness, of squalor. Ah, precisely that. Northern winters always give me that feeling. Snow and thaw. Foul ice. Naked trees. Added to that was a vision of Muskegon—doubtless one of those bleak, immeasurably hideous medium American towns; of its Jews—good people, undoubtedly so good within the dreadful limitations of general illiteracy, of utter spiritual drouth, of a blending in their world of physical ugliness and rotarianism … and making a fuss over me, sincerely, too, because I’ve assumed a sort of mythic quality within American Jewry and the chairman introducing me, stumbling over the titles of my books which he had copied from Who’s Who. For once my spirit just balked.27
He had entered a time when, again, both worlds seemed beyond the redemption he had sought for them through all the years of his struggle. There was, after all, something corrupting about this twentieth century which could not be avoided, except by flight into a state where the past sat beyond the grasp of the present. Ludwig read the diaries of Julian Green, a southern writer whose years in France since his youth had preserved the magic of the Old South that was lost to Ludwig forever. “A profound and mystic and yet sober religiousness of spirit” came through the “plangent, melodious” writing. Green, not Faulkner, had captured this lost world. The New South had “sold its soul when it began to imitate the industrialized and mechanized North, so that today a Southern Main Street (once exquisite and haunting in loveliness) is the duplicate of one in Michigan.”28
Similarly, a recent Hillel gathering at Brandeis of students from a number of colleges had left him acutely aware of what else had been lost. He was grateful to see all who had gathered at his Friday evening sermon, but thought of those who had not—“the bright, gifted, agreeable children of this campus so drugged and poisoned and corrupted by nihilism and cynicism and the withered fallacies fed them in the School of Social Science.” He had seen the consequences of this dispiritedness “in two cases of actual smash-up.” In them and in those less afflicted, those “who are paying for that now with talents that do not ripen” because severed from their roots, he saw so many “blind hearts” and the absence of true “moral health,” born of the “merciless over-simplification which the liberals practice.”29
He had argued this position with an Israeli Embassy official with whom he had shared the podium during that Hillel weekend, a member of the Labor government wed to socialist theories of what made for a good society—ideas largely without any historical backing, by all recent evidence. For Ludwig, it was simply and unquestionably not enough to be “decent human beings.” Most everyone was, within the context of his world. What society could exist without a modicum of order and civility? Were not members of the Nazi and Communist Parties “doubtless” law-abiding, community-minded, and caring toward those they loved and befriended? It was even said that the SS were “fond of flowers and animals and did not beat their wives.” Clearly, something more was needed. The Holocaust and Stalinist Russia were examples enough that something other than a blind faith in reason and the basic goodness of mankind was required—“a beyond—religious faith leading to civic courage, powerful convictions that God’s law must be obeyed to the point of martyrdom.” There must be, he insisted, a “reconquest of politics by morality. The world is full of decent people … who destroy, corrupt, who bring on disaster, catastrophe and chaos.” How to break through this wall of self-satisfying delusion was the hour’s gravest question. “Were any fallacies ever so tough or those who entertained them so unteachable as the fallacies of the Enlightenment and their proponents?”30
“A massive feeling of moral discomfort, such as I’ve felt from time to time since earliest days,” continued to pursue him ten days later when he returned to his diary, now with decreasing frequency. He recorded how Irita Van Doren “first wired and then telephoned to ask me to review a couple of quite unimportant things.” Though he accepted, he recalled how fifteen years earlier she had rejected his critique of Feuchtwanger for her pages in the New York Herald Tribune. Having gone “to the essence of the man and his work” with a not wholly flattering review, she had Ludwig’s piece returned lest she anger the publisher for whom the book had been that season’s “lead.” Ludwig had heard, as well, from Straus that day how Philip Rahv, editor of Partisan Review, to whom Straus had sent “Religion and Literature,” had rejected the piece “with the well-calculated insult of commending it for ‘vigor’ and ‘conviction’—qualities common to Hitler and, say, Billy Sunday.” Ludwig knew that his essay would meet this response, but it was “hard to be silenced when what one has to say is so badly needed to be said and be heard.” He thought of writing something for Judaism, as invited, “but a general feeling of malaise about the literary situation pursues me.”
It was, of course, deeper than that. And he knew it to be so. There was now, as he reassessed his contributions, a feeling that so much of what he had worked so hard to say was, in the final accounting, without real worth. A new anthology of American Literary Criticism had excerpted parts of The Creative Life, but “I agree today hardly with a word of it … hav[ing] changed my mind totally.” While his best fiction “stands, thank God … all the intellectualistic stuff of the twenties” did not. Absent from it all was the spiritual element to which he had come so late in life. “God … doubtless forgives,” he believed, “but it is hard to forgive oneself.” Still, he was thankful to have achieved the enlightenment that was now his, to have “seen before it was too late,” a seeing not of the “vapor bath” in which neo-Catholics like Julian Green “paddle” about, “tak[ing] ultimate things a little too easily,” but of a vision of “the harsher climate of spiritual reality” requiring the “far severer temper” of the Talmudic sages and the Hasidic masters. “To pass from Saint Francis to Levi Yitzhak, the Berdichever, is like passing from contact with a neurotic adolescent to that with a man who stands on this earth, under this sky, in these mortal involvements and from them reaches out with a massive but not uncritical faith to the Eternal. There is something grovelling in Green’s religious processes. What is man that thou art mindful of him—man whom God made in His image. This could be pursued—should be.”31
Perhaps he would someday. But as always, there were other obligations. Brandeis was to have its first commencement in June, an occasion of some consequence and celebration for the university and American Jewry. To mark the occasion, Brandeis planned to inaugurate an annual Creative Arts Festival, a part of which was to be readings by noted contemporary poets, arranged this first year by Ludwig. Over his name, invitations were sent out that February to E. E. Cummings, Robert Frost, and others. But here, too, Ludwig found resistance, as Frost, reminding him of their long acquaintance and of Ludwig’s previous kindnesses, “ask[ed] off from your free-for-all in June,” preferring “an invitation to come to Brandeis for a reading and talk alone some night next winter if you will take the broad hint.”32
Other demands upon Ludwig’s “free” time proved equally disheartening, particularly the many requests for his participation in various Jewish publication and awards activities for which he felt little sympathy, among these a position on the editorial board of a Labor Zionist journal. Such were “the small burdens of ‘fame’ without any of the … moral rewards.” He turned for solace to his library. But leafing through Kafka, he soon found it “too pain-fraught to be long and steadily endurable. Yet the only writer who paints the horrors of this age.” Instead, after an hour, he picked up Hazlitt and “luxuriated in his intense and vibrant phrasing,” hoping to lighten his spirit with that of a relatively “golden age compared to this.” Though Ludwig well knew of the earlier period’s social ills, its oppression of workers and the horrible conditions under which they were forced to live, he had grown “sick to the soul of having that made the one and only and exclusive criterion of the quality of an age or a society.” Had the “topsy-turviness” that had leveled downward to the masses, a leveling that in Germany and Russia had “involved merciless concentration of power and merciless ultimate injustice of the bloodiest kind,” produced a better society, either morally or spiritually or culturally? Would even a “mild Godless, sinless, humanitarianism” requiring all to be “regulated as favoring one class at the expense of all others” end in anything but chaos and the loss of the higher visions? Painfully and slowly accrued over the ages, these visions were again clearly endangered by such one-dimensional thinking.33
Chaos, Ludwig believed, had already extended itself into the various analyses and attempts meant to ameliorate the problems and politics of the moment, all lacking the requisite “religious emotions and aspirations.” What was needed, above all, was “a change in tone” not unlike that of Heschel in his book The Sabbath, the voice of “an altogether noble and consecrated spirit, one of the few in our time and place.” Pointing to the “spiritual realities of Judaism,” Heschel had spoken of the Sabbath as “a day lifted out of time and dedicated to the timeless. That is the note and tone we need so sorely … to restore to half-lost generations the interior urgency toward sanctification which constitutes the Jewish faith.”34 Few others could offer such insight, such spirituality. Certainly not the parade of well-known secularists passing through Brandeis, all “a moral swindle of discussions concerning social and political problems predicated by Lerner, Lewis Mumford, and others on [ideas] … radically falsified ab initio.”
Feeling “rather worn out and jaded by the long, long snow, slush, sleet, rain,—rather filthy climate,” Ludwig began to spend more time than ever looking back at the course of his life. So little of lasting value ever continued in the public spotlight, he commented in his diary, witness J. D. Salinger’s recent Catcher in the Rye (“One of the few contemporary things that has interior vistas, insights, subtleties and under it at moments hilarious mirth and unfathomable sadness”), absent, “after a flash,” from best-seller listings. Perhaps, then, he had erred in his own writing, and should have pursued his poetry more, without regard to public acceptance. Poetry, more than the prose upon which he had built his reputation, would have enabled him to more forcefully have his say. “Now in these later years I miss the fact that I didn’t go on with poetry but turned my back to it rather deliberately for a solid career in prose. Because [for] the things I want to say now … poetry, verse would be the right medium. How well I can understand Thomas Hardy’s writing only poetry in his later and latest years.”35
But the final weeks of winter—“wild weeks,” as Ludwig described them—as usual found him speaking, first at the thirty-fifth anniversary dinner of the Baltimore Talmudical Academy, then for Young Israel’s fortieth at the Waldorf in New York, on to Montreal for McGill University’s religious week series and before a meeting of Histadruth (Labor Zionists), and finally at several gatherings for Brandeis. Between trips, he had been honored at the university by being named as the first occupant of the J. M. Kaplan Chair in Comparative Literature, a recognition noted by the New York Times but left unrecorded in his diary.36
While in Montreal, Ludwig had purchased several French books, including Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Nausée and Albert Camus’ Actuelles, a collection of his wartime and early postwar writings. “Such damned good writing compared to nearly everything written in English now,” he said of Camus’ work. Here was “a mind and temper of admirable sobriety and intellectual passion,” composing with “a style of enviable sharpness without violence—of spiritual warmth under its surface of hard precision.” Yet, there was something missing from his writing. “Of course Camus’ position … is hollow to the core,” for without being “metaphysically grounded,” all moral imperatives were without foundation and lacked the ability to compel. “Such is the constitution of man and of man’s world,” as recent events had demonstrated. Once again, he felt compelled to attack the relativism of his day with its most egregious examples. “Unless a God transcends the arbitrary and shifting laws of man, there is no final or adequate answer to either Marxism and its murderous results or Fascism and its murderous results.” Certainly not the “heathenish relativity and progressiveness” afoot in America. Camus demanded, “at least, that righteous men say NO to the horrors of history,” but on what grounds?
Clearly, Camus and the others lacked the grounding of those Orthodox Jews whom he had recently met in New York and Baltimore, those “strict adherers to the law … [who were] daily employed in the active sustaining of a world of values, eternal values, spiritual values.” While he did not, as he told them, “consider their position intellectually foolproof,” only those “wholly perverted and contemptible [could] withhold from them respect and even reverence, seeing that with their whole lives they, at least, say NO to this immediate world of utter corruption and of deadly sin.” Camus would “be amazed to see that ideal … embodied by Orthodox Jews.”37 Though he himself could not follow their way, as he would note admiringly that April in the journal of the Mizrachi (Orthodox Zionist) movement, “they have upheld the Law of God against the World’s vain oblations to its idols,” constituting themselves into what their ancestors had covenanted with God to become, “a goy kadosh, a holy people, a people of differentness in its existential substance.” If he trumpeted their example, it was because in the face of that “universal cry of ‘progress’” that sought the abandonment of their ancient “prophetic vision … they almost alone had the supreme and sublime courage to say ‘NO’ to an ideal which had on its side and in its favor all the forces of science, of fashion, even apparently, of a deep concern for the unhappy lot of man.” In so doing, “they who had the courage and the faith to negate for so long a Godless world rushing toward self-destruction [would] lead a remembering and self-redemptive period,” both for the sake of all humanity and as a practical measure against the forces of assimilation and dissolution plaguing Jews in America and Israel. The hour of Mizrachi’s “vindication is here,” he told them. They, too, would serve to redeem the Jewish people for “that people’s redemptory function for all men within the historic process…. Need I elaborate on that?” Ludwig asked.
What wise or good man among any group of men does not see today the moral horrors to which a century of merciless “scientism” has brought us and that secularism has been a dreadful form of idolatry—precisely in our sense of avodah zarah—making an idol of science, of the State, of man himself; that it has been above all a groveling before the laws of man, the self-idolized, and a turning away from the Law of God? Who does not see today that the “many inventions” of which Koheleth speaks have indeed robbed man of his “straightness,” of his uprightness, of his likeness to the image of the Eternal?38
In a second piece, appearing in the Jewish Frontier that same month, written “To the Jewish Intellectuals,” Ludwig addressed similar thoughts to those who “tell us that they desire to be Jews and that they desire—though this is fainter—to re-ally themselves with the community of Israel. And nothing happens. The nostalgia seems to continue. But it seems also to become frozen.” Citing Leslie Fiedler (decades later to decry his own abandonment of Jewishness in Fiedler on the Roof), Alfred Kazin (whose A Walker in the City had misidentified Ludwig as an example of Jewish “immemorial loneliness” raised to “an historical principle”), and Irving Howe (one day to write the nostalgically treasured World of Our Fathers) among these “young (now no longer so young) Jewish intellectuals,” Ludwig criticized their wish for lives that were more Jewish. There was an insincerity to such posturing, born “of a frozen mood of nostalgia which is more and more tempered by a subconscious gesture of avoidance…. Their souls are mute,” he added accusingly, silenced by a fear that they “might face a storm of stones” should their expressions of this longing be anything more than “the repetition of that gesture of avoidance.” Worse still, “the strange thing about these literary exercises is that they scarcely seem to break an interior silence.”
Never before in Jewish history had this been the case. Unlike their counterparts in Europe before the war, who knew deep within themselves that “the Jewries of the European Continent were doomed” (“That is what all the works of Kafka say. That and that alone”), “not one of the younger American intellectuals has yet broken the bonds and thongs and fetters—the interior ones—and come out to participate in the existence of the living Jewish people. They live, as it were, behind a wall which they themselves have built,” and which they reinforced with deflecting accusations of a childhood starved of Jewish education (“dismissed as frivolous and as a plea in avoidance” by Ludwig) and an unwillingness to look positively upon those older intellectuals who had willfully broken similar bonds of self-alienation, writers and thinkers like Will Herberg, Maurice Samuel, and Ludwig himself who shared not loneliness in an America that had marginalized them, but a companionship based upon common efforts to live within the two cultures that had shaped them, one Jewish, the other not, each using the two according to his own formula. In such a shared life, there could not be loneliness, but only fullness and meaning.
I did not know that the Jewish mind had ever been lonely. Is it not rather the least lonely of minds through the circumstance that all Jewish tradition and all Jewish lore and history constitute a living simultaneity in every aware and authentic Jewish mind, even as we are bidden in the Pesach Haggadah to know that not our fathers alone but we, here and today, are experiencing the liberation of Israel? My Jewish contemporaries and I, companioned by each other, quote and discuss as living factors in our lives and the governance in our lives, scriptural patriarchs, Talmudic sages, Hassidic Zadikim [righteous men]. We live in two concentric living worlds. Vertically through the ages, horizontally through Israel and the lands of the dispersion, we form an intercommunicating group of profound and constant fellowship. Does Mr. Kazin know what he means? For he cannot mean by loneliness detachment from the non-Jewish world. He offers me as an example. But have I not written that history of American literature, of which he is kind enough to think well, and a life of Goethe and sundry other volumes on non-Jewish literature? And I am, of course, not alone or singular in this respect. So it appears to me that the Jewish mind has less chance than any other mind of being “lonely,” unless, as in Mr. Kazin (whose chief theme in all his writings is “alienation,” both American and Jewish), loneliness, alienation, hovering between two worlds and unable to grasp either or both, has become the structure of the psychical or spiritual economy. It is he who is lonely, imputing that loneliness to another, a process known both to Talmudic sages and Freudian analysts. Some day he may burst these bonds and come home to fellowship in both Israel and the world.
If only these young Jewish intellectuals, whose precious talents were sorely needed by their own community, would awaken to the folly of their contentions, then they, like Ludwig, would know “that peace within Israel which can be found today as in every age.… It is a great pity,” this personal and communal loss. How well he knew this from his own experience. Could he perhaps spark their return by example and instruction?
Why are these lines written? I was once—thirty-five years ago—a young returning intellectual. And I didn’t stay “returning.” I returned. I returned so with my whole soul and heart and mind that today, when somebody reminds me of once having been in a state of alienation and is kind enough to assign to me the merit—unmerited—which our sages grant to a Baal Teshuvah, it seems to me like a legend, like a dream, like something that has no relevance to the man I am…. The first quality that is needed for one who desires indeed to return is humility. He must “learn”; he must sit at the feet of the sages and saints of Israel, the living and the dead. And the second prerequisite is a true abjuration of pagan idols—of nihilist Utopias, not because they have failed but because God forbid, they might have succeeded. But even humility and the abjuration of pagan idols will not suffice—I warn my young contemporaries—without the spontaneous love of Israel. They will know that they are Jews again and no more lonely and no more alienated when the humblest Jew and the most recalcitrant Jew is dear and precious to them for the sake of that eternal bond of pain and glory, of aspiration and even of defeat, of service to man and of suffering for that service which constitutes the fellowship of Israel through the ages.39
“So much to say … but no chance of even at this hour reaching to the level where these things are,” he wrote in his diary on May 8, after again experiencing such defeat for the sake of his people, this time over the issue of Brandeis’s decision to play its football games on Saturday. Following what Sachar noted as “current polemics with regard to extracurricular activity,” the trustees had confirmed “the traditional American university policy of leaving to the discretion of the students themselves the choice of participation or non-participation … reaffirm[ing] the basic democratic principle of the University that there be no impingement by any group on the rights of any other group where religious observance is concerned.” To Ludwig, it was yet another stone in the assimilationist wall. But there were just so many battles to join, and just so long to engage his opponents, before his capital on campus would be spent. He would attempt to put it all into perspective, to withdraw to fight again, to see his role as a part of the larger “historic process” over which he could only try to have some small influence. “Let me remind myself of reflections to be made,” he promised in his diary, having at long last reached this bit of judgment. Realistically he could do no more. “The chief thing one must try to do today both from an American and from a Jewish angle is to realize au fond that all that happens is part of a collective and historic process within which the individual need not feel either outraged or wounded. One may grieve over the total situation which one symbolizes or reflects but not over the individual details. And that does console.”40
As Ludwig approached seventy years of age on May 30, this bit of wisdom had finally come to offer its consolation and comfort. Not that many would yet acknowledge this milestone, believing, instead, in the accuracy of his long-standing doctored chronology. An article appearing in the March issue of the Jewish Spectator, praising his efforts “as an instigator, a mentor, a champion who … has pounded the Jews into self-awareness,”41 and Lion Feuchtwanger’s “herzlichen Gruessen und Wuenschen [heartfelt greetings and wishes],”42 were among the few bits of recognition this special day received. Few knew that long ago Ludwig had subtracted the year because of Thelma’s youth. Nor had he even told Louise, who believed his explanation of having added a year because of his advanced grade in high school, thereby creating the disparity between earlier records and those of his later years.43
The first Brandeis commencement passed in mid-June without memorable incident for Ludwig, who had previously decided to let it go without comment, despite its being “too elaborate and ostentatious.” The Creative Arts Festival, organized by Leonard Bernstein, whose Trouble in Tahiti would premiere alongside Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, the first choreographed performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Les Noces, and the American opening of Pierre Shaeffer’s Symphonie Pour un Homme Seul, saw Ludwig join the first evening’s panel discussion of “The Present State of the Creative Arts,” along with Sachar, Bernstein, and others.44 Lasting four days, and encompassing Ludwig’s poetry-reading event, the festival was followed on the sixteenth with the commencement exercise itself. All but two of the first entering class of 103 received their diplomas that day45 as Eleanor Roosevelt urged them to work for the renewal of the democratic spirit, “a spirit of hope and devotion which we require in order that we may again feel that we have an adventure to live.”46 What must Ludwig have thought of her remarks as he inevitably compared her call for a “return” with his own, and of the goal she had set next to his?
Two weeks later, “the vibrations of the last weeks—oh, months—still quivering,” he returned to his diary as he sat vacationing by the sea on Cape Cod. He and Louise had gone there “for three weeks, to the Seacrest at Falmouth directly on a fine beach, so that I could go in the water, usually twice a day,” as he would later tell Spiro.47 Speaking engagements had taken him that spring as far away as Seattle and Toronto. Jim’s graduation from high school, and the anxiety-filled months that preceded it, had further sapped his emotional reserves. The festivities at Brandeis, involving him with six speaking assignments, were “brilliant enough” and had brought him good press coverage. “And yet, and yet—[I am] not without a slight feeling of malaise through it all,” a malaise whose origin he knew, but whose name he would not call forth. It was a part of the new turn he wished to take, of focusing rather on what could be done than on what was lost. At so late a moment in his life, there was little else he could do. “Let it be. Let it rest. Under the aspect of eternity—oh, under the aspect of far less than eternity, it matters so little. I haven’t the self-trust of, say, Hebbel, or others. Once I had a little of it. But it has gradually been crushed out of me. Perhaps that is the discipline meant for me. I have, at all events, reached a stage of humility. I wait no longer. The hour is late. Only every noise of notoriety—though that is too strong a word—wounds me—for it serves to emphasize the essential silence.”
Instead of listening only to the silence, or his critics, he was determined now to add a positive voice whenever he could. Let others expend their energies with attacks. “There remains what is good, a solid good—service,” this time in the shape of a ten-thousand-word pamphlet for the Hillel Foundation “on the content of the Jewish historical experience and its meaning to a young American Jew today.” The results of a recent survey of eighteen hundred Jewish students had demonstrated the need for remediation. “The answers were not only appalling from a Jewish angle … [but] from a general intellectual angle.” It would “not [be] an easy task,” neither the effort to impart a “sub-elementary” level of Jewish knowledge nor his attempt to have his readers understand that their notion of freedom was, in actuality, an entrapment to ideology. “In brief, obedience to destiny, affirmation of the obligatory, is the only rational and honest way of any man.” Lack of structure and direction was not liberating, but enslaving and debilitating. “One would think that pretty obvious as soon as it is uttered. But I can imagine the confused noises with which the observation, nakedly made, would be met. So it will have to be, as it were, insinuated.”
Yet for all of his criticism of his fellow Jews and their flight toward dispiriting substitutes, he knew that they were not alone. “Somehow a strange darkness has invaded the minds of American Jews and not, in fact, of Jews alone. That darkness in the mind is a symptom of the age,” as were the misguided searchings for a new light. How odd, for example, was the notion that “this would be a better society if only, only, homosexuality could be practised openly and without shame,” as Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and others were advocating. “Not that I want homosexuals to be tormented,” Ludwig wrote that summer of 1952, “but the notion of such a circumstance saving the world?”48
Not that others in the mainstream of American life had anything more substantial to offer. Watching the Republican National Convention on television that July, he noted how “not one serious word, nor one felt word,” could be heard, “not one man who shows concern, sadness, apprehension—not one who seems capable of any of these attitudes.” Instead, nothing but “Loud clichés loudly shouted. No one committed to any reality. No one grown up. Boundlessly alien, confused, empty, turbulent.” But he wondered if his assessment was wrong. After all, the country still ran. Perhaps his perceptions were being colored by a general sense of unease, that continuing malaise which refused to abate. “My soul is dry,” he acknowledged. “I do not seem very near to myself. Living on the surface.” Not even his reading of Midrash (rabbinic hermeneutics) could alter his sense of the world. “Impressed but not quite reached by it,” he admitted with profound disappointment. He thought of the coming fall and of how it was certain to bring with it the usual round of teaching and administrative responsibilities, the added task of preparing a graduate program in literature, and the already growing number of lectures which he could not afford to decline. Whatever hope he had had for a chance to do his own work was growing increasingly remote. “Better forget everything else,” he wrote with resignation on July 11. “The coming season will not be easy either at Brandeis or generally.” As the morning fog promised to lift its shroud from the Cape, he hoped for the sun’s appearance so that he might have a swim, “my only form of experiencing physical exhilaration—to me a rare and so precious experience.”49
“Perhaps you will live to see a better day,” Ludwig wrote the younger Harold Ribalow a week later, thanking him for his “devotion to Jewish letters in America and to me.” Thoughts of going out among the Jewish masses who “make a terrific fuss about me and haven’t read me” still upset him greatly, even after so many years. “I cringe within every time I lecture,” knowing how abysmal the general state of Jewish literacy was, even among the leadership, whether Zionist or academic or rabbinic. “They—or some of them—can read Hebrew.… But their complete unconsciousness of literary and stylistic and philosophical matters is disgraceful. Well, if they are so, what can you expect of the rank and file?” American Jews were still pointing a finger at their assimilated co-religionists of Germany who proved so incredulous of what the secular Nazi authorities and their massive minions had laid out for them. But their critique was unfounded and merely self-serving. “They jeer about the German Jews” without first taking a clearer look at themselves. But when Jim angrily attacked the American Jewish community for not buying great numbers of The American Jew, Ludwig inexplicably defended them. “I thought it best. But—there you are.”50
“Has nothing been learned in these ineffably tragic years?” Ludwig asked at the end of July, now home from the Cape, “doubtless rested and much refreshed,” but still bothered by a life “so full of discords.” Among these was his involvement in the search for two new instructors. Over the years, each search undertaken only “arouse[d] those sorry and degraded proclivities” toward “liberalism, tolerance … which could have nobler meanings,” but which caused the university’s administration, “degraded Jewish assimilationists,” to see every gentile candidate as a “metziah [something great].… I stand guard; I have to fight—and to fight without seeming to do so, else I’m accused of the silliest things. Meantime my heart bleeds, of course—and this is the point—for our poor students (95% Jewish) who even with the common run of Jewish instructors are left in spiritual desolation.”
“I should let all these things pass by as shadows and address myself to the permanent,” he argued against himself in his diary that late July day, “but, after all, I am involved in the realities.” Unlike Buber, who seemed to inhabit more ethereal realms, he felt the pull of the world. “To freeze, as Buber seems to have done [in his philosophical and largely unreachable Eclipse of God], is not altogether satisfactory.” A far simpler, more direct approach was needed by all. With “an unheard of acuteness,” man needed “to try to regain God and his law immediately. Subtleties are almost wicked.… Contemplate this world. See what a Godless world is like and flee—flee to God and to his law,” a formula he was determined to apply wherever he could.51
What more appropriate sign could there have been than in the largely disregarded plight of the Holocaust’s victims by most of the world, beginning during the war years and continuing into the next decade, even after so much of the evidence had been presented? In reviewing Anne Frank’s Diary, Ludwig employed few subtleties that summer as he spoke of the nearly silent reception the first accounts of Jewish suffering had received in 1943. “A few people were shocked and grieved by this circumstance. But since the Western World had a moral pact with Hitler, it was not to be expected that that world would permit a retroactive bite of conscience to penetrate well-prepared callousness.” Nor since then, he maintained in the mainstream Saturday Review. Perhaps now, in 1952, with another barbarism “at the gate of the city of Western man,” there would be others willing to listen. “It is possible that now—so very late and so very futilely—one of those voices of the martyrs of Israel may gain a friendlier hearing.” He had not lost all hope that “from this one girl’s diary a gleam of redemption [for Christendom] may arise.” But he was by no means certain. Had not “a million Anne Franks died in horror and misery” without evidence yet of the slightest sign of contrition, or of concern for others suffering so miserably at that moment elsewhere?
If Anne Frank’s diary pierces the conscience of men in all its implications—the implications of her being and her people’s being, of her life and of her death, that death which had nothing to do with her, which had no relation to her being or her life, that death which constitutes the ineffable sin and crime of a whole world, of a whole age—if that were possible, the publication of her diary would indeed be a moral event of inestimable import. It is a faint enough hope that this may be so. For a person or a people or an age that is sick is sick usually because it will not recognize its own sickness and will avoid the remedies that might be restorative.52
The coming of August again brought with it Ludwig’s return to the B’nai B’rith Adult Institute, taking him south once more to the Wild Acres estate near Charlotte, North Carolina, the former home of Thomas Dickson, the author of The Klansman, upon which the racist classic Birth of a Nation had been based. Though the audience’s small size of sixty-five limited Ludwig’s reach, it was for him again a “restorative” act, as he hoped it was for them. By all evidence, they shared his concern and commitment. Looking back on his experience at Wild Acres on his second day back at home, he wrote with appreciation, and a sense of loss, of those with whom he had shared this meaningful Jewish experience. Here were American Jews, people of varying vocational interests, whose love for this heritage was all that he hoped the larger American Jewish community would one day possess. “Very beautiful and very encouraging,” he later wrote Spiro.
The 65 people who attended the Institute were, for the greater part, quite, quite wonderful people. O si sic omnes! Lawyers, physicians, merchants, manufacturers, all but two without a trace of foreign accent, modern people if you like, Americans with all the amenities, if one likes, and all profoundly and intensely Jewish, with a great desire to learn more, with a deep yearning after Jewish integration and integrity, nearly all the men well-trained in ritual and observance, so that the daily dawn and sunset services and Sabbath services were among the most heartfelt I have ever attended. This was indeed a congregation in Israel. We chanted the words and the divine negunoth from full hearts and, happy as I am to be back home, I feel bereft of those incomparable hours. This, I am sure, is the feeling of all who attended. So, naturally, I gave myself wholly to these people who understand and love me and caught only a very few hours sleep every night and am correspondingly tired. Never mind. This was altogether good.53
Only the Jewish professionals with whom he shared the institute’s attendees disappointed Ludwig. Ben Zion Bokser, “learned, genuine, effective,” had made “a slightly falsified inner and outer adjustment” in order to retain “his influence over his congregants” from the New York synagogue that he led. Had he allowed himself to speak “the last, the ultimate” truth, he might lose them. Ludwig understood the politics involved, but mourned the loss nevertheless. More grievous was Benjamin Epstein, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who “unblushingly” boasted of serving fish on Friday to a Catholic prelate dining in his nonkosher home while dispensing with the Sabbath ritual of kiddush in order not to make his guest uncomfortable. Worse, in Ludwig’s judgment, was that “he doesn’t know that he, therefore, crawled on his belly in the dust. That’s what they call defense and interfaith…. The whole defense business is carried on by people who are empty of those contents which alone merit defense.… As I’ve said of other people on other occasions—the real problems begin at the point where his thinking stops.” Perhaps Epstein had some sense of the inappropriateness of his actions after all, for when questioned about the issue, he “flew into a rage [and] … apologized later.” To Ludwig it seemed that he had “used the rage (unconsciously) as a counter-offensive.” Ludwig remained convinced, as he thought back on the incident, that “something within him is not unaware of the central hollowness of even the useful things he and his colleagues engage in.”54
With these two images before him—of Jews dedicated religiously, and of those whose involvement was compromised—he thought of how he must soon begin to write his Hillel pamphlet on “the significance of the Jewish historic experience to a young Jew of today.” It would be a formidable challenge. He knew what needed to be said, but not yet how to say it without turning away those whom he wanted to address. “The difficulty is to say it both simply and persuasively in the face of the irrelevant prejudices in the minds of the young people,” prejudices toward a nondiscriminating liberal tolerance for all opinions and against any which refused to admit into its orbit a compromise of its central truths. How “to dig them out from the Dewey-liberalistic morass in which most of them stick up to the eyes” would be a prior strategic concern. “Must begin soon,” he concluded his entry of August 12, urging himself to get on with this important task.55
It remained in his thoughts for the next few days, and when a friend telephoned asking for some bibliographical information regarding the writings of Meyer Levin, it “started a thought which I want to record.” What emerged was the only fully developed analysis of his own teshuvah (conversion) that he would ever set to paper. With “no place to print an essay on the subject,” being as out of fashion as he was (even the editors of Judaism had now withdrawn their invitation), he could “at least … make the notation for myself.” If the prism of time had refracted these events into a superimposed pattern of later design, it nonetheless gave evidence to thoughts either suppressed or masked since his earliest writings, some of which he would continue to leave private, given the political climate. As such it is worth repeating without interpolation, beginning as he felt it crucial to do, with what in his nature had separated him since childhood from most others, including “nearly all the Jewish seekers and ritornati [returners] … of my time.”
I think it is this: my fundamental interests were always metaphysical, always religious. I was never impressed by science in its extra-scientific inferences; I always agreed wholly with Scripture (oh, in my worst days) that it is the fool who says in his heart there is no God. More significant; I never had any “social” interests. Ah yes, in my youth I wrote a good deal of so-called liberal stuff; I rejoyced [sic] in the moral rebellion of the American literature of the post First World War period. But most of that was motivated by the Nesses shirt of that first marriage into which I had been trapped and from which I had to escape or perish. But that was the whole extent of my interest in society and its laws. I had no other quarrel with my country or age. I thought (I do still) that history would have taken a happier turn if Germany and Austria had been permitted to defeat the Russian barbarian. But all such questions are devoid of meaning. The historic process must be accepted as it is. But—and this is the point: I never took any interest in the so-called common people. Heaven knows I didn’t want them to be oppressed (though that word in that connection admits of various definitions) and certainly relieved of physical wants. But I didn’t think that that was my function. Had an appeal been made to me to help uplift the common people, to teach their children, say, Latin or poetry, I would have been more than ready. No one did that in my age. Everybody wanted me to make the common people my masters, the masters of the world. And that nauseated me from the beginning. Thus my first terror about the Soviet experiment was that it might seem to succeed. In this respect I have not changed, as, indeed, one does not change. I have nothing but biological functioning in common with the masses. All their notions, opinions, ways are repugnant to me. UNLESS they are religious. Then and only then is there a common bond….
The point is this: my return to Judaism, unlike the return apparently of any older or younger contemporary, though the initial road was Zionist—the road to Zion—was never exclusively the road to an earthly Zion. I had been seeking faith and form since my childhood. Through the tragic alienation of parents who represented a certain segment of the German Jewry of their time I was impelled to go to mass with friends (at the old Charleston pro-Cathedral); next I was impelled to go with Methodist friends. But if, during that very period the Rabbi of Beth Elohim had stretched out a hand to me (I do not record his name even here)—if … What happened instead? He and my father talked blasphemous nonsense and he, the Rabbi, was studying Medicine in order to leave the synagogue. He didn’t, in fact, though he graduated with highest honours from the S. C. College of Medicine. He invited my parents and myself to the Commencement. He got the silver cup. I can see the scene before me to this day. When, therefore, through my mother’s death in 1912 I was impelled, ploughed up to my very depth, to find a way in life along which I could go—when, reflecting on her life which had not been her life and her death which had not been her death, I came, as I would have phrased it then, to my Damascus—I began to return to Israel and to the God of Israel and of the world, to the Rebono Shel Olam. And even before I studied the Aleph Beth, I made friends in Columbus of certain Jewish families (I remember old Mrs. Lazarus driving me in her electric run-about … ) and helped, in spite of my terrible ignorance, to found the first Menorah Society at the Ohio State University. My way, then, was from the start a religious way, a metaphysical way. I read and re-read what I then called the Old Testament and looked about me on a visit to New York for selections from the Talmud in German or French or English and bought a now forgotten volume, Hebraic Literature, edited by Dr. Maurice H. Harris which even then I had to buy at second hand, and so began my studies of Talmud and Midrash.
Discomforted by his own analysis, Ludwig quickly added a last “observation.” Unlike those others with whom he felt no bond, but only a responsibility to aid in their spiritual uplift and to do them no harm, the “common Jewish people” were “quite another story.” Never in his experience had he felt separated from “poor Jews in humble stations.” Each encounter had been rewarding, for here were the “pious and observant,” with whom “I fervently shared … what is dearest to me in life.” Nor did he feel other than the closest bond to those “fervent Yiddishists and Zionists [who] … represented a culture which I love and honor, even though I don’t regard it as redemptive in the deeper sense.” Nor less for even “the rich, Jewishly and generally untaught cheap assimilationists … revolting types, common as dirt,” for they, too, were part of this Jewish community, if only because of the “psychical and economic structure of the Jewish group,” and the larger Christian world’s continuing refusal to fully open its doors and thus allow them to abandon their Jewishness, leaving them with only the Jewish community within which to exercise their bid for status through wealth. This “vulgar creature” was forced to play a role in local Jewish life by contributing monetarily to its renewal, “if only to show what a rich guy he is.” If unwillingly, he too “has thrust upon him the practice of gemiluth chasadim [acts of loving-kindness, oftentimes extending beyond simple charity], one of the three pillars on which the world rests.” How profoundly this Jewish way of life worked to reorient its worst members toward the ethical. There was, indeed, something qualitatively different about the Jews. “As [Arthur] Schnitzler used to say—he said it to me in his own house: ‘Wir sind schon ein merkwuerdiges Volk’ [We are no doubt a remarkable people].”
Yet, for all his avowed elitism and feelings of separation from the non-Jewish masses, for all his condemnation of the secularization of prophetic teachings as a destructive turn from Judaism, what had brought him to his socialist leanings as a young man remained. Having wandered into this camp years earlier, he had never completely left it. As he himself said that day, “one does not change.” In his pantheon there remained a place for the materially poor but spiritually rich, far above whatever separated them culturally. His attack upon the socialists and their object of concern, the “masses,” was not against the people, but against the consequent leveling of cultural and, more importantly, spiritual aspirations, over which so many generations had fought so hard to achieve the small advances that now were threatened. He fought the idea that these advances, open to all, were of little value, if not mere weapons of oppression. Despite deep differences in their lives, Ludwig felt a close bond with those among the masses, Jewish and non-Jewish, whose concern for the “deepest in men, the love and fear of God, the hope of immortality” he shared, as he did with his Irish housekeeper, Mrs. Connolly, “a truly devout Catholic,” of whom Ludwig wrote, “we speak by implication the same language.”56
“How crowded life has been and is,” Ludwig wrote Spiro that same day, confessing how this “more crowded life” had forced him to “more stringently and, if need be, brutally … guard those hours of apparent idleness, desultory reading, meditation, without which I cannot live.” The last few months, filled with vacation, lecturing, and a bit of reflection, had helped him recover from the “terrific strain of the Brandeis Festival and Commencement.” But soon he would fly to Omaha to inaugurate the first B’nai B’rith Adult Institute in that city, only to return to continue with preparations for the coming academic year, having already begun as de facto chair of three departments, with a faculty of ten, responsible for teaching many of the eight hundred students with whom he would soon share his still quiet campus. His health remained good, he told his old friend, but “the inner man? Well, one makes peace with the inevitable,” though “the show [does] pinch me … actually in one place. I’d like to write. After all, that’s the chief business of my life. And there’s no use.” Increasing “American illiteracy” had left his half-written study of twentieth-century literature without a nonsubsidized publisher, and his “mystical-historical Jewish novel,” which he feared “would just not be read,” without much possibility of any publisher. Perhaps in its own right, perhaps by default, Brandeis, as he told Spiro in mid-August, “in spite of remnants of foolishness, becomes more and more congenial.” The start of a graduate program in the fall of 1954 would make it even more so, as his teaching load would change from three lecture courses to two or three small seminars. “I’ll be—as far as teaching for a fundamental living goes—in even easier circumstances than now.” And, of course, there was the growing satisfaction he felt from having written The American Jew. “That, at least, sold (so far between six and seven thousand copies) and has had a profound influence on Jewish thinking in this country.”57
Returning in late August from the institute in Omaha (“a chore, despite some mighty pleasant people”), Ludwig took to the road again for Brandeis in early September, this time to Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He “did well,” enjoyed the “extraordinary blending of observant Judaism with all the amenities” (mezuzahs on each door, kosher food, and a “gustatory” delight), and found it “very healing to my moral sensibilities,” yet returned tired, having felt “hot, crowded and exposed.” A day-trip to New York City, again stumping for Brandeis, compounded the feeling. If only he could stop all this traveling, at least for the B’nai B’rith, and instead earn some extra money for his literary efforts. “It isn’t as much my body that gets tired as nerves and soul.” Yet, there was evidence that he could no longer write the fiction he once had, that his teshuvah had disabled a part of his creativity and that he “could no longer, excusable as it doubtless is, pretend to delineate non-Jewish characters from within.” The revelation had come to him while flying home from Omaha via Chicago. The sunset, seen from the air, had given him a “great imaginative lift and fervor toward [a] symbolic novel.” But as he sat there “watching the shield of the moon in a greenish red-edged sky and flying above white cloud battlements and [an] unimaginable promontory, while gradually the cities below burst into variegated fiery bloom,” the thought suddenly came to him (a “long, intricate, troubling matter”) that perhaps he could no longer “pretend (as all such fictions imply) that I, the writer, am not precisely what I am.” As so totally committed a Jew, perhaps he would never again create those non-Jews crucial to whatever fiction he hoped to write, never again fly back into the world he had once aspired to enter.58
In the days immediately preceding the great “pouring in” of students, the “oddest visitors” came to call on him, faces out of this very world he had abandoned. From Charleston came the highly assimilated Thomas Tobias, carrying with him “all the ambiance of a better, older world about him which still apparently breathes somewhere between Broad Street and the Battery.” If “incurably snobbish” and deprecatory toward those from Charleston whom Ludwig had met at Wild Acres, he still found his guest “rather healing in this raw contemporary scene.” So, too, was the second of these “voices from various phases of [the] past.” George Viereck, though in his late sixties, was “what he was at twenty. Hence like a mechanically vibrating fossil. Looks young, too, or—rather—embalmed.” It was a moment of reconciliation, for which Viereck would later send his appreciation. Commented Ludwig in his diary, “Essentially never meant any harm. Was dragged and drawn into horrors by a certain lightness and frivolousness of temper.… A human will o’ the wisp. Preened himself feebly even in penitentiary, no doubt.”59
The approaching Yamim Moraim (penitential “Days of Awe”) left Ludwig to think of the “Holy wisdom of our forbears who provided for all the necessities of a true life! A life worthy of a being who wants to be human.” How different he had become since those days he had shared intimately with Viereck, who apparently had never grown beyond them. Ludwig would prepare himself to deliver a Rosh Hashanah sermon and help all that he could with the service, there being no Hillel rabbi as yet (“Why have we not—here, of all places,” Sachar having been the national Hillel director before coming to Brandeis. “Strange perversity of Abe Sachar’s psychical processes,” he thought). Perhaps he would talk of contemporary Jewry’s having grown “too this-worldly,” trading an “other-worldly” reality for a life “with machines and modern plumbing in a cellar—a mean and rat-infested hole. Our fathers in their unsanitary plainness at least lived in the majestic universe.” Was it merely nostalgia for a romanticized image of the past, which Ludwig could not have experienced in his own life, nor learned of from his parents? Or was it a vision of what he knew had been lost in Europe, of what he had witnessed in Poland, transforming him as it had Franz Rosenzweig several years earlier—that which he knew could never again be restored? “We must emphasize from now on the Neeman [atah] l’hachayoth methim [from the Rosh Hashanah service, “Faithful art Thou to revive the dead”] and live so as to pass a test.” He would study the Torah portion for the day fast approaching and prepare to speak before his God. “Rebbono shel olam, katbenu b’sefer ha-chayim [Lord of the Universe, inscribe us in the Book of Life],” he wrote at day’s end.60
No more so than for Jim, who was just then entering Brandeis with the new freshman class. “Please God all goes well,” Ludwig prayed.61 It had been such a long journey from Paris to New York to Lakewood to a series of boarding schools, and finally moving into the Brandeis apartment so that he could complete his diploma in Waltham’s public high school, though “not brilliantly,” Ludwig noted. There had been noticeable change of late, attributable to the psychoanalytic therapy he had received. An earlier attempt to place him at the University of Massachusetts, “if only as a special student,” had failed, and here he was in the fall of 1952, about to begin his college years at Brandeis.62
Ludwig had long tried to mitigate the consequences of Jim’s early years, doing all that he could regardless of cost, even against his better judgment, as he had the previous summer of 1951 when, “impoverishing ourselves for Jim,” he had allowed his son to go west to work on a dude ranch. Having spent so much to see him through years of private schooling, Ludwig had thought it better for Jim to have used his summer “in elegant and studious leisure” at home.63 Over the years, there had been awful verbal attacks upon Louise, with the constant refrain that she was not his mother, attacks which lasted long after Ludwig’s death. Ludwig’s patience for it all was clearly limited, and, at times, he inappropriately vented as he criticized Jim publicly for acts which were clearly improper and perhaps intentionally embarrassing to his father. Mrs. Connolly, the Lewisohns’ housekeeper, later recalled witnessing repeated incidents even into Jim’s college years. She feared that he might one day kill Ludwig and Louise because of his affinity for violence, both fantasized, as he talked of fighting against the Arabs, and real, including the day he broke so many of the windows on campus.64
A letter from Thelma’s attorney, arriving suddenly on Jim’s nineteenth birthday, September 17, after many years of silence, elicited an especially angry response from Ludwig. She had wanted to send a gift, but Ludwig responded immediately and uninvitingly, unsure of why Thelma was showing this unsolicited interest, hoping that she would once again disappear from Jim’s life. At this moment of uncertain transition, her presence would be of little positive influence.
Please assure your client that any gift she may send to Jimmy in my care will be given him at once. Indeed, I think and have long thought, that she ought to be more generous to him. On account of the infantile trauma sustained by him through her psychological and moral rejection of him, he has been a problem child and youth. He is now under treatment by a psychotherapeutist. For psychological reasons I have had to buy him one motor car after another. Yet he continues to have minor accidents. With immense difficulty and at the expense of $15,000 in the past five years, I have finally succeeded in having him graduate from High School and tentatively entering college. Under these circumstances it will be clear to your client that he is likely to be deferred, probably indefinitely, as far as service in the Armed forces is concerned. His physical health is excellent.65
The first weeks of the new academic year passed without event, allowing Ludwig to note with some relief in his diary that Jim “seems to be well adjusted and working rather assiduously. I pray to God it may be genuine and last.”66 Nearly four decades later, Jim would write about these first days at Brandeis, an idyll of a time lost in memories grown brighter in the shadows of terror-filled days yet to come. How different his perceptions of that world were from Ludwig’s, reveling in the ideas Max Lerner had shared with his students, recalling with joy the secularization of prophetic dreams and the celebration of the peaceable world of Jew and Gentile together, calling “tribal” the biblical words upon which the university had set its sights. And where Ludwig, tired and cynical with age, would speak of autumn as the beginning of his final act, Jim remembered the fiery leaves as they signaled the youthful march toward a distant shore.
Beneath the trees in the apple grove
beside our Norman Castle
we sprawled in the sun feasting on Gide
and the Categorical Imperative
and Leo Szilard’s atomic grief
returned to anthropos.
Truth must be earned Max Lerner said
and so we counted out the coin
but O those Jewish girls that smelled of cleaned
washed hair and lemons.
Everywhere the Autumn mixed with burning leaves
and Bach Partitas from Schwartz Hall
and we wore matching jeans and button downs
and coats of many colors.
It was a time of grace and graciousness
of Laureates and Symbolists
and there was peace without too many risks…
it was a world made over for a few
and we rejoiced at being chosen.
High on a hill overlooking Walden Pond
Jewish zeal demanded gravity
and things were in their place…
Israel rose from the ashes.
It had come together as the wind
brought leaves in the Fall
showering down upon the land haphazardly.
Prophetic in a day it seemed
the “Dream” made secular.
Frost and Buber sat upon the “Rock”
in the late afternoon
and the grass was green with their going.
For us the earth moved over one small notch
and Susan, the Justices’ daughter
waited in the wings and suddenly appeared around the corner
her cane held up to part the waters.
Everything that entered
had a tribal signature inscribed
that read, “Truth to its innermost parts.”
So many roads taken and re-taken
Harlem and Kiev
a journey from one
saga to another
Exile and ingathering.
In the Fall of the year
the foliage on fire with
their energy we waited for our
turn to come…
old as the mountain
and an ancient house
we came together
Jew and Gentile
we came to celebrate.67
Jim’s memories do not echo through his father’s diary as an older, seasoned voice is heard engaged in the telling of a cautionary tale. “Beautiful melancholy astringent Autumn on our campus. Die Blaetter [the leaves] fallen, fallen,” Ludwig sadly observed. “Of course, as one gets old Autumn is not quite the bugle that it once was and one lifts up one’s heart rather to Him who is neeman l’hachayoth methim [faithful to revive the dead].”68 After a lifetime of effort to address his world, he was painfully aware that he was “unknown as a writer—completely so,” and perhaps without a real chance of being revived in this life. Still, he was only mildly upset by this admission, finding “the unrivalled illiteracy of all Americans—Jews and Gentiles both,” far more distressing, a sign that civilization itself was now closer to a state of “collapse” than at any other moment in his experience. In such a world, how could his work have any appreciable audience? Only “a turn for the better” could create a sizable readership for his work and turn them into “solid properties,” not a particularly negligible consideration as he thought of Louise going on without him in the future. That his books would not sell as they once had was his one true regret. “I have probably written some of the best American and Jewish-American books of my time,” he told Straus in mid-November, “the books most likely to survive when the Steinbecks and Saroyan’s and the so and so’s and so and so’s will lie howling. But it will do me no good.”69
Rather, he thought again of the great comfort to be taken from the role he was playing at Brandeis, doing all that he could “to help build this university as it ought to be built.” He could not have asked for a better way to spend his days, pressing his colleagues in this noble experiment to be truer to their heritage, working with the next generation who would be its heirs. “Fundamentally I have nothing but gratitude for its having been founded and being built. Amid the outer and inner obstacles to creative work it has given me a place and a task for my later years more appropriate and fruitful than anything else I could have hoped for. I like teaching and I’m an effective teacher and my relations with students [are] uniformly good.”70 That year’s university catalog included a photo of Ludwig, elegantly dressed in a double-breasted suit, handkerchief slightly showing out of the breast pocket, hands in his coat pockets, standing before a lit fireplace, surrounded by students seated at his feet, charmed by their cultured professor. Perhaps staged, but by all other accounts an accurate pictorial assessment.71 For if they did not understand or agree with all that he had tried to teach them, they sensed a kindred spirit in “the small man with the soulful eyes … [the] fervid orator, his white hair bouncing as he spoke,” as Manfred Wolf, who would himself become a professor of literature, recalled four decades after Ludwig’s death. “Old though he was, he could stir me with his talk of how unfettered love had been in Europe and how puritanical America was. He longed for the joys of love he had so frequently tasted as if it were the sun, for which, as a northern European Jew and a transplanted American southerner who had grown up in South Carolina, he also longed.”72
The fall semester for Ludwig soon proved busier than anticipated, with large classes in his courses on Shakespeare, modern drama, and literary theory.73 Committee meetings and numerous speaking engagements again left him without “much chance for contemplation or for writing here,” though it was now time to begin working on his pamphlet for Hillel. Already tired by early October, he followed “doctor’s orders” and spent Columbus Day weekend at an inn in Franconia, New Hampshire.74 He would need the rest, as the months following his return would afford none.
The political year’s turbulence quickly left its mark on Brandeis that fall with issues, great and small, calling forth some response from Ludwig. Stevenson’s bid to defeat Eisenhower in the presidential election not surprisingly received 88 percent of the campus’s support in a late-October poll, the remaining affirmations divided between the Progressive Party candidate and someone yet to be determined.75 Ludwig, perhaps no more surprisingly, concurred with this overwhelming support. Having viewed the two parties on television, he was discouraged by both, but more so by the Republicans’ greater willingness to appeal to baser motivations among the voters, reminiscent, he feared, of what the world had so recently witnessed elsewhere. But, Ludwig wondered, with such an appeal, and given Stevenson’s very different nature, had he any real chance of victory?
[Has] Adlai Stephenson, a civilized and cultivated man, any chance of election to the presidency? Eisenhower—oh yes, a general—a geometrician—how eminent: who knows today? Beyond that undistinguished and in the deeper sense illiterate. He probably mirrors the famous common man’s image. That, too, very sad. I’d like to have faith in the instincts of the electorate … Nous verrons. The conventions (Rep. & Dem.) seen on television rather rowdy in some way somewhat volksthuemlich, I suppose. But I distrust that here as everywhere. In the Repub. convention no mitigating note. A few in the Democratic.76
More divisive for Ludwig, as for the American Jewish community, was the conviction of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on charges of espionage for the Soviets, an issue still debated as a benchmark case in cold war politics and governmental injustice. By late November, the Justice reported that it had become “a campus issue” following the talk of a member of the National Committee to Secure Justice for the Rosenbergs.77 The Justice’s editorial that day urged clemency for the condemned couple, recognizing the communists’ potential use of the case to intensify social and political tensions. There was, as well, the fear of increased anti-Semitism in the country, an “American Dreyfus Affair” at a time when discrimination against Jews was peaking. Guilty or innocent, the Rosenbergs served “only [to] intensify the identification of Jews with conspiracy,” as both Hitler and Stalin had so easily done.”78
Six months earlier, Ludwig had published a letter in Commentary condemning those who would plead for the “convicted traitors,” painting them as heroic defenders of “the Soviet dictatorship [which] is in some way allied to libertarianism.” Mocking such folly, he warned that these blind but well-intentioned supporters only played into the hands of Joe McCarthy and his allies. Had they “no awareness of the grave circumstances” of this betrayal by the Rosenbergs? “Not only their country, but the entire tradition of humanism, of freedom, of what simple-minded persons still call goodness” had been compromised by aiding the Soviets in their quest for atomic weapons, as he believed they had.
It was this very blindness to the reality of the Soviet goal which, in his own corner of the world, was “poison[ing] the intellectual life, on and off campus.” Only certain ideas were now becoming acceptable. Alternative perceptions and formulae were being silenced, not by communists, but by those whose misunderstanding of liberalism countenanced intolerance. Ludwig had firsthand experience of this beginning in the 1920s and intensifying a decade later as “equivocal liberals” (those unwilling to see the long-term effects of their essentially illiberal stance) raised their voices to defend the rights of only those of the secular Left with whom they agreed and who agreed with them. He had seen it all before, in Germany and in Russia. Now it was closer to home.
It is this equivocal liberal, pursuing his old means while strategically repudiating the ends to which they have demonstrably led, who raises the hue and cry concerning the loss of freedom to teach and freedom to learn in American colleges and universities. The only teacher and scholar, the only type of student who is still forced into a defensive position on American campuses today, is the conservative teacher or student, the religious teacher or student; such are still at least atmospherically made to feel that they are “reactionary” in the silly sense, “old hat,” and that what is “new” and “progressive” is that group of now withered fallacies and fanaticisms which, first in the guise of National Socialism, next in the guise of later Soviet empire, have produced crimes and horrors without parallel in history.79
Without direct reference to “disappointments and annoyances more or less severe” that fall, Ludwig noted in his diary that “freedom of speech in America today and, more especially here at Brandeis, is still reserved for fellow-travelers and nihilists.… The conservative and religious man is hounded and silenced. A very bad omen for everybody,” though few people understood the postwar dynamics that were creating the very civil disabilities and deteriorating social order under which they would one day live. “The corruption of American society by such motivations will be hard to believe in the later years,” he asserted without question.80
Not that he disagreed with the desire to correct a highly imperfect world. But he saw the solutions offered from the Left, as once by the Right, as ill-conceived and, ultimately, ruinous, causing irreversible social dislocation, chaos, and the draconian measures needed to stop the slide. “There should be no slums,” he argued, “but remedies applied hitherto have reduced whole countries to slums…. Hence another method must be found.” Ameliorative efforts must be sought, but not those which closed the gap by merely reducing the lives of all others. If nothing else could be found, then rather “a few slums … than all slums,”81 a position that would long remain out of favor in most circles.
Yet there was little more that he could do to change minds and hearts. Now in his seventy-first year, he would honor, even intensify, his promise to himself to let go of what he could not change, and to expend himself on those things, still within his grasp, that brought meaning and joy in this final period of a long, and often difficult, life. On December 23, 1952, in his last entry of the year, Ludwig would write, “The year that is drawing to a close has been a rather more troubled year than several preceding ones. Perhaps that is because I have too inveterately and too impatiently sought to pursue certain ideas and ideals against which the resistance of both the upper and the lower mob is too massive and also because I have tried … to improve upon that [personal] destiny concerning which the die has evidently been cast. With God’s help I will try to be more tranquil and struggle less and be satisfied with the pleasures, domestic and intellectual, that are given me.”82