The Hour Is Late
OW THE MECHANICS OF life fritter away time and strength,” Ludwig began his first diary entry of the new year on January 2, 1953. As before, he had spent the passage from one year to the next with friends and a good bottle of liquor, “enough Armagnac for me to drink as much as I needed to sleep well after the party (which is rather a lot) and so all went well, well.” Not that the occasion mattered all that much to him anymore, confessing to having “no feeling whatsoever for this secular time division, recognizing it only as an outer fact.” Still, he enjoyed good company and pleasant talk, and was pleased to record that none of those gathering for the occasion were either “negative Jews” or “pseudo-Christian liberals” whose talk would have centered around “problems” and been conducted with characteristic “stiffness.” Rather, he was among “believing Catholics and … affirmative Jews, more or less pious in spirit,” who, sharing “common ground … talked about education and poetry … [and] had no ‘problems’ to discuss.”
He was, quite frankly, tired of all the political and social analyses swirling about the Brandeis campus and throughout the Jewish world. In print and at the lectern, his latest effort had once again raised controversies unintended. The problem, by his own assessment, was that while so many wished to invite him to speak, few of them had ever read his work. How then could they have known what he might say? But he couldn’t refuse these many requests, for even more than their financial benefit, they “are the only solid and visible fruit of my years of devotion to my people—I would feel even more lost and shorn without them … a bitterish joke. Yet so it is. It’s all I get.”
Speaking on Long Island at year’s end, he had caused a “small storm” among those he identified as the assimilated, “A.D.L. adherents, our [Brandeis’s] administration, etc.” He had practiced moderation in message and tone as he “pursued with some liveliness and humor an essentially philosophic and irrefutable argument.” But he had touched a very sore nerve among these “schizophrenic pseudo-semi-would-be renegades on the American Jewish scene” with “conscience sore as boils; you touch them ever so lightly and they scream.”1 The topic of his talk had been the current state of Jewish literature—a relatively benign subject, he had believed. Talented young Jews, creating out of a Jewish consciousness, had found few outlets for their work. Much of what was being published in Jewish journals had come from the pens of “philosophical essayists who happen to be Jews … [and] write as though they were not Jews.” Highly paid, they spoke with “an elegant nihilism … like sly, vain, horrible adolescents,” affirming nothing profound, nothing spiritual.
But there could be no change until Jews demanded more, he warned; yet like most Americans, they were “mass consumers, clotted mobs” whose choices were as much dictated by the book clubs as by the A&P. “Individualistic culture is dying in America,” and few Jews were able to resist or were even aware that “a conscious resistance is demanded of them.… What ails us? Sloth and conformity, sliding into and with the mob,” in part out of a desire to appear normal, to be like everyone else. Such “spiritual obliteration” could mean only the end to Jewry in America, and within a mere generation or two. If addiction to the “football and television and comic strips [of] the mindless mob is the great menace to freedom, to humanity,” it was even more so to the Jews. “Since our Jewishness is co-extensive with our humanity, since we are Jews or nothing, Jews or apes and empty simulacra—living Jewish souls or dead souls,—we cannot endure that eating away of our spiritual substance for even one generation. To us the recession of personal culture, Jewish culture and general culture Jewishly absorbed, is a matter of life and death. Therefore the Jewish book in America, therefore Jewish art in America, therefore the formation of a Jewish audience in America, are to us matters of survival or destruction.”
“Creative productivity must be the test of the maturity of the American Jewish community,” Ludwig had told his audience that day in late December, adding, “If an audience is not created, the hope of Jewish productivity in the United States is in vain. And there is as yet no active audience … attentive out of an inner need.” Yet he was confident that such a need would be recognized and that it would be nurtured and given expression and a forum in the coming years. “Let us here and now begin to form a Jewish audience for Jewish books—an audience attentive to Jewish books out of a deep need of them, out of a deep awareness that we must preserve the integrity of our spiritual substance.” Only then, “when we begin to need and use them, they will be written. A Jewish culture will arise in America when it is demanded.”2
Not that he would ever see its first flowering, still suffering, as he was, that “concerted cabal of silence against me,” more intensely felt each time one of his books appeared in a European translation, serving to remind him of his relative isolation at home. The arrival of Maxine Piha’s French translation of Anniversary “refreshed me for an hour,” even though it was not one of his Jewish books. “At least I have a free field there.” Perhaps the small book he had completed for Hillel during the midwinter break would change the climate by changing the hearts of some.3
“What Is This Jewish Question?” Ludwig asked as the central issue of his Hillel “essay” on Jewish survival, addressed to the next generation, from whom he hoped this missing audience would come. “The essence of spirituality is a return to the self,” a participant in the Jewish renewal Ludwig anticipated would note four decades later, “a redirection of vision of the one who asks the question, an almost serendipitous discovery that what is sought is, and always has been, right here all along.”4 Ludwig had spent much of his life in such self-discovery and wanted now to pass along the knowledge that through personal Jewish renewal, through teshuvah, each would take his own journey toward this same end. As his last great effort to define the Jewish path and the good life that was to be found along it, he poured his own soul into a text directed at the youth he had come to know in his years at Brandeis.
“What is a Jew?” he began. “What is it to be a Jew?” Certainly, as he affirmed through his own life, it was not an accident of birth, but a willful act, a choice to be made in each generation as it had been by those ancestors “who begot and bore you—all willed to be Jews; all affirmed their humanity within and through their Jewishness and clung to their Judaism in good and evil days.” Before Hitler, escape had always been an option. That one was a Jew, under such circumstances, was “a fact, a truth, of the very highest moral import … an inescapable existential fact, of quite incalculable gravity and significance.” Set in italics, he wanted his opening words to emphasize this reality, that abandonment of one’s heritage and destiny could not be undertaken as if it were not a conscious choice against the decisions of those thousands of ancestors from whom the individual Jew was consciously making a break. “Hence, if today you are known as a Jew and know yourself to be one, you are what you are not only within the order of nature and biological descent, but within the order of moral freedom, of willing and of choice, of loyalty to a historic reality and to a set of inherent values of transcendent worth.”
What, then, would this young Jew, reading Ludwig’s challenge, do with his or her Jewishness? Would they, in their youth, as he had in his, try to become a part of an “undifferentiated Americanism” through avoidance of self or by some more forceful self-negation? Did they not realize that both were “futile gestures”? Denying one’s identity only enslaved the individual to a “feeble mimicry,” while true freedom derived, instead, from the “freedom of his moral choice, the freedom to choose the law which he shall obey. And that freedom can be exercised only within the realm or area of one’s own vital reality,” and only when this “true self” seeks to be a part of a “community of true selves. Such is the ideal of a harmonious and well-adjusted life.”5 Whether divinely ordained or psychologically determined (and Ludwig remained to the end uncertain which force was at work), there was no better choice if one was to find wholeness, personal integrity, human community, and the joy accompanying them. After all the roads taken, he had no doubt that “one is born a Jew, one lives as a Jew, one dies a Jew.” It was merely “common sense” that beyond the “whining … [and] confused debates” of whether or not to affirm one’s Jewishness lay the “more intelligent, even more fun (or less painful) [choice] to be an instructed Jew, a free Jew, a happy Jew.”
We come back to the inescapable, objective fact of your Jewishness. What is to be done with it? According to all wisdom and experience, it is evidently the guide to that true and deep self which is the real you, the ultimate existential reality of your life and being. That real being, that true self is to be sought; it is to be recovered in so far as it has been blurred or lost; it is to be affirmed by personal acts and by commitment to the eternal community of Israel; it is to be deepened and heightened by love, by knowledge, by aspiration. It is to become the principle of integration of the whole man, of that human being who can be whole (entire),—which is the same word as hale (healthy)—only by being in the fullest sense what evidently (by the law of nature or of God) it was meant to be.6
To accomplish this spiritual integration meant “the individual’s absorption of and into the totality of the historic tradition of the Jewish people.” The study of this tradition was the first step—not to accept it uncritically, but to have a foundation from which to raise questions intelligently. “We … must know before we can add or change,” he wrote. “We can go forth! For tradition need not be fixed or final. It is cumulative and flexible. But in order to add to it or to change it, one must first know it.” Torah, for Ludwig, was “that directive and teaching in its broadest sense, to which, according to the famous saying of our sages, every devout and devoted Jew can validly add the interpretation of his generation and his day.” But before one could reinterpret, the tradition had to be mastered. “He whose mind has no past cannot build upon what has been and must start feebly and blankly on an empty barbarism,” no less so within Judaism than in the world outside it.7
Characterized by its “endurance … recurrence … [and] ever-presentness in and to each generation,”8 Judaism held to “the one transcendent God” whose presence in history spoke out against “the idols of any city, any polis, any state, neither of Alexandria nor of Rome, neither of the medieval empires nor of the contemporary ones.” This very intransigence had caused the Jews’ persecution from the days of Rome to “the neo-Pagan butcheries and deportations of the Twentieth Century,”9 all of which had been “foretold in that scripture [of the Exodus from Egypt] which is the immortal transcript of both our character and our destiny.” Only the self-deluded could deny this truth and “imagine vainly that this long continuity of Jewish history can be broken … [or] that anti-Semitism can be eliminated by education, by psychological analysis, by sociological devices.” Though “sincere and honest men” spent millions to “mitigate the cruder manifestations of anti-Semitism amid the crack-brained mob … its roots cannot be plucked out”—for “the use of such devices betrays a wholly false notion of what anti-Semitism is.” Whether practiced by the mob or T. S. Eliot, it was nothing less than an irrevocable “defensive instinct … a gesture of avoidance and exculpation … the mark and sign and symbol of an unredeemed world.” To deny this was to court danger. Worse, to toss aside willingly one’s Jewish heritage was to add to the world’s continuing unredeemed state, even to move it more quickly in that direction than would the pagan whose inherited task was to do no other. For a Jew to deny his Jewishness was to deprive this broken world of the means by which it could be made whole.
So long as Pharaoh is re-embodied, whether his name be Hitler or Stalin; so long as even in free societies, money and power are kings; so long as God’s law—though shalt not worship idols nor kill nor steal—is subordinated wholly to greed and blood and lust for power—so long must anti-Semitism persist, mildly in democratic pseudo-Christian states, furiously where even lip-worship of God has ceased and the Pharaoh-Caesar-State is once more the idol whom Jews cannot and will not worship. And a Jew who casts aside his heritage and merges with the Pagan world and worships its idols, does not only betray himself but prevents, in the measure of his power, the redemption of that world with which he has made his wretched peace.10
The single commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”—a choice freely taken in each generation—bound the Jew “to obey that Highest, the unique, unalterable God and his law.” Without this affirmation, as history had repeatedly shown, “there is no curb upon human evil, nor any limit to it,” only the worshiping of “idols of wood or stone or a Leader or a State or a philosophic Absolute,” even that “non-theistic and merely patriotic secularism” of American public life. “For if there is no unshatterable Law that is above all laws; or—take which formulation you prefer—if our values are not transcendentally validated—there is no reason (nor anything in man’s unassisted reason) to prevent you from feeding your fellowmen (including 1,100,000 children) into crematoriums yesterday or working and starving them to death in slave-kennels today. There is (let us search our minds in all fairness) no compelling reason.” Jewish law centered on this “refusal of idolatry,” whether clearly evil or of a more benign state, holding as “immortal affirmation” the implied negation of its sole creedal statement: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.” Neither magical formula nor mystical incantation, it was, by Ludwig’s reckoning, “a declaration of the one and unique possibility of human redemption from evil—the worship of the One God, the obedience to his law, the refusal to bow down to the idols and to obey their laws.” It was this insight and affirmation that had given life to the Jewish people and had sustained it throughout the centuries that followed, including those periods that had witnessed so many attempts to destroy this knowledge by destroying those who carried it.
The Jewish people, then, emerged from the Semitic matrix and from the matrix of general history by first and alone and uniquely saying: NO—NO—to the idolatry of the world. For this NO is the deepest implication of the recognition of the One God and of the integrated human personality which freely chooses to worship that One God and refuses to bow down to idols.… That central affirmation of the Oneness and Uniqueness of God with its implication of an eternal NO to the idolatries of the Pagans—this is the core of the Jewish heritage, this is the core of the resistance which an unredeemed world has offered from age to age to the very existence of the Jewish people.11
If the individual Jew was to find meaning, wholeness, and peace in his life, then this reality had to be affirmed, this tradition embodying both the “NO” and the “Oneness” accepted “as it has been reborn, relived, re-incarnated in the modern era”—a replacement for that compulsion “to merge and blend with the contemporary world, to be ‘normal,’ to ‘conform,’ to become stupidly confined to one language and a single literature, to want and need redemption at the very bottom of one’s heart and to deny that even to one’s self and run after the substitutes, the ersatz.” Ultimately, this affirmation, this acceptance of one’s Jewish heritage and the role it offered to an unredeemed world, required “separation from the mere social order” so that “those transcended principles by which social forces are to be judged and guided” could remain intact. Not to separate one’s self, not to hold to a place outside the commonly practiced “total submersion within social forces,” was to abdicate one’s responsibility to the world as a Jew, and, thereby, to deny one’s self the possibility of a meaningful life.
Jews are the Perushim, the separated ones. Therefore are they considered enemies and poisoners by the pagan barbarians. Jews are those who regard society and its forces from without, from an eternal point of vantage, from (literally or symbolically) an everlasting Sinai. They have heard (literally or symbolically) the promulgation of the only Law by which man can be redeemed. Therefore—it cannot be repeated too often—any Jew who closes his ear to that Law which once upon a time his fathers heard and passed on to him, any Jew who seeks to forget that Law and merges with any pagan community, merges uncritically with any merely temporal society, has no function and no reason-for-being left him. Thus being a Jew consciously, absorbedly, affirmatively is for him the ultimate existential problem. He is separate by the fiat of history and destiny. He must assent to his separateness to give meaning to his life.12
But Ludwig knew how difficult it would be for young Jews to give assent to such separateness, to commit themselves to this law. Had he not followed this other world’s siren song for longer than he cared to remember? Where previous generations of Jews had been free of this pull, never questioning the saying of “NO” to this pagan world, “we later generations have let the pagan world’s resistance to redemption insinuate itself into our souls.” How much more crucial now, as “the world slides back into chaos,” for the Jews to keep alive the light of God’s truth. “We must not lower the torch,” he implored his young readers, but, rather, recommit to the Jewish way of life, not in some intellectual sense, but as “a way to be pursued” through “the way of the sanctification of all life,” the Halakah (Jewish law) as “activated within the living community of one’s day.” Only by such a life could the Jew, now lost and unredeemed, find a “return from alienation and the fulfillment of his destiny…. It is a vitalistic matter. It is a life to be lived. And it is to be lived not consciously or spectacularly but with quiet self-containment, with tranquility, with dignity, beyond all striving and crying and clamor and contention.”13
To find one’s way toward the redemption of one’s self and of the world required something absent from the lives of his young readers. No journey of the soul could proceed without a teacher, one whose life was centered in Torah so that the text could come alive through study and example. Such a person would then teach “how to read” the texts according to that “Jewish way of reading which Jews have cultivated for many centuries,” what in Yiddish was called “lernen.” “What does this mean? It means a devout and seeking attention to the word of prophet or master; it means slaking a thirst of the soul. It means reading with the right and pure Kavannah, intention, the right and pure aspiration after the sources of wisdom and of good. It desires to understand, not to argue; to absorb, not to brag with; to find words of life and follow them, not to find formulae for dispute or victory in dispute. It desires immersion into an eternal source of spiritual joy and rectitude. It seeks truth not triumph; it seeks God, not the world.” Above all else, before all else, “We must all learn to ‘learn’ once more.”14
Ludwig himself had continued this practice, expanding his range ever more widely, attempting to understand even those “good many things in ‘modern’ life and letters which I simply don’t grasp—have no Organ for grasping,” among them Kafka’s letters to Milena (“his wonder at being on such terms with a Gentile”) and the writings of Simone Weil, whose Catholic sympathies bordering on apostasy as a Jew required of her “provinces of sensibility which I simply can’t penetrate.” Nahum Glatzer’s book on the German Jewish ba’al teshuvah (returnee) Franz Rosenzweig far more easily resonated with thoughts he understood and for which he had deep personal concern. On the eve of conversion to Christianity, while attending Yom Kippur services as a farewell gesture to his Judaism, Rosenzweig had emerged a Jew, “not only, not chiefly as a matter of group re-identification,” Ludwig wrote in the New York Herald Tribune, “but as one who, from that moment on, had experienced the nearness of God, the necessity of a Jew’s grasping the world from a Jewish centrality, the need of reaching that centrality by working from the periphery on which most modern Jews … live, to the external and immortal core.” Rosenzweig, not unlike Ludwig himself, had emerged from this experience determined to follow the tradition, “not as an act of ancestral piety nor as a safeguard, but in consequence of a total spiritual vision, the vision of Creation, Revelation, Redemption as the names of that process which is the universe.” Like Ludwig, he, too, had “awakened … from the opiates of inferential nihilism” and had found a voice that “spoke from soul to soul,” and from the “merciless relativism” of the “doctrine of man’s self-redemption through mechanical ‘improvements’ of the social order,” a notion now seriously in disrepute following a half century of war and upheaval.15
Aiming a second review of Glatzer’s book at American Jewry, suffering, as yet, from “so little spiritual unrest, so little metaphysical anxiety,” Ludwig attacked those many who “still feed on the apologetics of the emancipation, or pretend to themselves that Judaism is a purely rational religion and equate it with a withered and belated outworn liberalism.” Echoing themes he had raised in the Hillel essay, he spoke of their need “to penetrate to the depths of their own being … [and to] the sources of their being where alone peace and healing and wisdom are to be sought.” Rosenzweig’s work, as a part of the larger task of lernen, held up to Jews, young and old, a mirror “image of themselves and of their situation in the world,” from which might come “that first gleam of light, of recognition and self-recognition,” and “the turn, the teshuvah, the sudden illumination of a soul destined to come back from whatever alienation to serve the people of Israel and to re-accept God and his revelation … to grope and wander no more.”16
Those who knew Ludwig well must have known that he had written autobiographically in both reviews. On the day the first was submitted, he had spoken with colleagues of the “despair” and “terror,” the “utter dismay” he felt at seeing what was happening in the Soviet Union as Jews were being arrested and summarily executed, while Israel continued its attempt to forge relations with these murderers. He could be overwhelmed by these feelings, he wrote in his diary afterward, and at times had been, but he needed to save what energy he had left to continue the role revealed to him as a part of the teshuvah which he, like Rosenzweig, had experienced. With total conviction, he spoke of being in God’s hands, surrendering himself to his good fate and destiny.
At my age, having done the little that it was given me to do in my special field, with such talents as the Holy One, baruch hu [blessed be he], granted me—of what avail to any would it be if I undermined my strength by sorrow and anxiety? I shall go on doing what little I can and try to keep what serenity is possible. We are in God’s hands. Except for this—the fear of God. That is in man’s power and will. So we are taught and how truly! If man will not fear God and will flout his Law and will rush blindly to his own undoing—and that, just that—seems to be happening—those who do fear God in that special sense can but intensify their feeling and hope that intensification and prayer will not be wholly unavailing. I re-iterate my conviction that the world-picture bears out totally and completely the attitudes and beliefs of Judaism.17
Ludwig had spent several midwinter “days of rest and massages” at the seaside in Magnolia that year of 1953, a time for contemplating the journey taken and the few places yet untrod. The years with Louise had been “the most tranquil and happy of my whole life—a rare felicity when you consider that these years constitute the seventh decade.”18 Jim now seemed “so much improved,”19 enough that Ludwig could consider a return visit to Israel for a final look, to see what, in his own small way, he had helped to create, though finances and Louise’s health still placed restrictions on this wish.20 Even the attempts of influential friends, like Kurt Blumenthal’s try for a seventieth-birthday invitation from the Israeli government, were proving fruitless.21
There was need, as well, to come to some final understanding of his interlude with Edna, which at seventy still troubled him. He planned to spend the coming summer in Gloucester, and there would write a novel for Straus, “a novel that can sell,” one that “is stirring in my viscera.” Though worried that his sharpened intellect (“more powerful than ever”) might have come at the cost of “creative talent and passion,” he was determined to accomplish “a reconstruction and transmutation … of what was once—oh, not reality—but appearance … illusion.” He remained embarrassed and needed to put this sense of embarrassment behind him while he still could. Once the work was completed, he could then return to those other “things [which] deeply needed to be said,—not as whole truths but as dreadfully neglected aspects of truth … fundamental theoretical things that I want to write and may, and shall—please God—when the novel is done.”22 But Ludwig, unable to wait for the summer, moved ahead on the book during the Passover academic break, though houseguests interrupted his concentration and stole precious time. “A very dear and distinguished person, to be sure—but houseguests—as L[ouise] and I agreed—are not for us. The situation deflects me psychically and that is what I can no longer easily bear.”
Nor was he at all able to tolerate the agitation on campus against McCarthyism, for all his objection to the investigations and witch-hunting sweeping America. “I don’t like the Committees or their methods either,” he noted in mid-April, “but evil evokes evil and treason tyranny.” For Ludwig, both sides were at fault and had been for some time now, threatening the truths and values he had come to cherish as central to a good and meaningful life, and damaging to those who had fought hard and continuously to defend the right of free thought and expression. (His concern for the country’s security was secondary, at best.) Might there not be room now for reason on all sides, and for the realization that what so many honored with screams of “free speech, academic freedom, witch-hunt” was unworthy, even condemnatory, of all their efforts and of the very values they mistakenly believed it would support?
He was particularly upset with Brandeis, its student press and faculty, and with those Jewish writers and intellectuals outside it who were endangering the Jewish community in America by adding to the perception that Jews were communist traitors, a view fed by ongoing anti-Semitism. That the American people were “not yet rising up” against the Jews was attributable “thank god” to their being “an illiterate people.” Already, “everywhere in colleges the Jews are being hauled up before the investigating committees,” an image that evoked for him both Germany and Russia.23
Ludwig had already attacked these well-intended but misguided Jewish “humanitarian[s]” in a March review of the memoirs of British Jewish socialist publisher Victor Golancz. How foolish of them to seek to raise up the proletariat by radically restructuring society, as if it had not arisen “from the deepest monitions of the human group which lives by them … [and] shaped in the image of some ethnic and spiritual demand.” To overturn this organic development rather than build upon it was the central error of all those who at once “love freedom and dream of its destruction.” To cut off “the deep sources” upon which the good society must be built was to leave it to the will of the state, the results of which were all too clear. “Mr. Golancz and not a few of his contemporaries will furnish the documentation of a group and an age which had good will—the best will in the world—but neither intellectual scruples nor any deep sense of reality. Good will is not enough.”24
Two weeks later, at a public forum at Boston University shared with Howard Fast, James Farrell, and Allard Lowenstein, Ludwig repeated several of these charges. Warning that the call for nationalization of certain industries would ultimately lead to the “control by a small and uncontrollable bureaucracy” of the press as well, he questioned “the type of ‘liberalism’ which, especially among intellectuals, has been rampant in this country for the last 25 years” and which wrongheadedly favored such change.25 Such unthinking antilibertarianism among those who called themselves “liberals,” many of whom had yet to condemn the Stalinist regime, only confirmed the progression toward tyranny he had articulated four years earlier in a review of Peter Viereck’s Conservatism Revisited. Where, in all of this, was a sense of permanent values as a measure against which to judge the Soviets and this homegrown call for reform? Without such a vision, where might this current trend lead? “The first generation of liberals still lives on the accumulated capital of values and of valuing inherited from its forebears; the second generation goes in for a total relativism which is, in practice, moral nihilism; the third generation puts the nihilism into practice and sides with the totalitarian thug.”26
He had tried to counsel each of these political generations, and if “slightly ashamed of those moments of desperate fear that my life-work has been for nothing, gone for nothing,” he nevertheless worried, as his second seventieth birthday approached, if any of what he had done had made a difference, particularly among his own people. “It almost seems that in spite of a few feeble contrary signs the great game of servile obsequious assimilationism is as strong as ever even here, on this campus. I haven’t been in the least persuasive against what seems to me the vile degradation of attitudes.” Small comfort Nahum Glatzer’s remark about him to Jim, that “I’d come into my own 75 years from now. A bitterish joke,” Ludwig thought, “a coil of inextricable riddles.” How well would he handle the dedicatory issue of Congress Weekly being planned in his honor? “I’m frightened. Just frightened,” he admitted to his diary. “I could so much better have steeled myself to—nothing.” Appreciative of the gesture toward recognition, he vowed to “take the Congress Weekly with what gravity and patience I am able to summon,” keeping in mind “the genuine blessings and mitigations of my life” and the long summer of “refreshment and tranquility and writing yet to come.”27
“Got through the birthday in a half cynical mood,” he commented in his diary on June 1, the Congress Weekly issue having not yet been published, though three Brandeis colleagues had written tributes for the Boston Jewish Advocate.28 Glatzer’s pleased him most, speaking of Ludwig’s struggle for a “regeneration of Judaism from within” following his rediscovery of Judaism “as a mature man who had already won his fame” in the wider world of literature, “a name to conjure with.” His Judaism, Glatzer recognized, was “not the official, tame, apologetic, defensive, partisan, but the one glowing in the souls of believers, the one hidden in ancient scrolls; he discovered a daring and challenging faith” and had accepted it “as a whole, as it was and is, in all its genuine manifestations … [becoming] the powerful teacher of the remnant that was determined to return, the living consciousness of many more—and a severe censor of those who refused to forsake more promising philosophies.” If he had experienced rejection, such was “the fate of Jewish critics throughout the ages back to Moses and the prophets. They cannot compromise. The fire burns in their hearts; it will consume them if they fail to speak. They must speak whether or not people hear or refuse to hear.”29
“Bestaetigung,” Ludwig noted with self-reassurance, a “confirmation” of all he had attempted. How sadly different it was from Brandeis’s failure to issue even a statement to the press, or to hold some public event in his honor. Not that he was surprised, given “Sachar’s spiritual degradation.” Had he himself been “a cringing creeping assimilationist,” Ludwig posited, “there would have been fire-works.” Instead, Sachar “keeps himself safe by his disgusting flattery to my face. All this, of course, really a joke—a triviality. Only, added to the silence, it helps to strip me to the bite of the eternal winds, unhoused, homeless, alone.” Yet such was his fate, as Glatzer had so aptly explained, “for I am—among several others—the barometer of the spiritual state of the Jewish people.” With two-thirds of American Jewry’s youth filled with self-hatred, with congressional witch-hunts (“beastly in their methods unearth[ing] Jews”), should he have expected more? Even the Labor people in Israel were attacking men like himself—Buber, Blumenfeld, Ernst Simon, and others—men whose “very existence” troubled Ben-Gurion and his people, “even as goyim (pagans) are troubled by the very existence of the Jewish people.”30
There would be flattering testimonials yet to follow, with Maurice Samuel speaking of the future relevancy of Ludwig’s work in the spiritual regeneration of “both Galuth and homeland,”31 and Charles Glicksberg of Ludwig’s “mission as a Jew in the world: to bring light into dark places, to carry on the redemptive tradition of his people, to save mankind.”32 These would be added to selections from Ludwig’s work, chosen by him, and to a letter from Thomas Mann thanking him for his “precious … friendship … in this time of quarreling confusion”—all as part of the Congress Weekly issue of June 15.33 Letters of praise followed the issue’s appearance, from Jews and non-Jews alike, old allies like James G. McDonald34 and Robert Gordis,35 and friends such as George Viereck, who spoke of Ludwig’s having “gained not only the respect and admiration of non-Jews but the almost fanatical devotion of your own people.” Wishing him a still “long and fruitful life before winter comes,” Viereck recalled for Ludwig that “one singing road we travelled both together” so many years before. Signing the letter “once Putty,” he added his wish that while they “no longer sing,” perhaps their “roads will meet a few times more before the final farewell.”36
Ludwig was anxious now for the start of his summer rest. There were exams still to be given and graded, and the annual round of Arts Festival addresses to be delivered, though he “wonder[ed] why the hell I do, seeing the total attitude.” Was it “a perverted sense of duty,” or that continuing hope “that what I say may arouse some soul here and there”? “I do always say what I consider true and needful to be said,” and once said at commencement, it could be put aside in the greater “hope that the summer will be restful as well as creatively fruitful. Amen.”37 To ensure this respite, he would within the week decline offers to contribute to a book of poetry for the World Zionist Organization38 and to translate yet another volume for the Jewish Publication Society.39
The summer in Gloucester that followed his B’nai B’rith Institute lecturing in Pennsylvania passed pleasantly and productively as Ludwig first sorted out his thoughts for the novel and then began to write on July 1. “No God … no meaning … forgetfulness and ecstasy,” he first jotted in his journal, themes to be explored in a plot yet to be worked out. By August 16 the book was completed, written at the seashore as in his Paris years. Daily dips in the ocean, sometimes twice, proved therapeutic, allowing him to find the tranquillity and rest he needed for this last great creative effort. Jim was working at a summer camp in the Catskills, while Louise was beside him in Gloucester, caring for his needs and sharing in the creative process as his other wives had. Though he wanted to tell a story that had grown out of his past, he decided to make it “Present and not retrospective!”—hoping thereby to give it the immediacy and urgency of its theme (though In a Summer Season would not be published until April 1955).40
Didactically constructing story line and dialogue to critique contemporary society and individual shortcomings, Ludwig poured into his story much of what he had written and spoken of throughout the years concerning marriage, freedom, sexuality, bourgeois values, radical politics, and the like. It would be a tale for a wider audience, a last chance to address all who would listen. Modeled after Edna, Eve was unencumbered by convention, primordial, at once attractive and yet lost, playing out her role against the slow spiritual awakening of the story’s chief protagonist, Felix, who not unexpectedly found greater happiness in the quietness of his own soul than in her momentary offerings of sexual pleasure and intellectual jousting. “We saw ourselves in small clamor; we erect walls of words between our souls and our selves.… We flee the ample country of the soul and take refuge in the tangled alleys of exchanged opinions, in clatter and clamor and noise … to hide beneath words the difficult realities of the soul.”41
Like Felix, Ludwig had sought to strip all of this away. There had been some success, but not as fully as he had wished, not as fully as he could portray in fiction. He had striven after “Pure Life” like “the living of the flowers in that utter stillness. They were there—that was all. Self-sufficing, all-fulfilled, neither striving nor crying.” The analogy was not exact, for man’s “soul changes and its shaping vision changes and not, probably in all time, would he … be able to transmute the flowers and their pure life into the symbols of his need.” But their simplified existence was symbolic enough, reminding him of “how in early days in New York he had taken long walks, by preference in shabby and in foreign neighborhoods where life was not shut in after the well-bred fashion … where rather it overflowed … with clamor and color and passion and grief and contention.” Now these same streets, populated by a newly arrived Hispanic community, “with their tumult and stir [still] seemed to confirm silent monitions and perceptions … of life accepted here, in spite of heat and squalor…. He seemed to himself to absorb an implication from all he saw and heard: this is the way it is, has been, will be … and one makes one’s peace with it.”42 As one did with the universe and its God, and the death that comes to all, that “universal experience” which made imperative the pursuit of “some sort of perfection,” some way toward the good on one’s own terms, knowing “that every good choice and every good act has organic function, has meaning … keep[ing] at bay the wild, horrible, ungovernable misery of sin—the sin of cruelty, above all, the sin of murder.”43 This affirmation, beyond even the need for human love, was at the center of life, Ludwig insisted. “Faith, some kind of faith, a sufficient faith—that ultimate point from which a rational life can proceed to be lived.” This alone could stave the onslaught of evil. “Whatever history in my own lifetime teaches or not, it teaches that—that one thing.… There is a law of God to which man’s laws must conform … there is a God, a living God whom man outrages at his peril.”44
“Will I be able to hold on to this insight,” he worried, amid all the “chatter” of science, social problems, and the “wrongs of organized religion”? Perhaps he should hold his peace so that it would not be destroyed in the inevitable fray. It had been so difficult a struggle to reach this moment, to realize who he was after all he had been and experienced, to know that he was simply a man like other men, even like his father who pretended to disparage all talk of God, but who in the silence of his despair must have cried out to that source of life in the universe. Ludwig, at least, had found his God and, unlike his father, could seek him out as a continuing source of peace.
Who am I? A very humble person who must try to keep hold of the insight that has been granted him, who must try not to lose it again amid the clamor of the world…. And how am I to do that? Just how? “Standin’ in the need of prayer.” Yes, why not? I am convinced that in the quietude of his mind my father prayed…. Then why not I? Why not I? My situation as a human being is not one whit different from what my father’s was. In its essence, all accidents aside, the human situation is one: to live in goodness, to face death in hope. O God, found when sought, existing when needed, help Thou me too.45
The return to Brandeis in September brought with it further opportunities for struggle and frustration as Ludwig could not withdraw from the fray, much as a part of his soul had wanted him to. Dan Morgenstern, the son of Soma Morgenstern, whose novels Ludwig had translated, was a freshman that year and a frequent visitor to the Lewisohn home, encouraged in his frequency by Ludwig’s hope that, four years older than Jim (having spent the war years in Europe), he would provide a stabilizing influence. Morgenstern “disagreed [politically] with a lot of what [Ludwig] had to say,” yet “became quite fond of him … He was as peppery and opinionated as ever.… I loved to hear him talk.” But this fondness was shared by fewer numbers as the years had passed. “His position was rather strange at Brandeis,” Morgenstern could judge even as a student. Used in the early days of the university to lend it prestige and a higher degree of marketability, by the start of the sixth academic year Ludwig “no longer had any real influence and no longer was a ‘star.’ The younger faculty members and the hotshot students had little sympathy with his ideas and found him rather quaint.” Not that Ludwig allowed this turn to influence him. It had happened too often in the past to be of much consequence now. “He was till a presence,” Morgenstern remembered a quarter century after Ludwig’s death, “and when he had the opportunity to express himself … his skills as an orator and debater made him a formidable opponent.” Yet for all his willingness to assume the mantle when needed, “it was clear that he was frustrated, and that Brandeis was moving in a direction that was not to his liking.”46
Still, Ludwig must have smiled in those early weeks of the fall term when the issue of a Jewish chapel on campus was finally settled. The original plans had called for a single, interfaith building to be shared by all, but in January, Sachar had announced that separate structures would be erected for each of the three major faiths, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. In part driven by the donor’s wishes, in part because of the Catholic Church’s refusal to use a chapel that served other faiths, Sachar argued that the Berlin Chapel, “Jewish in design, does not mean that the non-sectarian principles on which the University is founded will be violated,” since there would be no compulsory attendance. It was a weak argument, but one presented to quell all anticipated objections.47
Sachar had, of course, miscalculated, as news of the decision ran in the Justice under the front-page banner headline “New Chapel Will Be Jewish Sponsored—And Sectarian.” An editorial accompanying the story outlined several issues to be considered by the student body as it sought to “clarify its own position in this matter”—that a “separate but equal doctrine” was being instituted; that the “establishment of religion … [was] a violation of the non-sectarian principles which the University espouses”; that criticism of the decision, given the university’s pledge to construct two additional chapels for the faiths on campus, “is an indication of the pervasive self-hatred which the Jews are unwilling to admit”; that a nonsectarian chapel with a revolving altar would offend people of all three faiths, “as a chapel is an altar to God, and its sacra are symbolic of a specific path to salvation.” News that there would be no compulsory attendance was accompanied by reference to Ludwig’s recent insistence at a Jewishly sponsored hospital that only kosher food be served in order to accommodate to those who observed this tradition, an example of what students need not fear happening to them, the editorial concluded.48
Ludwig had been quick to respond with a letter to the editors of the Justice, stating at the outset that his intention not to make a statement concerning the chapel, having agreed with the decision, had been set aside by misconceptions involving his name. He stated emphatically that he was “entirely and wholeheartedly” in support of the university’s nonsectarian policy, in admissions and wherever else it applied. Nor was he in favor of compelling religions practice of any kind, a position which would violate both his belief in the essential “voluntarism” of religion and his respect for other faiths. “Being a believer in my religion, I am necessarily full of understanding and sympathy for the religion of others.” Nonsectarian, however, did not mean “antireligious,” as some would wish it to, Ludwig further argued, but simply the principle that no religion would become the official faith of the university. As for the reference to his arguing in favor of a kashruth policy at a Jewish hospital, it had been irrelevantly cited. Yet, once cited, he had to explain his position. “Individual practice is between the individual and his conscience. But for Jews to raise non-observance to a principle is exceedingly dangerous to the survival of the Jewish people, and to reduce observant Jews to a minority within any institution frequented overwhelmingly by Jews is an act of deliberate irreverence to the innumerable fathers who begot and mothers who bore us and to the sacred memory of our martyrs in all ages and, above all, in this disastrous age.”49
The university’s student council next protested the plan to build separate chapels, while the Justice asked the trustees to reconsider it in an editorial titled “That Altar in the Field,” pointing to the decision as contradicting the “Master Plan of the University,” which called for the building of “an interfaith chapel which faithfully mirrors the University’s non-sectarian principle while preserving the integrity of each form of religious worship.”50 Debate then continued through the spring, with support coming from the Boston archdiocese51 and opposition from Brandeis students, faculty, and at least one trustee. “The crucial question and it is a question of values,” read the Justice editorial in March, “is whether the encouragement of religious expression should consist in an emphasis on religious differences or an emphasis on the common aspirations of all religions.”52 George Alpert, founding member of the trustees, argued that the building of separate chapels was a violation of all that he had worked for, claiming that Brandeis was neither “Jewish founded nor Jewish related … [but] non-sectarian in the broadest sense … [of] no dominant group.”53
But Alpert and the students were not to prevail on this issue, a first sign to Ludwig, perhaps, of a slowly awakening consciousness among those whom he had hoped to return to themselves. If he had any objection to all of this business, it was to the potential evils that “organization in itself” always carried, “of ambition, small lusts for power and position, pride in corporate strength.… Ruthlessness does creep in,” he had written in his novel that summer of 1953 as he contemplated at last seeing on campus the institution whose absence he had so often decried. Active for so long in the Jewish communal world, he knew of the potential shortcomings, of how the spirit could so easily be violated by worldly realities. “Yet we can’t get along without it,” he said of a house of worship. “Men have to act together for common purposes … so we must simply bear that minimum of evil and try to reduce it more and more.”54
Word of the trustees’ final approval of the plan, over Alpert’s and the students’ objections, reached the campus shortly after the vote on September 25,55 undoubtedly finding Ludwig pleased that a living symbol of the commitment to Jewish tradition was finally near at hand. On October 20, he addressed a Friday evening Sabbath service conducted by the Brandeis Hillel and attended by one hundred. Prayer, he told those gathered, had become for him more than just addressing God, which often in the past seemed unreasonable, the words not understood. Even now, when he knew their meaning, he saw equal value in their ability to give “a feeling of Jewish unity, both past and present, near and distant, which offers to the individual a greater spiritual feeling.” Ludwig urged those gathered to seek true freedom, not in an unstructured life, but by choosing that “code of behavior” found in the traditions of Judaism, including prayer.56
A month later, while participating in a panel discussion of existentialism, Ludwig again assaulted the secular attack on religion, finding in the “abstract game” of Sartre and the others nothing “beyond [their] nihilism.” Their denial of the “‘thou’ in any form … puts man in a state of superficial isolation.” Worse, it denied the ground upon which all values could rest, leaving the individual without direction. “After an excellent sociological demolition,” Ludwig said of Camus’s L'Homme révolté, he “offers nothing to replace the rubble.”57 Instead, a “Total Vision” out of which the moral life would become evident was needed. How clearly would “the unnaturalness of moral evil” then appear. This vision would require “no leap into faith,” Ludwig wrote in his journal as he prepared his talk. “Man and the universe compel it.”58
But nothing was ever that simple, and as another calendar year approached its end, Ludwig once again looked back at its passing and felt himself caught up, like so many others, in “the frantic confusions of the time.” There had now been “a seven month gap” since his last diary entry. “Good Lord,” he exclaimed, though not with total surprise, aware of “an inner reluctance” that had “to [be] overcome … again this morning. I had to determine not, after these several years, to let the diary go,” though this new entry would be among his last. “It is extremely difficult to sustain oneself in a world—a larger world, a smaller world—in which, according to unalterable inner certainties … nearly everyone rushed blindfold to that abyss [of godlessness].… One wants to warn, help, cry out! One is fettered, silenced and knows that in that being fettered, being silenced, lies the hopelessness of the situation.” Whether through the “false security … [of] incurable assimilationism” or “the pseudo-liberal conspiracy against the few like me … of a conservative or religious character,” his voice was being heeded with diminishing frequency. He seemed to be losing more ground than was being won.
Still worse, forces in the academy, “unbroken in power, arrogance, determination … [had] by a subtle coil of intricate treacheries and pressures taken away [freedom of speech] from anyone who does not subscribe to the current destructive superstitions. Publicly anti-anti-Communism, masking itself as anti-McCarthyism, silences and obliterates all protest.” This was particularly tragic among Jews, whose very survival depended on a sharper analysis of contemporary political minds. “Do they not observe the ganging up on the Medinath Yisrael [State of Israel] from the left? Do they not see what it means—the farther plunge of the world (including the U.S.A.) into Pagan barbarism? Do they not see that, if this deeper plunge into the abyss is not resisted no Jew (also no Christian, if there are any) will be safe?” Why, he asked, do these Jews “continue to lick every pagan boot and seek out pagan boots to lick”?
He found himself at year’s end “in a constant state of slight, jangled disharmony of mood.” Had he been a “drinking man,” he would have sought “release” through the bottle “oftener than I do.” Prayer, however, provided greater relief, and to it he found himself turning now with greater frequency. Together with thoughts of what was positive in his personal life—Louise and Jim (“doing reasonable—for him marvelously well”), the finished novel (“still nameless, still to be … subject of an editorial conference next month”), the Hillel booklet (“my one immediate comfort … proof-sheets”)—it would get him past this moment. “I, as always, do not quite lose my faith in God’s mercy which has been manifested to me, despite all miseries, so continually.”
He would, nonetheless, begin the new year of 1954 with thoughts of flight from its world. “To stand by, to seem to be implicated, to seem to consent—ah, that is hard.” He had done all he could do, short of stepping aside, separating himself. Perhaps that would be best, though he knew he could not, that such a gesture ran counter to his nature and his commitment. “I understand the monastic impulse, the impulse of the Perushim [Pharisees, separatists], the philosophy of separation from a hopeless world for that very world’s sake. For this world, both general and Jewish, fights against the few who would give help or hope,” he noted with despair on December 30,59 though retreating from the more extreme position of two weeks earlier when he had written in his journal, “Who will save it if not Perushim?”60
Separation, though sorely dreamed of by Ludwig, was again rejected in favor of the tumult of the world. It was his fate, as it had been that of the prophets. Life in the world, not escape from it, physically or spiritually, was the essence of his Judaism. But there were unmistakable signs that Ludwig’s energy, though not his enthusiasm, was beginning to lessen. On January 6, Louise began the first in a continuing series of responses to letters sent to him (“one of Ludwig’s teaching days so he asked me to write to you”), telling Grayzel of Ludwig’s continuing negotiations with Soma Morgenstern over several words in a manuscript he wanted Ludwig to translate for JPS.61 It was all that remained in the way of a firm commitment to undertake the work, though the monetary reward was negligible (five hundred dollars) and the time needed to do a first-rate job more than he wished to devote, both of which meant, more importantly, the expenditure “of limited strength which I truly need for other purposes,” as Ludwig himself had written Grayzel the previous October. Still, given its Holocaust theme, he felt an “element of moral obligation” which he was ready to fulfill, but only if “a certain philosophy” was removed. “I’ll be damned if I’ll translate” the manuscript otherwise, he assured Grayzel, repeating the objection he had raised some weeks earlier62 that Morgenstern had yet to
sufficiently (for me) cut out the implication that redemption (Erloesung) came from the Soviets. I will not and cannot put my name to a book in which on page one it is said that the strong Russian people unter dem roten Stern wiedergeboren wurde [were reborn under the Red Star]. Toward the end of the book these implications crowd. I have been anti-Soviet for purely Jewish reasons since 1922: I said and wrote and knew that the murder of Jews in the West and the murder of Jewishness in the East were equally horrible in ultimate moral intention. Hence I cannot translate the book, fine as it is, unless I can have Soma’s written agreement to such changes in the text as I think are required.63
Now, in early January, with teaching and a full schedule of lectures in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere for a variety of Jewish organizations, Ludwig could not “go ahead blindly.” The delay in securing Morgenstern’s promise to allow Ludwig editorial discretion had already begun to endanger the project and strain the friendship between the two men. Louise appealed to Grayzel on everyone’s behalf, asking that this remaining issue be resolved immediately.64
Nevertheless, while in Philadelphia to lecture at the University of Pennsylvania on January 26, Ludwig met with Grayzel65 and agreed to the translation. Though Morgenstern’s consent “for such slight but salient changes as I must make” had not yet been secured, Ludwig felt confident enough that JPS “wouldn’t … dare to publish the book … unless my changes stand.” There would be time enough for Morgenstern’s agreement, even if “like most very talented people he is very stiff-necked.” With three days of teaching each week and a string of lectures that would take him as far away as Dayton, Ohio, and Toronto (“additional money does represent the difference between a relative ease and pinching”), it would be late spring at the earliest66 before he could think of beginning what in his diary on February 20 he described as “Morgenstern’s brief, majestic but in spots perverse book.” Having made the commitment, he wondered if it would be worth the many days he would need to translate even so small a book. “Time is not elastic,” he noted yet again, and there were other things demanding his attention.67
A meeting with John Farrar two weeks earlier concerning In a Summer Season had left Ludwig with the task of making some “not too elaborate” changes to the novel. Bothersome, he thought of the request, and symbolic of the increasingly acceptable “notion abroad that editors should mess with authors’ copy for the authors’ own good.” What had happened to “faith in the artist”? Though he himself hadn’t a deep “artistic faith in this tale,” it was important for him to note, if only in his diary, that “the general notion is false and rotten.”68
What time and energy and creativity did remain to him was needed elsewhere. Perhaps he would at last write his historical novel involving Uriel Acosta’s challenge to traditional Judaism and its rabbinic authorities, a story with the “sharpest contemporary implications.” (“We must escape this formless swamp of universal relativism or [again!] the clotted mob will destroy freedom and evoke dictator and terror,” he wrote as its central theme.) And then there was the “short, sharp book: The Heretic’s Handbook,” to which he had given some thought already, and would again, “the heretic being here, of course, the proponent of permanent truth.”69 As he would outline in his journal a week later, the book would discuss the essential need for education in a democracy, those abuses of the “Wicked Capitalist” best addressed by the prophet Amos, and that “failure of nerve” which had allowed so many to borrow a false comfort by repeating how “Everything is O.K.,” and would conclude by pointing to the curative “Total Vision” in Judaism and Christianity. “Social action, social meliorism does not ameliorate … statistics do not establish values. It teaches no aught. Pursuit of perfection by halachah,” he would stress in the final entry to his quarter-century-old journal.70
Above all else, though, there were still so many who awaited his arrival on the lecture circuit, who appeared hungry for some insight, some direction. Regardless of his many protestations, he could record that February how “It does refresh me to get among people where my views have some weight.” Unfortunately, this was “not the case on this appalling campus,” he added with anger.71 Despite some modest but positive changes at Brandeis regarding Jewish observance and cultural life, he felt as though he had had so little impact precisely where he had in these last years given so much of himself. Sachar had appeared to confirm this assessment when, in October, he had denied charges by Trude Weiss-Rosmarin in the Jewish Spectator that Ludwig had been shown “contempt” by those at Brandeis with whom he disagreed on Jewish issues, though he added that Ludwig’s “points of view are not widely shared.”72 Ludwig, however, saw their differences as broader than this one issue. Noting in his diary on February 20 that “the presence continues,” he spoke of his colleagues as “‘liberals’ and technicians—almost no humanists, no men of the contemplative life, of the permanent insights. The head professor of chemistry, being on an educational policy committee which is attacking our school of general education—the fundamental requirements for Freshmen and Sophomores—is said to have said: ‘I’ve had only one year of a foreign language and I’m a pretty good chemist.’ Dolt. We’re not here to turn out chemists but human beings, Menschen.”73 This alone was the key to any future worth having. All else, even the best of human intentions, Zionism included, was left wanting without this ingredient.
How, then, to come to it, he asked, if not through education in the deepest sense? In an essay written during these February days as a memorial to Hayim Greenberg—a Zionist leader and educator with whom Ludwig had shared meetings of the Zionist Emergency Council and the many endlessly sleepless train rides carrying them through the night to one more wartime rally or to another gathering in support of the Yishuv in the final days of the British Mandate—Ludwig spoke autobiographically of the insight he shared with Greenberg, but with “so tragically few [others] in our time.” What had prevented the many movements and attempts at reform, educational and otherwise, from achieving lasting solutions to the world’s sufferings if not their failure to address the “immortal longings” of humanity? As in Ludwig himself, this insight had
sprung from an even deeper and rare and precarious and lonely conviction of his, namely that secularism is not enough. Not enough. It is not nothing. It may serve a given day’s immediate need on that day. It has mightily served the organizational and instant practical needs of Zionist effort. But it is transitory; it falters and fades; it becomes perverted; it is subject to any process of decay or corruption from any quarter, from any source. For it is not conformable to the nature and needs of such a being as man in such a world as the present, nor above all, to such a being as the Jew with his history, his instincts, as history and his original character have shaped them.
Few at Brandeis had seen past their test tubes and sociological surveys, with their hopes of manipulating the physical universe or engineering society—few knew as Ludwig and his old friend had, “that our values cannot be validated unless a metaphysical source of validation exists and that, unless our values can be validated, life and history can have no meaning.” Quoting Greenberg in words which he himself had preached from pen and pulpit, Ludwig spoke of that source of life from which all moral authority derived, binding one person to another, and each to the universe of which he was a part, that source which could be denied between individuals, but not by the individual’s own inner voice or deepest religious desires, which gave the lie to “the whole web of the superstitions of materialism and nihilism.” “‘Religion is, from a certain point of view, the product of human inability to acquiesce to an unmoral or amoral world-totality.’ This cosmos—this—shaped us after this fashion and so it is our ‘moral sense,’ product of this universe, which demands the ‘assumption that within this cosmos there exists an even higher moral awareness which would preclude total annihilation as an epilogue to human fate.’ Poets and saints have always been the unafraid, the heroes, and the heretics, the ‘untimely’ ones to whom the age, their own age, does not pay heed, but who prove to be the ‘timeless’ ones when history has spoken its succeeding words,” Ludwig concluded in assessing them both.74 Two weeks later, speaking again to the Brandeis Hillel on Shabbat, he urged the students to overcome the “internal barbarism” of their time, this desire not to take the sometimes lonely and heroic stand but to follow the crowd mindlessly, wherever it might be heading. “All generations have challenges,” and this was theirs. Without meeting it, there could be no self and no democracy.75
Sensing time now rapidly growing shorter, Ludwig seized every invitation to lecture. In a single week that April, he was in Cleveland, Duluth, and Springfield, Illinois. Louise continued to handle most of his correspondence, even to old friends like Viereck, to whom she described Ludwig’s “hectic year” of teaching, lecturing, and writing, all of which “leave him so little time…. But we are looking forward to going back to Gloucester for the summer and that’s the best rest cure that exists.” All were well, she told him,76 though Ludwig himself, writing to Grayzel about the need to wait till summer’s end for the Morgenstern translation, gave as one reason for the delay “spells of anxiety about the health of both Louise and Jimmy, both now, baruch ha-shem [thank God]—restored.” 77
The publication of What Is This Jewish Heritage? that May undoubtedly worked its own restorative powers upon Ludwig’s spirit. An initial printing of three thousand copies was soon followed in June by a second three thousand.78 Additional printings would follow for more than a decade, with a Schocken paperback ten years after its first appearance that included selections from Israel, The Answer, and The American Jew in place of Ludwig’s own short list of suggested readings.79 Heritage was an immediate success, far more than Ludwig had allowed himself to hope, as if to compensate for and vindicate years of effort in a single movement of recognition by the thousands who read and the far greater numbers who heard their rabbis and others speak of it in synagogues and lecture halls throughout Jewish America. Arthur Lelyveld, then executive director of Hillel nationwide, had read The American Jew and, perceiving its importance and the need for an even shorter treatment of the issues it discussed, had gambled perceptively in requesting Heritage from Ludwig.80 Abraham Joshua Heschel, deeply impressed by the work, wrote Ludwig that “your little [book] will be a great help. It is a clear and powerful voice. I have read and I could also hear it. It is a service you have rendered.”81
Ludwig would render one last bit of service before leaving for his summer in Gloucester. Joseph Blau had argued against private, particularly religious, schools in the May issue of the Jewish Frontier, maintaining that public education was essential for the continuance of democracy in America. Ludwig, acrimoniously criticized by Blau four years earlier for what he had perceived as The American Jew’s call for Jewish self-ghettoization, took this opportunity to respond by holding that true freedom lay not in leveling down, but in raising up the uneducated to the highest possible levels, something which the public schools, educationally mediocre at best and designed to melt the entire pot’s ingredients into an undifferentiated stew, could never accomplish. Rather than promote liberty, these public institutions destroyed it. They were truly undemocratic and a danger to the very political freedom Blau believed he would enhance by supporting them.
To “really train men to be free in a free society,” they needed perspective and choice, without which they could not discern good from evil, or act upon their discernment. The study of classical texts and language, of histories not common to the time and place of the moment—that is, what was taught in these religious schools, Jewish and Catholic, and misconstrued as parochial—was the truly democratic training needed. “Freedom is neither whim nor conformity,” but the product of choice. “What kind of man will make what kind of choice, embrace what public issue, vote for what candidate, cooperate in what spirit and to what end in his community?” Will he be “running with the pack,” or would he have the ability to make those principled choices which “demand discrimination, [and] critical wisdom?… It is our moral duty,” Ludwig maintained, not to level downward, but “to act as though most men were capable of wisdom and goodness and to shape our education toward that end implied in that hope.” The current struggle against public education was a result of the recognition that only the religious schools could adequately answer this need. “It is from such cognitions, however dim and dimly understood, that the present revolt against the public schools has arisen. The instinct of simple people to raise the issue in terms of religion, in terms of secularist nihilism, tinctured by Christmas carols, of the public schools, has been sound enough. For freedom of faith and worship is in very truth the crux, core, center of all freedom and with it is inevitably integrated the freedom to pass on to one’s posterity one’s faith, one’s morals, the deepest monitions of one’s soul.”
Jews need not have feared this slowly growing movement toward the privatization of education from a denominational perspective, Ludwig asserted. Though apprehension was understandable given their martyred history, the Jewish day school offered the best preparation for life in America as a Jew. Arguing as an increasing number of American Jews would a generation later, Ludwig spoke prophetically out of the ache in his own soul for what he had missed as a child, for what had sent him along a long road of despair, and for what could never wholly be recovered. Assimilated Jews, “frightened in inverse ratio to the depth and authenticity of their Judaism,” must drop their “pitiful fear” of appearing Jewish and, “as a protective measure,” their main hope “that they can somehow manage an apparent non-differentiation, a blank unfeatured Americanism of some kind.” It could not work. Nor would it enable their children to better function as Americans, as “self-sustaining personalities who can deal with others” because they know “their faith, their form, their station in history.” It was time to be what one was and to allow one’s children to assume their proper places in the larger order of a universe they had not created.
If the melting-pot or the human sand-heap is ever achieved, which God forbid, for that way lies the slave-state—then, indeed, personality and authenticity and historic differentiation will have ceased to exist. We shall all be babbling a party-line in basic English or Esperanto. But so long as we nurture any hope, so long as we are not defeatists of humanity itself, we shall know with an unerring knowledge that a child who is an instructed Jew with a reasonable command of the Hebrew language will be able to face its American world and co-operate in those American purposes that are common to us all, with literally infinitely higher and more spontaneous assurance, than the poor Jewishly and generally illiterate child who has practiced all through its earlier years a strange, humiliating kind of self-suppression in the service of a conformity that is not his own, that is not otherwise than ignobly motivated—by fear, by aping, by the suppression of all that is humanly best within him. How often must it be repeated, that stern monition of the ages? We are born Jews; we live as Jews; we die as Jews. No aping, no self-protective huddling with Gentiles, no deliberate Jewish ignorance will change that basic fact. In the measure in which we are authentic Jews will we be able to face a world, to deal with a world of other authentic human beings of other kinds, of other traditions, of other faiths. Total self-obliteration is, of course, death. But partial self-obliteration is worse than death. It is life upon terms so ignoble as to be not fit to live.82