The New York Intellectuals: Some Personal History

The New York Intellectuals: Some Personal History

The early New York intellectuals have written so much about themselves, and so many others have written about them, that it seems superfluous to sketch out who they were, where they came from, and which issues most engaged them. It is well understood that they came of age between the wars, that nearly all of them were drawn during the Great Depression to some form of Marxism or radical socialism, that most of them were Jewish and came from working-class backgrounds, that few of them imagined they would ever hold university positions, and that they came together as a group only in their break with Stalinism—first as independent radicals at Partisan Review in the late thirties, then as anti- communists at PR and Commentary in the decade after the war, and finally, in assorted political guises, at Dissent, the New York Review of Books, and various neoconservative journals, where they fell into sharp political and cultural disagreements and ceased to have a single coherent identity. To summarize their itinerary in this way suggests we are dealing with a purely historical phenomenon, an affair of perhaps two generations with little relevance today except as the background of some influential conservative intellectuals.

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