Whose Elephant?

Whose Elephant?

Civic Nationalism and the Left

The question of the left’s relationship to American patriotism brings to mind the story about a European intellectual √©migr√© who, discovering the Bronx Zoo, wrote an essay on “The Elephant and the Jewish Question.” The left, a kind of borderless people with an international agenda, probably has had more to do with Jews, another borderless people, than with the elephant of American patriotism. The two wandering “peoples” overlap politically and demographically: more leftist thought than we acknowledge is a secularized variant of the original Jewish idea of history-making through covenantal and messianic redemption-a thundering of God in the world, through human agency. Surely a disproportionate number of the left’s thinkers and leaders, starting with Karl Marx, fled their ancestral Jewish burden of chosenness in history by secularizing it. Don’t tell me there was no “chosen” people in the vanguard of the proletariat and no messianism in Marxism.


Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale University. He is working on a book about new conceptions of American national identity.


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