Subscribe to The Occidental Observer Newsletter and be notified of updates through emails. To subscribe, go to our Subscribe Page
Eric P. Kaufmann's The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America
July 29, 2009
Editorial note: This is an elaborated version of an article appearing on VDARE.com: Suicide — Or Murder? Kaufmann's Rise and Fall of Anglo-America
Table of Contents
Eric P. Kaufmann’s The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America presents the case that Anglo-America committed what one might call “suicide by idea”: White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants were motivated to give up ethnic hegemony by their attachment to Enlightenment ideals of individualism and liberty. Anglo-Americans simply followed these ideals of the Enlightenment to their logical conclusion, with the result that immigration was opened up to all peoples of the world, multiculturalism became the cultural ideal, and Whites willingly allowed themselves to be displaced from their preeminent position among the elites of business, media, politics, and the academic world.
Kaufmann explicitly rejects the proposal that the decline of Anglo-America occurred as a result of some external force. His view is therefore an important contrast to my view that the rise of Jews to elite status in the United States and particular Jewish intellectual and political movements (e.g., the movement to open immigration to all the peoples of the world) were critically necessary (not sufficient) conditions for the collapse of White America. My view is that the outcome was the result of ethnic conflict over the construction of culture. Indeed, the fall of Anglo-Saxon America is a textbook case of how deadly the conflict over the construction of culture can be.
In this review, I will show where Kaufmann goes wrong — mainly by committing sins of omission in ignoring the Jewish role in the decline of Anglo-America. But it must be said that he provides a fascinating historical overview of the decline of Whites in the US. As he notes, it was not very long ago that America strongly asserted that it was a nation of Northwestern Europeans and intended to stay that way. The 1924 Johnson-Reed Act was carefully designed to preserve the ethnic status quo as of 1890, thereby ensuring the dominance of Anglo-Americans. In 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act reiterated the bias toward Northwestern Europe and was passed over President Truman’s veto.
But only a decade later, in the 1960s, White America began the process of ethnic and cultural suicide:
By the 1960s, as if by magic, the centuries-old machinery of WASP America began to stall like the spacecraft of Martian invaders in the contemporary hit film, War of the Worlds. In 1960, the first non-Protestant president was elected. In 1965, the national origins quota regime for immigration was replaced by a “color-blind” system. Meanwhile, Anglo-Protestants faded from the class photos of the economic, political, and cultural elite — their numbers declining rapidly, year upon year, in the universities, boardrooms, cabinets, courts, and legislatures. At the mass level, the cords holding Anglo-Protestant Americans together began to unwind as secular associations and mainline churches lost millions of members while the first truly national, non-WASP cultural icons appeared. (pp. 2–3)
While it is certainly true that other ethnic groups have gone into historical decline or have been replaced by force, the decline of Anglo-America seems mysterious. There are no conquering armies that would easily explain their impending exit from the stage of history.
But despite its obvious importance as an historical phenomenon, as Kaufmann notes, there has been almost no academic attention to the causes of this very precipitous decline. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid, at least until the losers of this revolution are safely relegated to a powerless position.
In the first section, I sketch how a segment of elite White intellectuals saw themselves and America in the nineteenth century. This is an important part of Kaufmann's narrative because he argues that the seeds of the displacement of Whites were sown in earlier centuries and merely came to fruition in the 1960s and later. The following are the main conclusions:
Many elite White intellectuals and political figures correctly saw that individualism and universalism were ethnic traits traceable to their Germanic ancestors.
White liberals during the 19th century often had a muddled view of race, thinking that environmental changes would quickly alter racial traits.
Even White liberals imagined that in the future America would be populated by people like them — White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Liberal attitudes on race were part of elite culture emanating from the Puritan strand of American culture, and already in the 19th century there was a gap between elite and popular attitudes.
Freedom, Representative Government, and Individualism as Anglo-Saxon Ethnic Traits
Confident assertions of White ethnic identity are virtually non-existent these days. However, Kaufmann shows that in the 18th and 19th centuries, Anglo-Americans had a strong sense that they were the biological descendants of freedom loving Anglo-Saxon tribes: “The New England town meeting was likened to the Anglo-Saxon tribal council, and the statements of Tacitus regarding the free, egalitarian qualities of the Anglo-Saxons were given an American interpretation” (p. 18). (For example, Tacitus: "The king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears.")
The “Yeoman farmer” was considered the ethnic prototype. After drafting the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson stated that Americans are “the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honour of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed” (pp. 17–18; emphasis in text).
Similar statements of ethnic confidence were common among intellectuals and politicians in the period preceding the Mexican-American war. For example, in 1846 Walt Whitman wrote, “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico … to do … with the mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?” (p. 22).
As a cultural historian, Kaufmann interprets ethnic self-conceptions as myths. But in fact it is entirely reasonable to look for the peculiar traits and tendencies of Europeans as adaptations to prolonged life in a situation characterized by harsh climates and the relative absence of between-group competition. I have argued that evolution in the North has predisposed Europeans to the following two critical traits that are entirely unique among the traditional cultures of the world:
1. A de-emphasis on extended kinship relationships and a relative lack of ethnocentrism.
2. A tendency toward individualism and all of its implications: individual rights against the state, representative government, moral universalism, and science.
In other words, Jefferson was quite probably correct to view the Anglo-Saxon tendencies toward individualism and representative government as ethnic traits. A critical feature of individualism is that group boundaries are relatively permeable and assimilation is the norm. As Kaufmann notes, even in the 19th century, individualism resulted in assimilation rather than maintaining impermeable boundaries with other Whites: “Interethnic relations followed a pattern of Anglo-conformity. … Immigrants were to be made into American WASPs by absorbing American English, American Liberty, and American Protestantism and, ultimately, by intermarrying with Americans” (p. 19).
For example, in the late 18th century, the response to large-scale German settlements in Pennsylvania was to reject German-American separatism and a multicultural model of America. Attempts to make German an official language and have laws written in German were rebuffed. German-Americans began Anglicizing their names to better fit into the American milieu.
There was an assumption, even among many liberals, that these ethnic others would look and act like Anglo-Americans. In the 19th century, liberals typically had “an optimistic, expansionist Anglo-conformism that accepted the immigrants, provided they looked like Anglo-Protestants and assimilated to the WASP mytho-symbolic corpus” (p. 37).
Double Consciousness: The Tension between Individualism and Ethnic Identity
Nineteenth-century American intellectuals tended to have what Ralph Waldo Emerson called a “double consciousness” — a tendency to think of America as committed to a non-racial liberal cosmopolitanism as well as a tendency to identify strongly with their Anglo-Saxon ethnicity. This fits with individualism because the ideal is to assimilate others rather than to erect strong ethnic boundaries.
During this period expressions of double consciousness can be found among the intellectual elite in which assertions of Anglo-Saxon ethnicity coexisted with statements of universalism.
Emerson himself was an example of double consciousness. He wrote that America was “the asylum of all nations. … [T]he energy of Irish, Germans, Swedes, Poles and Cossacks, and all the European tribes, of the Africans and Polynesians, will construct a new race … as vigorous as the new Europe which came out of the smelting pot of the Dark Ages.” This very clear statement of universalism co-existed with the following statement from around the same time: “It cannot be maintained by any candid person that the African race have ever occupied or do promise ever to occupy any very high place in the human family. … The Irish cannot; the American Indian cannot; the Chinese cannot. Before the energy of the Caucasian race all other races have quailed and done obeisance” (pp. 44–45).
Despite Kaufmann’s claims, these ideas are not really contradictory — the idea that there are differences between the races is compatible with the idea that eventually the races will amalgamate and be better for it. In his book English Traits, Emerson acknowledges racial differences: “Race is a controlling influence in the Jew who, for two millenniums, under every climate, has preserved the same character and employments. Race in the negro is of appalling importance” (p. 27). However, he maintains that racial boundaries are weak and that “the best nations are those the most widely related; and navigation, as effecting a worldwide mixture, is the most potent advancer of nations” (p. 28).
What is odd is Emerson’s belief that the English race could remain the English race even after absorbing other races. Emerson thought that immigrants to America would literally be assimilated to the English race: The “foreign element [in America], however considerable, is rapidly assimilated,” resulting in a population of “English descent and language” (my emphasis). This is an example of the muddled thinking on race that was characteristic of many intellectuals during the 19th century.
Kaufmann reviews the various strains of 19th-century liberalism that de-emphasized White or Anglo-Saxon identity. These were not majority views, but they do point to a robust strand among secular and religious intellectual elites associated with a New England Puritan background in the direction of a deracinated cosmopolitanism. Emerson, certainly, was a liberal, as were his fellow Transcendentalists and Unitarians.
Muddled Thinking about Race: The influence of Lamarck
The bottom line is that, as Kaufmann says, “a good case can be made that ethnic (“race”) thinking in the nineteenth century was largely a muddled, incoherent enterprise” (p. 54). The basic problem was that these thinkers were Lamarckians — that is, they believed that people could inherit traits that their ancestors had acquired during their lifetimes. With Lamarck rather than Darwin as inspiration, race and culture were conflated. Liberal intellectuals thought that blacks would become white with more education, like “the running of a dirty stream into a pellucid lake which eventually clears leaving no trace of mud” (p. 56). Immigrants of all strains could become good Anglo-Saxons.
Lamarck's theory has always been a darling of the left because it holds the promise that inherited traits can easily be changed simply by changing the environment. It is no accident that Lamarckism became official ideology in the Soviet Union (and among many Jewish leftists) precisely because it implied that it would be quite easy to mold the new Soviet man — or, as Lysenko thought, to develop crops that could flourish in cold climates.
In the hands of the Anglo-Saxon assimilationists, Lamarckism was part of the optimistic spirit of elite 19th-century liberal intellectuals who envisioned a future America to be people just like themselves, no matter what their origins.
Self-interest and Liberal Ideology. An ethnic tendency toward individualism makes people less likely to erect barriers to other groups. But individualists are certainly capable of developing a sense of ethnic identity. In fact, we have seen that it was quite common for Anglo-Saxons to think of individualism as resulting from their ethnic heritage. However, individualists are relatively less ethnocentric, and as a result it is relatively easy for other motivations to predominate. These motivations can range from libertarian self-actualization to self-interested business practices that, for example, promote non-White immigration if there are economic benefits to be had.
Kaufmann points to a general tendency — still apparent today — in which elite Protestants made alliances with immigrant groups (including non-White immigrants such as Chinese on the West Coast in the 1870s) to encourage immigration. These forces opposed the forces of ethnic defense represented by middle and working class Anglo-Protestants of both parties. "To quell dissent within their party, Republican elites accused their populist wing of racism and ethnic bigotry” (p. 59) — a trend that remains quite common today.
As is the case today, people with the most liberal attitudes were not personally threatened by upholding liberal attitudes (e.g., pro-Chinese immigration in areas where there were no Chinese). Or liberals imagined that “divine providence ... would keep Chinese numbers in the United States to a minimum” (p. 65). Again, there is quite a bit of muddlement: Republicans like William Seward “who backed equal rights for blacks and favored Chinese immigration, fervently believed in the separation of the races and in the homogeneity of the nation” (p. 65).
Four American Liberal Intellectual Traditions from the late 19th century to the present: Libertarian Anarchism, Liberal Protestantism, Academic Cultural Determinism, and the Secular Left
Americans like myself who are distressed at the decline and displacement of Whites, the rise of multiculturalism, and massive non-White immigration must acknowledge the strong strands of American culture that have facilitated these phenomena. On one hand, individualism and its cluster of related traits (moral universalism, science) are the basic features of Western modernization — the features that have allowed Western cultures to dominate the world and to colonize areas far away from their European homeland.
On the other hand, because of its relative lack of ethnocentrism and its tendencies toward assimilation rather than erecting ingroup/outgroup barriers, an important strand of American individualism has been to develop wildly optimistic and idealistic theories of the American future. We have seen that liberal theorists of the 19th century saw a future America as dominated by people who looked and thought like themselves: Even people from different races would ultimately become White Anglo-Saxon and Protestant no matter what their racial background.
Kaufmann points to four different liberal intellectual traditions all of which had their origin in the 19th century and all still present today. Each of them may be seen as a different expression of individualism.
Libertarian Anarchism. The 19th-centuiry liberal intellectual tradition of the Transcendentalists and Unitarians stemmed from the Puritan tradition centered in New England and its elite universities. Another strain of New England liberalism is represented by the libertarian anarchists, typified by Benjamin Tucker, a believer in unfettered individualism and opposed to prohibitions on non-invasive behavior (“free love”, etc.). But even these libertarians were conscious that their attitudes sprang from their ethnic heritage. As Kaufmann notes, “the radical tradition [of anarchic individualism] did not necessarily point in a cosmopolitan direction, but, as with radical figures, such as Thomas Jefferson, Horace Greeley, Emerson, and Walt Whitman, often reinforced ethnonational pride. … Anarchist logic did not wipe clear all traces of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant attachment. Evidently, the cosmopolitan paradigm had yet to fully shake its cognitive ballast of dominant ethnicity” (pp. 88–89).
A large part of the vision of what Kaufmann calls the “expressive pathfinders” in the early 20th century was a rebellion against small-town Protestant America, its sexual repression, and its other mores which resulted in exclusion of some (e.g., homosexuals). This expressive individualist avant-garde culture of New York was not significant in the 19th century, being overshadowed by the genteel radicalism emanating from New England. The new Bohemians in Greenwich Village (ca. 1910–1917) were led by Max Eastman (1883–1969) and defined themselves by cultural liberation defined as freedom from constraints—an early version of 1960s hippies: self discovery, emotion over logic, intuition, rebellion, free love, Black jazz, and leftist politics. They developed an ingroup ideology that functioned like a pseudo-ethnic identity: They had shared attitudes as boundary markers, founding myths, iconic figures, and a utopian vision of an expressive, egalitarian future. Another important figure in this mold was H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) who opposed Puritanism as “moralistic, aesthetically barren and an impediment to American intellectual development” (p. 153).
Many were in open rebellion against the Christian, small-town culture they grew up in. Rebels like Hutchins Hapgood were attracted to Jews because they were the “other”: “I was led to spend much time in poor resorts of Yiddish New York, through motives neither philanthropic nor sociological, but simply by virtue of the charm I felt in men and things there.” Horace Kallen, the Jewish philosopher of cultural pluralism, commented in 1915 on the effects of the individualism of American intellectuals of the period:
The older America, whose voice and spirit were New England, has … gone beyond recall. Americans of British stock still are prevailingly the artists and thinkers of the land, but they work, each for himself, without common vision or ideals. They have no ethos, any more. The older tradition has passed from a life into a memory. (quoted by Kaufmann as an epigraph to Chapter 7, p. 144)
Expressive individualism remained a marginal phenomenon until it became an integral part of the counterculture of the 1960s — especially the hippie component of the 1960s counterculture. At that point, it became ingrained in American mass culture as a component of “Left-wing modernism” (p. 204), spreading “from the intellectual elite to the better-educated sections of the political and economic elite: the mass media, executive, judiciary, and top bureaucrats” (p. 205). The movement of expressive individualism to the center of American culture therefore followed rather than preceded the major cultural changes brought about, in Kaufmann’s view, by the success of the New York Intellectuals (see below). Expressive individualism therefore cannot be seen as causing the eclipse of Anglo-America.
Liberal Protestantism. Kaufmann notes several strains of liberal Protestantism in 19th-century thought. The Free Religious Association (founded in 1867) was a more liberal offshoot of the Unitarians — the most liberal strain of American religion. But again the members of the FRA thought of their liberal attitudes as stemming from their ethnic heritage. After stating that his religious movement intended to humanize (not Christianize) the entire world, Francis E. Abbot, founder of the FRA, stated “The rest I need comes no longer from spiritual servitude, but must be sought and found in the manly exercise of freedom. It is to those who feel this Anglo-Saxon instinct of liberty stirring in their hearts that my words are addressed, — not to those who feel no galling pressure from the easy yoke” (p. 90; my emphasis).
Merrill Gates (1848–1922), President of Rutgers College and a Congregationalist preacher, also combined his religious commitments with a belief that his political attitudes stemmed from his ethnic heritage: “There is no other ‘manifest destiny’ for any man [than Liberty]…. To this we [liberals] are committed, by all the logic of two thousand years of Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon history, since Arminius … made a stand for liberty against the legions of Rome” (p. 90). Kaufmann points out that “we should bear in mind that FRA members at this point had failed to relinquish their Anglo-Protestant psychic redoubts, and none spoke of stripping the nation of its implicitly white, Anglo-Saxon, or Protestant heritage” (p. 91).
Many Protestants believed that all Americans would eventually voluntarily become Protestants. Religious leaders, particularly Methodists and Baptists, rejected the idea of writing Christianity into the US Constitution, but they retained the belief that the U.S. government was Christian. “Anglo Protestants wanted their tradition to be supreme, but their universalist liberal commitments would not countenance boundary-defining measures of legislative origin” (p. 47). Christianity would retain its special place by persuasion, not coercion. As indicated below, the liberal cosmopolitanism of the late 20th century has taken the opposite strategy: Once it achieved power, it developed strong overtones of coercion, including attempts to limit freedom of speech and remove people from their jobs for beliefs and attitudes that conflict with the cosmopolitan zeitgeist — an indication that liberal cosmopolitanism of the late 20th century is in a critical sense not in the individualist tradition of America.
Moreover, even though they did not approve of Catholicism, Protestant religious leaders in the 1840s did not oppose Catholic immigration, believing that they could convert them to “the ‘American’ faith” (p. 47) and absorb them into the Anglo-Saxon race. Indeed, all races would immigrate to America for the new millennium: In the words of a prominent Baptist, “In the gathering of all nations and races upon our shores, do we not witness the providential preparation for a second Pentacost that shall usher in the millennial glory?” (p. 49). All races would be absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon race, their better qualities absorbed, “yet remaining essentially unchanged” (p. 49). Kaufmann comments that “it is necessary to understand that liberal and Anglo-Protestant attitudes were not opposing viewpoints, but part of the same myth-symbol complex of dualistic ethnic beliefs whose contradictions were obscured by a giddy, expansionist spirit of optimism’ (p. 50).
Indeed, this is an extreme form of egocentrism. What the good minister is saying is that all peoples will eventually assimilate in race and religion to look and behave pretty much like he does.
The period from 1900–1910 also saw the beginnings of a liberal Protestant elite willing to sacrifice the dream of conversion for universalist, humanitarian ethics. The idea that Anglo-Saxons would convert the world to Protestant Christianity—common in the late 19th century—faded after 1910. This elite was more open to religious relativity and criticized the implicit Whiteness of Christian missionaries. The Federal Council of Churches (FCC, estab. 1908) became a key organizing body for liberal Protestantism. In 1924, at the time when the US Congress was overwhelmingly passing an immigration restriction bill biased toward immigration from Northwestern Europe, the FCC resolved that
the assumption of inherent racial superiority by dominant groups around the world is neither supported by science nor justified by ethics. The effort to adjust race relations on that basis and by the use of force is a denial of Christian principles of the inherent superiority of ethical values and the supreme worth of personality. As it applies to the white and Negro people in America it is a philosophy that leads only to suffering and despair. (p. 124)
The FCC used universalist passages from the New Testament rather than passages reflecting Jewish ethnic interests from the Old Testament. This was an elite point of view, and there was a major gap with popular attitudes. The 1920s saw the Protestant masses devoted to immigration restriction and fearful of Communism and other forms of political radicalism associated with immigrants, with many sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan. Despite these popular sentiments, the Protestant media and ministers in the North and the South attacked the KKK throughout the 1920s. Some liberal ministers were forced to leave their congregations because of popular attitudes.
This elite established itself at the highest levels of the culture well before the final fall of Anglo-America: “From 1918 to 1955, the concept of national identity held by Anglo-Protestant university administrators, intellectuals, federal bureaucrats and the federal executive underwent a shift from a WASP conception to a more pluralist construct” (p. 130). This elite attitude embraced pluralism rather than assimilation.
But Liberal Progressivism was not characteristic of the great mass of American Whites: Liberal Progressives “soon found themselves marginal not only to American society, but to the Progressive mainstream as well” (p. 105). During the 1920s there was a rise of fundamentalist, non-elite Protestantism typified by figures like Billy Sunday, and Carl McIntire in opposition to the liberal elite establishment. The masses of Protestants, even in liberal denominations, did not buy into the cosmopolitanism of the elites. The FCC and the religious media opposed the Reed-Johnson act of 1924—a position which was very much a minority point of view. During the 1930s and the early stages of WWII, the only successful attempt to get Protestants to respond positively to refugees was when they were British. Jewish refugees were harder to place and the response was not enthusiastic (p. 137). The FCC had no success in lobbying for the Wagner-Rogers Bill that called for 20,000 German Jewish children to be admitted outside the quotas.
The FCC entered the mainstream when it condemned communism after WWII. But the leadership of the FCC (now called the NCC) remained well to the left of its constituents throughout. A study in the late 1960s showed that 33% of laity advocated civil rights activism versus 64% of clergy; 89% of laity felt Black problems were their own fault, versus 35% of clergy. 42% of laity backed the national origins provisions versus only 23% of clergy. Kaufmann says that the elite had little effect on the attitudes of the laity.
The Liberal Progressives and ecumenical Protestants were an elite of university-educated people who self-consciously thought of themselves as a “better element” — that is, they had a sense of moral superiority. But Kaufmann acknowledges that this “genteel Liberal Progressive vision was limited” (p. 144) and by itself probably would not have resulted in profound cultural change. In general, the liberal elite among the religions moved in step with their secular liberal brethren. That is, they followed secular trends rather than led the trends, and as a result they are ultimately of little importance for understanding the fall of Anglo-Saxon America.
Academic Cultural Determinism and Anti-Darwinism. In academic history in the late 19th century, Frederick Jackson Turner thought of America as a melting pot in which the frontier environment fused immigrants into an American race. The new race would not be Anglo-Saxon or English but distinctively American. Turner was therefore a Lamarckian — a believer in the idea that acquired traits could be inherited: The American frontier environment shaped the characteristics of the new race which were then passed down as genetic traits.
Nevertheless, Turner was not sympathetic to the new immigrants. “Evidently, Turner had merely emphasized one part of his inherited American ethnic mythology (frontier, liberty, agrarianism) without jettisoning the other symbols (Protestantism, Nordic whiteness)” (p. 52). But, as Kaufmann, notes, it was a short step from Turner’s ideas to even more radical forms of liberal cosmopolitanism. His general perspective was assimilationist — distrust of new immigrants combined with hope that they would become culturally assimilated to Anglo-Saxon culture and a common racial identity.
In the 20th century, Franz Boas and his students dominated the American Anthropology Association and had a wide influence in other academic disciplines. Boasian anthropology is the premier cultural determinism theory of the 20th century and may be considered a Jewish intellectual movement. Kaufmann almost completely ignores Boas’s influence, but, as discussed below, the Boasians were critical to the demise of Darwinism in the social sciences and the demise of Darwinism was a critical linchpin in underlying any viable intellectual basis for Anglo-Saxon ethnic defense. As discussed below, without a Darwinian theory, the way was open to the erection of a culture in which the intellectual establishment would view the eclipse of Anglo-America as a moral imperative.
The Secular Left. Kaufmann credits two Jews, Felix Adler (1851–1933) and Israel Zangwill (1864–1926), with pushing the 19th-century American universalist tendencies to the point of completely rejecting ethnicity altogether. Adler founded the New York Society for Ethical Culture in 1876 and became president of the Free Religious Association (see above) in 1878. Kaufmann quotes Adler as advocating the dissolution of Judaism via assimilation and eventually withering away: “Individual members of the Jewish race [will] look about them and perceive that there is as great and perhaps greater liberty in religion beyond the pale of their race and will lose their peculiar idiosyncrasies, and their distinctiveness will fade. And eventually, the Jewish race will die” (p. 92). However, Adler believed that Jews should only “universalize themselves out of existence when the task [of ethnic dissolution of non-Jews] was complete" (p. 92). Indeed, Adler declared that "So long as there shall be a reason of existence for Judaism, so long the individual Jews will keep apart and will do well to do so" (p. 92).
According to Adler, then, the "reason for existence" of Judaism was to evangelize his new universalist religion of ethical culture until the whole world was converted. Kaufmann observes that under Adler’s influence "Anglo-Protestant thinkers would call for [Anglo-Protestantism's] termination as forthrightly as Adler did for the Jews" (p. 92). In fact the Anglos applied Adler's doctrine more thoroughly than he advocated for his own ethnic group.
Indeed, Adler’s ideas are remarkably congruent with the ideas of prominent Reform Judaism rabbis of the period. Kaufmann Kohler (1843–1926) is an important example of the Reform tendency (also seen, e.g., in Kohler’s mentor, David Einhorn (1809–1879), and Samuel Hirsch (1815–1889 ) to assert that Jewish ethics is universalistic while at the same time maintaining that Israel must remain separate while presenting a moral beacon to the rest of humanity — a beacon of universalism and ethnic dissolution of non-Jews. As I note in Separation and Its Discontents (Ch. 7), “one cannot underestimate the importance of the fact that the central pose of post-Enlightenment Jewish intellectuals is a sense that Judaism represents a moral beacon to the rest of humanity.”
This suggests that Adler retained a Jewish identity. Adler was married to a Jewish woman and maintained Jewish associates — for example, a close friendship with Louis Brandeis. Brandeis, who was an important Zionist activist of the period, was married to a sister of Adler’s wife. But Adler “left Judaism for a more rigorous, universalist and humanist non-theistic ministry that was combined with progressive social action.”
Adler was thus the prototype of the 20th-century secular, leftist Jewish political activist: opposing Anglo-Saxon ethnic hegemony and making alliances with non-Jews with similar political sympathies.
My review of Jewish leftists shows that they typically retained a strong sense of Jewish identification — often not explicitly and not religiously, but rather in their friends, associates, spouses and attitudes toward Jewish issues, especially anti-Semitism. Many Jewish leftists who denied having Jewish identities found that they had a profound commitment to Judaism with the rise of National Socialism in Germany and to Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967. In general, Jewish identification of non-religious Jews is complex, with Jewish identity more likely to surface during perceived threats to Jews.
Israel Zangwill, the other Jewish advocate of ethnic dissolution highlighted by Kaufmann, had a strong Jewish identity. Despite marrying a non-Jew and advocating the dissolution of all ethnic groups, Zangwill was a prominent advocate of a Jewish homeland and was active in Jewish politics throughout his life.
Indeed, Zangwill was well aware that Anglo-Saxon ideals of individualism and universalism could be used in the battle against immigration restriction. During the debate on the 1924 immigration law, the House Majority Report emphasized the Jewish role in defining the intellectual battle in terms of Nordic superiority and “American ideals” rather than in the terms of an ethnic status quo actually favored by the committee:
The cry of discrimination is, the committee believes, manufactured and built up by special representatives of racial groups, aided by aliens actually living abroad. Members of the committee have taken notice of a report in the Jewish Tribune (New York) February 8, 1924, of a farewell dinner to Mr. Israel Zangwill which says:
Mr. Zangwill spoke chiefly on the immigration question, declaring that if Jews persisted in a strenuous opposition to the restricted immigration there would be no restriction. “If you create enough fuss against this Nordic nonsense,” he said, “you will defeat this legislation. You must make a fight against this bill; tell them they are destroying American ideals. Most fortifications are of cardboard, and if you press against them, they give way.”
Although Kaufmann represents Zangwill as advocating the melting together of all racial groups, the reality is a bit more subtle. Zangwill’s views on Jewish-gentile intermarriage were ambiguous at best and he detested Christian proselytism to Jews. Zangwill was an ardent Zionist and an admirer of his father’s religious orthodoxy as a model for the preservation of Judaism. He believed Jews were a morally superior race whose moral vision had shaped Christian and Muslim societies and would eventually shape the world, although Christianity remained morally inferior to Judaism. Jews would retain their racial purity if they continued to practice their religion: “So long as Judaism flourishes among Jews there is no need to talk of safeguarding race or nationality; both are automatically preserved by the religion” (Zangwill, quoted in Israel Zangwill, by Joseph Leftowich, 1957, 161).
Despite the fact that the country as a whole had moved toward ethnic defense, often with an explicitly Darwinian rationale, Adler was part of a network of leftists who worked to undermine the cultural and ethnic homogeneity of the US. An important node in this network was the Settlement House movement of the late 19th century–early 20th century. The settlements were an Anglo-Saxon undertaking that exhibited a noblesse oblige still apparent in some White leftist circles today. They were “residences occupied by upper-middle-class ‘workers’ whose profile was that of an idealistic Anglo-Saxon, university-educated young suburbanite (male or female) in his or her mid-twenties” (p. 96). The movement explicitly rejected the idea that immigrants ought to give up their culture and assimilate to America: “To put the immigrants (as individuals) on an equal symbolic footing with the natives, a concept of the nation was required that would not violate the human dignity of the immigrants by denigrating their culture” (p. 97). Cultural pluralism was encouraged: “The nation would be implored to shed its Anglo-Saxon ethnic core and develop a culture of cosmopolitan humanism, a harbinger of impending global solidarity" (pp. 97–98).
The leader of the Settlement House movement, Jane Addams, advocated that America shed all allegiance to an Anglo-Saxon identity. Addams came from a liberal Quaker background — another liberal strand of American Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture, like the Puritans stemming from a distinctive British sub-culture. In general, the Quakers have been less influential than the Puritans, but their attitudes have been even more consistently liberal than the Puritan-descended intellectuals who became a dominant intellectual liberal elite in the 19th century. For example, John Woolman, the “Quintessential Quaker,” was an 18th-century figure who opposed slavery, lived humbly, and, most tellingly for the concept of ethnic defense, felt guilty about preferring his own children to children on the other side of the world.
A connection between Jane Addams and the Puritan intellectual tradition was that Harvard philosopher William James influenced Addams and approved her ideas. James was a member of Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture society— a group that Kaufmann terms “the fount of Jewish cosmopolitanism” (p. 101), and his student was Horace Kallen, the premier theorist of a multicultural America—and an ardent Zionist. William James was a moral universalist: “Moral progress is a value that outweighed group survival,” a point of view that “reaffirmed Felix Adler’s cardinal dictum that particular ethnic groups had a duty to sacrifice their existence for the progress of humankind. … The dominant Anglo-Saxon group had no case for its preservation but instead needed to devote itself to bring about the new cosmopolitan humanity” (p. 102). This was a rarified phenomenon of a small but elite minority — even many settlement workers believed in an Anglo-Saxon America and favored immigration restriction.
Randolph Bourne’s Atlantic Monthly article (1916) is a classic statement of a multicultural ideal for America. Bourne (who, as Kaufmann notes, was a disciple of Horace Kallen; see also here) acknowledged the concern that different nationalities hadn’t blended, but he advocated that America become the first “international nation” — a “cosmopolitan federation of national colonies.” All other ethnic groups would be allowed to retain their identity and cohesion. It is only the Anglo-Saxon that is implored to be cosmopolitan. In particular, Bourne wrote that “it is not the Jew who sticks proudly to the faith of his fathers and boasts of that venerable culture of his who is dangerous to America, but the Jew who has lost the Jewish fire and become a mere elementary, grasping animal.”
People like Bourne, H. L. Mencken, and Sinclair Lewis had a strong sense of intellectual elitism and rebellion against Protestant, small-town America. A character in Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street complains that the townspeople have a “standardized background … scornful of the living. … A savourless people, gulping tasteless food … and viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world” (p. 158). The character was mildly excited by Scandinavian immigrants but deplored the fact that they were absorbed without a trace into the mainstream Protestant culture of America.
These attitudes could also be found among Jewish intellectuals. Walter Lippmann called America “a nation of villagers” (p. 156)—a harbinger of the hostility of Hollywood to small-town America discussed below.