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commentary

com·men·tar·y / ˈkämənˌterē/ • n. (pl. -tar·ies) the expression of opinions or explanations about an event or situation: narrative overlaid with commentary. ∎ opinion, either written or spoken. ∎  a descriptive spoken account (esp. on radio or television) of an event or a performance as it happens. ∎  a set of explanatory or critical notes on a text.

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commentary

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Commentary

COMMENTARY

COMMENTARY , magazine founded by the *American Jewish Committee (ajc) in 1945 as a monthly journal of "significant thought and opinion, Jewish affairs and contemporary issues." While its policies were consistent with the parent organization, especially in its early years, over time it won its editorial freedom, a situation rare in organizational life.

Eliot T. Cohen, an experienced journalist in the Jewish, communal, field was named its first editor. For a community rapidly undergoing assimilation in the postwar years, both the ajc and Cohen sought to establish ties between its intellectual class, often alienated from ancestral ties, and its emerging middle class. Cohen assembled an outstanding group of editors including Clement Greenberg, Robert Warshow, Nathan *Glazer, and Irving Kristol and invited the finest minds, both gentile and Jewish, to contribute to the publication. In a few years, Commentary moved to the forefront of journals of opinion not only as the major publication in Jewish life but as a critical force in the broader community as well.

Commentary was among the first publications on the liberal-left to recognize that the Soviet Union with its army sitting astride Western Europe following the war and U.S. withdrawal of troops from Europe posed a threat to the West. Under Cohen, the magazine took a leadership role in mobilizing public opinion to the threat during the early stages of the Cold War, a posture it held firmly to until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Commentary's scope, however, was wider. It became involved deeply in the literary and cultural scene. Under Cohen and subsequent editors, it introduced to a wider public such writers as Saul *Bellow, Joseph *Heller, Bernard *Malamud, Philip *Roth, Cynthia *Ozick, and the Yiddish into English work of Isaac Bashevis *Singer.

In 1960, after a brief hiatus following Cohen's death, he was succeeded by Norman *Podhoretz, a young literary critic. Initially, Podhoretz moved the magazine to the left, publishing a number of the New Left writers of the period including Edgar Friedenberg and Christopher Lasch. His sojourn on the left, however, was brief. Before long, Commentary began to strike out at New Age Thought and activities, including student campus disruptions. The magazine continued and expanded its criticism of the Soviet Union. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Commentary came to be known increasingly as the voice of neo-conservatism, a characterization leveled at it by its critics, but which the magazine took as a badge of honor. During and following the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars, Podhoretz came increasingly also to focus on Israel's safety and security.

Commentary's influence reached its height during the Ford and Reagan administrations. Podhoretz's book, The Present Danger, became the bible of efforts to move beyond detente with the Soviet Union supported by previous Democratic and Republican administrations to efforts to bring down the Soviet Union through a rapid defense build-up and challenging Soviet imperial designs in every part of the world. Following articles that appeared in Commentary, a number of neo-cons, including Jeane Kirkpatrick, who wrote on authoritarian and totalitarian government, arguing incorrectly as it turned out that totalitarian governments cannot make the transition to democracy, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, entered the Ford and Reagan administrations. Both Kirkpatrick and Moynihan served as ambassadors at the United Nations.

With Podhoretz's retirement in 1995, his long-time associate Neal Kozodoy took over the reins of the publication. His main task has been to lead the magazine into the post-Cold War era following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He has continued to emphasize, however, many of the magazine's older themes, such as criticism of left-wing influences on the campus, in the media, and in American politics. In the period following 9/11, Commentary became one of the most forceful defenders of the Bush Doctrine calling for the use by the nation, with or without international support, of the preemptive strike in the battle against international terrorism, a move that was implemented by the administration in Iraq.

A new generation of younger, neo-conservative intellectuals and writers emerged, including Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, and Robert Kagan and government officials Paul *Wolfowitz and Eliot *Abrams, whom historian John Ehrman has characterized as "Commentary's Children," who continued to promote many of the ideas brought forward by Commentary.

bibliography:

M. Friedman, "Commentary" in American Life (2005).

[Murray Friedman (2nd ed.)]

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