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Podhoretz, Norman

PODHORETZ, NORMAN

PODHORETZ, NORMAN (1930– ), U.S. editor and author. In 1960, following a brief interim after the death of Eliot E. *Cohen, Commentary's first editor, Norman Podhoretz, a young literary critic, was named editor of the magazine. A protégé of the critic Lionel *Trilling during his undergraduate years at Columbia, Podhoretz was the son of a milkman in Brooklyn. He studied also at the Jewish Theological Seminary. His brilliance in his studies won him a scholarship to Cambridge, England, where he found a second mentor in the famous literary critic F.R. Leavis.

Returning home, Podhoretz gained wide attention with a series of essays including "The Adventures of Saul Bellow," "The Know-Nothing Bohemians," and, later, "My Negro Problem – and Ours" which prefigured both the controversial positions he would later take and his literary style. In taking over at Commentary, where he had worked briefly earlier, however, he initially moved the magazine to the Left, publishing such radical writers as Paul *Goodman, Edgar Z. Friedenberg, and Staughton Lynd. His position on the Left was short-lived, however.

Under Cohen, Commentary had been one of the few influential magazines on the Left that had fought Communism and the imperial designs of the Soviet Union following World War ii. As the Cold War with the Soviet Union heated up, Podhoretz moved the magazine into an even more aggressive posture in countering the threat of the Soviet Union. His book The Present Danger (1980) provided much of the rationale for the incoming Reagan Administration, helping to move it away from the policy of détente which characterized previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, to one of seeking to bring down the Communist state. Following the appearance of pieces in Commentary, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick, who reflected these views, were appointed, respectively, by Presidents Ford and Reagan U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations.

Podhoretz's most critical role, however, took shape during the Vietnam War and its aftermath. He was an early critic of the war as peripheral to bringing down the Soviet Union, but felt it was an honest error, not a sign of the country's moral decay, as some of its critics argued. Moreover, he felt it took away from the real battle that needed to be fought: loosening the Soviet grip on eastern Europe and challenging the extension of its power in undeveloped parts of the world, especially in the Middle East. "During the bleakest days of anti-Communism," historian Richard Gid Powers has written, "…One man summoned the will, the strength, and the imagination to commence the giant task of rebuilding the anti-Communist coalition. This was Norman Podhoretz."

During the Six-Day (1967) and Yom Kippur (1973) wars, Podhoretz came to feel that Jews in Israel and the United States, particularly with the rise of black nationalism, had come to be threatened. The pages of Commentary reflected increasingly his sense that one measure of public policy for Jews was whether positions taken were good for Jews. In this respect, he argued that, however useful New Deal and Fair Deal reforms had been earlier, they had grown stale and even dysfunctional. He was troubled, also, by the use of racial quotas or preferences as appropriate remedies for racial inequality, the growth of an adversarial youth culture, and what he described as the capitulation of elite campuses to its excesses. At the heart of the positions Podhoretz took was a deep sense of gratitude to the country that made it possible for a boy from humble origins to rise in American life, expressed in a fervent, almost old-fashioned patriotism. Operating from this position, Podhoretz, along with social critic Irving *Kristol, emerged in the last third of the 20th century primarily as architects of what came to be called neo-conservatism, a socio-political posture which sought (and seeks) a halfway house between an older liberalism and traditional conservatism both at home and abroad.

Podhoretz's ideas are most fully expressed in a series of memoirs he wrote beginning with, Making It (1967), an account of how he gained success in intellectual circles; Breaking Ranks (1979), the way he freed himself from his Left-wing roots; Ex-Friends (1999), the price he paid for this shift; My Love Affair with America; The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative (2001); and The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are (2002). In 1995, Podhoretz stepped down as editor of Commentary. His long-time associate and collaborator, Neal Kozodoy, assumed the post. Podhoretz continued, however, to remain as editor-at-large, writing lengthy articles in support of the Bush Doctrine calling for the use of preemptory strikes when the country or its friends are faced with terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.

Podhoretz is married to Midge Decter, a writer who focuses, also, on neo-conservative themes. His son, John, and son-in-law, Elliott *Abrams, also share his political views and are influential members of the second generation of neo-conservative thinkers.

[Murray Friedman (2nd ed.)]

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