Glazer, Nathan

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Glazer, Nathan 1924-


Formerly professor of Education and Social Structure and now professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Nathan Glazer (1924) is also the coeditor of The Public Interest, assistant editor of Commentary, and contributing editor to The New Republic. He has been an influential and at times controversial figure in American public life due to his analyses of immigration, affirmative action, race relations, and multi-culturalism. Closely associated with New York intellectuals such as Daniel Bell, Glazer was a student follower of Leon Trotsky (18791940), the Russian revolutionary. With the economic recovery that followed the Great Depression (19291932), Glazer, like many Jewish intellectuals, came to see capitalist America as a successful liberal democracy in which each successive wave of immigrants had been eventually incorporated into society and had benefited from growing economic prosperity. Glazer assumed that Americanization was an unproblematic process, but that optimism has been challenged by the fact that black progress appears to have come to an end in the 1970s. His critics have argued that the ethnic integration he described occurred because immigrants took on the mantle of whiteness in a society where anti-black racism was endemic.

Glazer collaborated with David Riesman on The Lonely Crowd (1950), and his first academic publication, The Social Basis of American Communism, appeared in 1961. However, Glazer first attracted academic attention through his publications on race and ethnicity, such as American Judaism (1957) and his collaborations with Daniel Moynihan (19272003), Beyond the Melting Pot (1963) and Ethnicity: Theory and Practice (1975). Various articles on these topics appeared as Ethnic Dilemmas, 19641982 (1983).

An early critic of Great Society programs, Glazer has emerged as an influential figure in American politics, opposing affirmative-action programs in support of black Americans. In Affirmative Discrimination (1975)a collection of essays dating back to the early 1970sGlazer claimed that the apparent failure of black Americans to achieve assimilation and social mobility in an affluent American society was the result of fragmented families, declining inner-city schools, and disorganized communities. Glazer concluded that the main problem in the United States was not systematic racism, but employment discrimination against blacks. In Beyond the Melting Pot, Glazer and Moynihan argued that it is because black Americans have suffered profoundly from the effects of slavery that they have not experienced the upward social mobility enjoyed by many ethnic minorities. Repairing this deep-seated historical problem of black Americans was beyond the capacity of social policies. Glazer has therefore been one of the main proponents of the black dysfunctionality hypothesis that has been embraced by Daniel Moynihan, Edward Banfield, and Richard Herrnstein, and his arguments against affirmative action policies were significant in the growth of neoconservatism in American public life. Critics such as Stephen Steinberg (see Steinbergs Turning Back: The Retreat from Racial Justice in American Thought and Policy, 1995) have argued that Glazers policy prescriptions amount to blaming the victim.

Glazer has also been influential in the movement against liberal policies in multicultural school curricula. In We Are All Multiculturalists Now (1997) and Sovereignty under Challenge (2002) he claims that a multicultural education compromises historical truth and erodes national unity through the Balkanization of the American republic. Glazer himself rejects the neoconservative label and has been critical of small groups whose veto power keeps controversial subjects out of the school curricula, thereby, in his estimation, creating a bland, unreal America.

SEE ALSO Education, Unequal; Moynihan, Daniel Patrick


Steinberg, Stephen.1995. Turning Back: The Retreat from Racial Justice in American Thought and Policy. Boston: Beacon.

Bryan S. Turner