Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern American

By Marc Dollinger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Fighting Hitler: Cultural Pluralism and
American Jewish Life, 1933–1941

IN A FEBRUARY 1915 Nation article, Horace Kallen, a German-born American Jew, offered a reinterpretation of the traditional “melting pot” model of immigrant acculturation. Instead of viewing the United States as a monolithic soup reducing a variety of ethnic backgrounds into a common stock, Kallen employed another metaphor, the symphony orchestra, in a bid to celebrate diversity. “American civilization,” he wrote in reference to the millions of immigrants arriving on the eastern seaboard, “may come to mean the perfection of the cooperative harmonies of ‘European civilization.’ “Under Kallen's model, each minority group lent its own unique sound to a powerful and harmonious crescendo. “As in an orchestra,” he explained, “every type of instrument has its specific timbre and tonality. … So in society, each ethnic group may be the natural instrument.” Respect for ethnic difference would forge, in Kallen's words, “a multiplicity in a unity, an orchestration of mankind.” Kallen's ideas helped establish “cultural pluralism” as the best alternative to the “melting pot” assimilation model. 1

At the time, few Americans shared Kallen's views. Scientific racism reached its zenith in the 1920s as a series of restriction acts ended immigration from Asia and instituted strict national origins quotas against southern and eastern Europeans. Some cultural anthropologists posited pseudo-scientific theories tying intelligence to race and ethnic origin, while more and more Americans read the xenophobic works of Madison Grant and William Z. Ripley. The Ku Klux Klan reemerged and enjoyed great success in Indiana and Colorado, where it elected scores of candidates to statewide office and prevented the Democratic party from including an anti-KKK statement on its national platform. The Klan's “100% Americanism” motto translated into a rejection of both cultural pluralism, since it encouraged immigrant ethnicity, and assimilation, since it demanded the integration of non-Anglo-Saxon traits in native-born American stock. Nativists, whether in the KKK or the halls of Congress, harbored strong anti-Semitic feelings. The Anglo-Saxon nation they dreamed of creating did not include Jews. 2

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