Will Herberg

Will Herberg (1901–1977) was an American Jewish writer, intellectual, and scholar. He was known as a social philosopher and sociologist of religion, and as a Jewish theologian.

Bio from Wikipedia, 1/5/2012

Early Life

Will HerbergHerberg was brought up in a secular Jewish family in Manhattan, and became a communist, a follower of Jay Lovestone in the American Communist Party. He later turned away from Marxism and became a religious conservative, founding the quarterly Judaism with Robert Gordis and Milton R. Konvitz. During the 1960s, he was Religion Editor of the conservative journal National Review, and taught at Drew University.

Protestant, Catholic, Jew

His essay, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, created a sociological framework for the study of religion in the United States. Herberg demonstrated how immigration and American ethnic culture were reflected in religious movements and institutions. During the 1950s, this book, as well as the essay Judaism and Modern Man, set out influential positions, on Judaism and on the American religious tradition in general. Herberg also wrote that anti-Catholicism is the anti-semitism of secular Jewish intellectuals.

Cut Flower Culture

Herberg is credited with coining the phrase “cut flower culture” to describe the spiritual rootlessness of modern European and American societies. This epithet is typically taken to imply that these societies cannot long survive without being regrafted onto their Judeo-Christian roots. In Judaism and Modern Man, Herberg writes … “The attempt made in recent decades by secularist thinkers to disengage the moral principles of western civilization from their scripturally based religious context, in the assurance that they could live a life of their own as ‘humanistic’ ethics, has resulted in our ‘cut flower culture.’ Cut flowers retain their original beauty and fragrance, but only so long as they retain the vitality that they have drawn from their now-severed roots; after that is exhausted, they wither and die. So with freedom, brotherhood, justice, and personal dignity — the values that form the moral foundation of our civilization. Without the life-giving power of the faith out of which they have sprung, they possess neither meaning nor vitality.”

Opposition to the Civil Rights Movement

In his September 7, 1965 National Review article, “‘Civil Rights’ and Violence: Who Are the Guilty Ones?”, Herberg wrote of his opposition/skepticism towards the civil rights movement, feeling, like many of his colleagues at National Review at the time, that the civil rights campaign was moving too quickly and broke up the fabric of American society in an overly socially disruptive manner, not friendly to proper social cohesion. They supported what is often termed the Booker T. Washington position of “gradual reform”.

Contributions to Conservatism

Herberg was also a prominent traditionalist conservative and wrote for traditionalist publications as Russell Kirk’s Modern Age (periodical). He was also a frequent contributor to William F. Buckley, Jr.‘s fusionist conservative National Review magazine.