Through a long succession of literary protrayals of Jewish life, reinforced in recent years by sociologists and political ideologists (Jewish as well as non-Jewish), there has grown up an image of the Jew as a prototype of alienation and rootlessness. To some this has seemed a misfortune of destiny; to the anti-Semitic, somehow a wilful vice; to others, if not a virtue, at least the kind of necessity that could breed insight, stamina, and other virtues. But the basic assumption is always the same: the Jew stands somehow alone and apart from tradition and society—homeless. ARNOLD W. GREEN here expresses his scepticism about the allegedly unique position of the Jew in the contemporary world, declaring that the phenomenon of alienation is felt generally in our American society, and is the result of the disintegration of traditional patterns of personal living under the impact of large-scale industralization. Mr. Green goes further, suggesting that, if any group feels more sharply alienated than others, it is probably the native American Protestant group—the “ruling” group itself.
Many contributors to COMMENTARY have examined what they regard to be the psychological plight of the modem Jew. He is generally seen as an atomized individual, deeply uneasy as to his status in society, with no firm roots anywhere in a complex, kaleidoscopic modern world. Thus, Irving Howe (“The Lost Young Intellectual,” October 1946) anatomizes today’s lower-middle-class intellectual in his bereaved alienation: having sloughed off his religion and traditional law, having been spoiled and petted by his mother and supported by his father, while being educated toward “success,” he absorbs new values that further alienate him. Robert Warshow (“Poet of the Jewish Middle Class,” May 946) claims that the New York lower-middle-class Jewish family, having renounced age-old standards to accept “capitalism without sugar,” is bereft of the dignity and purposefulness which upheld the European Jew in the face of all adversity. And Jean-Paul Sartre in his series “Reflections on the Jewish Question” paints a picture of the “inauthentic Jew” as a lone, lost individual who can call neither his soul nor his body his own.
Is the plight these writers outline the problem peculiarly characteristic of Jews? Perhaps it is. But perhaps it is more widely shared by the rest of the population than we customarily think. Perhaps all modem human beings are suffering from a sudden and dramatic historical break with traditional social values and structure, cutting vertically and horizontally through the entire warp and woof of our society, and focused in the disintegration of family and home as we have known them in the past.
This is not to say that there are no specific ethnic-group problems; rather it is a warning against the possibility of misplaced emphasis. Indeed, one can make a strong argument to the effect that even in a crumbling Jewish family life there appears to be more stability and unity than can be found in the Gentile family in the modem metropolis. Perhaps it is not the Jew at all, but the average white, native Protestant who is the typically alienated man of our age.
In a recent wail of pain, E. E. Cummings complained that the world is all a-leak, and life preservers there are none. In other words, we are all in the same boat.
Historically, from the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, through the Middle Ages, and down to recent decades, a basic family tradition has been preserved in the West: the patriarchal, rural-familistic system.1 Within that system, the person lived out his life, rooted to the land and to a way of life that encompassed all his activities. Unquestioned duties and obligations were enforced, but there was financial and emotional security, intimate emotional ties, and close identification with one’s fellows.
The division of labor was familial, all working together toward a common goal of family maintenance and perpetuation. The family circle and the local community comprised a complete and virtually isolated social world. Economic life, recreation, education, religious observances, were all a matter of intimate association among a small group of life-long relatives and friends. While the pressures to conformity were overwhelming, the individual nevertheless controlled his fate in ways denied to modern man.
He, in his family, owned or had equity in his own land and tools of production. He was not swept hither and thither by the vagaries of a market economy. Many of the important economic and political issues were local ones, and he could directly affect their development. In this isolated world, social action did not ramify out in unanticipated ways to produce incalculable results. There was an obvious and close relationship between social cause and effect, reward and punishment. As one moved from childhood into adolescence, courtship, and marriage, and the assumption of adult responsibilities, the blueprint for behavior was stable, consistent, unquestioned. Finally, the individual possessed a single status in all of the intimate groups of which he was an important part.
Over against this description—made extreme for the sake of contrast—of the traditional family, another can be placed: the modem, secular, individualized conjugal unit, composed of a restricted unit of husband, wife, and one or two offspring, living in an urban apartment. It finds itself in an impersonal world, in which personal relationships are scattered, partial, specialized. The old familial functions are no longer home-centered: the husband works away from home, among strangers; the children are educated outside the home by hired specialists; religious observances have waned; and each member of the family goes his own way in seeking recreation, which is today highly specialized for each age group.
Rights and duties are no longer rigidly de-fined. The demands of shifting and specialized groups with which the individual is associated in home, office, social and professional contacts, require specialized conformities, and not the total personality, but different parts of it, are involved. Emotional security has diminished. The roles assigned the person at different stages in his life history within the family are inconsistent and contradictory; similarly, one’s status ebbs and flows as one moves rapidly from one association to another, one career situation to another. Under the impact of the competing needs and value of the various individuals in the unit, the family’s solidarity is destroyed, leaving in its wake dissatisfaction, frustration, and intra-familial conflict.
This description is by now commonplace. Far less commonplace is the understanding of why all this happened. One might, like Philip Wylie, utter a roar of indignation, and demand a return to old-fashioned virtues. But the fact would remain that the entire structural basis for the rural-familistic system, to which we still pay ideological obeisance, has been undermined by gargantuan changes that no individual or group has directly planned or instituted.
To Gain insight into what has happened to the family, it is necessary to grasp the fact that the industrial revolution has been a continuing process which is constantly accelerating, making of all Americans an uprooted people.2 The accelerating rate of technological invention and industrial expansion has meant the burgeoning of new industries and the falling off of old; sudden demands for new skills and the discarding of old ones. Individual and family fate are decided at a distance. Some unknown technician synchronizes film and sound, and hundreds of professional actors are out of a job. Rail rates are readjusted by a Washington bureau in favor of the South and thousands of mill workers in New Bedford must either migrate or learn a new trade. Factories in the fields dispossess the-independent farmer. War orders pour into one area and depopulate neighboring ones; peace revises the process. Change has been so rapid, so cumulative, that it is becoming the hallmark of the American way of life. The continuity of generations is being shattered. Between 1920 and 1934 in excess of 46 million Americans moved from country to city or city to country; and during World War II, it has been estimated, 30 million Americans changed residence.
Up to 1,820, more than go per cent of the working population in America was engaged in agriculture. By 1940, farm owners and tenants comprised only 10.1 per cent of the working population. From 1870 to 1940, the proportions employed in the manufacturing and mechanical industries shifted very little; but there was a tremendous increase in the size of the “white-collar” group—professionals, clerical workers, businessmen, and public service workers.
In other words, the dominant trend in American economic life is toward an increase in the proportion of those who manipulate personalities instead of tools to gain their livelihood. Alba M. Edwards of the Census Bureau (Comparative Occupation Statistics for the United States, 1870 to 1940) points out that since 1910 there has been an increasing rate of shift from “hand workers” to “head workers,” and expresses the opinion that the trend will continue to increase.
Thus, in a few short decades a predominantly rural people has become an urban people. In 1860, 9.8 per cent of the population was urban; in 1946, 56.5 per cent. But this is not the whole story, for there is also the process by which the city dominates the hinterland with its values, commercialized recreation, styles, manners, for half of the rural population now lives within an hour’s journey of a city of 100,000 or more. Even the physical activity of rural areas is becoming urbanized: according to the 940 census, almost half the gainfully employed who lived on farms in Connecticut were employed in typical urban occupations: clerks, bookkeepers, salesmen, etc. The personal dislocation that has taken place is indicated by the fact that the majority of our urban residents were not born in the city, but migrated to it from rural areas.
But perhaps the most important and dramatic change, leading to a growing powerlessness on the part of the individual in directing his own and his family’s life, is the centralization of power and control in our society. Eighty-eight per cent of the working population, excepting agricultural workers, is no longer self-employed. Economic reality is no longer familial employment on familial holdings, but a series of stations in vast, bureaucratically-organized industrial, business, and governmental structures. And this is being accompanied by a steady concentration of wealth and savings (see David Lynch, The Concentration of Economic Power, 1946). Instead of a world in which the family directly controls its common economic endeavors, we find ourselves in a world where a growing rapprochement of big business and big government hires atomized individuals to fit pre-determined bureaucratic stations and functions under “directives.” Very quietly, behind the ideological facade of verbal conflicts over “socialism,” “fascism,” and “democracy,” this unlabelled trend has been taking place.
What does this mean psychlogically? W Since the family is no longer empowered to make plans and decisions and direct its own operations to anywhere near the extent that once was possible, the individuals who make it up are pushed and pulled by forces of which they are only dimly aware, and which they can neither control nor stop. A new technological development, a bank failure in Austria, an unidentifiable bureaucrat’s decision, the rise to power of a fanatic across the Atlantic, any and all of these may blast and ruin. And all the individual citizen can do is read about it. The concrete world of reality in which he, his family, his associates operate becomes less real than the “paper world” which informs him what “they” are doing, what “they” are planning, what decisions “they” have made, what new scientific discoveries “they” have blessed him with.
Can the laborer find out whether his union leaders are taking him out on strike only to secure a higher wage for him, as they may claim, instead of political advantage for themselves? Can the citizen actually find out what is going on in one of the federal agencies, or the stockholder how the affairs of “his” corporations are being administered? How much control does the voter have over either of the two political machines he has the political right to help into office? As bureaucracy extends, power and responsibility become more and more hidden, with greater possibilities of setting off forces that will ramify out to change, disrupt, control, and manipulate individual lives. The average American scorns the average German’s plea that he had no responsibility for the concentration camps, but the average American knows that he had nothing to do with the development of the atomic bomb. And, indeed, he did not.
The individual finds himself in a world in which personal and business ethics increasingly go by the board as personal long-range planning becomes more difficult, and life-long residence in one location is no longer the pattern. It is a world of insecurity and uncertainty, blaring headlines and sudden shocks, in which the accumulation of experience is insufficient preparation for the next, unforeseen stimulus. And meanwhile a tremendous discharge of nervous energy runs into a hundred deviant channels. Bitterness, despondency, dependency spread like a pall, along with the belief that all is chance. We are still oriented, in terms of thought pattern and emotional pattern, to the slow, stable rhythms of family life on the farm. But the structure that created this basic ideology of living is gone.
Together with the loss of its base in the economy and social organization, the modern family now finds itself supporting competitive values at a far remove from personal stability. The primacy of such disruptive “values” as individual success and romantic love in modem motivations is amply testified to by Hollywood and the advertising pages of any slick magazine.
Modern success-striving does not constitute an altogether radical break with America’s past. Sanctification of success exaggerated one tradition while destroying another. In America, the tradition of mutual obligations within rural-familism ran parallel with that of frontier self-help and individualism. Destroying the former, corporate industrialism, with its demands for an urban, mobile, rational, fast-moving personnel, merely exploited self-help and individualism for its own purposes.
But success-striving became an end in itself, separate from all considerations of familial or community welfare, except that the successful, like all other members of society, had to be good to their parents—a matter of largesse, not of common enjoyment and control of newly-won wealth and power—and that they were expected to dispense charity and endow foundations, often as devoid of the real sense of community as a business deal.
Each man became his own cause, and the heroes he admired were those who had pushed their way to wealth and power. The new gospel was preached to all classes. In fact, the very essence of success-striving is the refusal to accept any given station or position; instead, to hurl oneself up the class ladder, regardless of the consequences to oneself or others. Class levels became not so much fixed points of social position as a series of temporary vantage points, from which one either laboriously inched forward, or was forcibly dislodged.
The stability of rural-familism—at least in America—was not founded on cultural prohibitions against bettering one’s station. Rather the system of rights and duties founded in the family and community, enjoining effort toward attainment of common goals, acted as a brake against physical or psychological freedom of movement. This system was virtually demolished by the new economy and its ideology of success-striving for all. The social changes accompanying the rapid rise of the new economy piled up with such pellmell haste that no new system of rights and duties had time to develop, with the result that each man’s relations with other men remained poorly defined. State after state, for example, was forced to pass laws compelling legally adult children to contribute to the support of their parents. Mutual aid within the community broke down; specialized and impersonal agencies were forced to assume responsibility for the destitute and unfortunate.
And what are the techniques of successs-triving? Modern bureaucratic structures sell, promote, manage; in other words, as business, governmental, or service agencies they manipulate publics instead of things. And within these vast bureaucratic structures, each man manipulates the personalities of those above and below him, guesses the other’s ego wants and needs, and adjusts his overt responses toward gaining the good will of others. To “get ahead” one must feign interest in the activities of these others when one has no such interest, defer when one wishes to be aggressive, participate when one wants to withdraw. And, in a contracting economy, all this with the gnawing fear that it may go for naught.
Abram Kardiner has said that success has become modem man’s substitute for salvation. Poverty is as reprehensible today as sin was yesterday. Under the frantic pressure for cash and glory, the moral order has cracked. Double-dealing may be kept hidden from the world, but not failure. And yet ours is still ideologically, in large measure, a rural-familistic culture embodying the old Protestant values. The majority of our city dwellers were either brought up in rural areas, or are the children of parents raised in the country. Our children’s toys and books deal with farm life and animals. Our patriotic songs extol coastlines, rocks and rills and templed hills. Our modern metropolis is inhabited by partially assimilated peasants. Hence our high verbal sanctification of honesty, integrity, and good-fellowship in personal relations, an emphasis that puzzles Continental Europeans and prompts them to accuse all Americans of being hypocritical Babbitts. In any event, to the extent that rural ideals still persist emotionally, they are at war with the drives of the city.
We Have already spoken of the confusion of statuses in the new way of life. At one time, status, taken over from the family, was relatively fixed and definitive. Today, the person interacts within a plethora of groups, and will be accorded a different status as he steps from one to another: the moral religious adolescent may be praised at home and vilified in school; the liberal may be appreciated by his college professor and scoffed at later by his business associates. Under the dispensation of modem success-striving, social approbation and a sense of security must be constantly reaffirmed, and this pressure is aggravated by the fact that one is really not in control of one’s economic fortunes, the chief determinant of status. Thus it happens that anxiety and conviction of personal failure are endemic in our society.
The Protestant ethic demanded that you work hard, save your money, praise God, pay your debts, and uphold monogamous marriage. At any given time one knew whether one was a worthwhile person or not; here, as well as in the strictly economic realm, there was a large measure of personal control. Today, this is no longer possible, for modern “success” is registered only through externals: bank account, clothes, mannerisms, automobile, club memberships; what counts is how these compare with what others have, and, more important, how others view what you have in comparison with what they have. Thus Karen Homey’s suggestion that it becomes more important that others fail than that you succeed.
The fact that modern trends place the career in a bureaucratic structure gives a general cultural explanation of that loss of “spontaneity” to which Mr. Howe, cited above, refers. Station in a bureaucracy requires self-discipline: a systematic suppression of impulse in order to insure that the channels of success remain open. Exactly with whom is one’s behavior to be spontaneous? With one’s employer? With one’s army officer? With one’s clients? By acting spontaneously now, one may be insuring the loss of opportunity in the future. The bureaucratic control of the functionary’s career through that all-important document, the recommendation, forces an attempt to preserve carefully one’s relations with a long line of superiors, any one of whom is in a position to endanger the ultimate goal.
The psychological pressures thus created impinge directly upon the life of the family, since they divert energy, time, and talent away from the home. And the new economic order, with its demands for rationality, its dividing-up of the personality, its schooling of impulses, combined with the constant threat of sheer job-insecurity as well as ultimate failure, places a tremendous emotional overload on the modem family. Within it love-relationships must compensate for all the shocks, frustrations, and damming up of impulse that success-striving demands.
The function of “love” in modem society It is peculiarly complex. With the partial disintegration of the rural-familistic system, the actual day-by-day involvement of personal relations—both in work and play—disappeared, and the improvisation and demonstration of a total emotional involvement became doubly important as an ideal. The emphasis on such emotional involvement was stepped up as codes of proper conduct with various kinds of persons became increasingly vague. When the behavior of husband and wife, for example, became more and more a matter to be settled in each marriage, rather than by reference to convention, the answer of the culture was to jazz up the tempo of romantic love.
The concept of romantic love rests on a myth. Two young persons arrive at an indeterminate age, meet, and a mysterious cosmic process informs each that this is the one.” They marry, and live happily ever after, constantly fulfilling in every act their unique relationship. Marriage becomes, then, not so much an institutional arrangement as a device by which each can secure his or her individual desire for personal happiness. Sadly enough, the very fact of basing marriage on romance operates to create a well-nigh universal frustration of the prized sentiment.
In the first place, romantic love is a highly stylized drama that demands some modicum of natural physical endowment and fitting surroundings. But the majority of men are not handsome, the majority of women are not beautiful, and the majority of both are poor. Frustration is inevitable.
Second, success and love, particularly for that segment of the population known as the “middle class,” work at cross-purposes. Marriage is still the woman’s chief career. The middle-class girl hopes to marry not only a man but a bank balance, so that she may combine the two major goals of her career in a single activity—courtship. But when a man is striving toward success, early marriage seriously interferes with his career. In the rural-familistic system a man’s wife was a necessary adjunct to his economic activity; today, a wife is an unproductive luxury that an ambitious young man cannot afford. He needs time, energy, and his available funds for education and to get started in his individual career, a career that is no longer integrated with family life. Thus, at the very time when the culture demands the intensive idealization of courtship, the stage is set for a battle of the sexes, often involving sexual exploitation, in a context of what Dr. Willard Waller has called “pluralistic ignorance of each other’s motives,” where pre-marital relations are no longer supervised closely by family and community.
Third, the romantic concept of love in marriage must carry a tremendous overload of emotion engendered through success-striving. With marriage less “practical,” there tends to arise a constant questioning of the extent to which one is receiving the expected emotional service: a ceaseless seeking-out of the other’s motivations, with the feeling of betrayal if the other does not conform to expectations. While the shocks to success-aspiration dealt by our contracting economy make the psychic necessity of the other’s fulfilling the ideal more acute, the tensions engendered outside the home make that fulfillment all the more uncertain.
Fourth, while romantic love appears to be needed in modern society in order to get people married, serving as an emotional drive that smashes past individualistic considerations of success, it cannot be depended upon to keep a marriage together through the years. The family remains, in however truncated a form, an institution with a certain minimum of obligations that must be met in a certain way regardless of the present emotional tone of relations between husband and wife. The tragedy of love, as Somerset Maugham has so honestly observed, is that it does not last. Marriage, as sexual-emotional interaction, in time inevitably seeks a lower level of habitual expression, and the aging mate no longer fulfills the romantic ideal. Sociologists in the field of marriage and the family have been somewhat dishonest in this regard, writing confidently of “another kind of love” which replaces the erotic euphoria of the honeymoon. Perhaps there is such a love, but it most certainly is not the kind of love that modems have been specifically conditioned to expect in their marriage—an effortless, timeless ecstasy. And so we have the phenomenon of “romantic divorce”—if this other person no longer fits the romantic ideal, I will retain my ideal intact, and seek another love-object. That the same failure will only be repeated with another partner is not considered, and so, in 1946, there was one divorce for every three marriages.
It is questionable whether the new freedom in marriage has appreciably raised the general level of happiness. In most cultures, and in our own historical perspective, people have not married for individual happiness or the development of their personalities, but to form a necessary basic economic unit, and the necessity of maintaining it was as unquestioned as it was unquestionable.
Interestingly enough, various schools of psychotherapy have recently been soft-pedalling the neo-Freudian injunction to allow children to develop their egos without restriction, in favor of pointing out the valuable psychological security that can derive from a child’s knowledge of absolute limits to “freedom.” A similar formulation has yet to be devised for the child’s parents. Paradoxically, “freedom” for the individual has value, or even meaning, only in terms of some indeterminate authoritarian framework. The divorce rate does not begin to measure the amount of dissatisfaction, the wistful longing for escape, that is generated by the mere knowledge that the back door of divorce is swinging wider. (No advocacy of restricting divorce legislation is implied here. To do so would be to mistake effect for cause.) It may be that the Victorian, with all his “repressions,” had the better of the argument. His marriage and family were buttressed by a no-nonsense set of community, family, and religious exactions. He was not at the same time forced to uphold an institution and impelled to “develop his own personality,” i.e., fulfill individualistic cravings at the expense of that institutional structure.
Mental health or emotional stability (the term used is not a critical matter, being imprecise in any case) in a sociological framework, depends upon a continuity of conditioning and group-expectation: either personal roles, goals, and self-conceptions remain fairly uniform throughout the life-history, or undergo a series of easy transpositions. The typical modern family, which contains the majority of the population and embodies the dominant social trends, rips that continuity to shreds.
Let us consider what happens in such a family—let us say, a family of the Protestant, urban, college-educated, lower-middle income group. (The training of children born to parents who can thus be characterized is so consistent as to permit prediction, in a certain range.)
The father’s primary goal is success; yet he cannot use his child to this end. The child, far from being an economic asset as he was under rural-familistic conditions, has become a serious liability: the sheer dollar—outlay for medical care, diets, lengthening schooling, etc., represents a diversion of energy as well as funds at the very time when the father’s career is in its early, and crucial, stages. This is made more painful by the feeling that the child will in all probability never contribute to his father’s support.
The child also interferes with pleasures. Modem recreation is no longer designed for family-wide participation: rather, whether in the form of movies, sports events, plays, golf, bridge, tennis, dinner parties, it is designed for individual or couple participation.
And what is the role of so-called scientific child care in this complex? The child must not be spanked, parents must be patient, the child’s ego development must not be curbed. The assumption of much of the literature on child rearing seems to be that the parents have a combined culinary, nursing, and psychiatric function, and nothing more. But note that in a commercial, industrial, specialized job-world, cooks, nurses, and psychiatrists are paid for what they do.
In other words, the father’s duties and obligations constantly increase, while his rights diminish. An ambivalence toward his child emerges, which is more or less widespread, though very rarely admitted, even to confidants.
The child’s mother also feels somewhat ambivalent toward him. Nurtured on the romantic concept of love, possessing a success—drive only slightly less intensive than her husband’s, having embarked upon a career of her own prior to marriage, or at least dallied in fantasy with the idea of a career, she is left ill-fitted for the drudgery of housecleaning, child care, and the preparation of meals. The freedom that modem household conveniences have brought her has been commonly misinterpreted as well as exaggerated. While the housewife in the past had more work to do, that work was part of a well-integrated system of household and community activities. The modem housewife, with more leisure time, still must work at a number of household tasks for which she has not been trained, for which she has no respect, and which are isolated from her social activities.
Having little to do, in or out of the home, she is her child’s constant companion. So-called scientific child care enforces a ubiquitous supervision and diffused worrying over the child’s health, diet, and ego development; this is complicated by the expenditure of much energy aimed at forcing early walking, toilet-training, talking, because in an intensively competitive milieu the parents are constantly comparing their own child’s development with that of the neighbor’s children.
Under constant supervision, with limited play area in a house touching other homes on all sides, or in an apartment, and lacking companions, the child’s physiological expansiveness, fed by his boredom, persists in getting him into trouble. Similar behavior was not so likely to occur in the rural-familistic household, and even when it did, it did not constitute so much of a crisis.
Already the parents have made “love” of supreme importance in their relation to their child, theirs for him and his for them, partly because of the love complex of our time, and partly as a compensation for the many sacrifices they have made for the child, long debated before and after its arrival. The child, in turn, comes to need love desperately, precisely because he has been conditioned to need it. Now, the more ambivalent the parents are towards the child, the more seriously is the “trouble” he causes them interpreted. He should not act in such a way because of the sacrifices they have made on his behalf, and the least he can do is show his gratitude by “loving” them in turn, i.e., keeping out of “trouble.” When the trouble inevitably occurs, the most effective punishment imaginable is the threat to withdraw love from him. To the extent that the child’s personality has been absorbed and blanketed by lack of companionship other than with his parents, he will be thrown into a panic, and will develop guilt feelings to help keep him from getting into further trouble.
But obedience and propitiation are not enough. The modern child, particularly the boy, having tried to escape from anxiety and guilt by blind obedience and “love” for his parents, finds he cannot stabilize his relationships with others on that basis. His play group, which may be denied him until he has reached school age, makes him feel a certain shame and inadequacy in approaching its members with his accustomed techniques. He also discovers that he is involved in competition with others—as an individual with his contemporaries, and as a representative of his family unit with other families. Before he has developed a real self-awareness he becomes part of a process of invidious comparison with other families.
But effective competition demands a certain degree of independence, firmness of purpose, perhaps aggressiveness. His earliest conditioning was toward obedience, dependence, and love, and he is still expected to exhibit these virtues within the home, but he must “do things” outside the home. In the case of the boy, the father, as the representative of the outside male world, makes this demand uncompromisingly—this, incidentally, may be one of the unsuspected sources of the so-called Oedipus complex. In any event, contradictory demands are made on the child, and an integration of the conflicting roles is virtually impossible. Thus is laid the basis for so many self-blocking drives in modern society, and the widespread feeling of frustration and inadequacy.
In the earlier years, the girl’s training tends to be not so traumatic as the boy’s. Girls are still for the most part being prepared for marriage as an ultimate goal. Girls are not subjected to so much familial pressure to assume early roles of independent, aggressive action. For both sexes, however, but perhaps especially in the case of the boy, adolescence is a period of “storm and stress,” not so much because of the biological changes taking place at that period, but rather because the parents received their basic life-orientation as children in a milieu that was radically different from the one the modern adolescent encounters outside the home. Thus the parents attempt to impose on the child a life-organization that is out of gear with the adolescent’s outside experience. Also, the period of dependence upon parents is steadily lengthening.
The adolescent of either sex must defer sexual satisfaction and the assumption of responsible adult activities until long after the period when he is biologically and intellectually (if not emotionally) mature. This is complicated by the fact that the culture has not worked out guides for the gradual relinquishment of parental authority over children, so that a conflict tends to arise: the parents attempting to lengthen the period of parental authority, the adolescent attempting to cut it short. Since the job world has no place for the adolescent, and age at marriage is on the average increasing, he must fight out the battle on minor personal issues, such as when he must get home from the dance, the use of the family automobile, the right to “express” himself. Postponement of adult roles slows the process of emotional maturity, and represents malpreparation for marriage.
The girl’s childhood may not be beset by so many contradictory familial demands as the boy’s, but as she grows older, the inchoate values of “female emancipation” involve her. Perhaps she won’t get married. There is always the possibility of a career. In any event, she also has been caught up in the new values of individualism and success and is no longer willing to accept the subordinate role in marriage that once was unchallenged. If marriage can be used to secure a high standard of living, she “succeeds,” otherwise she may be assailed by doubts. The writer has traced, in case records taken over a period of years in a university psychological clinic, the educated woman’s reluctance to accept any marriage as a way out.
A new role is emerging for the woman in marriage, the role of equal partner, which is more acceptable to her than the traditional housewife-and-mother role. Yet, despite the growing tendency to regard marriage not as an institutional complex but as an opportunity to get something for herself, to fulfill the romantic ideal, to develop her own personality, there remains a widespread reluctance to renounce the protection and security of the older role. At the same time the bearing of children, and the domestic service performed for the husband, are unacceptable. And her husband hardly simplifies her problem. He was raised in a home which had its chronological setting two decades ago, but centuries ago in terms of social change. His recollection of his own father’s role is strikingly patriarchal compared to his wife’s expectations of him. He is not ready to forego the rights accruing to the patriarch though he may be perfectly willing that his wife work, assume equal responsibility in making decisions, manage family finances. And so the stage is set for a conflict of expectations.
The acute problems of old age have belatedly received attention in modem society.3 Old age was usually no problem in the rural-familistic system. The aged gradually relinquished activity and control in the home or on the farm. Food and space were abundant, and they could continue until bed-ridden to perform some useful activity. Furthermore, community and religious sanctions were so uncompromising that any alternative to the aged parents living with their children was unthinkable.
But the modern job world is neither rural nor agricultural; the aging can no longer continue to be productive (a drive that is inherent in the Protestant ethic), with only a gradual decrease in work activity. In some lines of endeavor, men are now considered “old” at forty, and are haunted by the fear of being discarded. Further, the value complex has so shifted that young people no longer feel an unequivocal sense of obligation toward aged parents. Governmental agencies are planning their old-age security programs on the assumption that a growing number of persons will be unwilling to assume responsibility for their parents. Meanwhile the number entering homes for the aged mounts year by year.
This value change can partly be explained by the life situation of the married children. No longer resident on the family holding, they typically move to a city far from the parental home. They live in a small apartment where space is restricted and where there is no productive activity available for their parents. The costs of maintenance are paid with money, not by direct production on the home site, and the costs are heavy. Add to this the fact that recreational activities are no longer a matter of family-wide participation, but highly specialized in terms of narrow age groupings.
No matter what is done, the children feel either that they are making an uncalled-for sacrifice, or are guilty of ingratitude, or both. They are caught between their individualistic strivings and a set of obligations stemming from a fading tradition. And the parents, if placed in an old folks’ home, feel discarded; if a common home is established, the two generations trample upon one another’s toes psychologically. Under the old dispensation, the parents typically held title to family holdings until their death, and thus had a bargaining position from which they could retain some measure of authority. But the economic activity of the son, or son-in-law, bears no relationship whatsoever to the old people today. Yet, as is common with the old, they tend to regard their grown children as still their wards and subordinates; from the point of view of their children, on the other hand, they are expected to accept a reversal of roles, and to become the children’s subordinates.
It is questionable that moral exhortation will change this whole picture. Family stability in the modem world (as Lewis M. Terman thoroughly demonstrated in his Psychological Factors in Marital Happiness, 1939), as well as individual adjustment within it, are dependent upon the preservation of older patterns, since no new bases for the family have taken their place. At the same time, the socio-economic structure which was the underpinning of the older values has been too greatly modified to support an effective demand that a generation of vipers cease chasing its strange new gods. We may well have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we will have to live, for some time to come, in a society increasingly made up of persons subjected to the process we have described.
The effect of this modem personality on social life can scarcely be imagined or contained. Politics becomes less and less the rational response of responsible individuals, and more and more a field in which some individuals attempt to discharge crippling conflicts. Political programs, fascist and otherwise, lose their rational character and become illusions appropriate to seizing the imagination of sick individuals. Psychiatrists clamor for individual therapy—but this therapy is either an effort to restore the earlier, steadily weakening authoritarian norms in one form or another, or creates an individual who sees himself as a single soul saved, in a hell where almost everyone else is damned. In any case, changes in significant numbers of individuals can only come from social changes which are as yet in no way obvious.
To return to the Jewish group. It may be, as the writers referred to at the beginning of this article have claimed, that unique pressures have been created which reverberate in the personality of the modern Jew. Nevertheless, there are two reasons for questioning the specifically Jewish character of the problems they pose.
First, if the analysis presented above has any validity, we are dealing not with an ethnic-group phenomenon but a general cultural one.
Second, there are a number of factors that would appear to mitigate the effect these changes have had for recent immigrant groups in general and Jews in particular.
The Jews, historically, have been an urban and commercial people. The culture-wide trend in this direction does not seem as radical a break with the traditional past as it does for the Protestant, rural majority. On the other hand, observation tempts one to the generalization that the majority of middle-income Jewish family heads are spared the bureaucratic pressures described above, working as independent professional men and as small retail shop proprietors and businessmen. Most important, perhaps, Jews, despite the changes they feel so painfully, may well have been more successful in maintaining the patriarchal family through generations of urban living, and may be more successful in maintaining the old psychological patterns governing the behavior of fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, parents and children.
The evidence would seem to justify the conclusion that the prototype of the “alienated” person of our age is really the rural Protestant in the modern metropolis.
1 Although cities have always existed in the West, the vast majority of people have until recent decades been rural dwellers, and rural values have dominated even urban areas.
2 For this and other generalizations in this section, a great debt is owed to the lectures of Dr. James H. S. Bossard, of the University of Pennsylvania, on the subject of “Social Change and Personal Adjustment.”
3 The present writer is deeply indebted to Dr. Otto Pollack, who has allowed him to borrow generously from an unpublished manuscript.