American democracy is a nation of nations. Muslims, Christians, and Jews, women and men from every nation on earth have made themselves into Americans. Nevertheless, a unique majority culture developed within this nation of nations: a kind of big-tent, denomination-less, Protestant Christianity. In that culture, the dominant Jewish anxiety was assimilation into Christianity. Today however, America’s widely shared cultural pieties are no longer overtly Christian. There remain pockets of Christian vitality, but those pockets are now minorities in a new kind of American culture, one characterized less by its religious sensibilities and more by its secular liberalism.
In a short essay called “Christmas, Christians, and Jews,” published in National Review in 1988, the writer Irving Kristol suggested that the democratic principles of civility and prudence should govern how American Jews and Christians relate to one another. But are those principles, and the other habits of mind American Jews adopted to resist melting into America’s old Christian-majority culture, adequate for resisting assimilation into America’s new secular culture?
That’s the question Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, and the Director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, takes up in conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver. They also explore what the principles that Kristol suggested require today – not only of American Jews, but of Christians too – as they figure out how to address themselves to a secular liberal culture that can be hostile to traditional faith.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.