After immigrating from Russia with his parents in 1907, Lerner earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1923. He studied law there but transferred to Washington University in St. Louis for an M.A. in 1925.
He earned a doctorate from the Brookings Institution in 1927 and began work as an editor:
Lerner's most influential book was "America as a Civilization: Life and Thought in the United States Today" (1957). Lerner was a staunch opponent of discrimination against African-Americans, but supported the wartime internment of Japanese Americans and backed an American Civil Liberties Union resolution on the issue to "subordinate civil liberties to wartime considerations and political loyalties." During the 30s, Lerner was a strong advocate of the New Deal.
His column for the New York Post debuted in 1949. It earned him a place on the master list of Nixon political opponents. During most of his career he was considered a liberal. In his later years however, he was seen as something of a conservative, due to expressing support for the Reagan administration.
He taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Harvard University, Williams College, United States International University, and Brandeis University. Lerner was also a close friend of film star Elizabeth Taylor during her marriage to Eddie Fisher He is referenced in the lyrics to Phil Ochs' song, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal": "You know, I've memorized Lerner and Golden."
His book "The Unfinished Country" is a collection of over 200 of his daily columns, written over a decade for the New York Post work contains one of his better-known quotes: "The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt."
His 1990 book Wrestling with the Angel was about his long struggle with illness.
Max Lerner, an avid media philosopher suffered from a ‘crush on america’ despite six thousand columns for the New York Post. He kept a relatively low profile, but often engaged in activities of the Playboy Mansion. Part of the reason that Lerner was in love with America was the fact that he lived the American Dream to some extent. Over the sweep of his life, he managed an affair with Elizabeth Taylor who called him her little professor and more flings than able to chronicle. Lerner was a spokesman for popular frontism before World War II and participated activism in favor of early us involvement against fascism. He would engage in broad based philosophizing about the U.S. in “America as a Civilization”, which was described as a prodigious and extremely ambitious effort of synthesis, ranging over the country’s social history, natural setting, literary and pop culture, economics, and politics, as well as its national character and style, all in an effort to define what was unique about the country and to analyze the factors that accounted for its development. He insisted America should be viewed as new civilization as opposed to a spinoff of European predecessors. He additionally argued that American character consisted of self-reliance coupled with endurance, friendliness, a democratic informality as well as a sharp aggressiveness coupled with organizing capacity, genius for technology, sense of bigness and power. America practiced the imperialism of attraction, winning other people’s hearts and feet through the appeal of ideas and accomplishments. Lerner furthered his love argument for American stating that radicals cannot compete with liberal reformers in concrete programs. America is protected from Rome’s exhaustion by a central virtue; access it proves to elite structure, but only after social battles, American dynamism was explored often in Lerner’s text as well as American intellectual history. Lerner wrote about American history as a pragmatist since he emerged from complex, intricate problems in life as opposed to a script.
Romano, C. America the Philosophical. (2012).
- A film clip "The Open Mind - An American Original . . . Revisited (1988)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- Irons, Peter. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Cases, pg. 129 (1983)
- Sanford Lakoff, "Preface", pp. ix-xxi, in Lakoff, Max Lerner : Pilgrim in the Promised Land. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. ISBN 0-226-46831-3
- Schine, Cathleen (October 18, 1981). Bad Luck and Violet Eyes. New York Times
- Severo, Richard (June 6, 1992). Max Lerner, Writer, 89, Is Dead; Humanist on Political Barricades. New York Times