Herberg was brought up in a secular Jewish family in Manhattan. He was expelled from City College in 1920 and never was awarded any academic degree. However he falsely claimed to have degrees from Columbia University in New York, including a PhD in 1932. However, he received three honorary doctorates, the first in 1956.
During his undergraduate years Herberg became a member of the Communist Party USA. Following the split of party leader Jay Lovestone and his co-thinkers in 1929, Herberg remained loyal to them — a decision which earned his expulsion from the CPSUA on September 10, 1929. Thereafter Herberg joined the so-called Lovestoneites, remaining with that organization until its termination at the end of 1940, serving as editor of the group's weekly newspaper, Workers Age.
Protestant, Catholic, Jew
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.
Herberg's 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.
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.
- Gaston, K. Healan (2013). "The Cold War Romance of Religious Authenticity: Will Herberg, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Rise of the New Right". Journal of American History 99 (4): 1133–58 [p. 1137]. doi:10.1093/jahist/jas588.
- The Encyclopedia of Religion and Society
- "Denounces Provocative Acts of Lovestone Gang," Daily Worker, vol. 6, no. 162 (Sept. 13, 1929), pg. 4.
- Gaston, "The Cold War Romance of Religious Authenticity: Will Herberg, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Rise of the New Right," pp 1137-8
- Schwartz, Joel (2004). "Protestant, Catholic, Jew ... (retrospective book review)". Public Interest 155 (Spring): 106–136.
- The Myth of Hitler's Pope
- American Revolutionary Traditions. New York: New Workers School, 1932.
- The Heritage of the Civil War. New York : Workers Age Publishing Association, 1932.
- Dialectical Materialism. New York: New Workers School, 1933.
- Historical Materialism. New York: New Workers School, 1933.
- The NRA and American Labor. New York : Workers Age Publishing Association, 1933.
- Theoretical System of Leninism. New York: New Workers School, 1934.
- Outline for the Study of Dialectical Materialism and the Life of Man. New York: New Workers School, 1935.
- Foundations of Marxism: Study Outline. New York: New Workers School, 1936.
- Marxism and Modern Political Thought. New York: New Workers School, 1936.
- Marxism and Political Thought. New York: New Workers School, 1930s.
- Which Program for Revolutionists? New York: New Workers School, 1930s.
- The CIO, Labor's New Challenge. New York: Workers Age Publishing Association, 1937.
- Rivera Murals: Permanent Exhibition. New York: International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, 1943.
- Bureaucracy and Democracy in Labor Unions. New York: Great Island Conference, 1947.
- The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. New York: Frontier Fellowship, 1950.
- Judaism and Modern Man: An Interpretation of Jewish Religion. New York, Farrar, Straus and Young, 1951.
- "Jewish Labor Movement in the United States: Early Years to World War I," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, vol. 5, no. 4 (July 1952), pp. 501–523. In JSTOR.
- Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955.
- Jewish Labor in the US: Its History and Contributions to American Life. New York: Jewish Labor Committee, Atran Center for Jewish Culture, 1955.
- The Writings Of Martin Buber. (Editor.) New York: Meridian Books, 1956.
- Four Existentialist Theologians: A Reader from the Works of Jacques Maritain, Nicholas Berdyaev, Martin Buber, and Paul Tillich. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958.
- Athens and Jerusalem: Confrontation and Dialogue Durham: University of New Hampshire, 1965.
- Challenge to Morality: A Symposium. (Contributor.) Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University, 1966.
- Dimensions Symposium: Human Values in a Technological Society. (Contributor.) New York: UAHC, 1971.
- On Academic Freedom. (Contributor.) Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1971.
- Martin Buber: Personalist Philosopher in an Age of Depersonalization. West Hartford, CT: Saint Joseph College, 1972.
- The State of the Churches in the USA 1973 as Shown in their Own Official Yearbooks: A Study Research. Sun City, AZ: Ecumenism Research Agency, 1973.
- Faith Enacted As History: Essays in Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.
- From Marxism to Judaism: The Collected Essays of Will Herberg. (David G. Dalin, ed.) New York: Marcus Wiener Publishing Co., 1989.
- Jewish Perspectives on Christianity: Leo Baeck, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Will Herberg, and Abraham J. Heschel. (Contributor.) New York: Crossroad, 1990.
- Harry J. Ausmus, Will Herberg: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986.
- Harry J. Ausmus, Will Herberg: From Right to Right. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
- Gaston, K. Healan (2013). "The Cold War Romance of Religious Authenticity: Will Herberg, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Rise of the New Right". Journal of American History 99 (4): 1133–58. doi:10.1093/jahist/jas588.
- The author of Herberg's entry in American National Biography and an old student of his writes about him