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East European Intellectual History—Marxism in Dialogue: Virtual Issue 2.2

Over its more than 80 years in print, the Journal of the History of Ideas has accumulated a pretty large archive. Oftentimes, that archive is representative of the history of intellectual history—its trends, priorities, methods. Sometimes, it involves scholarship that, by virtue of appearing once-in-a-while, cannot quite get either the visibility or the relevant context in which to be seen. 

With the Virtual Issues initiative on the JHIBlog, we propose to recall earlier articles from the JHI that fit with a particular subject or theme, and to place them in a new and current context. We do not pretend that the JHI could ever be comprehensive on these themes, and we are well aware of the limits of the journal’s success in addressing particular subjects. But as with every archive, all sorts of surprises await. With Virtual Issues, we bring out work that has some connection to current concerns, and to recall ways in which authors engaged a particular theme, including ways that may now be out of fashion but that are suggestive of past trends. Each Virtual Issue—the second being East European Intellectual History, to appear in several installments—features an introduction that resituates these articles. Anyone interested in curating such an issue together with us should contact the lead JHIBlog editors with a proposal and a list of relevant articles. 

      — Stefanos Geroulanos, on behalf of the Executive Editors


By Artur Banaszewski & Isabel Jacobs

In the first installment of our series on East European Intellectual History, we sketched out how imaginary maps of the 18th century translated into what was later envisioned as the iron curtain, a mental demarcation line shaped by the ideological frontlines of the Cold War. We revealed how concepts of “East” and “West” were used as floating signifiers rather than denoting precise boundaries.

However, in the mind of Western anti-communists, including Isaiah Berlin and Hannah Arendt, the iron curtain remained an ultimate barrier “separating the light of Christian civilization from whatever lurked in the shadows.” 

The image of an impenetrable wall described more than an economic and political divide: it symbolized a discontinuity of European civilization, where the Western, Judeo-Christian tradition was replaced by the dogmatic doctrine of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism imposed from Moscow. From this perspective, the bayonets of the Red Army violently cut Eastern Europe’s cultural and historical ties to the rest of the globe.

While the political split between East and West was unquestionable, Winston Churchill’s acclaimed metaphor bore little correspondence to the reality of intellectual history during most of the Cold War. After all, Marxism was a quintessentially global phenomenon that, after World War II, inspired labor unions and anti-colonial movements alike. Despite the dramatic political circumstances, the circulation of ideas between East and West did not come to a halt. 

Between 1965 and 1973, the Yugoslav Marxist journal Praxis attracted international readership and featured distinguished Western scholars like Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, and Jürgen Habermas. Based in the small Croatian island Korčula, the yearly summer school organized by Praxis was a crucial point of contact between Marxist thinkers from East and West.

On Korčula’s beaches, French theorists Henri Lefebvre and Lucien Goldmann, the latter Romanian-born, went for a swim with Ágnes Heller, Karel Kosík, and other non-conformist thinkers from Eastern Europe. Through Korčula, new theories were freely migrating toward both east and west, unveiling the permeability of the iron curtain.

Herbert Marcuse speaking at the Praxis summer school in Korčula in 1968.

The controversial anti-communist magazine Encounter, infamously sponsored by the CIA, paid close attention to intellectual developments in Eastern Europe with the goal to undermine the appeal of Soviet ideology. At Western campuses, East European thinkers evoked genuine interest as having first-hand knowledge of the alternative system, its official ideology, and its faults.

In the post-war decades, American academia was shaped by the impact of émigré scholars from Central and Eastern Europe, many of them Jewish, such as Hannah Arendt, Alexandre Koyré, and Aron Gurwitsch. Throughout the Cold War, global debates about political and social change could not take place without considering the East European experience of “real socialism.”

Consequently, in our second virtual issue we suggest conceptualizing Marxism not as obstructing but, on the contrary, facilitating Eastern Europe’s transnational dialogues. In the Cold War intellectual landscape, Eastern Europe played a prominent role as a source of productive criticism and practical engagement with Marxist ideas.

Simultaneously, the status of the region was profoundly intertwined with global cultural politics. Therefore, we suggest that “Marxism in dialogue” provides a compelling lens through which Eastern Europe can be situated within global intellectual history of the twentieth century.

East European Marxism was not only in dialogue with the world but also with discourses across disciplinary boundaries: theology, the natural sciences, analytical logic, and political economy. While scouring the archives, we discovered that many articles published in the Journal of the History of Ideas during the 1960-70s presented East European Marxists as valuable inspirations to Western scholarly audiences.

Marxist philosophy, enriched and transformed by other disciplines, provided some of the most original theories and arguments of the twentieth century. During the Cold War, powerful Marxist voices like Evald Ilyenkov or Karel Kosík, today largely forgotten, had a truly global outreach, inspiring Italian anti-fascism and Mexican Marxists alike.

This does not mean that all East European intellectuals were Marxists or even had remotely communist sympathies. On the contrary, émigré thinkers Isaiah Berlin and Leszek Kołakowski formulated compelling critiques of Marxism which helped establish the canon of Cold War liberal thought.

What made such critiques so powerful was their embeddedness both in Marxist discourse and the personal experience of socialism in Eastern Europe. Even for anti-communist Eastern Europeans, Marxism provided the ground of their theories and the context in which their ideas were received by a global public.

Italian publisher Feltrinelli’s translation of Evald Ilyenkov’s The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital, appearing in 1961, only one year after the Soviet edition.

Our virtual issue captures this dissent and intersects it with an analysis of the JHI’s editorial policy during the Cold War. As the recent virtual issue on the JHI in the Early Cold War has shown, in the 1940-50s the Journal promoted anti-communist and anti-Marxist approaches that endorsed the position of the United States as a liberal world power.

Some of the articles we selected for our issue continued this strand of thought and criticized Marxism directly. However, during the archival work, we discovered that in the 1960s-70s, the Journal also published a surprising number of articles sympathetic to a pan-European project of Marxist revisionism. 

For instance, a recurring theme was criticizing orthodox Soviet Marxism and exposing its differences to the original writings of Marx and Engels. At first glance, this may appear as a startling change in the JHI’s editorial policy, which became appreciative of Marxist inputs to the history of ideas.

However, this adjustment can also be explained by cultural policies implemented by the US government during the Cold War. Following the 1950s, American authorities began supporting anti-communist advocacy groups that fostered ideas and intellectuals associated with the non-communist Left. 

Associations like the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom promoted revisionist and non-orthodox voices to subvert an overall coherence of Marxist theory. One of the objectives of the Congress and its successors was exposing East European intellectuals to Western anti-communist ideas.

Elements of this close proximity strategy are evident in several of our selected articles. Our discoveries in the archives support the hypothesis that the JHI was both informed by and played an active part in America’s Cultural Cold War.

While aiming to showcase various voices from Eastern Europe, we noticed an astonishing gap of female commentators on Marxism. As a result, we had to neglect the powerful impulses of Marxist feminist thinkers in Eastern Europe, from Alexandra Kollontai to Yugoslav feminism in the 1970s

With the supposed global decline of Marxism as an intellectual force, Eastern European intellectuals became strangely absent from the mental maps of the international scholarly public. Already from the 1970s onwards, the region gradually ceased to be an interlocutor, turning into a mere case study of social and ideological failure.

Crucial intellectual debates within and beyond Marxism that often opened up spaces for ambiguous dissent have largely been neglected ever since. Once communism has fallen, the tale of an ultimate victory of liberal capitalism goes, the force of East European Marxism vanished too – for the problems it instigated were resolved once and for all.

In 1989, the crowds in the streets of East European capitals became an ultimate proof that the end of history was nigh. Although liberal apologists championed these revolutions as an example to the rest of the globe, Eastern Europe lost its previous intellectual appeal. The only legitimate concern left for the region was to “catch up” with the West.

Recreating liberal norms and institutions became Eastern Europe’s ultimate horizon of political imagination. The fall of communism was intrinsically intertwined with the global triumph of liberalism. Both events were decided in Eastern Europe, yet the intellectual history of the region’s place in the contemporary liberal weltanschauung remains to be written.

In our virtual issue, we present East European intellectual developments from the 1960s onwards as equal to those of Western academics. Further, we suggest that some of Marxism’s forgotten dialogues, such as the collision between Marxist thought and analytic philosophy in post-war Poland, have the potential to stimulate intellectual debate today.

I.D. Kuleshov’s illustration of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow, taken from his book Krasnaia stolitsa [Red Capital], published in 1930. Public Domain.

Our issue opens with Russian-Jewish philosopher and intellectual historian Isaiah Berlin’s one-page note, published in 1978, concerning whether Marx dedicated or not his Capital to Darwin. A remarkable historical document, Berlin’s note is a scathing commentary on “Western Marxology,” while revealing his links to Soviet Marxist research. Critically reacting to Margaret A. Fay’s review of his intellectual biography of Marx, Berlin insists on Marx’s close relationship to Darwin.

Fay had argued that there was no evidence Marx offered to dedicate the Capital to Darwin. Berlin, on the other hand, refers to resources at the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow that he had consulted while writing his book in the 1930s. Further, Berlin suggests Western Marxologists should educate themselves with the Russian Biokhronika of Marx’s life, the “fullest and most authoritative source for the facts of Marx’s life as well as for his writings.”

In his article, Truman B. Cross sets the tone for our issue by emphasizing the complex legacies of Marx’s epistemology. In his work as a theoretician and translator, Viktor Chernov, one of the founders of the Russian Socialist-Revolutionary Party, noted a discrepancy between the “old” and the “young” Marx’s views on epistemology. For Chernov, Marx’s writings from the 1870-80s aimed to discover “objective” economic laws of the historical process, which he conceptualized as the ultimate causes of social change. 

However, Chernov noted that in the 1845 Theses on Feuerbach, Marx stressed the active role of the individual in perceiving material reality, which implied that knowledge was not objective but dependent on one’s psychosocial development. Therefore, Chernov credited Marx with discovering the social generation of truth criteria, a kind of pre-sociology of knowledge.

Chernov also scolded later Marxists, particularly Engels and Lenin, who ignored the young Marx’s views on epistemology for the sake of historical positivism and economic determinism. As Cross demonstrates, Chernov’s argument prefigured later debates in Marxism, for instance regarding the relation of the individual to society and the problem of praxis.

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski’s groundbreaking article discusses the revival of analytical philosophy and its collision with Marxist theory in Poland in the 1950-60s. Analytical philosophy in Poland, known as the Lviv-Warsaw School, had been a dominant school before its near extinction during World War II.

When Marxists attempted to subjugate all other philosophical schools in the 1950s, Marxist doctrinal epistemology turned out to be inadequate to discredit more sophisticated theories by analytical philosophers. This lively, productive debate between Marxists and analytical philosophers resulted in what Skolimowski calls “analytical-linguistic Marxism.”

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski (1930-2018).

Skolimowski examines how Polish Marxists, most notably Leszek Kołakowski and Adam Schaff, applied highly semantic categories and approaches in their work. Kołakowski, for instance, used an analytical view on Marxism to argue for the compatibility of individual responsibility and historical inevitability. Similarly, Adam Schaff criticized Sartre’s famous essay Between Existentialism and Marxism using tools from an analytical philosophy of language.

As a result, by demonstrating the reconcilability of formal and dialectic logic, Polish philosophers were capable of integrating new methods into Marxist philosophy. Further, their eclectic version of Marxism, largely forgotten, remains highly relevant for contemporary analytic philosophy. 

The battle between formal and dialectical logic, shaping analytical-linguistic Marxism in Poland, was also fought in the field of Soviet biology. While Marx, according to Berlin, had offered to dedicate his Capital to Darwin, Soviet Marxist biologists had difficulties reconciling dialectics with evolutionary laws. According to Boris Groys, at the core of this battle was the question of “how the living could be distinguished from the dead, the mechanical, the machinistic” (61).

Soviet scientists, such as anti-geneticist Trofim Lysenko or biochemist Alexander Oparin, debated on how organic life had to be understood, and whether the laws of biology could be overturned by the logic of dialectical materialism. Mendel’s genetics, with its emphasis on inheritance, was suspected of subordinating life to “a dead combinatory of signs.” 

A fervent opponent of Mendel’s theory of genetic inheritance, Lysenko developed his own pseudo-scientific theory of the origin and development of life. As Oparin argued in 1951, Stalin’s conception of language had a significant influence on the field of biology, prompting Lysenko to describe life itself as contradictory (61). David Joravsky’s article reflects on these debates and explores the relation between Soviet Marxism and biology in the 1920s, before Lysenkoism gained fame – with catastrophic consequences, including mass starvation due to Lysenko’s agricultural reforms under Stalin.

Joravsky provides an interesting case study on how Marxism became institutionalized in the Soviet natural sciences. According to the author, the decline of Soviet biology began long before Lysenkoism due to politically motivated attempts to create an all-encompassing Marxist theory of biology. 

Maxim W. Mikulak’s article, on the other hand, approaches the debate from the other end, proclaiming “the near death of Soviet genetics in Stalinist Russia” (359). Mikulak discusses the influence of Darwinism and Lamarckism on Soviet Marxist natural sciences. 19th-century paradigms in biology had left a lasting imprint on the Marxist philosophy of nature. When later developments in genetics falsified Marx and Engels’ views, Marxist philosophers found it impossible to challenge their outdated views which were still based on approaches from the previous century. 

Thus, the reason for the backwardness of Soviet genetics was a kind of reverse presentism: they assessed scientific discoveries of the present using theoretical criteria of the past. While the encounter of Marxism and analytical philosophy proved fruitful, Soviet genetics is an interesting example of a failed dialogue with detrimental effects: dogmatically imposing Marxist views on scientific frameworks, Lysenko was responsible for a severe humanitarian crisis and the temporary decline of Soviet science.

Trofim Lysenko (left) addressing Stalin in the Kremlin in 1935. Public Domain.

Marxist epistemology not only intervened into the fields of logic and science but also instigated lively debates on political and theological matters. In his article on Marx and the Kabbalah, Eliyahu Stern studies the reinterpretation of Marx in Jewish socialist Aaron Lieberman’s political thought. Most discussions about the Jewish reception of Marx, himself Jewish-born, focus on his “On the Jewish Question” from 1843/4.

However, in the Russian Empire, where the majority of the world’s Jewry resided at the time, a lively Jewish reception of Marx’s ideas began in the 1870s. Such was the case of Lieberman, a founding father of Jewish socialism, who argued that the socio-economic problems facing Jews in 19th-century Eastern Europe rooted in their systemic subjugation to the Russian Empire.

Using arguments developed in Marx’s Capital, Lieberman exposed medieval Jewish scholasticism as an ideological superstructure substantiating the rule of a feudal elite and excluding any possibility of people’s control over their material conditions. Accordingly, Liebermann accused the 19th-century Jewish reformism movement of maintaining the scholastic principle of legitimizing the existing social order.

Instead of supporting liberal policies embedded in divine concepts of mercy and ethics, Lieberman used Judaism to argue for the need for human agency over the world. Therefore, Lieberman’s kabbalistic communism constituted an original, enlightened fusion of religious and Marxist thought, inspired by the concrete experiences of East European Jews.

Czech philosopher Erazim Kohák’s translation of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk’s article “The Scientific and Philosophical Crisis of Contemporary Marxism,” written almost 70 years earlier, is a remarkable example of the shift in the JHI’s editorial policy. Even more surprising is Kohák’s unapologetically political foreword, explicitly advocating for democratic socialism in an American scholarly journal in the 1960s.

Masaryk’s article was originally published in the Austrian weekly Die Zeit in 1897. Kohak opens his foreword with the daring assertion that due to the widespread influence of socialist parties and ideas across the globe, “the world in which we live is a socialist world.” In Kohak’s view, democracy can no longer ignore socialism due to a shared existential dilemma: how to transform a revolutionary movement for social change into a lasting reform movement that can enact it?

Kohak argues that the task of transforming revolutionary socialism into social democracy provides new importance to the “revisionists” of the late 19th century, particularly Masaryk who was not only a prolific historian of philosophy but also Czechoslovakia’s first president. The article presents Masaryk as one of the leading figures of socialist revisionism alongside more known authors such as Eduard Bernstein or Karl Kautsky. 

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk on the cover of Time, 1928. Public Domain.

In his article, Hungarian moral philosopher Julius Kovesi describes various attitudes towards Marx, which in his view, commonly share religious dimensions. Kovesi is an important Eastern European voice attacking Marxist trends in the 1970s, while drawing from an array of scholars critical of Marxism, such as Eric Voegelin or Leszek Kołakowski.

Kovesi places Marxism within what he calls an ecclesiastical framework. Similar to the tradition of biblical criticism, within Marxism “even the rejection of the ecclesia takes the form of an appeal to the bible” (93). According to Kovesi, another similarity between Christianity and Marxism is the fact that both do not differentiate between an idea and a person: acknowledging Marxism was equal with placing oneself as a participant in the Marxist worldview. 

Further, the ecclesiastical framework assumes that the scriptures which gave rise to the church contain perennial and universal truth, which allows it to disregard any other writings inspired by the movement. On these grounds, Kovesi describes Marxism as a “closed system” of ideas opposed to “open systems” which permitted discussion and elimination of arguments based on reason and evidence. Kovesi particularly criticizes György Lukács and the New Left, concluding that the linking of an idea and a person dooms the idea to the risk of social invalidation. 

While not discussing Eastern Europe per se, Charles F. Elliott’s article is a revealing document of cultural politics at one of the peaks in the Cold War. As such, it wonderfully concludes our second installment of East European Intellectual History. Elliott’s article, funded by the Ford Foundation, discusses revisions of Marxism made by Bernstein, Luxemburg, and Lenin. The author argues that in their search for the “correct” understanding of Marxism, all three authors heavily revised the original Marxian theory due to its inapplicability to mass democratic politics (the dilemma of the non-revolutionary proletariat). 

Although not stated explicitly, the article’s main claim is that due to Marx’s internal inconsistencies and faults, no “correct” interpretation of Marxism can exist; thus all later interpreters had to be revisionists to some extent. The article is indicative of the cultural strategy pursued by the Ford Foundation in the 1950-1960s. In the midst of the Cold War, the Foundation aimed to support non-orthodox interpretations of Marxism to discredit it as a coherent political ideology and school of thought. 

Featuring a broad array of scholarly approaches, our second virtual issue on East European Intellectual History sheds new light on the region’s global and transdisciplinary entanglements. We explored how East European Marxism intervened into crucial debates around democracy, political economy, religion, and science. We believe that these debates hold immense potential to further our understanding of the contemporary relevance and versatility of Marxist thought.


Artur Banaszewski is a PhD researcher in the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He holds a Master of Letters degree in Global Social and Political Thought from the University of St Andrews. Artur’s doctoral project titled “Disillusioned with communism. Zygmunt Bauman, Leszek Kołakowski and the global decline of orthodox Marxism” explores Eastern European critiques of socialist thought and intersects them with the global political context of the Cold War. His research interests include global intellectual history, postcolonial studies, political theory, and Cold War liberalism. 

Isabel Jacobs is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London. Her dissertation explores Russian-French philosopher Alexandre Kojève’s aesthetics. Her research interests include Soviet and Russian philosophy, German-Jewish thought, global intellectual history, and cinema. She holds a MA in Russian and East European Literature and Culture from UCL and a BA in Philosophy and Slavic Studies from Heidelberg University.

Featured Image: 1945 Romanian stamp of Karl Marx with the slogan “Workers of the world, unite!” Wikimedia Commons.

Categories
Intellectual history Virtual Issues

Reimagining the History of Ideas – The JHI in the Early Cold War – Virtual Issue 3.1

Over its more than 80 years in print, the Journal of the History of Ideas has accumulated a pretty large archive. Oftentimes, that archive is representative of the history of intellectual history—its trends, priorities, methods. Sometimes, it involves scholarship that, by virtue of appearing once-in-a-while, cannot quite get either the visibility or the relevant context in which to be seen. 

With the Virtual Issues initiative on the JHIBlog, we propose to recall earlier articles from the JHI that fit with a particular subject or theme, and to place them in a new and current context. We do not pretend that the JHI could ever be comprehensive on these themes, and we are well aware of the limits of the journal’s success in addressing particular subjects. But as with every archive, all sorts of surprises await. With Virtual Issues, we bring out work that has some connection to current concerns, and to recall ways in which authors engaged a particular theme, including ways that may now be out of fashion but that are suggestive of past trends. Anyone interested in curating such an issue together with us should contact the lead JHIBlog editors with a proposal and a list of relevant articles. 

      — Stefanos Geroulanos, on behalf of the Executive Editors


By Thomas Furse & Thomas Holland

This Virtual Issue series investigates how the Journal of the History of Ideas became involved in political and intellectual debates about Marxism, totalitarianism, and class warfare between the 1940s and early 1960s. The Journal, as the premier space for the history of ideas in the United States in the mid-twentieth century, is an artifact of the political and social context of the time. The nation was victorious against the Axis Powers and the rising superpower for Western capitalism. Its opponent was the global ideological project of communism with a center in Moscow and a second in Beijing that was fast enveloping what it could in Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia. Following American universities, research institutes, and colleges, the Journal contributed to curating an ideology that could benefit the United States as a liberal democratic world power in its fight against totalitarianism, and specifically, global communism and Marxism. It became, what we call, an anti-communist laboratory. In tow with elite power, the Journal helped establish a space to challenge and reevaluate the intellectual foundations of the Soviet experiment. Its founding editor, Arthur O. Lovejoy, was a committed Wilsonian liberal internationalist who firmly opposed communism. A theme throughout this series is how the Journal weaponized various methodological approaches to highlight and conceal certain features of politics and history. This first installment looks at the Journal from 1940 to 1959 to show how it condemned Marxism, Nazism, and domestic isolationism as the United States was on the path to becoming a superpower. The next installment, led by Thomas Holland, explores how the Journal strove to limit the radical implications of class warfare by promoting alternative non-revolutionary socialist visions of class derived predominantly from the British tradition.    

***

Arthur O. Lovejoy supported US entry into the First World War and the League of Nations, wrote against conscientious objectors, and in a 1938 article critical of trade unions, outlined how free universities upheld Western civilization against totalitarianism (p. 415). During the First World War, Lovejoy joined the National Security League (and the YMCA). This elite-backed group supported the mass naturalization of immigrants, conscription, the Espionage Act (1917), and the Sedition Act (1918), promoted Germanophobia, and national infrastructure with inter-state highways. In association with the Preparedness Movement, they helped organize the United States for war. The NSL rode the wave of elite and populist anger against political radicals and immigrants, especially Germans (Lovejoy was born in Berlin to a German mother and American father in 1873). Through the NSL and as a founder of the American Association of University Professors, he advanced a vision of academic freedom while vetting professors who were possible security risks and also promoted American patriotism through education. The NSL fell into turmoil after the First World War and collapsed in 1942. But Lovejoy remained relatively committed to the ethos of assertive nationalism and liberal interventionism throughout his life. He died in 1962.

During the 1940s and 1950s, which is the timeline for this installment, Americans experienced another round of political repression and state surveillance, known as the Second Red Scare. This time, it was directed against communism, not German-American culture. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, McCarthyism, the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and Federal Loyalty Boards helped to stimulate anti-communism, hostility to racial equality, and working-class power. There were trials for suspected spies, such as the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, and the Communist Party USA leaders, and repression for unions and black equality and the Hollywood Ten. In 1949, Lovejoy wrote “Communism versus Academic Freedom” in the New Republic, arguing that Communist Party members should not take up academic positions. This was an anti-revolutionary politics designed to manage the potential extremism in a heterogeneous mass democracy.

American Legion, November 1951

It would be an overstatement to view the Journal as on the frontline of the early Cold War. But it was a bastion of elite power for an educated audience of public opinion formers as the US geared itself into a superpower struggle. These five articles published between 1940-1959 indicate how the US, as a liberal superpower, defined itself first against fascist totalitarianism and then Soviet communism. As these selected articles show, the Journal constructed an elite intellectual space where ideological alternatives to Marxism and communism could be explored. The Journal was anti-communist that generally adhered to liberal internationalism but avoided harsh dogmatism. It hosted Erik R. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a staunch conservative critic of mass democracy, communism, and Nazism; Max Laserson, a firm supporter of democracy but one nostalgic of the early Soviets; Charles A. Madison, a historian of progressive politics; James W. Vander Zanden, a historian of race and racism in the United States; and Frederick H. Cramer, a historian and scriptwriter.

Aside from James W. Vander Zanden, all figures in this installment were born outside the United States. They were émigrés who broadly aspired to contain the Soviet Union’s world-domineering power and nurture ideological alternatives. Charles A. Madison (b. Kyiv), Frederick H. Cramer (b. Berlin), and Max Laserson (b. Jelgava, Latvia), worked at the publishing house Henry Holt and Company, Mount Holyoke College, and Columbia University respectively. Erik R. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (b. Tobelbad, Austria) moved to the US in 1937, became influential in American conservative thought, and taught at various colleges in the Northeast before moving back to Austria.

***

Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Bohemian Background of German National Socialism: The D.A.P., D.N.S.A.P. and N.S.D.A.P.,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jun., 1948), pp. 339-371

Max M. Laserson “Democracy as a Regulative Idea and as an Established Regime: The Democratic Tradition in Russia and Germany,”  Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Jun., 1947), pp. 342-362

Charles A. Madison, “Anarchism in the United States,” Journal of History of Ideas, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jan., 1945), pp. 46-66

Frederick H. Cramer “Isolationism: A Case-History,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct., 1940), pp. 459-493

James W. Vander Zanden “The Ideology of White Supremacy,” Journal of History of Ideas, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jun., 1959), pp. 385-402

***

Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s article is an almost proto-libertarian analysis of modern mass democracy and totalitarian politics. He advocated for enlightened rulers to safeguard economic freedom and individualism. Here, Thomas Jefferson is not an arch-democrat but an “Agrarromantiker,” that is, a believer that the natural aristocracy should rule in the interests of all and that the urban lower class was “prone to render sane government impossible” (p. 340). Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn tracks how European communist and socialist parties before and during the Second World War frequently collaborated with the Nazis. Not out of mere survival but because they were ideologically united behind similar visions of totalitarianism and mass politics. European socialist parties and Nazis opposed aristocrats, traders, and Jews in the name of supporting the “Common Man” and favored welfare systems to this end (p. 366). Thus, socialist and National-Socialist antisemitism becomes an anti-elitist, anti-capitalist, and racist ideology (p. 354). For von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, National-Socialism was “ideologically the full heir and probably the most complete synthesis of ideas springing directly or indirectly from the French Revolution” (p. 342). 

The Austrian origins matter. As Quinn Slobodian has shown, the areas of the old Habsburg Empire after the First World War were a place of origin for neoliberal intellectuals who gathered to use the state and global institutions to defend and depoliticize the market economy. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn was not a neoliberal like Ludwig von Mises. But his emphasis on defending individualism and economic freedom against anti-capitalist totalitarian ideologies and turbulent mass democracies was a shared outlook. There is barely any mention of capitalism or freedom, but where they do appear, he adopts a fatalistic attitude towards them. He states, “the older liberalism, with its emphasis on economic freedom, is fighting a hopeless rearguard action” against contemporary mass parties who fight protracted disputes over minor policy changes. What is sacrificed is individualism for collectivism (p. 339). Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn viewed economic inequality as natural and emphasized the ‘socialism’ of National Socialism. Whereas Mary Margaret Ball’s analysis of the ‘Leadership Principle’ in National Socialism argued that as an ideology, it required inequality, most obviously in race, but importantly between Nietzschean Supermen and everyone else. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is far less open to examining the leadership and Nazi theory of the state, preferring instead to focus on the economic, social, and racial policies. It is clear in relation to Ball’s article (written in 1942) that von Kuehnelt-Leddihn does not account for inequality because of his commitment to Catholic hierarchy and capitalism.   

In postwar Europe, some US administration officials thought of German Catholics, who tended to be critical of Nazism, as providing a base layer to rebuild German politics. Waldemar Gurian, a Catholic émigré who moved back to Germany in 1948, mobilized Catholicism to be anti-communist and build trust between West Germany and the United States. This Catholic conservative project sought to build communitarian politics centered around the Catholic Church. With Rockefeller Foundation funding, Gurian and other German Catholic intellectuals developed Soviet studies or Sovietology in the United States. This field of knowledge entrenched Gurian’s argument that communism and Nazism were the same totalitarian ideology. As a committed Catholic, Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s article can be read within this postwar history of Catholic anti-totalitarianism and the development of organic communities. He wrote, for instance, that Luther did the “spadework in preparing psychologically the rise of National-Socialism in Northern Germany” (pp. 343-344).

A debate in Catholic intellectual circles was about the difference between individualism and ‘personalism.’ The former, influenced by the Enlightenment, considered the individual a secular, rational being inhabiting a universal society. The latter saw the person as a spiritual entity interconnected in organic communities. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s primary motivations were against mass politics; he only touches briefly on these differences (p. 339). His driving focus was to ensure continuity in capitalist elite power, and only then, with the inclusion of Gurian’s personalist democracy. Under his émigré pseudonym, Francis Stuart Campbell, he wrote The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (1943), one of his major interventions against mass politics. He ends the article in foreboding terms: if collectivism, totalitarianism, continental democracy, socialism, and utilitarianism remain features of Western Civilization, then “a minor incident such as the defeat or even the destruction of the German Reich will hardly stem this powerful tide” (p. 371).    

Anti-Communist Protest in Iowa in 1959. Iowa Dept. of Cultural Affairs

Max M. Laserson’s 1947 article, “Democracy as a Regulative Idea and as an Established Regime,” envisions democracy as an ideal to be yearned for. “We have had many democracies-in-law, partial democracies, but no democracy in full fact” (p. 342). Laserson’s preoccupation in the article is to reassess the meanings of political categories. Like Kuehnelt-Leddihn, he puts Boleshvism and Nazism into the same ideological box. Specifically, both used democracy, precisely local-self government, for oppressive ends: liquidation of the press and curtailing political parties (pp. 357-58). In contrast, in Anglo-Saxon countries, “organic and simultaneous growth of political government and local self-government, had a liberating importance” (p. 358). This presents a shift in Laserson as a thinker and public advocate. He graduated from Saint Petersburg Imperial University in 1910 and worked for the revolutionary government in 1917 as the deputy director of national minorities in the Interior Ministry for Provisional Government in Russia. A theme throughout his archival papers is an interest in minority rights, particularly of Jews and the Baltic states and their relationship with democracy. As a Latvian legal philosopher in the interwar years, he led Ceire Cion, a small socialist-Zionist party in the Republic of Latvia. In the 1930s, he moved to Mandatory Palestine as a lecturer at the Tel Aviv School for Law and Economics and Latvia barred him from re-entry after the 1934 Ulmanis’ Coup.

Laserson was nostalgic for the Soviet Russian Constitution. That Constitution, he argued, had democratic potential at the federal level and among the many ethnic groups within Russian borders. Articles 126 and 141, however, dangerously reinforced the Communist Party’s monopoly and stopped freedom of association. Laserson argued there was no pretense of democracy in Nazi Germany, despite the state’s history of legal philosophy and constitutional law. “Hitlerite Germany as a state-order was so sure of its internal power over the German people that it did not even try to disguise its totalitarian character by any concessions to democratic phraseology or thinking” (p. 359). Obedience was so great there that there was no armed resistance, unlike in Soviet Russia. In his book Russia and the Western World, he directs his ire against the cynicism of German legal professors, such as Carl Schmitt, even while remaining disappointed by Soviet Russia. Throughout the article, Laserson adopts a cultural argument about democracy’s development. In contrast to other European states, England had a democratic legal order “fixed in an act of feudal time” through the Magna Carta. He considered the Weimar Constitution to have been a sensible democratic order where “leftist Marxian” politics, through the Social Democratic Party, led the federal republic, but crucially “did not provoke the propertied classes and their most intransigeant representatives to an out-and-out social and political fight” (p. 361).

While living in the United States, he wrote The Development Of Soviet Foreign Policy In Europe (1943), a collection of Soviet documents published by Carnegie Endowment, Russia and the Western World: The Place of the Soviet Union in the Comity of Nations (1945), and The American Impact On Russia: Diplomatic And Ideological, 1784-1917 (1950). Laserson’s work at Columbia University, his several published works in English on Russian law, and his fluency in Russian, Latvian, Yiddish, Hebrew, German, French, and English made him a practical importer of ideas into postwar intellectual circles. However, he was not always that convincing to his new audiences. Reviewers were puzzled by Laserson’s optimism about a possible rapprochement between the West and the Soviet Union and his argument that Soviet law was just. His inclusion nevertheless suggests that the Journal was a plural space. It was not automatically hostile to former communists. In this article, at least, Laserson subtly espoused the virtues of Anglo-Saxon democracy.

The Journal’s general adherence to liberal internationalism was flexible enough to hold and accept various views and politics. Charles A. Madison discusses a social and intellectual genealogy of anarchism in the United States and Europe. Early colonialist settlers on the frontiers of British America and the Native Americans lived in anarchy due to the absence of a genuine state (p. 49). By the nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau had elaborated a philosophy of anarchism that carried this ‘ideal type’ of non-state society to “its logical extremity” with unprecedented “clarity and conviction” (p.50). Although Madison finds Thoreau hyperbolic, eccentric, and aloof, he was at least in the Jeffersonian democratic orbit. The serious problems of anarchism for the United States came from foreign anarchists during rapid industrialization. “Communist anarchism was a foreign importation and clashed with the authorities from the very beginning… It reached this country on a wave of strikes and riots in the late 1870’s. A number of radicals, mostly German immigrants, became disgruntled with the reformist views of the Socialist Labor Party and broke away from it in order to create an organization more in keeping with their extreme beliefs” (p. 57). Madison was no xenophobe. “The fact that most of the anarchists were recent immigrants-Germans, Russian Jews and Italians tended to intensify the prejudice against them. The newspapers, always eager to capitalize on matters of public interest, began to play up the threat of anarchism” as if every strike was the beginning of revolution (p. 58-59). Perhaps the underlying point is that high levels of immigration fragmented communities of unassimilated migrants, creating social outsiders who adopted heretical, risk-fuelled, and sometimes violent ideologies. 

Madison is keen to show how anarchism had an international stamp: Josiah Warren flirted with Robert Dale Owen’s New Harmony, Indiana, a communal project inspired by his father, Robert Owen, although he eventually cast off this “utopian communism… to the doctrine of extreme individualism.” Another example was Emma Goldman, a sixteen-year-old Jewish immigrant from the Russian Empire. Her toil in a Chicago sweatshop led her to dedicate herself to anarchism through her extensive travels across North America and Europe. And finally, there was Russian nihilism in the 1892 Homestead Riot (pp. 52, 60-61). Madison was himself an immigrant and assimilated well into the US. Born in Kyiv in 1896, he arrived in 1906 and graduated from Michigan University and then Harvard University with an MA in comparative literature in 1922. Perhaps through life experience and his work as a labor historian, he was sensitive to how foreigners integrate and the troubles they face. He was straightforward, for instance, about how the Sacco-Vanzetti case was “tragic” and a “grievous miscarriage of justice” (p. 64).

A protest in favor of Sacco and Vanzetti. Boston Public Library.

Methodologically, Madison provides a nascent consensus-oriented history of anarchism. He wrote this in 1945, three years before Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s broadside against collectivism and before McCarthyism in the Second Red Scare started. Certainly, state authorities disliked communist activity in 1945. But Madison, a labor historian by interest and publisher by trade, avoids denouncing anarchism as a foreign communist plot. His principal concern is countering xenophobia, a worthy enough intention. “When the thick crust of prejudice is removed from the popular conception of anarchism, the doctrine assumes an idealistic character bordering on utopianism” (p. 65). In making this argument, he downplays their genuine revolutionary desires and cannot explain why figures would want to change politics other than for banal material interests. He never uses “collectivism” in a pejorative sense or otherwise. He prefers the more neutral-sounding terms: voluntary association, cooperation, and mutual aid to describe anarchist politics. Thus, he downplays their radicalism for better or worse. He shields them from nativism and makes a conservative argument about the US political order. In the end, for Madison, contemporary foreign-born anarchists were not the heirs of Jefferson, nor were they terrorists bent on revolution. They were more likely, in this reading, to be victims of long migrations, sweatshops, and police brutality. For Madison, consensus and steady moral improvement is the basis of American history; it does not need a revolution.     

The same cannot be said about isolationists or non-interventionists for Frederick H. Cramer. Primarily, Cramer was a historian of Roman astrology and European intellectual history, but he was interested in US foreign affairs and, in 1927, worked for Universal Studios as a scriptwriter. In 1940, he wrote a dramatic Greek-style play for the Journal entitled “Isolationism: A Case-History.” In this unusual format, we find “Mr. D.” who advocates for interventionism and is a patriot; “Mr. A.” does so for isolationism and is a patriot; “Mr. X.” is the dictator of a foreign state called “M…”; and a Chorus that is a democratic assembly. The prologue sets the scene that “A…n republic had pursued an imperialistic” foreign policy and wars far away from its soil (p. 460). In this environment, Mr. D., under the wing of his rich backers, initially espoused isolationism and peace. However, the M…n threat led by the semi-feudal Mr. X began to seize territory. And Mr. D. changed his politics to fit this moment and pushed for national preparedness and global democratic solidarity. But it was too late, A…n republic did not listen, and Mr. X. took over and installed himself as ruler after thirteen years.   

The writing style is unusual in the Journal, but the analogies are clear. Mr. X’s M…n is likely a combination of the Axis Powers—faraway states that do not appear to threaten the US, safe as the regional hegemon in North America. For Cramer, Mr. D.’s pivot from isolationism to national preparedness was not a way to stop wars but “a means of keeping the number of wars to an (inevitable) minimum” (p. 462). War, then, is a conditioned feature of human nature, and the isolationists essentially have their heads in the sand. Cramer finds that hope is not a strategy; he argues that the isolationist strategy is to simply wait to be invaded to be sure that fighting is necessary (p. 484). Although the play’s content is foreign policy, it turns to domestic politics for its most cutting analysis. Mr. X. is a sly political operator who manipulates “the friendship, the goodwill, the benevolent neutrality, or at least a defeatist attitude, among influential A… ns” and spreads fifth-column traitors across the nation (pp. 478-479). Cramer could not change the world order in a meaningful way, but he could change the politics within the US so foreign dictators could not spread their malign ideas. To Lovejoy and Cramer, pacifism in the face of totalitarianism demanded excommunication from public opinion. In 1940, the anti-war supporters were a mix of socialists, pacifists, the pro-Nazi German-American Bund, some of the Republican Party, and the America First Committee.

1940 is not the Cold War, but this debate about the strategy of US foreign policy was a vital launchpad for the US in the 1950s when it stood against USSR. Cramer was talking to an elite educated audience, involving them in a fundamental political debate about how the US should conduct foreign policy in the context of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union. The US was never isolationist, but a significant force in elite and public opinion was against military and diplomatic entanglement in Eurasia. Nicholas J. Spykman’s America’s Strategy in World Politics (1942) directly contributed to this debate. Or Rosenboim demonstrated that he played a central role in introducing geopolitical thought into the United States and persuading Americans to favor interventionism against fascism. He argued that the US was ideally positioned for global leadership because it was geographically safe (with three oceans and peaceful neighbors), but it had to be interventionist because the Western Hemisphere was surrounded by Eurasia. This notion of Encirclement meant the US had to engage with the world and became the geographical basis of the Containment Policy from 1947. Cramer’s article is a small example of how US elite power grew to support intervention.

Rev. Fred Stroud of Bible Presbyterian Church leads a protest against desegregation and communism in in Nashville, Tennessee [Nashville Public Library.​]


Despite the era of European decolonization and Civil Rights during the 1940s and 1950s, the Journal took little open and explicit interest in race or race relations. When racism does feature, it is usually about the racial politics of National Socialism, such as with Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Mary Margaret Ball, and Karl W. Deutsch. A major exception to this trend is James W. Vander Zanden’s 1959 article, “The Ideology of White Supremacy,” on the contemporary segregation debate. In its second paragraph, he references Chief Justice Earl Warren’s landmark opinion in Brown v. Board of Education that ‘separate but equal’ in public education was unconstitutional. He traces the history of three ideas in the US administrative state and civil society, particularly in the South, that conceptualized the racial inferiority of African-Americans to unite white power. The first is based on the biological differences in the caste-based natural order that was a “carry-over from the pre-Enlightenment Period” (p. 387); the second premise is that there were sufficient differences between the two races, which meant that there was a racial order but that African-Americans could ‘catch up’ through moral guidance (pp. 394-95); the third idea is based on how desegregation would damage the Anglo-Saxonism which was according to Zanden was “a product of modern nationalism and expansionism” (p. 397). 

As a sociologist, Zanden offers us a (then contemporary) intellectual history of social movements and emphasizes the connection between thought and action. “Movement has begot counter movement; ideas have begot counter ideas” (p. 402). He regards segregationism as “a surging social movement,” implying that it was citizen-based rather than a form of elite power (p. 385). This movement featured the hundreds of (White) Citizen Councils that protested and petitioned against desegregation, usually at a state level. He is primarily interested in the practical use of ideas in the social order. He demonstrates this through exploring the history of American literature on race, slavery, and society by figures such as John Saffin, George Frederick Holmes, William Montgomery Brown, John C. Calhoun, George S. Sawyer, Samuel George Morton, Josiah C. Nott, and many others. Importantly, these were lawyers, politicians, natural scientists, religious figures, judges, and businessmen, whose power came from their (usually public) employment and elite social network.     
 
Yet the term ‘elite’ never appears in the text, and the term ‘class’ only once in passing. As a social movement, segregation was a cross-class coalition of big and small business owners, religion, armed forces, and poor urban and rural voters, as seen in the Citizen Councils. White supremacy worked to keep the working class divided across racial lines and thereby halt an anti-elitist revolution but also ensured whites predominated in a competitive capitalist political economy. The end of the article summarizes the general thesis of the article: the “lineal descendant of slavery: segregated institutions.” He is not making a radical point here. Zanden’s argument lies broadly within consensus history, which was, to an extent, a conservative reply to progressive historiography. This is not conservative in a political sense. Zanden finds that conservatism sails too close to reactionary nativism. Rather, it is that the US is relatively unchanging.

The violent struggles and fierce debates against slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are smoothed over into simply seeing it live on in segregation. Segregation is not a specific feature of mid-twentieth-century American modernity but a reactionary inheritance of a bygone era. The Citizen Councils appear to be racist nostalgics paranoid about status, not as a particular growth of postwar class development. He thus avoids critiquing capitalist exploitation or pondering the possibilities of cross-racial working-class power. This critique of consensus history is aptly demonstrated by Matthew Karp, James Oakes, and Judith Stein, among many others, who have prised open the historical debates of racism and race to show that many mainstream liberal historians and commentators are continuing arguments like Zanden’s which can sideline progressive radicalism and class conflict. They instead forge a history of melancholy and continual violent oppression.     


Thomas Furse is a primary editor at the JHI Blog and a PhD student at City, the University of London. He researches the connections between strategic thought, the social sciences, management theory and political economy in the United States.

Edited by Thomas James Holland is a PhD candidate in Political Thought and Intellectual History at King’s College, University of Cambridge. His thesis explores political theories of inherited wealth between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from Alexis de Tocqueville to John Rawls, questioning how these can inform contemporary debates about distributive justice.

Featured Image: Is This Tomorrow?, a 1947 anti-Communist comic book by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society of Saint Paul. Wikimedia Commons.

Categories
Virtual Issues

East European Intellectual History—”East” meets “West”: Virtual Issue 2.1

Over its more than 80 years in print, the Journal of the History of Ideas has accumulated a pretty large archive. Oftentimes, that archive is representative of the history of intellectual history—its trends, priorities, methods. Sometimes, it involves scholarship that, by virtue of appearing once-in-a-while, cannot quite get either the visibility or the relevant context in which to be seen. 

With the Virtual Issues initiative on the JHIBlog, we propose to recall earlier articles from the JHI that fit with a particular subject or theme, and to place them in a new and current context. We do not pretend that the JHI could ever be comprehensive on these themes, and we are well aware of the limits of the journal’s success in addressing particular subjects. But as with every archive, all sorts of surprises await. With Virtual Issues, we bring out work that has some connection to current concerns, and to recall ways in which authors engaged a particular theme, including ways that may now be out of fashion but that are suggestive of past trends. Each Virtual Issue—the second being East European Intellectual History, to appear in several installments—features an introduction that resituates these articles. Anyone interested in curating such an issue together with us should contact the lead JHIBlog editors with a proposal and a list of relevant articles. 

      — Stefanos Geroulanos, on behalf of the Executive Editors


By Artur Banaszewski & Isabel Jacobs

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, both a violent military conflict and a war of narratives, forces us to reassess the role of Eastern Europe in intellectual history. Scouring the archives for our first Virtual Issue on East European Intellectual History, we noticed that this complex region is still terra incognita for many scholars in the West. Given the global consequences of the Russo-Ukrainian war, it is now more important than ever to critically reassess the existing scholarship about Eastern Europe and award the region with the agency it deserves.

We also found traces of hope in the archives, with scholars pushing disciplinary boundaries to deconstruct orientalist and determinist views from within. Focusing on notions of modernity, this first installment of East European Intellectual History resituates the region and outlines the main challenges future scholarship will need to address. In a truly global and decolonizing history of ideas, “East” and “West” are floating signifiers, the inverted commas signaling ideological, cultural, and religious rather than geographical ascriptions. But what is Eastern Europe? And how can we rewrite its intellectual histories?

In Inventing Eastern Europe (1994), Larry Wolff unveiled how, in the 18th century, Enlightenment intellectuals fabricated their imaginaries of Eastern Europe, most prominently French writer Voltaire (who never made it east of Berlin himself). Voltaire’s The history of the Russian empire under Peter the Great (1759/1763) emphasized Russia’s inbetweenness of Europe and Asia—a geopolitical construct that was reimported by Russian thinkers to affirm their imperial position in Eurasia.

Voltaire’s fascination for Russia as an imperial power sparked a passionate correspondence with Catherine the Great, whom he hailed as the “goddess of the Enlightenment in Russia” (Wolff, 201). After hearing of the conquest of Crimea, Voltaire reimagined his Russian muse as Iphigenia, “unscrambling” the chaos in the land of the Taurians. In Eastern Europe, just off its doorsteps, the “West” discovered its own Orient. According to Wolff, Western intellectuals of the Enlightenment began defining their civilization “with respect to the semi-Oriental backwardness of Eastern Europe” (Wolff, 345).

Voltaire’s orientalizing depictions of Eastern Europe had yet another unsettling consequence. By presenting Eastern Europeans as intolerant and uncivilized, the French philosopher also facilitated and legitimized Russia’s imperial dominance in the region. The belief that the lands located east of Berlin differed from the rest of the continent in essential, intangible ways implied that their inhabitants could only become “enlightened” thanks to a power compatible with their ways of thinking: the Russian Empire. Hence, the orientalization of Eastern Europe helped advance the projects of Western Enlightenment and Russian imperialism alike.

As Gražina Bielousova has recently argued, Eastern Europe as a concept is thus born from the “conditions of double hegemony.” Any study of the region is shaped by both “Western colonial interest and Russian quest for dominance.” Consequently, the division between the gravitational fields of the “West” and “East” is not a natural, geographical delineation. It is an ideological distinction embedded in Enlightenment narratives of Western civilizational superiority and orientalized essentialism of Eastern Europe as an internal Other.

Jean-Jacques Avril, “Catherine’s Triumph: Allegory of Empress Catherine II’s journey to Crimea” (1790), Hermitage Museum

The imaginary maps of the 18th century, perpetuating the narrative of double hegemony, continued to condition the relations between the “West” and the “East” of Europe. Geographically located in Europe yet denied the privileged status associated with European civilization, the region remained mostly absent from the scope of Western intellectuals. In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel left open the question of whether Eastern Europeans would take part in furthering the course of the World-Spirit.

On the other hand, Oswald Spengler in his infamous The Decline of the West outright refused to use the word “Europe” on the assumption that it wrongly included Russia within the scope of the Western civilization (Spengler, 16). In the 1920s, Spengler claimed that all modernizing attempts of East European politicians were artificial and unnatural, as the region was at an earlier, inferior stage in the historical process. Basing his views on Eastern Europe on determinism, Spengler considered attempts at modernity in the region as doomed to failure. By doing so, he denied Eastern Europeans any autonomous agency.

Once we consider the idea of double hegemony, it becomes strikingly clear how little Western views on Eastern Europe changed during the Cold War. Just as the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great presented its conquests in Eastern Europe as a spread of the Enlightenment, now the Soviet Union legitimized its control over the Eastern Bloc with the building of an alternative, socialist system. Similarly to Voltaire in the 18th century, many left-wing Western intellectuals during the Cold War ignored their role in legitimizing Soviet imperialism in the region.

In both cases, the subaltern status of Eastern Europe was perpetuated through marginalizing assumptions about its cultural and civilizational inferiority. Consequently, one of the main concerns of our Virtual Issue is to deconstruct this simplified narrative and critically evaluate (Western) scholarship on East European Intellectual History from the 1950s until today.

As the issue showcases, Eastern European intellectuals and thinkers were aware of the importance of the modernization discourse for the region. The permanent inadequacy vis-à-vis Western philosophies of history has forced Eastern Europeans to continually contest the boundaries of European modernity. Our Virtual Issue explores how this process challenged false, essentialist dichotomies between barbarism and civilization, progress and backwardness, the oriental “East” and enlightened “West.” One outcome was that Western Europe was never able to fully undermine Eastern Europe’s agency and self-determination.

At the same time, “East” and “West” remained mutually interdependent, due to their shared intellectual traditions and transfer of ideas. Thus, East European Intellectual History should aim to break with narratives driven by false dichotomies and rediscover how Eastern agency has helped shape European history. It will be necessary to critically assess two factors: how Russian imperialism has overshadowed the rest of the region, and how Western scholarship has neglected Eastern European experiences. Eastern Europe needs to be reinstated as a full-fledged subject of historical inquiry equal to its Western neighbors.

However, this process will involve serious risks for Eastern Europeans themselves. While striving for their voice and empowerment, Eastern European scholars should resist the temptation to revive past discourses of European historical exceptionalism and civilizational superiority. Integrating Eastern Europe into these narratives would mean drawing the wrong lesson from the region’s history. Rather, East European history should serve as a reminder of the triviality and vagueness of all discourses of imperial dominance, cultural essentialism, and historical determinism.

Future scholarship about Eastern Europe must not strive to upgrade it to the club of historically privileged subjects but to break the club from within. Only then will East European Intellectual History have a chance to move beyond the conditions of double hegemony and become an integral part of a wider project of Global Intellectual History.

  • Siljak, Ana. “Between East and West: Hegel and the Origins of the Russian Dilemma.” Journal of the History of Ideas 62, no. 2 (2001): 335–58. https://doi.org/10.2307/3654362.
  • Thompson, Martyn P. “Ideas of Europe during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.” Journal of the History of Ideas 55, no. 1 (1994): 37–58. https://doi.org/10.2307/2709952.
  • Lewitter, L. R. “Peter the Great, Poland, and the Westernization of Russia.” Journal of the History of Ideas 19, no. 4 (1958): 493–506. https://doi.org/10.2307/2707919.
  • Gluck, Mary. “The Budapest Coffee House and the Making of ‘Jewish Modernity’ at the Fin de Siècle.” Journal of the History of Ideas 74, no. 2 (2013): 289–306. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhi.2013.0017.
  • Vovchenko, Denis. “Modernizing Orthodoxy: Russia and the Christian East (1856—1914).” Journal of the History of Ideas 73, no. 2 (2012): 295–317. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhi.2012.0018.
  • Williams, Robert C. “The Russian Soul: A Study in European Thought and Non-European Nationalism.” Journal of the History of Ideas 31, no. 4 (1970): 573–588. https://doi.org/10.2307/2708261.
  • Sinkoff, Nancy. “Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe: Cultural Appropriation in the Age of the Enlightenment.” Journal of the History of Ideas 61, no. 1 (2000): 133–52. https://doi.org/10.2307/3654046.

Opening our survey of East European Intellectual History, Ana Siljak’s inspiring article argues that Russian intellectuals derived their conception of the world as irrevocably divided between “East” and “West” from Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History. (In a way, by proclaiming the Spirit had wandered off from East to West, Hegel promoted the idea of Russia’s innate backwardness.)

From the 1830s onwards, most social, cultural, and political issues in Imperial Russia became framed through the West-East dilemma. As V. N. Tatishchev, Peter the Great’s historian, stated, “where the border between these two large and most important cultures is located, no one has as yet determined for certain” (p. 336). This imaginary division persisted through Russian nationalism and Soviet Marxism, and continues to influence our thinking about Russia to this day.

Similarly, Martyn P. Thompson’s article investigates Edmund Burke’s criticism of French revolutionary ideas of Europe. While Eastern Europe is only mentioned as a side note, Thompson echoes Tatishchev in stating the “boundaries of Europe may be disputed” (p. 44). Written just after the end of the Soviet Union, Thompson’s article is representative of Western scholarship on Europe that does not turn its gaze east of Berlin.

L. R. Lewitter’s 1958 article, on the other hand, is an astonishing piece of scholarship on the transnational foundations of modern Russia, recognizing the critical role of Kyiv. The author argues that in the 17th century Polish culture was the main vehicle of westernizing Russia, while Ukraine played a pivotal role as an intermediary. However, the Polish education system, dominated by Jesuit institutions, was too backward and static to meet Peter’s ambitious goals, which led to a decline of Latino-Polish culture in Russia.

Mary Gluck’s article conceptualizes Budapest’s fin-de-siècle coffee houses as mystified, ambivalent symbols of urban modernity. Through the lens of the coffee house, she deconstructs the notion of “Jewish Budapest” as a motor of conservative antisemitism which ascribed to Jews decadence and immorality associated with cosmopolitan life. The article is also significant for problematizing a contested notion in East European Intellectual History: modernity. Here, it is the key concept to describe the adoption of Western European institutions, such as the coffee house, in a supposedly barbaric, orientalized Hungary.

In his contribution, Denis Vovchenko takes a radically different approach to Eastern Europe as a laboratory of alternative modernities. His article voices an important criticism of Russia’s exclusion from Western historiography while deconstructing ideas of progress. The author claims that Pan-Slavism and Pan-Orthodoxy were articulate attempts to decenter a Western narrative that is progressivist and universalizing. In his view, both movements aimed to formulate modern political identities based on traditional Orthodox values as opposed to those of the liberal “West.” However, and this makes his compelling analysis contestable, he does not once mention that these revisionist ideologies were conceived as an extension of Russia’s imperial project in the region.

Robert C. Williams’s article describes the emergence of the influential concept of ‘Russian soul’ in the 1840s and follows its evolution until the 1900s. Williams argues that the term was used in different ways: by Russians as an utopian reaction to European industrialization, by Europeans to mark Russia’s arcadian identity. German Romanticists even utilized the concept to voice their own anti-European sentiments. The ‘Russian soul’ formed an integral part of Russian nationalism and ideologies of superiority.

However, as so often in the history of ideas, this conceptual vehicle of Russian nationalism was itself a product of transnational entanglements, borrowed and synthesized by Vissarion Belinsky from Gogol and Schelling (p. 580). Williams concludes that Russia’s attempt at modernity shares affinities with other non-Western experiences, for instance modernizing tendencies in the Islamic world. 

Our first installment closes with Nancy Sinkoff’s article on Benjamin Franklin’s reception in Jewish Eastern Europe. Her piece is a great example of giving Eastern Europe intellectual agency instead of framing the lands between Germany and Russia as passive recipients of Enlightenment ideas. Sinkoff focuses on Mendel Lefin of Satanów, an enlightened Jewish scholar from Poland, who creatively transformed and applied Franklin’s ideas to the context of Polish Jewry. Sinkoff’s careful remapping of Jewish Enlightenment in Eastern Europe brings out the local specificities in the experience of modernity.

As such, her article is a wonderful example of a new approach to East European Intellectual History: one that balances micro and macro, the local and the global, while emphasizing the role of transcultural transmissions. Rather than a unidirectional stream of ideas from “West” to “East,” Sinkoff conceptualizes Eastern Europe as an original contributor to key debates of the Enlightenment, thus displaying the great potential of including the region in future intellectual histories of the continent and the globe.


Artur Banaszewski is a PhD researcher in the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He holds a Master of Letters degree in Global Social and Political Thought from the University of St Andrews. Artur’s doctoral project titled “Disillusioned with communism. Zygmunt Bauman, Leszek Kołakowski and the global decline of orthodox Marxism” explores Eastern European critiques of socialist thought and intersects them with the global political context of the Cold War. His research interests include global intellectual history, postcolonial studies, political theory, and Cold War liberalism. 

Isabel Jacobs is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London. Her dissertation explores Russian-French philosopher Alexandre Kojève’s aesthetics. Her research interests include Soviet and Russian philosophy, German-Jewish thought, global intellectual history, and cinema. She holds a MA in Russian and East European Literature and Culture from UCL and a BA in Philosophy and Slavic Studies from Heidelberg University.

Featured Image: Johnson’s 1862 map of Europe with a colorful border between “East” and “West”. 

Categories
Virtual Issues

Non-Human Intellectual History—On the Treatment of Animals: Virtual Issue 1.2

Over its more than 80 years in print, the Journal of the History of Ideas has accumulated a pretty large archive. Oftentimes, that archive is representative of the history of intellectual history—its trends, priorities, methods. Sometimes, it involves scholarship that, by virtue of appearing once-in-a-while, cannot quite get either the visibility or the relevant context in which to be seen. 

With the Virtual Issues initiative on the JHIBlog, we propose to recall earlier articles from the JHI that fit with a particular subject or theme, and to place them in a new and current context. We do not pretend that the JHI could ever be comprehensive on these themes, and we are well aware of the limits of the journal’s success in addressing particular subjects. But as with every archive, all sorts of surprises await. With Virtual Issues, we bring out work that has some connection to current concerns, and to recall ways in which authors engaged a particular theme, including ways that may now be out of fashion but that are suggestive of past trends. Each Virtual Issue—the first being Nonhumans in Intellectual History, to appear in several installments—features an introduction that resituates these articles. Anyone interested in curating such an issue together with us should contact the lead JHIBlog editors with a proposal and a list of relevant articles. 

      — Stefanos Geroulanos, on behalf of the Executive Editors


The second installment of our Virtual Issue feature on Nonhuman Intellectual History provides a selection of articles from the Journal of History of Ideas which have focussed broadly on one central question: how have texts discussed the ‘treatment of animals’? Or to make the anthropocentrism clear, how have humans historically conceptualized animals, their behavioral patterns and their cognitive capacities, and treated them based on that? All the articles in the list below, curated by the executive editor of the JHI, Stefanos Geroulanos, and introduced here by the JHI blog’s primary editor Shuvatri Dasgupta, are inspiring in their own ways. Whilst some focus on Darwin, Aristotle, and similar canonical thinkers to understand ways in which animals were conceptualized, others focus on histories of objects, and also consider encyclopedias as sources for nonhuman knowledge and history. Through these virtual issues on the JHI blog, we hope to provide some methodological indications of what nonhuman intellectual history may look like, and what its stakes would be. 

  • Copenhaver, Brian P. “A Tale of Two Fishes: Magical Objects in Natural History from Antiquity Through the Scientific Revolution.” Journal of the History of Ideas 52, no. 3 (1991): 373-98. doi:10.2307/2710043.
  • Guerrini, Anita. “The Ethics of Animal Experimentation in Seventeenth-Century England.” Journal of the History of Ideas 50, no. 3 (1989): 391-407. doi:10.2307/2709568.
  • Margócsy, Dániel. “Refer to Folio and Number”: Encyclopedias, the Exchange of Curiosities, and Practices of Identification before Linnaeus.” Journal of the History of Ideas 71, no. 1 (2010): 63-89. doi:10.1353/jhi.0.0069.
  • McCalla, Arthur. “Palingenesie Philosophique to Palingenesie Sociale: From a Scientific Ideology to a Historical Ideology.” Journal of the History of Ideas 55, no. 3 (1994): 421-39. doi:10.2307/2709848.

As I mentioned before, it is better to acknowledge at the outset, the anthropocentrism that the question of ‘treatment of animals’ itself is laden with. It is related to the scarcity of intellectual histories which can potentially engage with the ways in which animals have treated each other. In order to address this, it is imperative to move beyond the text as the sole source for intellectual history writing, and open the doors for interdisciplinary methods inspired by biology, anthropology, and feminist theory. This is not to reject the textuality altogether, but rather to suggest that reading texts such as Aristotle on the behavior of bees, alongside works of biologists like Thomas D. Seeley provides a crucial indication of the ways in which we can address this question. In this regard, pioneering work of Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlika titled ‘Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights’ provides some methodological indications on how the discipline of political thought might consider animals as actors within their own sovereign and self-sustaining communities. Through that the authors place animals at the heart of political theory and construct the nonhuman subject as a rights bearing political actor. Anthropologists and biologists have observed animal behavior towards one another which have enriched us with crucial insights on animal labor theory, socio-political organization, nonhuman kinship and care, and mutual interdependence

The other methodological stake which calls for discussion within the context of these groundbreaking articles from the JHI archive is the question of Eurocentrism, and how that shapes the field of nonhuman intellectual history. Buddhist and Jain political theologies in South and Southeast Asia were sustained on a foundation of animal ethics and morality. In recent times scholars have devised creative methodologies for thinking about the nonhuman in non Eurocentric ways. Sugata Roy’s innovative work ‘Climate Change and the Art of Devotion’ shows how manuscripts and their illustrations can be thought of as sources for an art history of climate change, animal treatment and habitat. Sumana Roy’s fantastic work ‘How I Became a Tree’ engages with approaches towards trees and animals in literary texts and thinkers from within and beyond South Asia. 

Illustrations from the Manuscript of Baburnama, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There is much to be done in terms of thinking about animals as meaning-makers.  It would require posing questions which elude easy answers such as: where and how can we locate animal agency within anthropocentric archives, which have their own set of violent hierarchies (of class, race, gender, caste, and ethnicity)? It would require methodological innovations such as considering observational studies, and oral histories, alongside canonical and non-canonical textual sources. At times, it would need moving beyond textual sources, and taking into account visual archives. Moreover, it would need intellectual historians to rethink the species divide. The methodology for thinking about nonhuman intellectual history focusing on animals would need to be based on an ethics of care-giving as a means to move beyond anthropocentrism. Within that framework, caring for the nonhuman would place them as agents of their own narrative. Caring would also enable historians to move beyond their authorial subjectivities as chroniclers of these animal intellectual histories, and account for the implicit epistemic hierarchies embedded within archives. Thus, it would allow their subjects to articulate their stories, and this caring methodology would therefore manifest as letting the nonhuman speak in ways that it has always desired!


Shuvatri Dasgupta received a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in History from Presidency University, Kolkata, India. She was also an exchange student and Charpak Fellow at Sciences Po Paris (Reims campus), studying for a certificate programme in European Affairs and B1 French. She is the editor of the Journal of History of Ideas blog, and a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, funded by the Cambridge Trust and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation Fellowship. Her doctoral dissertation is tentatively titled “A History of Conjugality: On Patriarchy, Caste, and Capital, in the British Empire c.1872-1947”. Her general research interests include global history, gender history, intellectual history and political thought, histories of empire, histories of capitalism, Marxist and Marxist-Feminist theory, and critical theory. For the academic year of 2021-22 she is the convenor of the research network ‘Grammars of Marriage and Desire’ (GoMAD) supported by CRASSH, Cambridge, and the Histories of Race Graduate Workshop, at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge.

Featured Image: Wash drawing of a sculptured post from the railing of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya, by Markham Kittoe, 19th Century. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Categories
Virtual Issues

Non-Human Intellectual History: Virtual Issue 1.1

Over its more than 80 years in print, the Journal of the History of Ideas has accumulated a pretty large archive. Oftentimes, that archive is representative of the history of intellectual history—its trends, priorities, methods. Sometimes, it involves scholarship that, by virtue of appearing once-in-a-while, cannot quite get either the visibility or the relevant context in which to be seen. 

With the Virtual Issues initiative on the JHIBlog, we propose to recall earlier articles from the JHI that fit with a particular subject or theme, and to place them in a new and current context. We do not pretend that the JHI could ever be comprehensive on these themes, and we are well aware of the limits of the journal’s success in addressing particular subjects. But as with every archive, all sorts of surprises await. With Virtual Issues, we bring out work that has some connection to current concerns, and to recall ways in which authors engaged a particular theme, including ways that may now be out of fashion but that are suggestive of past trends. Each Virtual Issue—the first being Nonhumans in Intellectual History, to appear in several installments—features an introduction that resituates these articles. Anyone interested in curating such an issue together with us should contact the lead JHIBlog editors with a proposal and a list of relevant articles. 

     — Stefanos Geroulanos, on behalf of the Executive Editors 


By Shuvatri Dasgupta

How can we think of nonhuman intellectual histories, in times such as ours, which has been rightly characterized as the Age of the Capitalocene? An attempt at defining what nonhuman intellectual history may look like as a discursive field within intellectual history and political thought, is a task akin to Penelope’s robe-making. It is a definition that needs to be continually made and unmade, until the well-being of all beings have been ensured. Much like Penelope who weaved in her attempt to buy time till the end of the Trojan war, we must weave till our climate crisis has been mitigated! The installments in this Virtual Issue on non-human intellectual histories, consisting of articles published in the Journal of History of Ideas, curated by the journal’s executive editor Stefanos Geroulanos, and introduced here by the blog’s primary editor Shuvatri Dasgupta, is one such initiative. Through these virtual issues on the JHI blog, we hope to provide some methodological indications of what nonhuman intellectual history may look like, and what its stakes would be. 

  • Chaplin, Joyce E. “Can the Nonhuman Speak?: Breaking the Chain of Being in the Anthropocene.” Journal of the History of Ideas 78, no. 4 (2017): 509-529. doi:10.1353/jhi.2017.0029
  • Shyovitz, David I. “Christians and Jews in the Twelfth-Century Werewolf Renaissance.” Journal of the History of Ideas 75, no.4 (2014): 521-43. doi:10.1353/jhi.2014.0033
  • Coen, Deborah R. “Big Is a Thing of the Past: Climate Change and Methodology in the History of Ideas.”  Journal of the History of Ideas 77, no. 2 (2016): 305-201. doi:  10.1353/jhi.2016.0019

Starting with an overview of the epistemicide of anthropocentrism, our introductory set of articles seek to ask and answer: Can the non-human think/speak? Joyce Chaplin’s article highlights, how the failure of intellectual historians to engage with non-textual archives in an attempt to take nonhuman cognition seriously, results from the history of the discipline itself, which took its present form by valorising text, and human speech. It is through this logocentric prism that the epistemic violence of anthropocentric intellectual histories have functioned. Richard Serjeantson’s article explores the debates on nonhuman speech, and shows us how European philosophers in medieval and early modern times grappled with deciphering how humans were different from and superior to other beings on earth. By historicising anthropocentrism and critiquing its textual and logocentric bias, these articles leave us with the firm conclusion that nonhumans can and must think and speak, alongside humans.  

How have we historically thought of the nonhuman?: Through an etymological excavation of the term ‘vampire’, Katherina Wilson’s article shows us how we can incorporate insights from comparative philology, and linguistics, within the field of nonhuman intellectual history. Similarly, Steven Nadler’s article has indicated how both literature and philosophy can shape the writing of nonhuman intellectual history, by juxtaposing the works of Descartes and Cervantes’. Similarly, David Shyovitz in his article, illustrates how humans have thought with, and thought through, the nonhuman-ness of nonhumans, by looking at constructions of monstrosity in relation to werewolves within Christian and Jewish polemics from late twelfth century Northern Europe. Lastly, directly intervening into the debates on methodology, Deborah Coen’s article illustrates how nonhuman histories, and more broadly, histories of climate change, must take into account seemingly incommensurable temporalities, and spatialities. Written over a span of four decades, this set of articles illustrate the diachronic development of our ecological crisis, by tracing how articles by historians such as Wilson, Shyowitz, Steven, and Serjeantson, have culminated into the questions posed by Coen, and Chaplin, and addressed by us in this forum. 

In an attempt to center the nonhuman and chart out a space for conceptualizing their intellectual histories, this forum will also bring to light gaping holes in the existing intellectual history scholarship. In this introductory section, it is imperative to point out  that historians of ideas have not taken into account the question of political economy, during their engagement with the climate crisis, and nonhuman histories, as can be seen in this small set we have curated here. Simply put these articles do not ask: how did capitalism bring about the present environmental crisis?  By overlooking the question of capital, they have only partially traced the causality of anthropocentrism, and have downplayed its potential for epistemic violence. In an attempt to address this, in my research, I argue that the unhappy consciousness of the dialectic of colonial capitalism manifests through a lack of care (yatna) for the humans and nonhumans within the household, in colonial India. Similarly Milinda Banerjee and Jelle Wouters look at how histories of multispecies beings and their thoughts on social and political organization, hitherto obscured by the vampire-like tendencies of capital, can actually help us conceptualize mutually interdependent ways of being. David Wengrow in his global historical exploration of monsters argued that they originate in human cognition in response to, and alongside urbanization, and cosmopolitan trade networks. 

What defines the ‘human’, and differentiates it from those beings that are not humans? How do we move beyond anthropocentrism, and start thinking with them, for writing nonhuman intellectual histories? What would those multi species and multibeing histories look like? How can we imagine a methodological framework for hearing, translating, and comprehending the nonhuman? In this task, our pathway has to be interdisciplinary, as we learn from anthropologists, and biologists, amongst others. Eduardo Kohn in his monograph shows us how human thought on forests is informed by ways in which forests actually think. Similarly, Marisol De La Cadena in her soul stirring work shows us ways in which we can move beyond the human, by thinking with Quechua concepts such as “earth beings”. Merlin Sheldrake’s study of fungal organization, Thomas Van Dooren’s attempt to think with crows, all provide inspiring indications of what a nonhuman history of ideas might look like.

In the following installments of this forum, we intend to delve deeper into these questions, and reflect upon the adequacies and inadequacies of the existing scholarship, in our collective attempt to chart out a framework for imagining nonhumans as actors within their own (hi)stories.  


Shuvatri Dasgupta received a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in History from Presidency University, Kolkata, India. She was also an exchange student and Charpak Fellow at Sciences Po Paris (Reims campus), studying for a certificate programme in European Affairs and B1 French. She is the editor of the Journal of History of Ideas blog, and a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, funded by the Cambridge Trust and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation Fellowship. Her doctoral dissertation is tentatively titled “A History of Conjugality: On Patriarchy, Caste, and Capital, in the British Empire c.1872-1947”. Her general research interests include global history, gender history, intellectual history and political thought, histories of empire, histories of capitalism, Marxist and Marxist-Feminist theory, and critical theory. For the academic year of 2021-22 she is the convenor of the research network ‘Grammars of Marriage and Desire’ (GoMAD) supported by CRASSH, Cambridge, and the Histories of Race Graduate Workshop, at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge.