I Love You Still

Russell Jacoby

  • Intellectuals in Exile: Refugee Scholars and the New School for Social Research by Claus-Dieter Krohn, translated by Rita Kimber and Robert Kimber
    Massachusetts, 255 pp, $15.95, July 1994, ISBN 0 87023 864 7

Without the refugees from Nazi Europe American intellectual life would lack weight and reach. It is impossible to conceive of American political thought without Hans Morgenthau, Hannah Arendt or Leo Strauss; American psychoanalysis without Erik Erikson, Bruno Bettelheim or Heinz Hartmann; American publishing without Kurt Wolff or Theodore Schocken; architecture without Walter Gropius; art history without Erwin Panofsky; mathematics without Kurt Gödel; physics without Enrico Fermi – and the list goes on and on. Of course, not every refugee intellectual caused cultural waves. Karl Korsch, for instance, a leading German Marxist, found no role in American society. E.J. Gumbel, who had published sensational booklets in Weimar Germany on the assassinations of leftists, became a quiet American statistician. Some refugees returned to Europe after the war, leaving no mark on American letters. ‘Farewell, America,’ wrote Alfred Döblin as he steamed out of New York. ‘You were not very fond of me./But I love you still.’ Others laboured on projects that would see the light of day much later, Ernst Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung, written in the States, was published only in 1959. The classic work of the Frankfurt School, Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, composed in Los Angeles during the war, became widely available only in the late Sixties.

The story of these refugees has increasingly spurred conferences, projects and studies. The books run from Anthony Heilbut’s chatty and smart overview. Exiled in Paradise, to more specialised volumes like Barry Katz’s Foreign Intelligence, which tells the story of the Office of Strategic Services – the predecessor to the CIA that employed a bevy of refugee leftist intellectuals like Marcuse, Franz Neumann, Otto Kirkheimer and Paul Baran. Recent books include poignant accounts like Gabrielle Edgcomb’s From Swastika to Jim Crow, about the sixty-odd German Jewish professors who found refuge at black colleges in the American South.

According to Claus-Dieter Krohn, a quarter of the scholars who fled to the United States from Nazi Germany spent some time at the New School for Social Research in New York. This role suited the New School, which had been founded as a haven by and for outsiders. In 1917 the president of Columbia University, Nicholas Murray Butler, dismissed several professors for protesting against America’s entry into World War One. This precipitated the resignations of two leading historians, Charles Beard and James Robinson, both of whom had long bridled at interference by trustees and college presidents.

With some associates at the New Republic, Beard and Robinson hatched plans for a ‘new’ school. ‘New’ was in the air. The New Republic had been founded just three years earlier; and Robinson and Beard championed what they called ‘new history’ – history that was more social and engaging than a dry listing of wars, treaties and kings. They wanted to establish a ‘new’ school that would be faculty-driven, interdisciplinary, and devoted to adult education and social reform. The New School for Social Research opened in 1919: Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey were on the staff; Harold Laski and Lewis Mumford were regular visitors.

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