Eichmann versus Dosler: Arendt versus Hirschman

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 8: Eichmann versus Dosler: Arendt versus Hirschman

Chapter 7. The Last Battle: Freedom and Interpretation                        




Howard Adelman


Why did Albert Hirschman immediately enlist in the US army after PearlHarbour? Two months after PearlHarbour one might say is not immediate. However, as Jeremy explained, AH was suffering from a serious bout of pneumonia at the time and then had to have a tonsillectomy. Jeremy has argued thus far that Albert was determined to prove Hamlet wrong, that action could be integrated with thought, that he was bent on praxis. Moreover, there was a self-interest motive. Serving in the American armed forces would secure his American citizenship even if that tactic proved useless for getting French citizenship when he joined the French army. The latter failed because France failed. This was highly unlikely to happen in the case of America.


Isn’t the self-interest motive sufficient as an explanation? Why add on the anti-Hamlet thesis? Is that not overdetermination? I think by this point it is. Hirschman had proven over and over again that reflection did not have to produce immobility. That is just who he was. He believed in acting when the situation demanded it, when he could act and when he could do so in a useful way. He had enormous expertise in languages, economics and detailed knowledge that would be of enormous use to the allied cause. The delays in enlistment were clearly not attributable to him but to a fire, to a reclassification of married recruits and for inexplicable “occupational reasons”. When he was still frustrated after he contacted the OSS and the Board of Economic Warfare directly, he enrolled in the infantry. So much for putting thought together with action as a private, especially when he kept being denied leave in basic training because he could not tie his boots properly!


Cass Susstein in his NYRB’s review of Jeremy’s book, “An Original Thinker in Our Time” (23 May 2013) endorses Jeremy’s Hamlet thesis.


As Jeremy Adelman shows in his astonishing and moving biography, Hirschman sought, in his early twenties and long before becoming a writer, to “prove Hamlet wrong.” In Shakespeare’s account, Hamlet is immobilized and defeated by doubt. Hirschman was a great believer in doubt—he never doubted it—and he certainly doubted his own convictions. At a conference designed to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of his first book, who else would take the opportunity to show that one of his own central arguments was wrong? Who else would publish an essay in The American Economic Review exploring the “overproduction of opinionated opinion,” questioning the value of having strong opinions, and emphasizing the importance of doubting one’s opinions and even one’s tastes? Hirschman thought that strong opinions, as such, “might be dangerous to the health of our democracy,” because they are an obstacle to mutual understanding and constructive problem-solving. Writing in 1989, he was not speaking of the current political culture, but he might as well have been. In seeking to prove Hamlet wrong, Hirschman was suggesting that doubt could be a source not of paralysis and death but of creativity and self-renewal. One of his last books, published when he was about eighty, is called A Propensity to Self-Subversion. In the title essay, Hirschman celebrates skepticism about his own theories and ideas, and he captures not only the insight but also the pleasure, even the joy, that can come from learning that one had it wrong.


I think the Hamlet thesis is overstretched here by Jeremy. In fact, in this situation I think that AH acted very Hamlet-like. What do the rest of you think?


From Jeremy’s own detailed account the overwhelming anxieties seemed to be about AH’s citizenship. Luckily, the army spotted his lack of fitness for combat and his excellent skills that got him reassigned to the Army’s Specialized Training Program. Ironically, when he was not being proactive, he was shoved in the direction that could better use his skills. He was then appropriately assigned to the OSS. Would he be assigned to help plan actions behind enemy line given his language skills and enormous range of contacts with dissidents? Would he be assigned to the Research and Analysis Branch along with other ex-European intellectuals? While Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to their first child, Katia, Albert was assigned to being in limbo, much to his great frustration, and detailed to translation services in Algeria. Why did he not catch on then that something was amiss so that he could confront the situation and deal with it directly? Instead, Hamlet-like, he pondered and stalled, filled his time with chess and repressed his frustrations, complained and requested meaningful work, but to no avail. He managed to make contact with a couple of economists, Albert Camus and primarily Italian ex-pats who were working on a post-bellum federated Europe united by trade and commerce.


Then the devastating news came that Eugenio had been shot and killed just before the Americans liberated Rome. This was the deepest loss of his life, deeper than the death of his own father. His shell grew thicker. He seemed to have developed a form of depression that immobilized him further, though interesting Italian contacts – Carlo Levi, the Rosselli brothers – and the stimulation of Italy with all its rich culture served as an important antidote. It didn’t help that he was living the life of Joseph K and reading Franz Kafka’s The Castle at the time and later, reading Kierkegaard, or that he shared his grief over Rugenio’s death with Saba, the bookseller and poet from Trieste, who was even more depressed.


Then he received a reprieve. He was called to the Italian front to translate for Italians who had crossed over to the allied side who could provide intelligence about the situation of the retreating Germans. He obviously knew something was wrong concerning the limited use of him by the U.S. armed forces. As he wrote to Sarah, “The obstacle presented in Africa has perhaps not been entirely lifted, but it has at least been turned.” As Jeremy himself wrote, “By this point, Hirschman already had a sense that some invisible impediment stood in the way of his being entrusted with the more serious intelligence work he craved.” But, AH was fooling himself when he expressed the belief that the situation had turned. This is where “hope” becomes the enemy to facing the truth. This is where hope, rather than despair, can turn one into a different kind of Hamlet.


My personal surprise was to learn that it was only in Italy that he was really influenced by Hayek and not at LSE when he was a student there. The account of Cancogni’s short story eulogy to the black market had to lift his spirit. It must have reminded him of his work with the refugees in Marseilles. The birth of Katia, however, broke through his gloom and he shifted his focus back to the future. He was ready to give up on America and contemplated settling back in Italy to focus on participating in creating the new Europe.


The chapter ends with AH’s very disquieting reunion with his mother after thirteen very long and eventful years of separation, with a very different type of reunion with Ursula and her daughters in Rome, but not before Jeremy provided an account of Albert’s service as a translator for General Anton Dostler, the German General who had followed Hitler’s dictate to shoot enemy soldiers caught committing sabotage behind the lines. Dostler had committed an unequivocal war crime. Two officers and thirteen enlisted men had been captured in a mission that went awry. All fifteen were shot. Jeremy sent me a youtube from the trial:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMQCpUlqCiE&feature=youtu.be. Like the Eichmann trial in 1961 where Hannah Arendt served as a very different kind of interpreter, this was also “a showcase trial”. AH had to be a literal translator; Hannah Arendt’s reports on the trial became sensations in themselves given her interpretation of Eichmann in terms of her concept of the “banality of evil” when he committed his genocidal crimes and her accusations against Jews for failing to offer resistance and against the Jewish Councils for cooperating in the genocidal mechanistic process.


General Dostler had been captured through the normal surrender of German soldiers and officers. Adolf Eichmann had been living in Argentina under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement and in May 1960 was captured by Israeli Security agents and spirited back to Israel without any effort at legal extradition. Dostler’s five day trial was about war crimes, crimes that were already well established in international law; the Eichmann months long ordeal was about a crime of genocide that only was defined as a particular crime after WWII, though the crime still fell under international humanitarian law. Both trials began with challenges to the right of the party in question – the USA on behalf of the allies and Israel that did not even exist at the time the crime was committed – to hold a trial, the later on behalf of the Jewish people rather than just a state.


The proper authority for Dostler’s trial under international law was not the U.S. Military Commission in Rome but a proper military court martial. In both trials, a major defence rested on the plaintiff pleading that he was required to follow orders, in this case, from the highest authority in the land, Hitler himself. However, in the Dostler case, the prosecutors had evidence that junior German military officers resisted carrying out such orders. In both trials, the 15 victims of Dostler and the millions gassed in Auschwitz, the victims never enjoyed the privileges of a trial, translators and defence attorneys. The defense argued the American soldiers could be confused with partisans given that they were Italian-Americans fluent in Italian, but the prosecution exhumed the uniforms and offered witnesses to confirm that there could be no mistake that the captives were identified as American soldiers. Both trials were exposed to the full glare of international media and were at least as much about educating the postwar public about the criminality of the Nazi regime as about a legal trial of a particular individual for the crimes each committed. Both trials were about the historical record for posterity even more than about actions in the past.


One very important difference is that AH lacked any individual voice as an interpreter whereas the voice of Hannah Arendt and her explication of Eichmann’s actions as “banal” and her condemnations of the Jüdenrats and of Jewish behaviour more generally threatened to become the central subject matter rather than the genocide itself. Hirschman, in fact, spoke more than any other formal official at the trial and, in his asides with Dostler, almost appeared as his collaborator based on visual perceptions. Hannah Arendt, though just a spectator and reporter at the trial, used her own words to interpret the “meaning” of the trial and not just the words used. Her language and employment of “les mots justes” became an integral legacy of Eichmann’s trial for her judgment of the trial itself threatened to sidetrack the subject of the trial itself. Albert Hirschman “trembled through James’ order that General Dostler was to be shot to death by musketry.” (p. 247) Hannah Arendt, in contrast, fulminated and barely concealed her contempt for the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, and his deliberate effort to make the trial an historical event in itself and not just a criminal trial of a particular individual.


“A U.S. firing squad executed Dostler in the Aversa Stockade in the morning of December 1. He was the first German general charged, tried, sentenced, and executed by the Allies for a war crime.” (p. 147) Adolf Eichmann was found guilty by a civilian court, sentenced to death by hanging on 1 June 1962, the first and only use of the death penalty by Israel. Dostler’s body was interned in the war cemetery of Pomezia, Italy. Adolf Eichmann’s body was cremated and his ashes spread at sea outside of Israeli territorial waters lest the soil of Israel itself be forever contaminated.


The two trials succeeded in their intended effect, not only in bringing two criminals to justice, but, in the case of Dostler, educating the world that the German army had been co-opted in its criminal actions by the Nazi regime. In the Eichmann trial, the atrocities against the Jews now became part of public consciousness. Testimony by ghetto fighters such as Zivia Lubetkin – in contrast to Hannah Arendt’s emphasis – brought out the stories of Jewish efforts at resistance. (Hannah Arendt missed many days of the trial and may not have heard that testimony.) Most importantly, and so different from the Dostler trial, the Eichmann trial brought a degree of closure for many of the survivors of the genocide and began the process of freeing up the squelched and self repressed voices of Holocaust victims. The Eichmann trial brought together a psychological exit with the freeing of the voices, something Hannah Arendt showed herself to be entirely insensitive to at the time.


In reflection after many years, particularly after my work and publications on the Rwanda genocide, I am surprised that I was so taken by Hannah Arendt’s thesis at the time. My enchantment with Hannah Arendt had much more to do with my subjective exit from Judaism and rejection of Zionism at the time than any detached analysis of the trial in comparison to Hannah Arendt’s account of it. Just think of her claims. Hannah Arendt questioned whether Eichmann incorporated the “intention” to exterminate the Jewish people in carrying out his actions and, therefore, raised the question of whether he could be held “criminally” responsible. In her contention that Eichmann acted as a bureaucratic automaton, she questioned whether he gave any real thought or reflection about what he did. Of course, her sense of “reflection” and “self-consciousness” fell so far outside legal discourse as to be ludicrous had it not had such a powerful effect in branding Eichmann’s actions as banal. If his actions were banal, then so were Dostler’s and probably 99% of the Nazis who committed atrocities. In the name of her own egocentric and misguided notion of thinking and reflection she would probably have found Eichmann not guilty of the crime of genocide though certainly guilty of another crime. Further, in her analysis of a totalitarian state, no one in fact could really have intentions, including Dostler, though I wonder what she would have said about the soldiers who resisted the orders to kill the captured U.S. soldiers, especially Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten who refused to sign the execution order and was subsequently dishonourably discharged from the Wehrmacht for insubordination. For Arendt, actions without thought were banal but agreeing to obey an immoral order does not take place without thought in the normal meaning of the word as one reflects on one’s career, one’s ambitions and one’s ethical universe.


The actions were without thought only in the most esoteric sense of thought. Further, contrary to AH’s notion of the integration of thought and action through praxis, Arendt still remained enamoured with Heidegger’s notion that reflection and acute self-consciousness to form one’s self-identity was, or, at least, should be, the objective of all action as part of an individual’s self-interpretation of him or herself. The notion of who he or she is or ought to become was, for Heidegger, and his disciple in this case, Hannah Arendt, a notion that gives “meaning” to why you are living and what it means to be alive. “Practical” did not have such an abstract, utopian and egocentric narcissistic meaning for Hirschman. 


Secondly, for Hannah Arendt the point of a trial should not have been the emphasis on the uniqueness of the Holocaust, but on its universal process of dehumanizing the Other. But Dostler dehumanized the U.S. military soldiers. The essential characteristic of a genocide is not simply dehumanizing the Other, but claiming that the Other was an Object and not an agent, but an Object that was a threat to oneself, an Object characterized as a threat in such a way that the Other was portrayed as non-human and beastly. Further, the non-human qualities were so significant and so dangerous that anyone who allegedly carried those seeds had to be exterminated. The fact that genocide becomes routinized and acceptable, and that it was implemented without moral revulsion or political indignation as described in Judith Butler’s defence of the notion of the banality of evil characterization, may characterize genocide, but also serves as an apt description of Mafia murders, the killing of Mexicans by drug cartels and the elimination of suspected informers or “snitches” by penitentiary inmates.


Further, Arendt believed in universal jurisdiction and opposed national courts for dealing with such crimes, and would, presumably, have opposed using the U.S. Military Commission in Rome. However, the International Criminal Tribune for Rwanda has managed by the end of 2012 to complete only 38 cases, in which 10 ended in acquittals and, literally, at the cost of billions of dollars. Justice was indeed served, but only for the very few and not without its own record of corrupt practices. In contrast, the national courts in Rwanda managed the trials of over a hundred thousand and created the unique Gacaca court system that wove together justice and reconciliation. In Arusha, the international trial of the central mastermind of the Rwanda genocide, Jean Paul Bagosara, served only justice. Further, it started in 2007 and was only completed in 2012 largely ignored by the international media thereby missing the role of public education that Arendt deplored but that were so integral to both the Dostler and the Eichmann trials.


I will not go on to comment on the injustice of the charges of complicity against the organized Jewish community that Hannah Arendt made that were so lacking in empathy and understanding, or the false charges of lack of resistance, all notions that I personally embraced when reading Hannah Arendt in the early sixties. Suffice it to say, Albert Hirschman stands as a humane and thoughtful counterpoint to Hannah Arendt whom Albert helped to rescue when he was in Marseilles.

Instalment 7: International Trade and Domestic Paranoia

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 7: International Trade and Domestic Paranoia

Chapter 6. Of Guns and Butter                                                                  




Howard Adelman


I have been calling our protagonist Albert Hirschman all along, but on January 1941 he legitimately changed his name in the American immigration office in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the state where he would spend his final decades. With all his achievements and education, he was still only 25 years old. The question was how would his optimism, possibilism and opportunism, in the best sense of that term as creating new openings, work out on American soil. Given the culture of America, one would speculate that AH and the USA were made for one another.


But not quite!


His first problem was to define what he would seek to accomplish in his two year fellowship at Berkeley, beginning with his core idea of exploring the relationship between international trade and political power. The chapter title, “Of Guns and Butter” is taken from Göring’s famous phrase, “guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat.” Hitler had come to recognize the deep relationship between international trade and power.


When he got to Doe Library at Berkeley, I recalled my own discovery of the library stacks when I began university. Unlike AH, I did not have any intellectual background when I went to university. I naively thought the reading room was the whole library. Then I discovered there were stacks. I went on a tour and became depressed for several weeks and was unable to read. I could never read all those books in ten lifetimes never mind one. But it was the discovery of individual volumes that saved me. It would be several years before I came to Adam Smith and Machiavelli and I have never read Werner Sombart’s history of economics and economic development as AH did.


Sombart died just after AH arrived in Berkeley. In fact, the only book of his of which I was aware in my days as an undergraduate and graduate student was his explanation of why America never developed a socialist ideology. Later on I read about his account of the role of Jews in the development of capitalism. In my studies of German philosophy, I became aware of his role as a Fichtean German nationalist, glorifying war and the sacrifice of the individual to the higher Spirit of the state, quite at odds with the real Hegel though thoroughly consistent with the mythological version of that great philosopher. In my studies in the philosophy of history, I also knew of Sombart’s adherence to the “verstehen” school of empathetic re-enactment to understand the actions of agents in history. I wish Jeremy would have expanded on what part of Sombart’s oeuvre intrigued AH.


The story suddenly moved away from the intellectual to the personal, not only because he was uncomfortable telling tales of his experiences, but because he met Sarah Chapiro who became the love of his life. He proposed marriage after they had known each other for only eight weeks.  The wedding ceremony and celebration took place against the backdrop of the sensational news that Germany had invaded Russia. It was June 1941. He shared few of his experiences of his past involvement in the world of deeds, but he more than made up for that by sharing with Sarah his love for writers, especially Flaubert and Goethe. Of the latter, he could recite much of his poetry by heart.


In addition to a love of Goethe, though my intellectual affair had no real comparison with Albert’s, AH and I share another trait. He was a bad driver. I only learned to drive when I was 28 years old and YorkUniversity had moved from the Bayview campus to what was then beyond the ends of the urban world, the main campus at Finch Avenue and Keels Street. Then, there was no convenient way to get there except by car. The difference in this sphere was that AH loved to drive; I disliked the activity even though I could park a car and AH could not. The activity required so little attention that my mind would wander, not a very good omen for other drivers. The pity was that AH seemed to be far dreamier than I ever was.  Further, except for short trips, I had the good sense to give up most driving fifteen years ago.


Like many couples, Albert and Sarah bonded closely with another couple, William and Ann Steinhoff, who introduced them to the local classical concert scene and the richness of classical music on the radio. I do not know what Ann was doing at the time, but if William Steinhoff is the same individual who made his name in literary criticism, he was completing his PhD in English at the time and writing his thesis. Though Jeremy does not mention it, William Steinhoff with his expertise on rhetoric in his work in literary criticism, particularly his work on George Eliot and, later, George Orwell (George Orwell and the Origins of 1984), and AH, with his intrigue with les mots justes, must also have shared a deep love of the use and misuse of language. They would also have shared a love for French literature. So I was surprised to learn that the friendship they developed was not a deep one, especially given the little I know about Steinhoff.


Jeremy gives no indication that AH or his wife, Sarah, read George Simenon, but I believe this was the topic of Steinhoff’s thesis at the University of California for he published, “George Simenon: The Most Popular Novelist in the World” in January of 1944 as part of his examination of romanticism which exalted the individual, particularly the artist, and the value of self-expression in response to a disgust with mass production, a Nietzschean idolization of self-tranformation and a transvaluation of all values, all at the cost of a sense of responsibility to the community. Given the stress on uniformity, not only of the war years but of the fifties in which The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit became the image for an age, the romance with romanticism was the perfect imaginary counterpoint to a conformist age. Further, Steinhoff was one of the pioneers in literary criticism in the use of personal biography and psychology to explicate literature, its intents and its images of self-fulfillment.


An outsider looking in would have typed the two pairs as belonging to a world that would quickly go out of fashion as the University of California became the leading edge institution of the new world of higher education, The Multiversity, and what I would characterize as the pre-eminence of the Social Service Station model of the university directed towards and focused on helping resolve the social problems of society. For one of the contradictions in AH’s life was the focus of his research on precisely such issues while he employed tools brought together from a multitude of disciplines. He was a pioneer in forging an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and stood staunchly opposed to putting the different intellectual disciplines into silos, yet his old world erudition instilled in him in an education steeped in a very different model of the university, The Sanctuary of Method. (See my Holiversity) where the university as a collection of disciplinary silos became the ideal. Specifically, he deplored the idea of the divorce between economics and politics let alone ethics so that politics became an orphan studying means and mechanisms without the resources for studying ends.


Clark Kerr would publish his highly influential volume, The Uses of the University based on his Godkin Lectures at Harvard in 1963, more than twenty years after these two young couples were enjoying the richness of the University of California at Berkeley.  William Steinhoff would also become very active in the idea of the university when he became a faculty member at the University of Michigan and very active in its Senate and issues of university reform. As we shall see, AH would flee in the opposite direction, away from university academic life, away from teaching, away from academic institutional issues and away from an historicist understanding of how the development of knowledge reflected upon and mirrored the economic and political developments of society. Both men would introduce pauses in their academic careers as each separately enlisted in the American army.


But before they did, Jeremy understandably spent more pages on AH’s friendship with an old friend, Peter Franck, who had been best man at his wedding and whose sister Albert had pursued when he was a teenager. The two played pranks together, but they mostly grew up together as teenage intellectuals and shared the reading group on Hegel. They learned to despise fascism together and went through an initial romance with Marx together. In fact, Albert’s friendship with Peter was possibly the most important reason for his quick exit from Germany when his father died. For when Peter Franck was arrested by the Nazis, AH’s name and contact information were in Peter’s little telephone book. Peter Franck would precede Albert in travelling to America. But the most important reason for spending so much time on a friendship from which Albert would soon distance himself – though insufficiently for they would meet up again when AH went to Washington – is that the two parted ways on Marxism. Peter remained a member of the Communist Party. Albert, who had exposed himself to it and became intimately acquainted with its application in the Spanish Civil War, became increasingly critical and distanced himself from it, his friendship with Peter, and from the larger circle of cocktail Marxists congregated at Berkeley at the time. But not sufficiently or in a timely enough fashion to protect his subsequent career in the OSS and Washington from McCarthyite suspicions.


The problem was not just an old friendship dating back to schooldays when he, Peter Franck, Wolfgang Rosenberg and Helmut Mühsam, the son of the famous German poet and anarchist, Erich Mühsam, were best buddies. (There is a famous picture of the four of them but, to my surprise, I could not find it in Jeremy’s book.) They camped, climbed mountains and studied Hegel together at the gymnasium. Helmut went onto become a famous Israeli demographer. Wolfgang (The Magic Square (1986) and New Zealand Can be Different and Better (1993)) wrote works that became the ideological backbone of the New Zealand Labour Party in their defence of full employment, expansionary fiscal policies and government intervention when he taught at Canterbury University in Christchurch from which base he challenged the neo-conservatives in his adopted land. Peter Franck had immigrated to America where he too was a trade economist, never achieving the status of either Hirschman or Rosenberg. But Peter’s adherence to communism – more significantly, his push to have Albert meet Haakon Chevalier, the ardent communist and charismatic professor of literature at Berkeley – drove a deep schism in their old friendship. Chevalier and Robert Oppenheimer, who met in 1937, had become close friends. Chevalier was suspected of being a recruiter for Soviet intelligence as emerged in the famous 1954 hearings on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission over Oppenheimer’s security clearance where that clearance was revoked. Jeremy sent me an excellent reference on that issue – Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer – which I have not read.


When Sarah asked Albert how the meeting with Peter Franck and Haakon Chevalier had gone, Jeremy wrote that his “expression said it all; his face was that of a man forced to smell rancid meat.” (p. 200) Jeremy should enlighten us on the source for this reaction – presumably from an interview with or a note from Sarah – for he repeats the exact same metaphor when he goes into greater detail on whether or not this meeting had been the source of the deep suspicion of Albert Hirschman’s possible communist connections that would haunt his career in the OSS and the American government. When Jeremy inquired into the source of the disinformation in Albert’s security file, he speculated on whether the information came directly from his connection with Peter Franck or from AH’s meeting with Chevalier.


Or was it Frank’s friend, Haakom Chevalier, also a party member, whom Franck had introduced to Hirschman? Chevalier was, by 1943, under FBI surveillance because in the winter of 1942-3 he had asked J. Robert Oppenheimer, the guru of the Manhattan Project, to share scientific findings with an agent of the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. Hirschman certainly knew Chevalier was troubled from the day he met him. When he returned home from the rendezvous, his face had the expression of someone who had just smelled rotten meat. (p. 288)


The smell of rancid meat – this was the sensuous version of communism. Chevalier and Oppenheimer had founded the Berkeley branch of the teachers’ union together and also sponsored many events for leftist causes. Given both the Chevalier and Franck links to the Communist Party, it is no surprise that Peter’s efforts to draw Hirschman in caused a deep break in an old friendship, though not deep enough to prevent Hirschman from giving Peter a credit in his first book or to cut off civil contact altogether.  Jeremy noted that he recorded his severed close friendship in a letter to his sister, Ursula, with whom he had always been blunt. “Peter reveals all too often his fundamentally bad character and is not even (he never was) very intelligent. But as ‘Best Friend’ he has become an institution.” (p. 200) What an acerbic comment written at the time and before that friendship would haunt his career! Even more revealing, and perhaps an insult to both William and Ann Steinhoff, he went on to write, “I still have not found a circle of true friends. In New York I would have some, but not here.” The poignancy of his loneliness and his desire to share all his ideas and concerns with close intimate others is painful to read.

I myself may have had an indirect connection with Peter Franck. In my new left days in the sixties, I met an activist at Berkeley named Peter Franck, I only recalled the connection when I read Jeremy’s book. Since he was just a bit younger than I, he could not have been AH’s adolescent friend. But he could possibly have been AH’s Peter Franck’s son since his father had been German and he himself had been born in Britain when his parents escaped Nazi Germany. The Peter that I knew defended Mario Savio and other leaders of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. He evidently went on to act on behalf of Cesar Chavez and was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. I looked him up and learned that Peter Franck Junior, if indeed he was Peter Franck Jr., had gone on to become an important lawyer specializing in intellectual property in entertainment law. It seems obviously the same person because in his Berkeley days, Peter was a democratic activist defending free speech and human rights as a member of the National Lawyer’s Guild’s Committee on Democratic Communications (CDC) and the Pacifica Foundation. But can anyone tell me whether AH’s friend was his father. There is a strong likelihood since we know that political propensities are often transferred to the next generation, though often in a more liberal version.

Going back to AH, it was clear that long before he wrote his famous book, on a personal level, he was torn between his loyalty to an old friend whom he now regarded as a part of a false cause and whom he regarded as deaf to his own voice, and his desire to exit from the relationship. He did exit, retaining only a surface civil relationship. Dissidents not only exit from oppressive dictatorships and failing economic enterprises, but from personal friendships. But those friendships can leave political scars that are even harder to disguise than the physical scars on Albert’s back and neck left from his Spanish Civil War experience.

The connection between the personal and the intellectual meant a focus on economic regions and states, international trade and its affects on states, rather than the class conflict between workers and the owners of capital. If a national state required a regulatory order to ensure relations between workers and bosses remained fair, how much more important was the regulation needed to ensure that free trade and open markets were maintained between and among states. That regulation could enhance trade. Its absence could foster exploitive international relations. In the process he learned enough mathematics and statistics to devise his innovative index of market concentration. It was during that work that he met and worked with Alexander Gerschenkron who would, unbeknownst to Albert, help him several times in his career. It is not clear why the two never became close friends or even intellectual soul mates.

AH managed to finish his first book, National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade before he returned to armed service, this time for the Americans rather than the French or the Spanish Republicans. He had now set down an original path that showed how strong states manipulated international trade to enhance their own power, now a staple of economic doctrine. However, given the terrible composition of the book and the times, the book quickly reached the remainder able. Yet the implications were profound for establishing a peaceful world. As Jeremy wrote, “A real peaceable order required a drastic overhaul the multilateral system.” (212) Restricting predation was crucial to enhancing the prospects for peace. The weakness of the book emerged as it took flight from that analysis into an anti-sovereign globalist utopia.

AH returned to the world of deeds after his first unsuccessful foray into the world of words. He had yet to establish a place in the sun for his own unique voice. 

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman Conversation – Instalment 6: Liberal Economic Cosmopolitanism and Refugees

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 6: Liberal Economic Cosmopolitanism and Refugees

Chapter 5. Crossings                                                                             




Howard Adelman

Jeremy and I had a conversation about the blogs. Further, I have received another six messages about the blog. The main suggestion that I will adopt is that I will go slower and spread the blogs out to give chances for more feedback. Second, I will continue my comments since they seem to be received well, but I will add to those comments queries, either separate from the blog or with it.

Jeremy and I also discussed content. I have come to recognize how much I identify with Hirschman – his combination of engagement and detachment, his methodological approach through case studies and his intense distaste for ideologues. However, I do not entirely identify with Jeremy’s approach to Hirschman. Jeremy has adopted Hirschman’s combination of detachment and engagement in approaching the study of AH himself. I want Jeremy to be more present in the dialogue and have introduced more of Jeremy and more of myself into the portrait. Secondly, Jeremy has adopted an implicit tone that allows readers to engage; the book invites the reader to draw their own conclusions from the evidence and the analysis presented. I want more explicit analysis and have attempted to add that with my blog. As much as I may identify with AH, I do not share his reticent diplomatic personality.

What AH and I do share is a history with refugees, the topic with which Chapter 5 ends. I will offer a brief comparison. But before that, the chapter deals with AH’s attempts to apply his now developed economic skills to the real world. In 1938 in Paris, Albert Hirschman was 26 years old, had a PhD in economics, the beginnings of a record in economics because of his analysis of the economics of fascism and a continuing ambition to make a contribution. What had happened is what often happens when political and economic crises take place in a neighbourhood. First, refugees appear on the neighbour’s doorstep. They bring with them the tensions and conflicts which drove them to flee. Then they arrive in such numbers that the political, social and economic problems spill over into the political culture of the host state. Most recently this happened to Syria which had become the largest host for refugees fleeing Iraq, taking in 1,500,000. Then the same religious and ethnic violence that had so permeated Iraqi politics after the US-led invasion to save the world from imaginary weapons of mass destruction percolated through Syrian society and broke out in civil war, not initially over ethnic and religious differences but initially over issues of governance, human rights and democracy.

It is not as if the refugees cause this situation. Not at all! But they do serve as a catalyst in stimulating debates over national versus cosmopolitan values, over the degree of openness of borders and how much they should be closed to create a guarded gate, whether the designation is one of citizenship or one of nationality over who is French (or Canadian or Thai) and who is not. If the economic circumstances are tough, all these problems are exacerbated. This was the situation in 1938 when Édouard Daladier became premier after arguing that France as a host for refugees fleeing Germany arrived in France at great expense to the French government and threatening the society with immediate economic collapse. The French government then used the occasion of the fateful Evian conference where, under the pretext of meeting to help Jewish refugees, the vast majority of countries closed their doors further. Western moral bankruptcy mitigated the Nazi evil and reinforced their propensity to engage in even more extreme measures against the Jews. We do not learn of AH’s response to Evian perhaps because he was personally preoccupied with securing his sister, Eva’s, departure from Germany to Britain as a student nurse.

Moral degeneracy percolates across borers. Just as London became an arena for Soviet assassinations during the past decade, Paris became a city in which the Italian fascists and the German Nazis sought out and killed their enemies. Herschel Grynszpan, a stateless Polish Jew from Germany, responded in kind and assassinated a low level German embassy official in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, shooting him five times in the stomach on 7 November. In response using the assassination as a pretext for a long planned much greater assault on the Jews of Germany and Czechoslovakia, the Nazis launched the widespread anti-Semitic pogrom against the Jews famously called Kristallnacht. In Grynspan’s trial, there was an attempt to save his life and reduce his sentence by depicting the young Herschel as a murderer of passion against a homosexual lover who had spurned him, a complete fabrication for a decidedly political if very ill-advised political act, but Jeremy falls into the defence trap by depicting Grynspan as a “crazed” Polish Jew, though there is no evidence to suggest that he was crazy at all. 

What is more interesting given the book’s focus, Jeremy provides no evidence or depiction to how AH responded to Evian, the assassination or the use of the incident as a pretext by the Nazis for a long planned anti-Semitic pogrom against German Jews in Kristallnacht, perhaps because all of these events were overshadowed by the sell out by Britain and France of Czechoslovakia and its partial takeover by the Nazis. Perhaps AH was too preoccupied with the fate of his family, particularly his sister, Ursula, and her husband, Eugenio, who was arrested in Trieste. Perhaps it was his own immersion in a torrid love affair in Paris. Perhaps these reasons and the fact that he landed a job that could make use of his skills as an economic intelligence analyst made him spurn a job offer in Berlin and easily accept his rejection for entry into the USA when America was closing its doors even further.

Whatever the causes or the reasons, Jeremy does not speculate. Instead, he documents the research AH undertook to show how the combination of fiscal policy and international monetary exchange controls, militarization and protectionism were leading Mussolini’s Italy towards financial disaster contrary to the Italian propaganda. Political and military aggression was both stimulated by the policies while also reinforcing the cover up of the disaster. AH was running the economic gauntlet between the Scylla of the Keynesian propensity to regard the national economy as a self-contained entity and the Charybdis of the Hayekian propensity to ignore the political and ideological underpinnings of a regime and examine the economy independent of politics. Economic policies fostered political expansionism and military adventurism while also serving to cover up the flaws.

Politically, in 1939 everything was getting worse. The anschluss by Hungary against Ruthenia and by Germany against Prague meant that war was now virtually inevitable. When the USSR and Germany divided Poland between them, war became certain. The 24 August non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany only offered a cynical twist to the whole process. 

On 12 April, AH had enlisted in the French army; it was only two days before France ordered the internment of all German nationals in the country. Unlike Spain, this enlistment was not an initiation rite even though AH encountered the same total lack of preparation and incompetency in his training. It was a clear sign. In two weeks in June of 1940, the Germans overran Belgium and were in Paris with the inevitable flow of eight million more refugees. France was soon divided between the occupied north and the “unoccupied” south which the Pétain puppet government was left to “rule”. Otto Hirschmann became Albert Hermant in his release paper signed by his commanding officer as he fled for the Vichy zone, receiving sanctuary in the home of a Huguenot doctor in Nïmes, proving once again the truism that the greatest predictor of activity on behalf of refugees was the experience of being a refugee in one’s own family history. In this case, it was the Huguenots which had contributed the term “refugee” to the modern world’s lexicon.  They also got him a highly valued carte d’identité.

This was when AH met – no, arranged to meet – the American, Varian Fry, who was an exception to the truism I cited above. Fry came for a secure Protestant background but had personally observed the terror inflicted on Jews in Germany a few years earlier. Fry arrived from Spain at the Gare St. Charles in Marseilles on 14 August carrying visas for entry into America on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee. (ERC that later became the famous International Rescue Committee when the ERC was merged with the International Relief Association.) The visas were intended to help beleaguered artists and intellectuals get to America. AH with his charm, ingenuity and multi-lingual capabilities was quickly accepted by Fry as his aide de camp and dubbed Beamish.  

The two, financed in part by the money of the heiress and one time good time celebrity, Mary Jayne Gold, and assisted by a former American student at the Sorbonne, Miriam Davenport, and another translator, Lena Fishman, proceeded to rescue 2,000 to 4,000 artists, scientists and writers, to whom AH added the beleaguered political refugees from Austria and Germany in the Neu Beginnen movement. Either through treks across the Pyrenees into Portugal or via ships bound for Martinique out of the port of Marseille, they were enabled to escape VichyFrance. Against State Department instructions, Hiram Bingham IV, the American Vice Consul in Marseille, helped expand the relatively meagre number of visas that Fry had with him. Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall. Max Ernst, Arthur Koestler, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Lipschitz, Max Ophűls, Franz Werfel were among the thousands rescued.

The second most difficult obstacle was not even the shortage of entry visas and arranging for currency exchanges (via Marseilles mobsters), but the difficulty in arranging for exits given the Armistice Agreement provision requiring that Vichy France hand over suspected enemies to the Nazis “on demand”. The most difficult, of course, was selection, for hundreds of thousands were searching for an escape. The task was to select those under the greatest threat; that task was left to AH with his deep knowledge of the politics of Europe.

AH managed to escape himself just in time, helped by John Bell Condiffe, a New Zealander international economist whom he had met as a result of his economic intelligence work. Unbeknownst to AH, Condiffe had eventually secured a student visa for AH to study at Berkeley. AH himself trekked across the Pyrenees and managed to get into Spain and then onto Portugal where a ticket on the S.S. Excalibur named after King Arthur’s magical sword awaited him.

What a contrast with the ease with which, in the light of Canada’s terrible record with Jewish refugees in Europe, we helped the Hungarian refugees settle in Toronto in 1957, my very first encounter with refugees, or the much later assistance in receiving the Indochinese refugees in 1979 and 1980 where, in spite of strong populist opposition, we had the full cooperation of the government, the media and virtually every professional association. In the European case in 1940, AH’s familiarity with crossing the mountains into Spain from his Spanish Civil War days, had to be supplemented by even more experienced acquaintances, AH’s recently acquired skills in obtaining false documentation and an ability to change money on the black market and deal with Marseilles mobsters.   

When Jeremy was writing this chapter, I wondered whether he remembered his own roll in helping me when we organized Operation Lifeline to assist in the resettlement of the Indochinese refugees.


Detachment & Commitment — Keynes versus Hayek

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 5: Detachment & Commitment — Keynes versus Hayek

Chapter 5. The Hour of Courage                                               


Howard Adelman


Every culture has a rite of passage, a type of initiation ritual that allows an individual to transit from one level of social status to another. Such rites generally entail a test of courage. Victor Turner, a Scot who taught at the University of Virginia, wrote a seminal essay, “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage” which depicts the innate predispositions of the human psyche in handling this transition so that the variations in response can be better understood. Certain practices are common whatever the culture or race. The dynamic takes place both within an individual psyche as well as between an individual and his environment.

As Jeremy makes clear, between 1935 and 1938 AH was certainly betwixt and between – between four different cultures, between four different languages, between different ideological pulls, between different loyalties, between radically alternative ways of understanding economics (Hayek versus Keynes), between studies steeped in mathematics to wide ranging readings in the humanities and social sciences, and most of all torn between thought and action. Between London and Trieste, his courage was tested in the “searing political experience in the Spanish Civil War” where he proved he could be a man of action but where the proof remained hidden from others, even his most intimate ones.

How do you exercise praxis? How do you apply thought to action without that thought and reflection making you impotent to act? A rite of passage is a demonstration that one has potency, that one can act. What happened in that heroic journey, that call to adventure, that has summoned men such as Ulysses or adolescents such as Huckleberry Finn, my favourite traveller on an individual odyssey in all my reading? AH went to Spain on a vision quest. What happened? Previously, he seemed to be in constant search for a guru for both thought and the principles of life. In this area, for whatever reason, and whatever respect he retained for his father, Carl Hirschmann had failed him. AH was about to fall down a black hole and then re-emerge resurrected from the dead. Before he did, it would be well to probe the intellectual and other forces that were tearing at his mind and soul.

Jeremy tells us that at LSE, AH fell under the spell of Abba Lerner whom I first encountered in 1959 as a speaker at a cooperative conference in Washington when he was teaching somewhere in Chicago. Lerner had written an essay on the Swedish middle way that I had read in a Canadian journal. I then read his book on The Economics of Control. I believe he wrote this book all through the thirties when AH took his course of lectures. I reacquainted myself with that book for this blog for I had largely forgotten it and the plethora of readings I explored when I was very deeply involved in the cooperative movement and searching for a middle way between capitalism and socialism. Lerner, as a former socialist, now influenced by both Lionel Robbins and Frederick Hayek, and exposed to the revolutionary theories of John Maynard Keynes (The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money was published in 1936), he had moved away from exploring a price mechanism for a socialist society that would be fully democratic and not be obsessed with the abolition of private property.  Lerner had become convinced, as I was, that ownership by the state of all property could never be democratic. Lerner had written on the economics of control even in a laissez faire economy that would be directed to serving the common weal. The economy could be a collectivist one or one that emphasized and supported private enterprise. However, I never knew anything and still know nothing about Lerner’s work on concepts of international trade and price equalization theory.

Lerner had been a missionary of the thesis that socialism was about the democratic control of economic life and not about the abolition of private property. As it is today, the emphasis of social democrats was on full employment, preventing capitalist cabals and fostering a more just distribution of benefits of economic growth. For Lerner, the middle way permitted the reconciliation between liberalism and capitalism on one side and democracy and a more just distribution or true socialism on the other side. Lerner’s complicated formulas on determining the optimum way to ensure distribution and rewards were both just and under democratic control went beyond my skills.  I would later give up the idea that cooperatives were the answer to democratic socialism but I could identify with Jeremy’s account of how AH came under Lerner’s spell and could avoid the Scylla of Hayek’s methodological individualism and Marx’s collectivism.

AH was helped by very good and close lifelong friends at LSE. His closest friend for the rest of his life was probably George Jaszi who would end up getting AH his first job in Washington in the Commerce Department, a job that threatened to bore him to death. Another good friend at LSE, Hans Landsberg, a fellow escapee from the Nazis who would later be a colleague in the OSS and much later one of the foremost experts on energy economics, particularly oil in the Middle East, was unable to save AH from the McArthy era machinations of the FBI. Both friends had fallen completely under the spell of Keynes. AH resisted and emerged more on the right, though, ironically, when he was in the OSS, the McCarthyite infection of his file had him pegged as a potential security risk and possible fellow traveller, a suspicion he seemed to refuse to face directly. AH did remain distrustful of any grand theory, whether centre, left or right, for the rest of his intellectual life but never learned to probe and unpack the sources of distrust that infected his own career. I will return to this issue in the next blog.

How were the precepts of left concerns with justice and the right emphasis on freedom to be reconciled without getting into the straightjacket of an absolutist grand theory? How was thought to be reconciled with commitment and action as exemplified by another temporary hero of AH, Piero Sraffa, the expert on David Ricardo?  After reading Jeremy’s entire book, I became convinced that the biggest influence in LSE had not been Abba Lerner but P. Barrett Whale who had researched the reasons the banks failed in Germany and the role of the central bank in regulating the economy that, at a deeper level, was rooted in a constructivist theory of money in contrast to the “naturalists” who were diehard supporters of a gold standard, and liberal absolutists committed the market as the determinant of the value of money.

I was very sorry that Jeremy had not written more on this for he did say that Whale’s teaching influenced AH`s first original paper on the weakness of the French franc and the process of economic detective work. Jeremy had obtained his Masters degree from LSE and I recall him doing research on Louis Rasminsky, the third governor of the Bank of Canada who played such an important role in forging the Bretton Woods Agreement that was so crucial to past WWII reconstruction. (See Bruce Muirhead`s 1999 UofT Press biography, Against the Odds: The Public Life and Times of Louis Rasminsky.) Perhaps it would have been too speculative, given the lack of written evidence, to write on the early formation of AH`s theory of money and his principles as discovered through the analysis of actual bad practices. So perhaps these are just the frustrations of a philosopher who does not feel as restricted by empirical evidence as Jeremy seems to be.

Jeremy does argue that AH was in a deep funk after finishing his studies at LSE in 1936, but the events of the break out of the Spanish Civil War determined his next course of action. I suggest `determined` is too strong a word. AH was in a black hole and needed to dive deeper into it. The Spanish Civil War in its chaos and simply gross horrible quality offered that opportunity. I believe the Spanish Civil War was the crucible that ultimately really taught AH how to really think with an independent voice and a degree of abstraction from the blood and gore of the real world. The Spanish Civil War gave him the standards that would serve him for the rest of his life acting as a form of immunization against idolatry and false gods. He was reborn as a new person by that process whereby he emerged as a man with clear commitments. After that rite of passage and initiation, he became entitled to join the ritual circle of true individuals.

AH went as a volunteer stripped of his intellectual skills, in the midst of the mire of battle but totally divorced from the powers elsewhere in Berlin, Rome and Moscow pulling the strings while the West reflected his own state as those capitals were mired in impotency. Reduced metaphorically and literally to the dust of the earth, AH had begun his real initiation into adulthood and took a vow of silence which he never broke, even with his wife Sarah. He could never tell or report on what he saw or what happened to him; only the scars on his neck and leg gave witness to the untold story. It is the one area in which he denied himself a right to have a voice.

He entered into the well of blackness by leaving behind both the world of books associated with his father and the world of his domestic ties with his mother and sisters. Into the cauldron of hell he went, carried away by the Zombies, the white clay men of empty rhetoric and slogans manipulated by the puppeteers abroad. AH would be immersed in a world full of evil spirits, a world totally alien to his past experience even as he watched the first manifestations of such a world with the rise of Nazi thugs. In the battle along the Aragonese Front, where the volunteers were outnumbered and outgunned but held on, the casualties were enormous. But the loss of his innocence in the face of the cruelty and cynicism as internecine fighting broke out as the Communists strived to achieve control, was far worse. In making a pact with Stalin, the supporters of the government had made a Faustian bargain. For Albert, the death of Mark Rein at the hands of the communists “brought an end to any faith or trust in Communism”. More painful than the physical wounds, more painful than watching the thuggery of the Nazis, was the experience of communist betrayal in Spain. “To see people whom one expected to contribute to one`s own struggle turn into the opposite was in some sense worse.” (118) The spiritual wounds were much deeper than the physical ones.

The reunion with Ursula, Eugenio and Sylvia in Trieste was a triumph of rebirth. AH was now ready to complete his education with his true mentor who would end up dying so that AH could be reborn as a fully independent human intellectual, independent in heart and independent in spirit. Who would have thought that after his magnificent performance in guiding refugees to safety he would then have to spend another few years in an intellectual wilderness in the OSS cursed by a betrayal from the right rather than the left? But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  AH was not only re-united with his sister and brother-in-law but with their loveless marriage bereft of romance or affection and afflicted with sexual frustration. But they had made a beautiful child. AH pessimistically declared the natural law drawn from the story of Adam, the propensity of adults to project onto nature (and their children produced by nature) their own dreams and hopes. “Nature, believe me, is like a mirror that reflects the image of him who scrutinizes it. And man, the most intelligent of all animals, substitutes his own image for the mirror.” (140)

In Italy, Albert produced his first truly original work and had mastered the conduct of the most basic element in science, accurate counting, in his study of Italian fascist fertility policy that resulted in the paradox of higher child mortality rates as well as higher rates of reproduction. It reminded me of a study in Uganda where Bill Gates` generous policies on AIDS in Uganda led both to significant reductions in deaths from AIDS as well as incidences for contracting the disease, but also a significant rate of increase in infant mortality because the higher wages paid to AIDS health workers sucked away the health professionals from the care of pregnant and birthing women. This was an early example of the paradox of the unintended effect of translating good intentions into policies.

That examination of Italian fertility policy was not the study that would be the foundation stone of his academic career after he emerged from the hell of Spain. It was his study of Italian public finances, monetary policies, prices and commercial trade that unveiled the hidden stresses beneath the Italian fascist economy. AH, while resolute and unbending in keeping the secret of his rites of passage and initiation into manhood, had also become a master detective astute in exposing the façade of a crafty use of reserves, bank borrowing and monetary controls to contain consumer prices. At the age of twenty-one, AH had proved that he had been an astute pupil of both Lerner and Whale. The side benefit was that he earned the equivalent of a PhD. The combination of his intellectual training and the fiery crucible of Spain had produced a scholar totally emancipated from the ideological curses and debates of the left, just as Jeremy`s own studies at Oxford for his PhD would instil in him the greatest respect for both careful empirical observation and refined intellectual analysis to free him from a romantic student attachment to Gramsci.  

All of this was enhanced by his readings in the humanities, his love of aphorisms, especially his deep passion for le mot juste, and his lifelong affair with Michel de Montaigne. It is a love affair I understand perfectly. In my own study I have two vey large framed posters hanging on the wall announcing a conference on the author in Bagni di Lucca, Italy where my wife and I found ourselves on the occasion of the four hundredth anniversary of his birth. Montaigne is the only philosopher whom I have read but never commented upon. Montaigne understood humans. He most understood that our capacity for empathy was not abstract but a product of physical and historical proximity that would undermine any quest for abstract cosmopolitanism every time. For Montaigne, all solutions to social problems had to enhance both survival (Hegel`s Life) and man`s highest aspirations (Hegel`s Desire or Albert`s passions). Montaigne imbued Albert Hirschman with a deep understanding of constructivism and how an ironic detachment could serve as an antidote to the propensity to be obsessed with eternal truths about the social world even though he carried the haunting sense imbued in his earlier education that the absence of a full-fledged Weltanschaung was a defect. AH would remain haunted for the rest of his life, especially by the arrest and death of Eugenio Colorni, but he had learned in Spain how to keep his ghosts at bay.  

Lordship and Bondage: Perspectivism, Empricism and Mindblindness

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 4: Perspectivism, empiricism & mindblindness

Chapter 3. Proving Hamlet Wrong                                                   


Howard Adelman

 Now a Jew by decree, AH found himself in Paris neither as a refugee nor as an immigrant but as a student soon enrolled in the École des hautes etudes commerciales de Paris (HEC) instead of the École libre des sciences politiques (Sciences Po). On the advice of the future Gaullist Prime Minister, Michel Dupré (appointed 8 January 1959), AH was told that, as a refugee, he would get no benefit from Sciences Po which served as a training ground for civil servants and politicians, positions to which AH could not aspire.  AH instead faced the boredom of studying business and accounting rather than economics and diplomacy, but he did learn about inter-state trade and regional commerce which freed him from the narrow dogmas of the labour theory of value, class conflict and world disequilibrium. Even boring inadequate schools can have unintended and unexpected benefits.

However, his reaction to his studies as largely useless was not what preoccupied him. On p. 96, Jeremy writes, “the passage from the Phenomenology about the dialectics of the master-serf relationship (in which the former depends on the latter’s recognition as a condition of his full consciousness, while the latter possesses only the power to deny this) had of course been the subject of endless scrutiny in Berlin.” The sentence comes near the end of a paragraph of Hegelian length of almost two pages. What follows is the comment that this section served as the explanation for his malaise and guilt about leaving his family behind and that the words for this explanation came forth unconsciously, “without me knowing it or wanting it”. That was why he had to know it and his mother had to be told. What precedes the sentence is the introduction which insisted that the troubled memories of his last year in Berlin served as an undertow. As Jeremy writes, the letters that survive from that long ago period are replete with efforts to come to terms with his family’s past. So the structure of the paragraph is a triptych: a) a reference to his family and their troubles; b) the reference to the Lordship-Bondage section of the Phenomenology and c) the comment that this section offered an unsought for and unreflected reference to explain the malaise and the reason for it.

What is the malaise and the wallowing in guilt that is the explanans in the paragraph? It is Albert’s mother’s disapproval of the academic path he chose. Economics was déclassé. Albert had failed to live up to his mother’s expectations. Albert was proposing an alternative to his relationship based on guilt on one side and resentment and bitterness on the other. Instead, he desired one based on mutual love and respect. And, of all things, he quotes the bible. “The bible says: God made man in his own image. Maybe. But man definitely can’t do the same.” His mother should not and cannot make her children in her own image. The paragraph then reverses track and goes back to the malaise, suggesting that April was always a horrendous month for bad memories to haunt him – the month of his mother’s birthday, of his father’s death and of his exit from Berlin, inspiring his thoughts about parent-child relations and recalling both his thesis on Hegel and the insights reading Hegel gave to his understanding of that relationship. Parents will always be disappointed when, in the critical age of an adolescent’s Bildung, his education and development, parents will always be disappointed when their children, if they are at all reasonable and independent, make choices that disappoint their parents, wanting an identity without difference precisely at a stage when the child is asserting his independence.  

Let me start deliberately with a double negative. I am not unacquainted with such a situation. Like Jewish, and many other mothers all over the world who have smart sons who do very well in school, my mother wanted me to be a doctor. I always said I wanted to be a doctor. I even manipulated my older brother who had been in the same grade with me to apply to medical school as well. He previously wanted to be an engineer. He eventually became a very well-known and highly reputed cardiologist. I had, I believed, delivered a double reward to my mother who as a single mother had dedicated her life to her sons. She would get two doctors not just one.

Medicine was not for me. My brother was a very good student, though he did not get the marks I did. He had athletic hands and could do an angioplasty, a technique he introduced to Canada, with finesse and speed. Much more importantly, he was a brilliant diagnostician and would defy logic as we did rounds in Mount Sinai Hospital as students. When symptoms of a case presented a number of possibilities, he would ignore the doubts of reason, choose one cause and hone in on one condition. The exasperating quality was that he was always correct while I protested that the answer could not possibly follow definitively from the evidence. I left medicine.

I was a lousy observer of fine anatomical and physiological details. Reason inhibited rather than helped in the art of diagnostics. And I continued to faint at the sight of blood. I had tried to leave two or three times earlier in my medical schooling, but always returned haunted by the thought of failing my self-sacrificing mother, my own ideals and the prospect of earning a secure and good source of income. I left when I went to see the Dean of Medicine and he gave me three hours of his time to discuss my conundrum and told me of how he had left medical school for three years to return to farming in Saskatchewan. He told me that I was a very smart student and I could come back anytime in the next three years, take up where I left off and finish my final two years. Shocking to me from a source that I thought saw me as a rebellious young student whom he disliked and resented, he gave me the confidence to leave even though I had no idea how I would support myself or my mother as she grew older. I faced myself with the invented line I used for the rest of my life: “I left Medical School to save lives.” Neither the Dean’s support nor my supposedly witty line helped to erace the clear and deep disappointment of my mother. “You are leaving medical school to study philosophy!” pronounced with a guttural contempt as if philosophy was an alien giant lizard from outer space. However, she was never overbearing in her disappointment and she was quick to forgive.

So though both my mother and the context were very different, I understood Albert’s struggles with guilt over disappointing his mother’s wishes and dreams, a disappointment which was doubly palpable since he had always been the dream son in his mother’s eyes. But what has this to do with the section of Lordship-Bondage in the Phenomenology? Why and how could that section explain either his guilt or his insistence on expiating that guilt by referring to it in a letter? The possibly tenuous link was the issue of “recognition”. His mother recognized him as one thing whereas AH was coming to the recognition of himself as a different person. But what has this to do with the Lordship Bondage section as Hegel wrote it or as AH interpreted it?

Let me first deal with Jeremy’s interpretation of AH’s interpretation of the section. First, and I presume he follows AH in his usage in his letter, the section is referred to as the passage on the dialectics of the “master-serf relationship”, though Hegel makes no explicit reference to serfs. AH had obviously been brought up with the Marxist legacy of interpreting the section in terms of class warfare. Even then, what did the master-slave (as it is usually called by Marxist and neo-Marxist interpreters of this section) relationship have to do with parent-child relations? Even in the relationship interpreted as a master-slave one, if the explanation of AH of the section is as AH understood it, and not Jeremy’s interpolation, then it makes no sense. In the predominant interpretation along these lines so influential on French intellectuals at the time, in Paris Alexandre Kojève, fourteen years senior to AH, was presenting his famous lectures on Hegel from 1933 on. The weird thing was that there is no mention of Kojève in the book, possibly the most influential Hegelian thinker of all time and one who shared with AH an identical vision of Europe after the war. Both men were very influential in creating the intellectual foundations for the European community, yet, according to the biography, they never seemed to have crossed paths physically or intellectually. I will come back to the latter issue in a later blog.

In Kojève’s interpretation, the master and slave relationship develops out of a competition between male peers for superiority. That superiority can be gained in a duel if one defeats another. But in defeat, the winner also loses for he gains a corpse who cannot give the recognition of the superiority that he is seeking. He demonstrates the superiority but does not have the Other remaining around to recognize that superiority. The situation changes when the victor in the battle holds a sword to the neck of his supplicant and offers him a deal. The victor will spare the life of the loser on two conditions, the loser recognize the victor as his master and the loser works as a slave to provide the necessities of life needed by the master. The master, thereby, gains both recognition and the labour of a slave. The servant in return gets to live and also has the protection of the master. This account seems to have little to do with the dialectic as Jeremy presented it in which the master depends on the latter’s recognition as a condition of his full consciousness. However, we are in a section on self-consciousness where the Other must be an individual self who offers the recognition and not a slave or serf from the get-go, and because the master never develops any “full” self-consciousness. In any case, the section is not about consciousness. Further, the slave only possesses the power to deny this recognition if he refuses to be a slave and is willing to die and, in that case, there would be no master-slave relationship at all.

Finally, the dialectic struggle for recognition is not only between the self who becomes the master and the self who becomes the slave, but there is a dissonance within each of them. The master is not really independent for he needs the slave in two radically different ways that are at odds. The master wants to be recognized as a self-made God, totally in control of himself and the world around him, but for that recognition he depends on someone who has surrendered heroism, has surrendered Desire, has surrendered Passion, in the trade for survival and self-interest. Thus, once the recognition comes, it no longer comes from an independent other self. Further, in wanting to free himself from mundane labour, the Master is now dependent on the slave for fulfilling those tasks. He is not a God who does not need the material world to live forever.

The slave is also internally divided. He must labour on the world and obtain material goods for the master’s benefit and for his bare survival. Second, though he works for his survival, that survival depends entirely on the whims and good will of the master who can dispose of him at will, especially if he refuses to provide either the proper respect and recognition and the labour to produce the luxuries to be enjoyed by the master.  The slave’s power to dent that recognition is a totally empty threat and possibility. That is why the only outlet for both the slave and the master, for both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, is stoicism as the route forward out of the master-slave relationship – at least, according to Kojève.

In sum, either AH’s account of the Lordship-Bondage section is very askew or Jeremy’s interpretation of it is. Further, it has no apparent connection with the issue with his mother and only a slender connection with the theme of recognition which manifests itself in other forms throughout the rest of the Phenomenology. Why spend so much time discussing one long paragraph? Because it is about one of AH’s favourite and most influential thinkers. Understanding distortions, misinterpretations and misapplications are crucial to a critical analysis. 

This does not even consider the fact that the scholarship of the last thirty years on Hegel has demonstrably discarded the Marxist interpretation of Hegel. Hegel was a religious man and a religious thinker. The Lordship Bondage section, in my writings, is a philosophical interpretation of the biblical text getting to the basic forces at work in both the human psyche and the development of our social fabric. It begins with man torn between his consciousness that looks at the world as objects (Adam names things) and his self driven by both the need to survive – by Life – or what AH will call interests, and by Desire, what AH will call Passions. This is how the section on self-consciousness in Hegel’s Phenomenology begins. Man’s desire is not, according to the labour theory of value, the desire both to survive and to acquire goods ad infinitum in accordance with possessive individualism, but to be like a God, pure consciousness without a body to feed but, like a scientist, can bring things into being by recognizing and naming them.

However, man is embodied. He needs to eat. He wants to have sex even if as a self of consciousness, this is not recognized. So he is torn between his self as a conscious being in relationship to objects, and a self-conscious being, and within self-consciousness, between Life (interests) and Desire (passions). This is a conflict in which man is riddled with conflicts, but conflicts which are external as well, external both as independent of the self and external as that which is rejected of the self and projected onto an Other. The dialectic within and between Adam and Eve morphs into the dialectic of Lordship and Bondage in their children, not in the relationship of the children with one another, but in the relationship between two sons, in this case, Cain and Abel.

Both strive to be close to God and want recognition from God of their almost divine status. They also work on the world. Cain is a farmer. Abel is a hunter. There is a conflict between two ways of life. The farmer and the cowboy cannot be friends. Each sacrifices the best of his labour to God to earn His recognition, the best of the crop or the best animal trapped. God recognizes Abel. Cain kills Abel. What is at stake is not recognition by the other but recognition by The Other. They sacrifice the produce of their labour to gain that recognition. The Lord in the section is God. The two competitors offer themselves in bondage to their Lord. They are not coerced to do so. The agents, the dialectical development and the critical elements in tension are all radically different than the Marxist interpreters of Hegel thought.

We will have to see how and whether this misinterpretation of Hegel affected the intellectual development and insights of AH. In the meanwhile, the burning of Berlin was followed by the smouldering in Paris. Yet the disease of the “:disappearance of hope” never affected AH. For a better understanding of the political dialectics of hope and despair and some insights if not explanation of why AH always landed on the side of hope, we could read Ron Aronson’s 1995 book, After Marxism and his article in the New School for Social Research Journal on “Hope After Hope” in the spring of 1986, and the article by Jeremy’s Princeton colleague, Patrick Deneen, who wrote not the Odyssey of one Worldly Philosopher but The Odyssey of Political Theory. His 1999 article on “The Politics of Hope and Optimism: Rorty, Havel, and the Democratic Faith of John Dewey” reinforces the understanding of “hope” as a central concept in studying political theory in juxtaposition against despair.

It means that the class struggle is not primary in understanding the political economy. It means that possibilism, the capacity to apply intellectual prowess to political conundrums to create active options for the future becomes a derivative concept. So is the obsession with observing and collecting facts, the foundation of empiricism, and the understanding that in order to do this we have to discard our blinkers that become limitations for nourishing hope. We have to overcome our ideological mindblindness. This does not mean a common understanding will emerge, but it does increase the possibility that different and perhaps complementary ones will. Bromides about inevitable laws of history, the sterile polemics around and about them and the didactic certainties promulgated by men such as Heinrich Blücher, Hannah Arendt’s future husband and Ursula’s beau for a short while, helped insure mindblindness. That is why men like AH’s eventual brother-in-law, Eugenio Colorni, with his stress on observing everyday life, were so important for the development rather than closing of Albert’s mind. Colorni also introduced Albert to Benedetto Croce and Erich Auerbach. From the latter, AH inherited the propensity for searching the classics to understand the roots of the present. From Auerbach, AH also learned that the comprehension that each era and each culture had its own unique perspective and understanding of the surrounding world. Most importantly with respect to the politics of hope, it was important to prove Hamlet wrong and ensure that doubt was not immobilizing but rather a foundation new beginnings. “Uncertainty means that you think you may be wrong; doubt means that you are not sure you know.” (p. 116)

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 2: Loyalty and Disloyalty

Assimilation: Culture & Economics; Family Politics and Cover-ups


Howard Adelman


My father came to Canada from Poland when he was six years old just after the end of WWI. One of his earliest memories was being in a parade in Warsaw when the Kaiser came and he waved a German flag. He always had a strong positive view of Kaiser Wilhelm, reflecting even the Ostjuden view of Germany as the leader of European enlightenment culture. In Jeremy`s first paragraph of chapter 1 of his biography of Albert Hirschman, he writes that Carl Hirschmann (Albert`s father) “was a patriot; he loved Beethoven, Goethe, and the values of the German Enlightenment, as well as the German nation. In the wake of the naval Battle of Skagerrak (known as Jutland in English, May 31 – June 1, 1916) he gushed to his wife, `What do you think of our victory at sea? How wonderful it would to have been there!`”

The problem is that the battle was not quite a victory. In the largest naval battle of the war and the only confrontation between battleships, both sides lost. When we were taught that battle in high school British history, I recall that as schoolboys we discussed whether the British admiralty were competing with the British generals of the ground forces for a medal for the worst performance, though we generally agreed that it would be hard to beat the British army officers in their horrific leadership.

Both the British and Germans wanted to lure the enemy`s fleet into a trap to destroy their capacity by sinking or damaging enough of the other`s warships, in the British case, to remove the threat to their mercantile navy and, in the German case, to break the British blockade and allow the German mercantile fleet to operate freely and open the supply lines to Germany. Using intercepts, the British learned of the German plans, sailed from Scapa Flow in Scotland when they learned the German fleet had left port and caught the submarines unprepared. However, the British were nevertheless caught by German Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper`s superfast five modern battlecruisers and drew them into a battle with the German High seas fleet. Before the British could get back to their own main fleet, they lost two battlecruisers in the battle between Hipper`s five fast ships and the British navy`s six battlecruisers and four battleships. In that sense, the navy battle was a victory for the Germans.

On the other hand, the Germans had been lured into an open battle of the fleets with 250 ships engaged altogether. Eleven German ships were lost but at great cost to the British who lost an additional twelve ships. Further, the Germans managed to escape their encirclement and return to port when the British failed to press their advantage. The British also lost far more sailors. Nevertheless, the British succeeded in deterring any future naval engagements by the Germans and the German fleet remained blockaded in port, but the process also tied down the British fleet and limited its protection of the Atlantic sea lanes.

As is usual in wartime, both sides claimed victory. The difference is that in Germany, the public believed the German military propaganda. In Britain, expectations had been high of another Trafalgar, but the British were not only disappointed that their great fleet had been unable to destroy the German one in open battle, but also at the greater losses on their side. They also learned of the design flaws in their own ships and even questioned the naval commanders` conduct of the battle as we as high school students had. In contrast, Carl Hirshmann, the German loyalist who secretly came from Ostjuden stock but named his son Otto after Otto von Bismarck, the Great Prussian chancellor and founder of modern Germany, accepted that the battle as a German victory and faithfully served the wounded and sick and even eventually the starving as the British blockade lead to cold, darkness, starvation and death in Germany. Carl Hirschmann in his self-deceit was unprepared for the overthrow of the German monarchy.

Jeremy summarizes the key events of the latter all too succinctly. After the flu pandemic which killed 5,000 in Berlin alone, “the Spartacist uprising a month later ended in savagery. Rosa Luxemburg`s body was dumped in the Landwehr Canal, Karl Liebknecht was shot in the back in the Tiergarten Park, and right wing thugs patrolled the city to stop the Soviet influence from crossing into German lands. From this mayhem was born the Weimar Republic, the political and cultural setting of Otto Albert`s upbringing.” What Jeremy does not write in his caution in not drawing forth generalizations unless clearly indicated by the evidence is that these key events not only reinforced the self-deceit and mindblindness of Carl Hirschmann on the political as well as personal level, but adumbrated the path of compromise and betrayal that would be the end as well as beginning of the Weimar Republic.

Although the thugs of the proto-Nazi Freikorps carried out the murders, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Chancellor Friedrich Ebert in particular, most probably ordered them. The SPD, now in government in league with the conservative party, was, like the Chinese government today, wedded to the rhetoric of Marxism but driven by the revisionist nationalist theories of Edward Bernstein which made loyalty to the German state a priority rather than international solidarity. The SPD backed the Kaiser`s war, turned on those leftists who had split away from the SPD and, in my conviction, specifically ordered the assassination that took place on 15 January 1919 of Luxemburg (who, incidentally, initially opposed Liebknecht`s call for an insurrection) and Liebknecht, the leaders of the breakaway faction of the socialists in Germany. The process legitimized thuggery as a political tool at the same time as it sewed deep schisms of distrust among leftists in Germany. Luxemburg`s call for “spontaneity” in revolution to which Albert Hirshman was initially attracted was left undeveloped and without her charismatic leadership. Perhaps this allowed AH to abandon Marxism long before his ideological sister was able to free herself.

Jeremy writes: “He (AH) carried throughout his life many of the precepts and values he had inherited as a boy and picked up as a young man in a vibrantly cosmopolitan, civil, bourgeois – republican – upbringing, steeped in the view that things could be made better, that out of the ashes of the old, new worlds could be made. But throughout his life, he knew equally well just how precarious this world could be.” (pp. 18-19) I would argue that he learned more than simply precariousness. Long before his participation in the Spanish Civil War, before he was even politically aware, his upbringing had been steeped not only in the values of civility, meliorism and republicanism, but in the absence of solidarity, loyalty and unity on the left. He had also learned that the resort to street violence was as integral a part of German culture as Goethe and Wagner. 

But German contemporary culture of Dada artists, Bauhaus architect, Berlin expressionists, and avant-garde filmmakers was perhaps the greatest influence on AH. Jeremy writes: “Berliners turned to culture…Perhaps best known was the flourishing of a distinct Berlin movement in theatre, film, and criticism, especially with the collaboration of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, whose Three Penny Opera presented industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin. Berlin`s first talking movie, The Blue Angel, made Marlene Dietrich famous around the world.” For Jeremy, the image of Dietrich of her memorable walk down a broad staircase in tuxedo and a top hat stands out as does the family lore told by Eva, AH`s young sister, of AH`s father, Carl Hirshmann, spotting Marlene Dietrich at a resort and then jumping up when an opportunity presented itself, draping Dietrich`s fur coat over her shoulder and whispering in her ear, `Meine beste Freudin,` the name of her hit recording from the film. In fact, the song was called, “Wenn die beste Freudin” and it did not come from the film, My Blue Angel, but from the duet she had sung in 1928 with Margo Lion from the musical revue, Es Liegt in der Luft. Since the song was not included in the 1964 albums of Berlin songs by Marlene Dietrich, it is not well known. However, the song can still be heard on YouTube and I personally heard many of them as my German teacher in high school played recording after recording. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOvHdAcdHA.) The song became an anthem for the risqué lesbian movement at the time, but it is unclear whether Carl Hirschmann was being ironic when citing the song as he flirted with Marlene Dietrich.

More significantly, although the book is very long, I think it would have been helpful to briefly unpack those two splendid examples of avant-garde German culture to reveal the tensions between the passions and interests that so dominated Berlin cultural discourse at the time and remained ever present as a theme in AH`s thinking and was, of course, the name of one of his most important books. I wrote a theatre review for the Threepenny Opera (as we wrote out the title) in the early sixties and do not recall thinking of the musical as presenting industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin even though the plot was taken from John Gay`s The Beggar`s Opera, but rather as an interpersonal struggle set against a tale of ostensible class warfare between a peachy father and his daughter. The father is ironically named Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum who is a Fagin character running a troupe of beggars. He is governed solely by self-interest but, unlike Fagin, disguises his main occupation through respectability, civility and religious cant. His daughter, Polly, is a naïve creature driven by passion and desire who falls in love with a charming new thief, Macheath, hired by her father. Macheath has coated his pursuit of both self-interest and desire with an attractive quality of charm and goodwill that serves as a cover for the ruthless murderer beneath. The musical with its wonderful ironic music plays on the tension between two forms of ardent self-interest in juxtaposition to desire and various forms of cover ups for that tension so it would have been helpful to learn whether AH saw the musical when he was fourteen or, at least, how he regarded it, especially its deus ex machina ending when Macheath ends up with a pardon for all his crimes and a pension from Queen Victoria.

The Blue Angel, Germany`s first talkie in 1930, is such a contrast to Hollywood`s 1927 The Jazz Singer which told the story of the tension between tradition and modernity between a Jewish cantor`s son and his father loosely based on the life of its star, Al Jolson, my favourite singer as a kid. The Blue Angel based on Heirich Mann`s novel, Professor Unrat (garbage), is the story of a bourgeois, prudish and stuffy teacher in a gymnasium much like the one AH attended who goes to a cabaret to catch his boys watching the torch singer, Loa-Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich, and falls deliriously in love. It is a movie about passion overwhelming reason and common sense leading to the destruction of bourgeois values of civility as the professor is reduced to the humiliation of playing a clown in cabaret as Marlene Dietrich cavorts with her latest lover. The surprise is how well this trite and simplistic plot works so powerfully and how much more powerful the film must have been in Germany where the theme of the tension between unbridled passion and rationality has such a deep resonance. 

I know Jeremy`s book is very long, but I would have appreciated a bit more expansion on the possible effects of such German iconic cultural products on AH himself. I also missed some more unpacking of the tension within Albert between tradition and modernity set against the tension between self-interest and emotional attachments. We are told the parallel story of his very wealthy cousins who take self-interest to the extremes of hedonism and the implied rejection by Albert of those values. We are told of the family`s conversion to Protestantism along with another half million German Jews, but it was Lutheranism and not just Protestantism established by the ardently anti-Semitic Martin Luther to which they converted.  The family observed Christmas and although Albert was converted, he never took up his vows as a Christian. The family really worshipped at the altar of German respectability.

We are told of Carl Hirschmann`s rejection both as an applicant to become head of neurosurgery at a gentile hospital and his rejection as head of surgery at the Jewish hospital and the conviction by himself and his family that his conversion was the reason for the rejection. Other than a loss in status for Carl, especially in the eyes of Albert`s socially aspiring mother, we are not told of how the inner turmoil played out in the life of his father, or, more importantly, within AH other than the statement that Albert wore a “carapace of invulnerability” that even his daughter, Katia, who returned to Judaism, could not seem to penetrate. I wanted Jeremy to make a greater effort to penetrate that carapace that stood in such contrast to the themes of voice, of exit and of loyalty, for the lifelong drama seemed to have the smell of a son trapped, even if in a less auspicious way than his own father. I suspect that his daughter sensed that rather than simply accepting the inherited line that, other than in a sense of humour and a sense of compassion, his Jewish heritage was worn very lightly to be discarded at will with no consequences.

Further probing of Katia on this question would have been helpful in gaining a greater insight into AH. Though I am getting ahead of the story, in chapter 3, Jeremy quotes AH. “`The question of a `return` to Judaism never came up for me (ne s`est jamais posée por moi),` he explained many years later to his grandson Grégoire on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. `First of all, it was never instilled in my upbringing…and above all I would have sensed that an embrace of Judaism as a reaction, as something history imposed upon me which I then had to live (persecution), and for me the question was how not to submit to this miserable history created by Historic Laws (because there are none).`”

What a dramatic revelation written in a note to his grandson in 1989! But in chapter 1 and 3, Jeremy leaves the superficial and indeed silly explanations that simply dress up his carapace unexamined. Look at what he wrote. The history of the Jews is simply a “miserable” history and not a story of both mistreatment and glorious achievement. The issue is not whether the question of return to Judaism was relevant for him, but why return was viewed as a reaction and not a choice. Why was this option regarded as an imposition rather than an option? And what in any rational universe does the history of Judaism have to do with the issue of Historic Laws? Judaism is, if anything, in its deepest roots opposed to the conception of fate whether in the form of Historic Laws or any other expression. This is simply a statement of ignorance and prejudice unbecoming to a man of probing intellect so it raises questions about why stupidity prevailed in this area when AH was so brilliant and wise in so many other areas of his life.

Memory and History.03.02.13 03.02.13 03.02.13

George Jonas column in the Saturday National Post, “Awaiting Clio’s Caprice” (2.2.13, A23) had two themes. First, Obama is a pinko-socialist who, in his first term, did not display his true colours; American voters were distracted by the black issue and forgot the pink issue. Obama may be half black but the real issue for Jonas is that he is three-quarters pink. In his interpretation, in Obama’s second inaugural address, instead of being coy about his pink side, he threw away his disguise and revealed his left-liberal manifesto (Charles Krauthammer’s phrase). So for Jonas, as for me, there is a difference between appearance and reality, but both the appearance and the reality are radically different. So is the explanation. For Jonas, the explanation is a combination of Obama’s deceptive practices and the public’s distraction — though the colour of Obama’s politics was “unmistakable from the word go”.

Jonas’ second theme was about change. What happens in history is not determined by inaugural addresses or even by who occupies the White House, but by the caprice of History. As George Jonas interprets its role, “The muse of history has her own agenda. Governments don’t decide historic questions; Clio does.” “Until Clio wakes up in a different mood one morning, the Arab-Muslim world won’t accept a Jewish state within what it views as the House of Islam, and Israel won’t give up being a Jewish state.” Change comes by chance. There no rhyme or reason for Clio’s sleeping patterns. But the situation is as unmistakable as Obama’s political colours. “America lies so low in the water that a load of big government could sink it.”

Dow Marmur also wrote me this morning about the shift back in Israel to discussions about peace and three speculations that the discussion is simply necessary as a key ingredient in forming a coalition, that the shift is a result of pressure from the newly reinvigorated Obama administration, and, third, with Netanyahu’s pragmatism, his desire to have a legacy and he and his wife’s deeply felt animosity towards Naftali Bennett on his right whom both he and even more so, his wife, despise. Sow as qucick to add that these were speculations and not history.

Tomorrow when I return to the subject of Obama I will write about Jonas’ allegations about Obama and in a subsequent blog about Obama’s relationship to the peace process in Israel. Today I want to address the issue of Memory and History as almost a prolegomena to tomorrow’s blog. Clio was the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, a titan who was the personification of memory. But although memory is a prerequisite of history, history is not the same as memory. Further, memory is a prerequisite to other fields of study – the arts, including music, poetry, dance, drama, and science. The marriage of Zeus and Memory produced nine children, not just Clio.

Even as memory is a prerequisite of historiography, the two are quite different. Memory is used by history. Memory helps shape history. But memory is not history. First, memory is often flawed. Second, it often remains only part of an oral tradition and is not transcribed to be checked and falsified while history is recorded and becomes historiography. So there is a question when memory is written down and whether memoirs are a transition stage to history. Scholars also asked how history shapes memory.

And historiography has also changed. As Jacques Le Goff noted in his book History and Memory (New York: Columbia University Press), historiography has recently mutated. There has been a return – of the event, of biography, of politics as central issues, and the use, role and nature of narrative itself. (Preface ix) But the former three have been aufgehobt. The event has become the catalyst for digging a deep mine to find out what is underneath. Biography is now written extensively by historians as a form of both intellectual history and a complement to history — and even part of history when academics become political actors. The question of power is no longer unquestioned as the central core of politics, but both power and politics themselves have become problematicized. Further, the fourth of this quartet, which many thought had been consigned to a nursing home for the aged and infirm, has itself become problematic as historians both use narrative and question how such a form affects the interpretation of events and politics.

Goff himself explored how different disciplines distinguish the relationship of the past to the present differently. And so do different people with different ideologies. Conservatives idolize and reify the past as a model for the present. For Palestinian refugees, depending on your perspective, the powerful nostalgia for the past becomes either an obstacle in the way of resolving the current conflict or the means by which the efforts in the present to recover that past are informed and given impetus. (See chapter 7 in my book with Elazar Barkan, No Return, No Refuge.) Radicals want to discard the past into the dustbin of history. Others probe the dialectic between the past and the present and want to understand how innovation takes place while the past informs the present as the past and its interpretations are being transformed by innovation even as both are interpreted by historians.

My eldest son, Jeremy Adelman, an eminent Princeton historian who is the Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor in Spanish Civilisation and Culture and former head of his department, has written a biography as an exemplar of the new historical biography (Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman) that combines the personal story of a very reserved, reticent and quiet activist with an intellectual history of Albert Hirschman (The Passions and the Interests) that Princeton University Press will bring out this Spring. If you cannot wait for Jeremy’s book, see an earlier piece written with Emanuelle Loyer, “Between Worlds: The Life and Work of Albert Hirschman,” that appeared in 2010 in The Toqueville Review 31:2. Better yet, Jeremy has a video on Albert Hirschman on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDjVoA2NfH4); it is the lecture he gave on 14 November 2012 on a return visit to Oxford.

Albert Hirschman is relevant to our discussions, not only because of how prescient Hirschman was and how his ideas inform our current discussions, but because Jeremy’s book began from his weekly lunch discussions with Albert and Albert’s recollections of his involvement in the Spanish civil war, with Jewish refugees (Operation Rescue) and with the Marshall Plan before he became the famous developmental economist or, as Jeremy depicts him, anthropological economist. The book is about fear of change that I am discussing in my Obama blogs and Hirschman’s reflections on the fear of capitalism. Hirschman was an economist, but not just an economist. He was truly a renaissance man. He was also a humanist. Further, unlike the vast majority of scholars who withdraw from commitment and action, Albert thrust himself into history. Most academics who do so fail; Albert did so with panache and success.

An influential essay of Hirschman’s, “Exit Voice and Loyalty”, explains the dialectical relationship between collective action and private action in contrast to the ideological musings of a classical nineteenth century liberal like George Jonas and his idolatrous ideological worship of individualism. Getting Ahead Collectively is Hirschman’s empirical and detailed research on grass roots development often targeted by neo-conservatives. Hirschman explores how upward mobility actually takes place on the ground. (It is also a book relevant to current debates over massive debt crises.) It asks the question, not about the caprice of history, but about how the poorest people take agency and responsibility and exercise collective action to improve their lives, how research on the ground can inform action and, to the extent possible, overcome caprice. Hirschman gave voice to their efforts and energies. While Hitler in the usual sociopathic Large Lie had the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” – Work Makes You Free – over the iron gates to enter a concentration and extermination camp, Hirschman wrote about how work actually frees you by finding solutions to problems rather than pontificating. Whether Hirschman dealt with black market currency exchanges and the intricate details of how fake travel documents are created for refugees, the empirical on the ground and the method of taking advantage of opportunities were critical to both human actions and intellectual examinations of those actions.

An additional underlying theme was the art of exiting, on which he also wrote as the other side of Michael Marrus’ history of Vichy France. Whereas loyalty, along with authority and tradition, are the holy trinity of neo-conservatism, Hirschman was the epitome of loyalty, but loyalty in practice not as an icon – loyalty to the cause of the fight against fascism in Spain in the 1930s, loyalty to the fight of the French against Nazi Germany in 1939, and loyalty to his country of refuge in 1941 America. He immediately enlisted in the military of the anti-Franco forces, the French army and the US army in turn. But his loyalty was not a dogma. He immediately left Germany in 1933; he did not stay and fight the Nazis. For he was also prophetic. He recognized when loyalty had its limits, when there was an opportune and necessary time to leave, and when you had to roll the dice and choose without knowing the outcome. For some places offer No Place of Return. He remained loyal to the end of his life to the land of the free and home of the brave even though his work was hounded by the paranoid and probably anti-semitic J. Edgar Hoover who remained ever suspicious of Hirschman’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War and with the illegal activities of and with refugees. Hirschman worked for the Federal Reserve Board and exemplified the creative and important role of mandarins that I wrote about in my parashat on Friday. His life was also an exemplification of the hidden and repressed, not in any denial of his Jewishness, but in the “Lie”, the foundational lie of his marriage and the split between his wife’s rich, aristocratic assimilated Jewish family and his own ostjüden bourgeois family across the border in Poland.

Stupid loyalties to the past could prevent seeking out opportunities. You should not get caught up in failures and losses. He saw nostalgia as a loser’s cover-up. Hirschman was not a theorist of economic development but a strategist of economic development based on empirical research and on what really works. He was suspicious of the overall big idea, such as the worship of balanced budgets and fear of enlarged government and suspicion of regulation. For in both intellectual and real life, middle range innovations; and not ideologies count. As he wrote in a report for the World Bank, the closed mind is a danger and one must be open to the unexpected. Similarly when reporting on the past, do not exaggerate what you can do as a doer or as a scholar lest you undermine what you have done or your study of what has been accomplished.

Jeremy had just finished pulling off a very large international conference that he had organized. He wrote me yesterday while he was in a Shanghai museum that “museumized” the past and which stood in sharp juxtaposition and opposition to China’s pell mell race towards the future through the construction of large and imposing monuments of glass and steel, raised highways and neon lights, paeons to post-modernity that were sinking the city into the silt of the Yagste delta and making it even vulnerable to the rising oceans if global warming and the melting of the icecaps continue apace. China seems willing to trash the past and allow thousands of years of a peasant world go up in carbon gases.

Jeremy had just visited his cousin, Keith, who had no “place” in the world as an authentic displaced cosmopolitan and carried the weight of three generations of Christian missionary work to the Chinese on his shoulders. Jeremy wrote about that visit, their joint efforts to piece together memories and biographies, and their discussions about their grandfather so associated in both their minds with his grandfather’s photography and the carvings and the calligraphy he brought back with him to give to his grandchildren as presents. This is how memory intertwines with history as one waxes homesick for wife and kids, gets to experience the awful emptiness of the homeless and yearns for roots. I remember the experience well when I lived in Dadaab refugee camp; personal experience has always informed my own work.

[tags history, memory, hirschman, economics]