Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman
Conversation – Instalment 4: Perspectivism, empiricism & mindblindness
Chapter 3. Proving Hamlet Wrong
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 by Jeremy Adelman
Conversation – Instalment 2: Loyalty and Disloyalty
Assimilation: Culture & Economics; Family Politics and Cover-ups
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.
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]