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.