Over its more than 80 years in print, the Journal of the History of Ideas has accumulated a pretty large archive. Oftentimes, that archive is representative of the history of intellectual history—its trends, priorities, methods. Sometimes, it involves scholarship that, by virtue of appearing once-in-a-while, cannot quite get either the visibility or the relevant context in which to be seen.
With the Virtual Issues initiative on the JHIBlog, we propose to recall earlier articles from the JHI that fit with a particular subject or theme, and to place them in a new and current context. We do not pretend that the JHI could ever be comprehensive on these themes, and we are well aware of the limits of the journal’s success in addressing particular subjects. But as with every archive, all sorts of surprises await. With Virtual Issues, we bring out work that has some connection to current concerns, and to recall ways in which authors engaged a particular theme, including ways that may now be out of fashion but that are suggestive of past trends. Anyone interested in curating such an issue together with us should contact the lead JHIBlog editors with a proposal and a list of relevant articles.
— Stefanos Geroulanos, on behalf of the Executive Editors
By Thomas Furse & Thomas Holland
This Virtual Issue series investigates how the Journal of the History of Ideas became involved in political and intellectual debates about Marxism, totalitarianism, and class warfare between the 1940s and early 1960s. The Journal, as the premier space for the history of ideas in the United States in the mid-twentieth century, is an artifact of the political and social context of the time. The nation was victorious against the Axis Powers and the rising superpower for Western capitalism. Its opponent was the global ideological project of communism with a center in Moscow and a second in Beijing that was fast enveloping what it could in Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia. Following American universities, research institutes, and colleges, the Journal contributed to curating an ideology that could benefit the United States as a liberal democratic world power in its fight against totalitarianism, and specifically, global communism and Marxism. It became, what we call, an anti-communist laboratory. In tow with elite power, the Journal helped establish a space to challenge and reevaluate the intellectual foundations of the Soviet experiment. Its founding editor, Arthur O. Lovejoy, was a committed Wilsonian liberal internationalist who firmly opposed communism. A theme throughout this series is how the Journal weaponized various methodological approaches to highlight and conceal certain features of politics and history. This first installment looks at the Journal from 1940 to 1959 to show how it condemned Marxism, Nazism, and domestic isolationism as the United States was on the path to becoming a superpower. The next installment, led by Thomas Holland, explores how the Journal strove to limit the radical implications of class warfare by promoting alternative non-revolutionary socialist visions of class derived predominantly from the British tradition.
Arthur O. Lovejoy supported US entry into the First World War and the League of Nations, wrote against conscientious objectors, and in a 1938 article critical of trade unions, outlined how free universities upheld Western civilization against totalitarianism (p. 415). During the First World War, Lovejoy joined the National Security League (and the YMCA). This elite-backed group supported the mass naturalization of immigrants, conscription, the Espionage Act (1917), and the Sedition Act (1918), promoted Germanophobia, and national infrastructure with inter-state highways. In association with the Preparedness Movement, they helped organize the United States for war. The NSL rode the wave of elite and populist anger against political radicals and immigrants, especially Germans (Lovejoy was born in Berlin to a German mother and American father in 1873). Through the NSL and as a founder of the American Association of University Professors, he advanced a vision of academic freedom while vetting professors who were possible security risks and also promoted American patriotism through education. The NSL fell into turmoil after the First World War and collapsed in 1942. But Lovejoy remained relatively committed to the ethos of assertive nationalism and liberal interventionism throughout his life. He died in 1962.
During the 1940s and 1950s, which is the timeline for this installment, Americans experienced another round of political repression and state surveillance, known as the Second Red Scare. This time, it was directed against communism, not German-American culture. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, McCarthyism, the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and Federal Loyalty Boards helped to stimulate anti-communism, hostility to racial equality, and working-class power. There were trials for suspected spies, such as the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, and the Communist Party USA leaders, and repression for unions and black equality and the Hollywood Ten. In 1949, Lovejoy wrote “Communism versus Academic Freedom” in the New Republic, arguing that Communist Party members should not take up academic positions. This was an anti-revolutionary politics designed to manage the potential extremism in a heterogeneous mass democracy.
It would be an overstatement to view the Journal as on the frontline of the early Cold War. But it was a bastion of elite power for an educated audience of public opinion formers as the US geared itself into a superpower struggle. These five articles published between 1940-1959 indicate how the US, as a liberal superpower, defined itself first against fascist totalitarianism and then Soviet communism. As these selected articles show, the Journal constructed an elite intellectual space where ideological alternatives to Marxism and communism could be explored. The Journal was anti-communist that generally adhered to liberal internationalism but avoided harsh dogmatism. It hosted Erik R. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a staunch conservative critic of mass democracy, communism, and Nazism; Max Laserson, a firm supporter of democracy but one nostalgic of the early Soviets; Charles A. Madison, a historian of progressive politics; James W. Vander Zanden, a historian of race and racism in the United States; and Frederick H. Cramer, a historian and scriptwriter.
Aside from James W. Vander Zanden, all figures in this installment were born outside the United States. They were émigrés who broadly aspired to contain the Soviet Union’s world-domineering power and nurture ideological alternatives. Charles A. Madison (b. Kyiv), Frederick H. Cramer (b. Berlin), and Max Laserson (b. Jelgava, Latvia), worked at the publishing house Henry Holt and Company, Mount Holyoke College, and Columbia University respectively. Erik R. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (b. Tobelbad, Austria) moved to the US in 1937, became influential in American conservative thought, and taught at various colleges in the Northeast before moving back to Austria.
Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Bohemian Background of German National Socialism: The D.A.P., D.N.S.A.P. and N.S.D.A.P.,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jun., 1948), pp. 339-371
Max M. Laserson “Democracy as a Regulative Idea and as an Established Regime: The Democratic Tradition in Russia and Germany,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Jun., 1947), pp. 342-362
Charles A. Madison, “Anarchism in the United States,” Journal of History of Ideas, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jan., 1945), pp. 46-66
Frederick H. Cramer “Isolationism: A Case-History,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct., 1940), pp. 459-493
James W. Vander Zanden “The Ideology of White Supremacy,” Journal of History of Ideas, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jun., 1959), pp. 385-402
Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s article is an almost proto-libertarian analysis of modern mass democracy and totalitarian politics. He advocated for enlightened rulers to safeguard economic freedom and individualism. Here, Thomas Jefferson is not an arch-democrat but an “Agrarromantiker,” that is, a believer that the natural aristocracy should rule in the interests of all and that the urban lower class was “prone to render sane government impossible” (p. 340). Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn tracks how European communist and socialist parties before and during the Second World War frequently collaborated with the Nazis. Not out of mere survival but because they were ideologically united behind similar visions of totalitarianism and mass politics. European socialist parties and Nazis opposed aristocrats, traders, and Jews in the name of supporting the “Common Man” and favored welfare systems to this end (p. 366). Thus, socialist and National-Socialist antisemitism becomes an anti-elitist, anti-capitalist, and racist ideology (p. 354). For von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, National-Socialism was “ideologically the full heir and probably the most complete synthesis of ideas springing directly or indirectly from the French Revolution” (p. 342).
The Austrian origins matter. As Quinn Slobodian has shown, the areas of the old Habsburg Empire after the First World War were a place of origin for neoliberal intellectuals who gathered to use the state and global institutions to defend and depoliticize the market economy. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn was not a neoliberal like Ludwig von Mises. But his emphasis on defending individualism and economic freedom against anti-capitalist totalitarian ideologies and turbulent mass democracies was a shared outlook. There is barely any mention of capitalism or freedom, but where they do appear, he adopts a fatalistic attitude towards them. He states, “the older liberalism, with its emphasis on economic freedom, is fighting a hopeless rearguard action” against contemporary mass parties who fight protracted disputes over minor policy changes. What is sacrificed is individualism for collectivism (p. 339). Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn viewed economic inequality as natural and emphasized the ‘socialism’ of National Socialism. Whereas Mary Margaret Ball’s analysis of the ‘Leadership Principle’ in National Socialism argued that as an ideology, it required inequality, most obviously in race, but importantly between Nietzschean Supermen and everyone else. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is far less open to examining the leadership and Nazi theory of the state, preferring instead to focus on the economic, social, and racial policies. It is clear in relation to Ball’s article (written in 1942) that von Kuehnelt-Leddihn does not account for inequality because of his commitment to Catholic hierarchy and capitalism.
In postwar Europe, some US administration officials thought of German Catholics, who tended to be critical of Nazism, as providing a base layer to rebuild German politics. Waldemar Gurian, a Catholic émigré who moved back to Germany in 1948, mobilized Catholicism to be anti-communist and build trust between West Germany and the United States. This Catholic conservative project sought to build communitarian politics centered around the Catholic Church. With Rockefeller Foundation funding, Gurian and other German Catholic intellectuals developed Soviet studies or Sovietology in the United States. This field of knowledge entrenched Gurian’s argument that communism and Nazism were the same totalitarian ideology. As a committed Catholic, Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s article can be read within this postwar history of Catholic anti-totalitarianism and the development of organic communities. He wrote, for instance, that Luther did the “spadework in preparing psychologically the rise of National-Socialism in Northern Germany” (pp. 343-344).
A debate in Catholic intellectual circles was about the difference between individualism and ‘personalism.’ The former, influenced by the Enlightenment, considered the individual a secular, rational being inhabiting a universal society. The latter saw the person as a spiritual entity interconnected in organic communities. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s primary motivations were against mass politics; he only touches briefly on these differences (p. 339). His driving focus was to ensure continuity in capitalist elite power, and only then, with the inclusion of Gurian’s personalist democracy. Under his émigré pseudonym, Francis Stuart Campbell, he wrote The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (1943), one of his major interventions against mass politics. He ends the article in foreboding terms: if collectivism, totalitarianism, continental democracy, socialism, and utilitarianism remain features of Western Civilization, then “a minor incident such as the defeat or even the destruction of the German Reich will hardly stem this powerful tide” (p. 371).
Max M. Laserson’s 1947 article, “Democracy as a Regulative Idea and as an Established Regime,” envisions democracy as an ideal to be yearned for. “We have had many democracies-in-law, partial democracies, but no democracy in full fact” (p. 342). Laserson’s preoccupation in the article is to reassess the meanings of political categories. Like Kuehnelt-Leddihn, he puts Boleshvism and Nazism into the same ideological box. Specifically, both used democracy, precisely local-self government, for oppressive ends: liquidation of the press and curtailing political parties (pp. 357-58). In contrast, in Anglo-Saxon countries, “organic and simultaneous growth of political government and local self-government, had a liberating importance” (p. 358). This presents a shift in Laserson as a thinker and public advocate. He graduated from Saint Petersburg Imperial University in 1910 and worked for the revolutionary government in 1917 as the deputy director of national minorities in the Interior Ministry for Provisional Government in Russia. A theme throughout his archival papers is an interest in minority rights, particularly of Jews and the Baltic states and their relationship with democracy. As a Latvian legal philosopher in the interwar years, he led Ceire Cion, a small socialist-Zionist party in the Republic of Latvia. In the 1930s, he moved to Mandatory Palestine as a lecturer at the Tel Aviv School for Law and Economics and Latvia barred him from re-entry after the 1934 Ulmanis’ Coup.
Laserson was nostalgic for the Soviet Russian Constitution. That Constitution, he argued, had democratic potential at the federal level and among the many ethnic groups within Russian borders. Articles 126 and 141, however, dangerously reinforced the Communist Party’s monopoly and stopped freedom of association. Laserson argued there was no pretense of democracy in Nazi Germany, despite the state’s history of legal philosophy and constitutional law. “Hitlerite Germany as a state-order was so sure of its internal power over the German people that it did not even try to disguise its totalitarian character by any concessions to democratic phraseology or thinking” (p. 359). Obedience was so great there that there was no armed resistance, unlike in Soviet Russia. In his book Russia and the Western World, he directs his ire against the cynicism of German legal professors, such as Carl Schmitt, even while remaining disappointed by Soviet Russia. Throughout the article, Laserson adopts a cultural argument about democracy’s development. In contrast to other European states, England had a democratic legal order “fixed in an act of feudal time” through the Magna Carta. He considered the Weimar Constitution to have been a sensible democratic order where “leftist Marxian” politics, through the Social Democratic Party, led the federal republic, but crucially “did not provoke the propertied classes and their most intransigeant representatives to an out-and-out social and political fight” (p. 361).
While living in the United States, he wrote The Development Of Soviet Foreign Policy In Europe (1943), a collection of Soviet documents published by Carnegie Endowment, Russia and the Western World: The Place of the Soviet Union in the Comity of Nations (1945), and The American Impact On Russia: Diplomatic And Ideological, 1784-1917 (1950). Laserson’s work at Columbia University, his several published works in English on Russian law, and his fluency in Russian, Latvian, Yiddish, Hebrew, German, French, and English made him a practical importer of ideas into postwar intellectual circles. However, he was not always that convincing to his new audiences. Reviewers were puzzled by Laserson’s optimism about a possible rapprochement between the West and the Soviet Union and his argument that Soviet law was just. His inclusion nevertheless suggests that the Journal was a plural space. It was not automatically hostile to former communists. In this article, at least, Laserson subtly espoused the virtues of Anglo-Saxon democracy.
The Journal’s general adherence to liberal internationalism was flexible enough to hold and accept various views and politics. Charles A. Madison discusses a social and intellectual genealogy of anarchism in the United States and Europe. Early colonialist settlers on the frontiers of British America and the Native Americans lived in anarchy due to the absence of a genuine state (p. 49). By the nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau had elaborated a philosophy of anarchism that carried this ‘ideal type’ of non-state society to “its logical extremity” with unprecedented “clarity and conviction” (p.50). Although Madison finds Thoreau hyperbolic, eccentric, and aloof, he was at least in the Jeffersonian democratic orbit. The serious problems of anarchism for the United States came from foreign anarchists during rapid industrialization. “Communist anarchism was a foreign importation and clashed with the authorities from the very beginning… It reached this country on a wave of strikes and riots in the late 1870’s. A number of radicals, mostly German immigrants, became disgruntled with the reformist views of the Socialist Labor Party and broke away from it in order to create an organization more in keeping with their extreme beliefs” (p. 57). Madison was no xenophobe. “The fact that most of the anarchists were recent immigrants-Germans, Russian Jews and Italians tended to intensify the prejudice against them. The newspapers, always eager to capitalize on matters of public interest, began to play up the threat of anarchism” as if every strike was the beginning of revolution (p. 58-59). Perhaps the underlying point is that high levels of immigration fragmented communities of unassimilated migrants, creating social outsiders who adopted heretical, risk-fuelled, and sometimes violent ideologies.
Madison is keen to show how anarchism had an international stamp: Josiah Warren flirted with Robert Dale Owen’s New Harmony, Indiana, a communal project inspired by his father, Robert Owen, although he eventually cast off this “utopian communism… to the doctrine of extreme individualism.” Another example was Emma Goldman, a sixteen-year-old Jewish immigrant from the Russian Empire. Her toil in a Chicago sweatshop led her to dedicate herself to anarchism through her extensive travels across North America and Europe. And finally, there was Russian nihilism in the 1892 Homestead Riot (pp. 52, 60-61). Madison was himself an immigrant and assimilated well into the US. Born in Kyiv in 1896, he arrived in 1906 and graduated from Michigan University and then Harvard University with an MA in comparative literature in 1922. Perhaps through life experience and his work as a labor historian, he was sensitive to how foreigners integrate and the troubles they face. He was straightforward, for instance, about how the Sacco-Vanzetti case was “tragic” and a “grievous miscarriage of justice” (p. 64).
Methodologically, Madison provides a nascent consensus-oriented history of anarchism. He wrote this in 1945, three years before Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s broadside against collectivism and before McCarthyism in the Second Red Scare started. Certainly, state authorities disliked communist activity in 1945. But Madison, a labor historian by interest and publisher by trade, avoids denouncing anarchism as a foreign communist plot. His principal concern is countering xenophobia, a worthy enough intention. “When the thick crust of prejudice is removed from the popular conception of anarchism, the doctrine assumes an idealistic character bordering on utopianism” (p. 65). In making this argument, he downplays their genuine revolutionary desires and cannot explain why figures would want to change politics other than for banal material interests. He never uses “collectivism” in a pejorative sense or otherwise. He prefers the more neutral-sounding terms: voluntary association, cooperation, and mutual aid to describe anarchist politics. Thus, he downplays their radicalism for better or worse. He shields them from nativism and makes a conservative argument about the US political order. In the end, for Madison, contemporary foreign-born anarchists were not the heirs of Jefferson, nor were they terrorists bent on revolution. They were more likely, in this reading, to be victims of long migrations, sweatshops, and police brutality. For Madison, consensus and steady moral improvement is the basis of American history; it does not need a revolution.
The same cannot be said about isolationists or non-interventionists for Frederick H. Cramer. Primarily, Cramer was a historian of Roman astrology and European intellectual history, but he was interested in US foreign affairs and, in 1927, worked for Universal Studios as a scriptwriter. In 1940, he wrote a dramatic Greek-style play for the Journal entitled “Isolationism: A Case-History.” In this unusual format, we find “Mr. D.” who advocates for interventionism and is a patriot; “Mr. A.” does so for isolationism and is a patriot; “Mr. X.” is the dictator of a foreign state called “M…”; and a Chorus that is a democratic assembly. The prologue sets the scene that “A…n republic had pursued an imperialistic” foreign policy and wars far away from its soil (p. 460). In this environment, Mr. D., under the wing of his rich backers, initially espoused isolationism and peace. However, the M…n threat led by the semi-feudal Mr. X began to seize territory. And Mr. D. changed his politics to fit this moment and pushed for national preparedness and global democratic solidarity. But it was too late, A…n republic did not listen, and Mr. X. took over and installed himself as ruler after thirteen years.
The writing style is unusual in the Journal, but the analogies are clear. Mr. X’s M…n is likely a combination of the Axis Powers—faraway states that do not appear to threaten the US, safe as the regional hegemon in North America. For Cramer, Mr. D.’s pivot from isolationism to national preparedness was not a way to stop wars but “a means of keeping the number of wars to an (inevitable) minimum” (p. 462). War, then, is a conditioned feature of human nature, and the isolationists essentially have their heads in the sand. Cramer finds that hope is not a strategy; he argues that the isolationist strategy is to simply wait to be invaded to be sure that fighting is necessary (p. 484). Although the play’s content is foreign policy, it turns to domestic politics for its most cutting analysis. Mr. X. is a sly political operator who manipulates “the friendship, the goodwill, the benevolent neutrality, or at least a defeatist attitude, among influential A… ns” and spreads fifth-column traitors across the nation (pp. 478-479). Cramer could not change the world order in a meaningful way, but he could change the politics within the US so foreign dictators could not spread their malign ideas. To Lovejoy and Cramer, pacifism in the face of totalitarianism demanded excommunication from public opinion. In 1940, the anti-war supporters were a mix of socialists, pacifists, the pro-Nazi German-American Bund, some of the Republican Party, and the America First Committee.
1940 is not the Cold War, but this debate about the strategy of US foreign policy was a vital launchpad for the US in the 1950s when it stood against USSR. Cramer was talking to an elite educated audience, involving them in a fundamental political debate about how the US should conduct foreign policy in the context of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union. The US was never isolationist, but a significant force in elite and public opinion was against military and diplomatic entanglement in Eurasia. Nicholas J. Spykman’s America’s Strategy in World Politics (1942) directly contributed to this debate. Or Rosenboim demonstrated that he played a central role in introducing geopolitical thought into the United States and persuading Americans to favor interventionism against fascism. He argued that the US was ideally positioned for global leadership because it was geographically safe (with three oceans and peaceful neighbors), but it had to be interventionist because the Western Hemisphere was surrounded by Eurasia. This notion of Encirclement meant the US had to engage with the world and became the geographical basis of the Containment Policy from 1947. Cramer’s article is a small example of how US elite power grew to support intervention.
Despite the era of European decolonization and Civil Rights during the 1940s and 1950s, the Journal took little open and explicit interest in race or race relations. When racism does feature, it is usually about the racial politics of National Socialism, such as with Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Mary Margaret Ball, and Karl W. Deutsch. A major exception to this trend is James W. Vander Zanden’s 1959 article, “The Ideology of White Supremacy,” on the contemporary segregation debate. In its second paragraph, he references Chief Justice Earl Warren’s landmark opinion in Brown v. Board of Education that ‘separate but equal’ in public education was unconstitutional. He traces the history of three ideas in the US administrative state and civil society, particularly in the South, that conceptualized the racial inferiority of African-Americans to unite white power. The first is based on the biological differences in the caste-based natural order that was a “carry-over from the pre-Enlightenment Period” (p. 387); the second premise is that there were sufficient differences between the two races, which meant that there was a racial order but that African-Americans could ‘catch up’ through moral guidance (pp. 394-95); the third idea is based on how desegregation would damage the Anglo-Saxonism which was according to Zanden was “a product of modern nationalism and expansionism” (p. 397).
As a sociologist, Zanden offers us a (then contemporary) intellectual history of social movements and emphasizes the connection between thought and action. “Movement has begot counter movement; ideas have begot counter ideas” (p. 402). He regards segregationism as “a surging social movement,” implying that it was citizen-based rather than a form of elite power (p. 385). This movement featured the hundreds of (White) Citizen Councils that protested and petitioned against desegregation, usually at a state level. He is primarily interested in the practical use of ideas in the social order. He demonstrates this through exploring the history of American literature on race, slavery, and society by figures such as John Saffin, George Frederick Holmes, William Montgomery Brown, John C. Calhoun, George S. Sawyer, Samuel George Morton, Josiah C. Nott, and many others. Importantly, these were lawyers, politicians, natural scientists, religious figures, judges, and businessmen, whose power came from their (usually public) employment and elite social network.
Yet the term ‘elite’ never appears in the text, and the term ‘class’ only once in passing. As a social movement, segregation was a cross-class coalition of big and small business owners, religion, armed forces, and poor urban and rural voters, as seen in the Citizen Councils. White supremacy worked to keep the working class divided across racial lines and thereby halt an anti-elitist revolution but also ensured whites predominated in a competitive capitalist political economy. The end of the article summarizes the general thesis of the article: the “lineal descendant of slavery: segregated institutions.” He is not making a radical point here. Zanden’s argument lies broadly within consensus history, which was, to an extent, a conservative reply to progressive historiography. This is not conservative in a political sense. Zanden finds that conservatism sails too close to reactionary nativism. Rather, it is that the US is relatively unchanging.
The violent struggles and fierce debates against slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are smoothed over into simply seeing it live on in segregation. Segregation is not a specific feature of mid-twentieth-century American modernity but a reactionary inheritance of a bygone era. The Citizen Councils appear to be racist nostalgics paranoid about status, not as a particular growth of postwar class development. He thus avoids critiquing capitalist exploitation or pondering the possibilities of cross-racial working-class power. This critique of consensus history is aptly demonstrated by Matthew Karp, James Oakes, and Judith Stein, among many others, who have prised open the historical debates of racism and race to show that many mainstream liberal historians and commentators are continuing arguments like Zanden’s which can sideline progressive radicalism and class conflict. They instead forge a history of melancholy and continual violent oppression.
Thomas Furse is a primary editor at the JHI Blog and a PhD student at City, the University of London. He researches the connections between strategic thought, the social sciences, management theory and political economy in the United States.
Edited by Thomas James Holland is a PhD candidate in Political Thought and Intellectual History at King’s College, University of Cambridge. His thesis explores political theories of inherited wealth between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from Alexis de Tocqueville to John Rawls, questioning how these can inform contemporary debates about distributive justice.
Featured Image: Is This Tomorrow?, a 1947 anti-Communist comic book by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society of Saint Paul. Wikimedia Commons.