George L. Mosse Program Blog

  1. Fascism Then, Fascism Today

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    Fascism Then, Fascism Today

    While I have used my previous two posts for this blog, sponsored by the George L. Mosse Program, to highlight the enduring value and integrity of George Mosse’s editorial work in compiling Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich (1966); I wish to use my final post to address first how I have employed this work in the classroom to teach the Third Reich. And second, why Nazi Culture is as important now as it was in 1966 with the book’s publication.

    At my institution, Trinity College, I teach a course titled “Inside the Third Reich,” which I designed with the intention of exploring different facets of Nazi Germany. While the course certainly pays attention to intertwined fields such as the Holocaust Studies, my central focus is the machinery of Nazi fascism. What is Nazism? I ask my students. Naturally, the work of George L. Mosse has become a central component of the course—particularly Nazi Culture. As right-wing populism and nationalist movements seem to surge across the West, I believe—and hope—that student interest in exploring what Nazism actually meant, how it ascended to power, and how it interacted with the world will continue to grow concomitantly.

    The thematic units into which Mosse divides Nazi Culture primary documents make the edition an especially useful tool to explore the Third Reich. The documents proved especially useful when paired with other cultural products of the time. For instance, “A Meeting Hall Brawl,” an account of a beer hall melee told by the SA-man Kurt Massmann, was a revealing supplement to Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941), which is essentially an allegory for Hitler’s rise to power and the Night of the Long Knives. In this pairing, the Massmann text illuminates the literary text and students are easily able to discern Hitler’s motivation in divesting the Nazi Party of the unruly elements of the SA. Another natural pairing was having the students watch the Nazi youth film Hitlerjunge Quex (1933) in unison with the section titled “Building Myths and Heroes.” The texts concerning other heroes of the Nazi movement further reveal the fictionalized mythologization of the real-life Hitler Youth member Herbert Norkus, who was killed by communists in Berlin in 1932, was but one example of the Nazi martyr pantheon.

    In 1966 when Mosse’s Nazi Culture first appeared, the world had been rid of the Third Reich for hardly twenty years. World War II was still recent history and the new organization of the world, wrought by the all-encompassing polarizing Cold War, could easily be explained by looking back to its source in the Second World War of the century. Twentieth-century totalitarian politics endured in Europe in both Spain and Portugal. The 1960s of course now signify a watershed decade in which the ordering of European society underwent drastic changes, full of “where were you when…” moments. Still, as it goes, we often don’t register the weight of current events until sometime later, but it’s hard not to think that the publication of Nazi Culture had something to do with the uncertainty of the 1960s. Just as Nazism was the culmination of intense social and political tension that began with the end of World War I, to a historian the social contradiction and strife of the 1960s must have pointed one’s imagination back to the Weimar Republic and what came with the failure of liberal democracy in 1933.

    Today we still look back to the rise of Nazism for parallels to explain current social and political circumstances. No doubt such comparisons are more often than not exaggerated and incongruous. Nevertheless, while Americans have sometimes vigilantly sounded the alarms against elements deemed as totalitarian, such as in the era of McCarthyism, we have also at times held a naïve belief in our democratic immunity to an authoritarian turn. Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis immortalized this naiveté in his 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, which has seen a surge in relevance and sales since the end of 2016.[1] Whether or not this instinctive analogizing with the Third Reich amidst the perceived political and social turbulence is correct or not, is less my intention with this post than to point out the fact that the rise of Nazism has left an indelible print on own society. We must study the past carefully in order to draw accurate lessons. With this in mind, we would all be better served to look to the work of George Mosse who has much to teach us about both the past and the present.

    [1] See Beverly Gage, “Reading the Classic Novel That Predicted Trump.” New York Times. 17 January 2017. []. Ironically, the renewed German interest in the story of a hypothetical fascist takeover in America—written by an American author who was looking to what was happening in 1930s Germany for inspiration—might even surpass that of the Americans considering Der Spiegel listed a new printing of the translated version of this work as one of the most important twenty books at the 2017 Leipzig Book Fair [] 


    Jason J. Doerre is a visiting assistant professor of German Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and holds a Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has published, presented, and taught on numerous topics dealing with nineteenth and twentieth century German literature, culture, and film.


  2. What is Nazi Culture?

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    What is Nazi Culture?


    In my last blog post I made the case for the significance of George Mosse’s work, and in particular his book Nazi Culture: Intellectural, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich. The relevance of studying Nazi culture today is obvious. In this post I would like to sharpen focus on the content of this work and how it documents the architecture of the Nazi machine.

    While Mosse’s introductory essay to the work is meritorious enough to stand alone—it not only serves to establish the contents but also provides a succinct and informative overview of Nazi culture—the content of this book is an essential resource for the study of the Third Reich. Mosse readily recognizes that a work of this size is not capable of providing an exhaustive representation of the Nazi regime, and he has selected from a broad enough array of aspects of the Third Reich to provide forceful examples from all the foundational pillars of Nazi culture.

    Because Nazism was largely based upon the vision of one man, Mosse begins his investigation of Nazi culture with Adolf Hitler. We know that the roots of Nazism were planted long before Hitler was preaching in beer halls to the disillusioned masses about the gloom and doom facing Germany after World War I, but this provides a manageable starting point for an apercu of this expansive topic. As any such edition of the Third Reich would do, Nazi Culture begins with a number of salient excerpts from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Mosse presents these by adding a title to each which summarizes the meaning. For instance, one of these, titled “The Power of Ideals” is a short paragraph that encapsulates Hitler’s conception of the superiority of an “ideal Reich” over that of a “material Republic” (5). Another short passage titled “The Jew Has No Culture” gives a brief but powerful example of the blatant antisemitism to be found in Mein Kampf. In addition to other usefully excerpted passages from Hitler’s one published book, Mosse includes two parts taken from two speeches given by the Nazi leader. This chapter, titled “Hitler Sets the Tone,” provides through excerpts a synopsis of many of Hitler’s foundational ideas that propelled the Nazi regime until its end. These excerpts are a useful tool for instruction on the Third Reich on their own or as a companion to other readings about Nazism and its leader.

    In the second chapter, titled “What Sort of a Revolution,” Mosse seeks to provide a picture of the multitude of ideas that were corralled and ordered into a single National Socialist Revolution. He writes that the revolution, “stressed both the dynamic of the movement and the ‘taming’ of that dynamic through an appeal to tradition and sentiment” (17). The potency of the Nazi movement would have been doubtful without this duality of chaos and order in its trajectory. Mosse begins this exhibit of the transformation of the Nazi movement with two texts about the Sturmabteilung (SA) and its destabilizing factor Weimar Republic. The second of these, a first-hand account of a beer hall brawl, is especially pertinent in conveying the brutality and chaos that was at the very foundations of National Socialism. If anything, Nazi Culture would have benefited from inclusion of more such accounts of the SA. Surprisingly little scholarship has been done on the personal histories of the men who early on donned the brown shirts, which leaves us wanting to know more about the background and experiences of these men. The majority of this chapter is dedicated to texts that convey the foundational values of the Nazi movement. Most of these texts are dedicated to the idealization of the German family and laying out the role of women in the National Socialist ideological system. Among these is a short newspaper piece on Magda Goebbels, who was idolized as the ideal German woman in appearance and deed—the antithesis of the New Woman type that flourished in the liberal culture of the Weimar Republic. The last short section of this chapter highlights prescribed Nazi social life. One interesting text titled “Does the Five O’ Clock Tea Suit Our Time?” from 1937 shows how totalizing Nazi ideology actually was. As the title suggests, this article takes aim at the English custom of five o’clock tea, calling it “a degenerate social form” (49). Naturally, the author promotes the eradication of this foreign practice, while brandishing other xenophobic and antisemitic opinions along the way. The author’s confused argumentation shows the significant role that such fear mongering and paranoia played in the culture of the Third Reich.

    Additionally, chapters four, five, and eight provide an interesting insight into the creation the Nazified mind. The fourth chapter, titled “Building Myths and Heroes” takes a look at one of the most basic components of all nationalist movements: finding heroes and creating their narratives. One would be hard pressed to find a kind of nationalism without a founding father or martyr. The Nazis created these figures both in the form of historical “great men” and in the common man and woman. Included in this chapter are texts of the former type, such as Frederick the Great, but also those of the latter type with texts such as one from Ernst Röhm titled “A Soldier believes in Plain Talk” and Gudrun Streiter’s “The Diary of an SA Man’s Bride.” We see that both the grand and common hero played an integral part in the mythology of the Third Reich.

    Chapter five is particularly useful for those who are interested in the literature of the Third Reich. Even though literature concerned with the Third Reich can be confidently asserted as a dominant topic in German literary studies still today, little attention is paid to that which was written in Nazi Germany—and this is not without good reason. As Thomas Mann famously answered Walter von Molo’s open letter about the inner emigration of the many intellectuals who opted to stay in Nazi Germany, “in meinen Augen sind Bücher, die von 1933 bis 1945 in Deutschland überhaupt gedrückt werden konnten, weniger als wertlos” [in my view, books that were allowed to be published from 1933 to 1945 in Germany are less than worthless] (Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann: Epoche – Werk – Wirkung (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1985), 37.). With good reason, most scholarly attention to the literary production in the years from 1933 to 1945 has been paid to the exiles who wrote in absentia from and opposition to their Nazified homeland. Nevertheless, we could stand to learn about the Nazi machine by a re-examination and deconstruction of those Nazi narratives. George Mosse’s chapter dedicated to this body of literature provides a good starting point for a basic summary of Nazi literature. In the introduction to the chapter titled “Toward a Total Culture” Mosse tells us that “in the Third Reich the central task of culture was the dissemination of the Nazi world view” (133). This task was given to the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) that was split up into separate chambers overseeing such fields as literature, film, radio, and other arts. Mosse includes excerpts from works of literature that were officially sanctioned by the chamber providing an overview of the themes, settings, and genres that belonged to Nazi literature.

    Finally, chapter eight tackles the importance of youth and education in the Third Reich. George Mosse tells us that “Nazism, like any revolutionary movement, attempted to capture the new generation and rally it to the cause” (263). The indoctrinated younger generation was groomed to complete and perfect the Nazi revolution. So important was youth in the Third Reich that Hitler dedicates much space to outlining his concept of pedagogy and vision for young Germans. As Mosse points out in the quotation above, the importance that the Nazis placed on youth should come as no surprise considering the widespread youth groups in the Weimar Republic representing the entire spectrum of political ideology. The Hitler Youth exists today as a commonplace name and it epitomizes the organization of young people in the age of ideology. This organization became such an ingrained feature in the Third Reich that it even had its own martyr Herbert Norkus who was killed by communists. The slain youth’s ascendance into national mythology with the book and subsequent film Hitler Junge Quex further exemplified the importance of youth. The chapter includes texts that provide an idea of what was deemed essential in National Socialist education.

    Jason J. Doerre is a visiting assistant professor of German Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and holds a Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has published, presented, and taught on numerous topics dealing with nineteenth and twentieth century German literature, culture, and film.


  3. On the Value of Studying Nazi Culture

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    On the Value of Studying Nazi Culture

    “The Third Reich has made a deep impression upon our civilization, and its impact has not diminished with the passing years,” begins George Mosse’s introduction to his 1966 work Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich. It seems that this simple declarative sentence bears as much validity today as it did more than fifty years earlier. Although the collective memory of Nazism has endured since 1945, recently there has been resurgence in the discussion of fascism, and particularly Nazism, making this an opportune time to revisit the question of what was the Third Reich. In several blog posts, I will discuss Mosse’s important work on this subject with the intention of demonstrating how it remains in 2017 an efficacious tool to understand this dark period of Western Civilization.

    Mosse tells us in the introduction to his work: “Today, in most of the non-Communist Western world, politics is regarded as merely one compartment of life; it does not have to penetrate our very thought and being” (xx). Certainly, this observation remained valid for decades after it went to print, and even after the fall of the Communist world, but recent headlines seem to suggest that politics might be encroaching upon other so-called “compartments” of life.

    On a personal note, I would like to preface these blog posts by saying that the work of George Mosse has had no small influence on the work that I do in the field of German Studies. Mosse’s encyclopedic knowledge of German culture allowed him to produce many works about the cultural history of nineteenth and twentieth century Germany that remain unsurpassed in the range and depth of of analysis of this era. As a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Mosse’s work aided my dissertation that explores the failures of German liberalism in the twentieth century. Mosse has also accompanied me in my teaching at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, where I teach a course titled Inside the Third Reich in which we explore the many cultural facets of this regime.

    George Mosse’s Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich is a rich companion to the study of Nazi culture as it is short and accessible. One of the reasons for its concise but comprehensive nature is that it does not treat all twelve years of the Third Reich, but rather it confines its attention to the prewar years (1933–1939). The reasoning for limiting the scope of this examination of the Third Reich is, as Mosse puts it, “The impact of the war heightened many aspects of the ideas and actions,” but “not much new was added after 1939 in cultural and social life, as the Nazis wished it to be understood” (xix–xx). In the end, World War II was the result of the ideological framework that had been put in place during the first six years after Hitler’s rise to power. Although it is often tempting to look to the war years for answers, the prewar years offer more insight into the underpinnings of the Third Reich.

    If Mosse wishes to convey one main idea to us, then it is the totality of Nazi culture. According to the official thought process of the Third Reich, democracy and liberal politics had alienated the German Volk from their essence of belonging to one chosen homogeneous group. Just as Marxism promised to return man to his species-being, Nazism offered the Germans not only a return to one’s true German essence, but also to a future state of a romanticized fictional past. Therefore this ideology was to encroach upon all facets of life. Here is where Nazi Culture is an especially useful guide to understanding Nazism. Rather than merely selecting the most inflammatory sources to shock the readership into seeing the nefarious essence of this ideology, Mosse’s choice of texts aims to impart upon us a deeper understanding of the ideology and circumstances that led to perhaps the greatest of all tragedies during the twentieth century.

    In my forthcoming blog posts I wish to focus more directly on the texts compiled in this work, as well as Mosse’s editorial choices. I also hope to spend some time discussing the value of this work in teaching the Third Reich, and the enduring importance of this topic of study today.

    Jason J. Doerre is a visiting assistant professor of German Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and holds a Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has published, presented, and taught on numerous topics dealing with nineteenth and twentieth century German literature, culture, and film.


  4. Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Schmitt's Legacy

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    Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Schmitt's Legacy

    This is the fourth and final in a series of blog posts about Raphael Gross’ Carl Schmitt and the Jews.

    After the war, Schmitt returned to Christianity, becoming part of a group of Christians stylizing itself as victims of Nazism, and which argued that Nazism had been anti-intellectual Schmitt justified himself as both a Christian and a “conservative revolutionary,” opposed to Nazism’s revolution. But, Gross, argues, there is no evidence that Schmitt opposed Nazism. He was never denazified, and in his interrogation by the jurist Robert Kempner did not distance himself from his antisemitic writings. He responded instead with a claim to scholarly integrity. He continued to claim victimhood at the hands of Jews while claiming the same at the hands of the Nazis. In Schmitt’s worldview, the traditional Christian order had been destroyed through the work of Nazis and Jews together.

    In his personal writings, Schmitt compared his situation to that of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat defeated by the liberal ideals of the 1789 French Revolution, and declared himself the “last teacher and researcher in an existential sense” of European public law (204). In his public work, Schmitt returned to his writing mode from before 1933, avoiding direct attacks on Jews and portraying himself as a victim. Schmitt carefully cultivated his reception to create an image of himself as a conservative paragon, like Toqueville. The posthumously published Glossarium aimed to put Catholicism at the center of Schmitt research, rather than Nazism. Gross claims, however, that “Schmitt’s battle against the Jews was political, not theological” (215). His postwar work “enriched Europe’s antisemitic vocabulary” (219) by hiding antisemitism beneath other political claims.

    This self-refashioning made Schmitt’s ideas acceptable in legal theory. Paul Gottfried, the man who coined the term, “alternative right,” as a challenge to Republican orthodoxy, has deployed Schmitt’s legal concepts to argue for a new basis for American law. His Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory (1990) dismissed Schmitt’s antisemitism. Gottfried argued that Schmitt was the culmination of a longer tradition in conservatism, a continued conservative voice against Nazism’s radical politics. Those ideas have become part of political practice in the Trump administration through Steve Bannon, who has claimed politics are like war, labeled multiple domestic groups as “enemies,” and created policies to weed out and intimidate those internal enemies.

    Ultimately, Gross tells us that Schmitt failed because “legal theory cannot be grounded in particularity. The legitimacy of every modern form of such theory lies precisely in its claim to universality” (226). Additionally, we cannot separate Schmitt’s corpus from his antisemitism. “Carl Schmitt’s obsession with Jews, Jewry, and the ‘Jewish question’ did not spring out of nowhere in 1933. Rather, it accompanied him, to large extent malignantly, throughout his adult life” (23). The resuscitation of Schmitt’s ideas of sovereignty in the Global War on Terror United States has brought back his antisemitic rhetoric, but, like Schmitt, today’s practitioners cloak their antisemitism in claims about “globalism.”

    Matthew Unangst is a Teaching Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University in 2015. His current manuscript, "The Geography of Empire: German Colonialism, Race, and Space in East Africa, 1884-1907," explores the ways in which German, African, and Arab ideas about East African spaces and their relationship to their inhabitants shaped ideas about race, governance, and world history. His research interests are in the intellectual history of empire and the history of geography, as well as in both German and African intellectual history more broadly.

  5. Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Sovereignty

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    Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Sovereignty


    This is the third in a series of posts about Raphael Gross’ Carl Schmitt and the Jews.

    Schmitt’s concept of sovereignty, that the sovereign is “he who decides on the state of exception,” has taken a central role in sovereignty studies since the 1930s. Here too, Gross argues, we can see the influence of Schmitt’s antisemitism. For example, Schmitt argued that the early modern theorist Jean Bodin had portrayed state power negatively because of the influence of Kabbalah, distorting Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the Leviathan into a negative.

    Schmitt’s concept of the nomos, central to his political philosophy, also derived from Protestant theology. German Protestant theologians had argued that each Volk had its own nomos, determined by biology. In his reading of Romans, Wilhelm Stapel read Paul as arguing that there could be no binding moral law for Christians everywhere, but that each nation would need its own nomos. A Christian community to keep order in the world was no longer possible, and the world required one Volk to take the role of keeping the order.

    Germany’s nomos, theologians argued, was under siege by Jews. Jews believed in the rules for all humanity, such as the Ten Commandments, laid out in the Old Testament. Schmitt appealed to history in his argument. He argued for the Spanish Inquisition as a political model, specifically for its targeting of converted Jews as insincere. The Grand Inquisitor served as a model for Schmitt’s theory of sovereignty in a pure act of decision in a state of emergency. In Schmitt’s writing, Jews were agents of the Antichrist, accelerating history while only the traditional order, the “Katechon,” held it together. The Byzantine Empire had served that role against Islam for centuries. In the twentieth century, the German Reich was the only power able to hold back this acceleration, promoted by Jews.

    But that power could not work through a liberal legal system. In Schmitt’s thought, authority makes law, not truth or abstract ideals. True sovereignty could not reside in a liberal parliament, but rested with the person or body who could decide in a moment. German sovereignty could reside in a specific person, Adolf Hitler, who had the power to make decisions and act as the “Katechon.”

    Again, there are parallels in today’s political rhetoric in the United States. Giorgio Agamben has examined the role of Schmitt’s sovereignty in the creation of the Global War on Terror in the early 2000s. Legal theorists in the Bush administration argued that international legal norms did not apply in the case of terrorism, which existed outside the legal order. The Trump administration has built on the Bush framework, and presents his United States as the only force in the world holding back global disorder. During the presidential campaign, he claimed that Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s policies had created global disorder with their focus on issues outside the United States’ national interest in favor of a global “cabal.” In the place of those policies, Trump has promised to expand the War on Terror, and create global American sovereignty through force.

    That such ideas can continue to circulate with relatively little criticism of their association with a Nazi jurist owes much to Schmitt’s self-fashioning after the Second World War. The final post in this series will examine that process.

    Matthew Unangst is a Teaching Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University in 2015. His current manuscript, "The Geography of Empire: German Colonialism, Race, and Space in East Africa, 1884-1907," explores the ways in which German, African, and Arab ideas about East African spaces and their relationship to their inhabitants shaped ideas about race, governance, and world history. His research interests are in the intellectual history of empire and the history of geography, as well as in both German and African intellectual history more broadly.

  6. Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Theology of Antisemitism

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    The Theology of Carl Schmitt's Antisemitism

    This is the second in a series of posts about Raphael Gross’ Carl Schmitt and the Jews.

    In the third chapter of the book, Gross attends to the ways in which Schmitt imagined Jews as Germany’s enemy. He draws on Schmitt’s work under the Third Reich to argue that Schmitt saw Jews as a particularly insidious enemy because they were “invisible” in German society, with nothing to clearly mark them as different from Christian Germans. He described Jews as “[t]he alien individual of another nature,” a group that could never truly become part of the German national community. Unlike Germans, Jews existed not in relation to a piece of land, but solely in relation to the law. They “exist without land, without state, without church, but only in the Gesetz. For them normativistic thinking appears the only rational legal thinking, and every other kind of thought incomprehensible, mystic, fantastic, or ridiculous” (61), Jews could never really become German and constantly threatened to undermine real Germanness from within. In choosing this line of argument, Schmitt relied on the ideas of Protestant theologians, though he was Catholic. These theologians developed a new theology that replaced the traditional center of throne and altar with God and Volk, placing a racialized conception of faith at the center of German Protestant life. Such a conception also denied the possibility of Jews ever joining the Volk, even if they converted to Christianity.

    Schmitt also drew on Protestant theology about the Antichrist, to assert that Jews practiced a “change of masks” (75) to hide their true identity in other societies. They were different from other enemies. The Russians, French, and British might be enemies at particular moments, but Jews were spiritual enemies that attempted to exploit the weaknesses of Germans – “not the alien other; rather, they are one’s own, intimate Other” (76). Germany’s enemy was “simply the other, the alien, and his essence is defined by the fact that in an especially intensive sense he is existentially something other and alien.”

    Gross draws our attention to Schmitt’s organization of a conference titled, “Judaism in Legal Studies” in October 1936. Gross argues that this was an attempt by Schmitt to create a scientific basis for his professional victory over his Jewish competitors. At the conference, Schmitt announced, “[w]e are speaking of the Jews and naming them by their name” (72). This sentence, with a shift in what semitically-defined enemy the speaker was discussing, appeared in the 2016 presidential campaign from President Trump and his subordinates. The concept underlies the executive order banning travel from seven countries, in the name of protecting Americans from enemies that the liberal state will not protect them from, with its promise of the rule of law. Worries that “radical Islamic terrorists” can infiltrate American society among a large group of refugees seeking to escape the violence of war, reflects the same concerns expressed by Schmitt.
    A similar fear, of infiltration of the national community by Jews and other semites, animated Schmitt’s concept of sovereignty, which will be the subject of the next post in this series.

    Matthew Unangst is a Teaching Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University in 2015. His current manuscript, "The Geography of Empire: German Colonialism, Race, and Space in East Africa, 1884-1907," explores the ways in which German, African, and Arab ideas about East African spaces and their relationship to their inhabitants shaped ideas about race, governance, and world history. His research interests are in the intellectual history of empire and the history of geography, as well as in both German and African intellectual history more broadly.


  7. Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Antisemitism

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    The Antisemitism of Carl Schmitt

    Raphael Gross’ Carl Schmitt and the Jews provoked much discussion in Germany upon its publication in 2000. The book forced a reexamination of the writing of Carl Schmitt, the so-called “crown jurist of the Third Reich,” for what Gross argued was an overarching antisemitism in all of Schmitt’s work. In the decades following the Second World War, Schmitt, his followers, and his biographers cast the jurist as a great judicial mind who had worked with the Nazis only out of political expediency. Carl Schmitt and the Jews makes that idea untenable. To make his argument, Gross examines Schmitt’s diaries from 1947 to 1951 and, in an afterword to the Mosse Series edition, from 1912 to 1915.

    This is the first in a series of blog posts that examines the ideas in Gross’ book in the light of recent political pronouncements in the United States. With the resuscitation of political rhetoric from the pre-World War II period such as “America First” and new policies meant to defeat internal enemies, Gross’ discussion of Schmitt’s antisemitism is helpful for thinking through both the roots and the consequences of what appears to be a new political era. In particular, Gross’ analysis of Schmitt’s “encoding process” to publicly hide his antisemitism while expressing more openly in private is useful for thinking about antisemitic rhetoric today (18).

    Schmitt, Gross tells us, imagined Jews as the embodiment of the revolutionary and liberal ideals of the French Revolution and Europe’s 19th century that he hated. In his Political Theology of 1922, Schmitt “traced all problems of the nineteenth century German state back to the destructive influence of emancipated Jewry” (152). The concept of equality under the law especially was a focus of Schmitt’s attacks on Jews and the Weimar state. Schmitt argued that the ideal of equality was a creation of emancipated Jews, who aimed to replace the Christian and völkisch nature of German law with a system of law applicable to all humanity. Jews had destroyed what was German about German law, and replaced it with a global legal system that ignored Germany’s history. For Schmitt, Jews existed only in the law, not tied to any one country. His ideas paved the way for National Socialism to sweep away Jewish legal equality and create laws specifically for Germany’s Jews.

    There are parallels between the rhetoric of the 2017 and the pre-World War II period, rhetoric of “America First” and of globalism prominent in the recent presidential campaign. Gross tells us that, for Schmitt, “widely understood code words made clumsy direct attacks unnecessary” (19). The idea that international legal norms are harming the United States and that there is something specifically “American” about United States law both echo today, as does the idea that the United States can create different classes of citizens based on religion. Subsequent blog posts will discuss Gross’ analysis of Schmitt’s State of Exception, of Schmitt’s definition of Jews as an internal enemy, and of the normalization of Schmitt’s ideas after the Second World War.

    Matthew Unangst is a Teaching Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University in 2015. His current manuscript, "The Geography of Empire: German Colonialism, Race, and Space in East Africa, 1884-1907," explores the ways in which German, African, and Arab ideas about East African spaces and their relationship to their inhabitants shaped ideas about race, governance, and world history. His research interests are in the intellectual history of empire and the history of geography, as well as in both German and African intellectual history more broadly.


  8. Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses: General Will

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    Mosse's General Will and Christianity

    On the first page of Nationalization of the Masses, Mosse introduces us to the “general will,” a term rooted in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) that consists of “the belief that only when all are acting together as an assembled people does man’s nature as a citizen come into active existence” (1-2). Mosse argues that “the general will became a secular religion” – the latter being the very subject of his book and the driving force behind the nationalization of the German masses (2).

    As a secularized religion, the general will is thus an interesting concept to contrast with the Christianity of nineteenth century Germany, which Mosse discusses at length in more than one passage. It would be too much to fully summarize Mosse’s fruitful analysis of Christianity and its relationship to the general will here, but three major points bear mentioning.

    1) German Pietism. Mosse sees an exceptional role for pietism in supplying “a dynamic and emotional content…creating the kind of brotherly community, based on love, that Pietists desired” which informed the “new politics’ of nationalization (14). The transaction was not just by secularizing a pietistic, Christian concept of brotherhood in Christ, though that certainly took place. Mosse also sees the reverse at work: turning the religious into the political. He cites early cases of Pietists referring to “the fatherland as a ‘magic space’ (Wunderraum) – the ‘hidden fatherland’,” which architects like Friedrich Gilly (1772-1800) would use to conceptualize national monuments (50-51). This two-way street of the politics made religious and the religious made political is central to Mosse’s overall analysis.

    2) Christian festivals. Mosse positions Christian festivals, including the cycle of holy days and Christian rites, as direct ancestors to the national festivals that fueled worship of, and for, the general will (74-75). In a very direct way, nationalists borrowed from the Christian calendar and infused national festivals with the trappings of prayer, pious service, and sacred ground. Here, though, was only a weaker expression of the secularized Christian festival. As Mosse makes clear, the French revolutionaries tried to co-opt the Christian calendar and festivals wholesale, and only achieved middling results. The genius of German organizers, such as Ernst Arndt (1769-1860), was in also sacralizing the Volk and the mythic German past. By introducing a “festival of the dead” and christening “sacred territory” for great German heroes, Arndt created a new use for Christian practices. New festivals and monuments in this mode, wrote Arndt, “were truly German and truly Christian” (76).

    3) Christian aesthetics. A third way in which Christianity intersected with the nationalization of the masses was the aesthetics of the new politics, which reflexively elevated Christian architecture and symbols as the most beautiful and perfect ideals. This took place even as other parts of Germany’s Christian tradition were outright rejected. Hitler’s idealized architecture provides one clear example. As Mosse describes, through the construction of Nazi Party buildings and Hitler’s sketchbook, we can see that churches “dominated [Hitler’s] fantasies” (188). Hitler’s sketches for a national cult building featured a dome, an apse and towers that resembled German churches. Hitler’s town halls often took the shape of churches. As Mosse sees it, Hitler was overtly hostile to the German church and Christianity in general, but his conservatism “prevented a clear separation” between sacred and secular that informed Nazi architecture and even practice, as party rallies and ceremonies took influence from Christian tradition.

    In these three examples we can see the complex and fascinating influence of Christianity on the general will and the creation of a secular religion. Mosse’s sophisticated insights are sometimes brief, seemingly tangential remarks, but ones that, as a scholar of religion and politics, are both enriching and indicative of the need for more attention to this intersection.

    Daniel Hummel is the Postdoctoral Fellow of History and Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.

  9. Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses: Politics as Drama

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    Politics as Drama: Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses


    One of Nationalization of the Masses most enduring contributions is to evoke how the masses came to see politics as a “drama within which liturgical rites took place” (12). This dramatic element played out episodically in symbolic actions such as public festivals, and more permanently through the creation of special groups such as, in the case of Germany, gymnasts. In Mosse’s book, the dramatic element is present throughout – when he discusses myths, the popular works of Wagner, and the “political cult” that would eventually be embodied by the Nazi party.

    Politics as drama was integral to what Mosse described as a “mass movement,” which was “an alternative to parliamentary democracy” (9). Politics as drama was based on ceremony, ritual, and emotion, and invited the masses to “worship themselves” and their struggle – against the ills of industrialization, among other forces – as the ultimate good.

    Though not a major focus of Nationalization of the Masses, the limits of nineteenth-century liberalism – a.k.a. parliamentary democracy – are keenly felt in the book. What was it about traditional political theory, rationally constructed political systems, and democratic norms that so failed to capture the adherence and the imagination of the masses? Much of Mosse’s study explores the various ways leaders, cultural producers, and theorists provided an alternative to parliamentary democracy. In Mosse’s other works, including The Culture of Western Europe, he more explicitly explores the limits of liberal politics. Here, and in Masses and Man, he explores the competing alternative for nineteenth-century Germans.

    Politics as drama receives a lot of attention today in democratic politics, if for no other reason than that the language of political leaders and campaigns is now focused on building “narratives” to supply meaning to campaigns. New York Times op-eds analyze campaign “narrative strategies” and a major architect of Barack Obama’s 2008 winning election, David Axelrod, is praised as realizing that the “modern campaign” is “about a more visceral, more personal narrative.” Donald Trump’s campaign, from his dramatic slogan “Make America Great Again” to the unending narratives that swirled around both him and Hillary Clinton, has thrown the narrative analysis into high gear.

    This is all to say that it seems Mosse, though writing of a different time and place, put his finger on the insatiable need for the masses to possess a narrative, and that the parliamentary system (or, in the United States, the presidential system) has had times of difficulty in supplying a compelling narrative. The rationalism of the eighteenth century, best represented by the liberal-parliamentary system, faces its most significant challenge in the romanticism of the nineteenth century. If liberalism has had a unifying narrative – a dramatic plot at the center of its politics – it is that of progress: an optimistic belief that through good politics the future would be better. This belief has sustained liberal politics, but it has often failed to grip the masses. This confrontation between rationalism and romanticism, liberalism and reaction, is at the heart of much Mosse’s work, and sets the backdrop for Nationalization of the Masses.

    In the twenty-first century, rationalism and romanticism do not retain their exalted positions. However, similar struggles have ensued. There remains a pull between reason and emotion-based politics, pragmatic and ideological worldviews, at the heart of the conflicts in democratic countries, both in Western Europe and beyond. By understanding politics as drama – that politics has an inherently dramatic element that cannot be reasoned away or compartmentalized – we not only gain an insight into modern campaign strategies, but into how the masses of the nineteenth century were not so different from the masses of the twenty-first.

    Daniel Hummel is the Postdoctoral Fellow of History and Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.


  10. Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses: Political Rallies

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    Political Rallies: Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses

    On August 21, 1980, Ronald Reagan, then mere months from winning the presidency, uttered one of his most famous (and infamous) lines of that election year. Speaking to a gathering of more than 15,000 evangelical Christians, Reagan began his remarks with the tactful words:

    “Now, I know this is a non-partisan gathering, and so I know that you can’t endorse me, but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you and what you’re doing.”

    At the end of his speech, according to onlookers, Reagan received a ten-minute standing ovation.

    The future president was the last speaker of a two-day event at Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas. An ostensibly non-partisan event, Reagan was advised that the evangelicals, who overwhelmingly supported him over his opponent, Jimmy Carter, could not officially endorse his candidacy. Reagan’s creative response, writes historian Stephen Miller, was one of “the most famous lines of the Age of Evangelicalism.”

    The words Reagan used were important, but historians have overlooked the aesthetic aspect, which Mosse’s insights in Nationalization of the Masses bring to the fore: the physical setting, pageantry, and spatial components that were an integral part of the event. Was this truly a non-partisan political rally? A spiritual revival (most of the speakers before Reagan were pastors or preachers)? Something else entirely? American flags and patriotic bunting were in evidence around the arena. Prayers were abundant, as were calls to individual and national spiritual renewal. Two supposedly separate areas of American life – preaching and politics – had become deeply intertwined not just rhetorically but in the very act of the gathering.

    In Mosse’s study of the rites, festivals, myths, and symbols which helped nationalize Germans in the nineteenth century, he pays close attention to aspects that often receive short shrift in my own field of postwar American evangelicalism: architecture, the pageantry of ceremonies, and the role of Christian festivals. Of course, a large chasm divides nineteenth century Germany from late-twentieth century America, but there is a fruitful continuity in the methodological approaches a scholar can use to get at the process of politicization that occurred among groups in both societies.

    By emphasizing these aspects of the 1980 rally/revival in Dallas, we gain a clearer understanding of the impact of Reagan’s words. Mosse highlights the need for political acts, if they are to achieve religious resonance, to achieve an aesthetics of the “beautiful” that symbolizes “order, hierarchy, and ‘the world made whole again’” (9). The mix of Christian and patriotic symbols in the Reunion Arena were a suitable backdrop for the central thrust of Reagan’s words: to defend and restore “traditional Judeo-Christianity,” “traditional morality,” and protect the value of “that old time religion and that old-time Constitution.”

    The physical layout of the rally/revival was also important and intersects with what Mosse at one point touches on as “stage design” in German theater (pp. 193-95). The speaker’s podium was the obvious center of attention, but behind it sat a line of chairs with the most distinguished guests visible to the entire audience. Here Reagan, the presidential candidate, sat on an equal level with rising stars of the Religious Right – pastors such as W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Dallas and telegenic preachers such as James Robison. Indeed, a conversation with Robison, who sat next to Reagan, led to the latter’s decision to start his speech with the “endorsement” line. The arrangement of the stage, which looked as much like a Baptist pulpit with elders arrayed behind, further bound the religious and political messaging of the event.

    Relying on Mosse here is to bring a set of analytical tools to bear on an entirely different context than Germany, but a context that remains under-studied in terms of aesthetics and rituals.

    Daniel Hummel is the Postdoctoral Fellow of History and Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.

  11. Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses: Secular Religion

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    Secular Religion: Mosse's Nationalization of the Masses


    The Nationalization of the Masses is not one of George Mosse’s best known works, but it remains a stimulating and relevant analysis of the rise of mass movements in Germany through the nineteenth century and on to the rise of Nazism. Though Mosse’s book remains focused on Germany and, to a lesser degree France and Italy, the questions he raises about mass politics, mass movements, and nationalism have much broader applications.

    In a series of posts, I will examine some of the ways this book has stimulated my own research, which is entirely outside of the German context. Mosse’s legacy, while most immediately felt in modern European cultural history, has in fact extended far beyond that field through the support of the George L. Mosse Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a PhD candidate at UW-Madison (2010-2016) researching Christian Zionism, I was able to study in Jerusalem and conduct archival research through the support of the Mosse Exchange Program with the Hebrew University for the 2012-2013 academic year.


    A review quotation on the back of the 2001 paperback edition published by Howard Fertig Inc. praises Nationalization as “an important and unique contribution to the literature on nationalism and totalitarianism.” As a historian of American politics and religion, interested in how Protestant religious practices contributed to the politicization of evangelicalism after World War II, I discovered a number of questions raised by Nationalization which helped me conceptualize a recent article on the role of revivalism in evangelical politicization. The first, and perhaps the most pressing question appears in Nationalization’s first pages: what does it mean for a population to become nationalized or politicized?

    Early in the book, Mosse indicates his scope and the process he is most interested in explicating: “The new politics [of nationalization of the masses] attempted to draw the people into active participation in the national mystique through rites and festivals, myths and symbols which gave a concrete expression to the general will” (2). Already on page two Mosse has given a few of these phrases – new politics, general will – specific definitions, but the point here is more general. Framing, in the American context, a question based on Mosse’s approach to German nationalization provides the skeleton of a research question: how have rites, festivals, rallies, myths, and symbols provided ways for American evangelicals to concretely express their political agenda in the context of American democratic processes?

    While the question of evangelical politicization has received steady attention among historians, especially in the twenty-first century, Mosse’s particular interests in rites and festivals have received less attention in the American context. At once this may seem surprising, but in many ways, the study of American politics diverges from the study of European politics. One possible reason for this, which is more speculation than historiographical intervention, is that the rise of fascism, Nazism, and the much vaster appeal of communism and socialism as political ideologies in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe have shaped and sharpened scholarly questions. The idea of American “exceptionalism,” after all, originates in asking why communism failed to appeal to most American workers. That exceptionalism is even more ensconced in American religious history, which remains more beholden to an assumption of separation between religion and politics, though much recent scholarship has pushed against this dichotomy.

    Mosse introduces us to mass politicization as a necessary process of the new “secular religion” of Germany. Mosse’s phrase is striking. Its closest American analog, the concept of “civil religion,” carries much less heft than secular religion. In the United States, the iconic civil religion of the early Cold War was a vague “Judeo-Christianity,” ecumenical in temperament and a matter of discourse as much as of institutions. It gave the nation a sense of coherence and purposes in the face of a communist enemy, but its practices and slogans – “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” – were as much products of corporate America, religious America, and partisan politics as they were a coherent theology of religion. Mosse’s secular religion, however, is more defined and more robust. The ideological arguments that went into German national monuments, Volk festivals, and war memorials – as we will see in future posts – appear more central to the German story than the same practices do to an American story.

    Of course, this is in part due to the different ends of these stories. The Nazi Party’s “aesthetic of politics” hovers over every page of Nationalization. There is no similar climax in American politics. Even so, Mosse’s focus on political events and ideologically-infused practices has been helpful in looking afresh at how American evangelicals encountered and consumed political ideas. I argue that the revival – an ostensibly spiritual gathering to save individual souls – provides one such venue. My inspiration for treating revivals in this way is owed in part to Mosse’s analysis, and will be the focus of a subsequent post on revivals as political rallies.

    Daniel Hummel is the Postdoctoral Fellow of History and Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.

  12. Ana Schaposchnik, The Lima Inquisition (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015)

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    Ana E. Schaposchnik is an associate professor of history at DePaul University.

    Ana Schaposchnik, The Lima Inquisition: The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015).

    The Holy Office of the Inquisition (a royal tribunal that addressed issues of heresy and offenses to morality) was established in Peru in 1570 and operated there until 1820. In this book, Ana E. Schaposchnik provides a deeply researched history of the Inquisition’s Lima Tribunal, focusing in particular on the cases of persons put under trial for crypto-Judaism in Lima during the 1600s.

    Delving deeply into the records of the Lima Tribunal, Schaposchnik brings to light the experiences and perspectives of the prisoners in the cells and torture chambers, as well as the regulations and institutional procedures of the inquisitors. She looks closely at how the lives of the accused—and in some cases the circumstances of their deaths—were shaped by actions of the Inquisition on both sides of the Atlantic. She explores the prisoners’ lives before and after their incarcerations and reveals the variety and character of prisoners’ religiosity, as portrayed in the Inquisition’s own sources. She also uncovers individual and collective strategies of the prisoners and their supporters to stall trials, confuse tribunal members, and attempt to ameliorate or at least delay the most extreme effects of the trial of faith.

    The Lima Inquisition also includes a detailed analysis of the 1639 Auto General de Fe ceremony of public penance and execution, tracing the agendas of individual inquisitors, the transition that occurred when punishment and surveillance were brought out of hidden dungeons and into public spaces, and the exposure of the condemned and their plight to an avid and awestricken audience. Schaposchnik contends that the Lima Tribunal’s goal, more than volume or frequency in punishing heretics, was to discipline and shape culture in Peru.

    What are scholars saying about this title?

    James Krippner, Haverford College
    “Schaposchnik revises and enriches our understanding of the Inquisition in colonial Peru and provides a major contribution to the emerging literature on politics, culture, and identity in seventeenth-century Latin America.”

    Kris Lane, Tulane University
    “The Lima Inquisition reveals the details of the Americas’ most alarming Inquisitorial crackdown: the ‘Great Complicity’ and subsequent Auto de Fe of Lima in 1639. Schaposchnik convincingly shows that it was not an aberration or just another Baroque-era spectacle—it was the essence of what the Inquisition was and had been all about, from inception to abolition.”



  13. New Book: Chad Alan Goldberg, Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

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    New Book by Professor Chad Alan Goldberg:

    Chad Alan Goldberg, Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prominent social thinkers in France, Germany, and the United States sought to understand the modern world taking shape around them. Although they worked in different national traditions and emphasized different features of modern society, they repeatedly invoked Jews as a touchstone for defining modernity and national identity in a context of rapid social change.

    In Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought, Chad Alan Goldberg brings us a major new study of Western social thought through the lens of Jews and Judaism. In France, where antisemites decried the French Revolution as the “Jewish Revolution,” Émile Durkheim challenged depictions of Jews as agents of revolutionary subversion or counterrevolutionary reaction. When German thinkers such as Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber debated the relationship of the Jews to modern industrial capitalism, they reproduced, in secularized form, cultural assumptions derived from Christian theology. In the United States, William Thomas, Robert Park, and their students conceived the modern city and its new modes of social organization in part by reference to the Jewish immigrants concentrating there. In all three countries, social thinkers invoked real or purported differences between Jews and gentiles to elucidate key dualisms of modern social thought. The Jews thus became an intermediary through which social thinkers discerned in a roundabout fashion the nature, problems, and trajectory of their own wider societies. Goldberg rounds out his fascinating study by proposing a novel explanation for why Jews were such an important cultural reference point. He suggests a rethinking of previous scholarship on Orientalism, Occidentalism, and European perceptions of America, arguing that history extends into the present, with the Jews—and now the Jewish state—continuing to serve as an intermediary for self-reflection in the twenty-first century.

    What are scholars saying about this exciting new title?

    Michael Walzer, professor (emeritus) of social science, Institute for Advanced Study
    “Most of this book is a masterful account of how Jews figured—as traditionalists, innovators, radicals, and ‘marginal men’—in the development of modern social theory and academic sociology. But the book should also be read for its final chapter, which includes a sharp critique of post-9/11 political discourse about the Jews—and also the other ‘others.’”

    Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University
    “Above all, a singularly lucid summation of the modern ‘Jewish question’ as a sociological question, Modernity and the Jews makes a compelling case for the value of historical sociology. Goldberg situates French, German, and American social thinkers in their historical contexts in order to show how and why they produced the Jew, as a category of analysis and a means of social criticism. By employing a comparative mode, he shows how social thought about the Jew reflected specific circumstances and, also, replicated habits of thought about political modes, economic systems, and cultural forms. A bold book, unafraid to step into the fray of debates about Orientalism, the role of the Muslim in today’s social thought, and the claims of anti-Zionism, Modernity and the Jews brings the history of western social thought directly into our own moment in time.”

    Peter Kivisto, Augustana College and St. Petersburg State University
    “Goldberg’s original and provocative thesis—based on case studies of foundational figures in sociology from France, Germany, and the United States—is that Jews and Jews alone came to be treated as the signifiers of the pre-modern/modern binary. And as such, for scholars such as Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Sombart, Simmel, and Park, Jews were viewed as occupying a unique social space, being an Other unlike any other Other. Cogently argued and spelling out the implications for the discipline, this is a must-read book, deserving of serious scholarly reflection.”

  14. Martin Jay, Reason After its Eclipse (2016) review by Brad Baranowski

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    Martin Jay, Reason after its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016). Professor Jay gave the George L. Mosse Lectures in Jerusalem in 2012. Those talks led to the publication of the book.

    Brad Baranowski is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His dissertation, "America's Moral Conscience: John Rawls and the Making of Modern Liberalism," examines Rawls’s intellectual trajectory from first conceptualizing “justice as fairness” through publishing A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism."

    As far as historical subjects go, reason is a tricky one. Too historical of a treatment and the basis of an author’s judgment is undercut. After all, how can you claim to provide cogent reasons about a subject if you’ve already shown reason to be a ruse? Not historical enough, and the treatment looks spooky: reason appears as a spirit that sometimes inspires, sometimes haunts, but always animates past events, ideas, and people, putting it beyond critique. Martin Jay traces how this tension came to define critical theory in his latest work, Reason After Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory (2016).

    Originally delivered as the George L. Mosse Lectures at Hebrew University in 2012, Reason After Its Eclipse is the outcome of a lifelong immersion in critical theory. This erudition is present from the start. The book begins with the ancient Greeks, cataloguing various approaches to reason from Plato to the Enlightenment. Issues such as the relation of logos to myth, the senses to intuition, the particular to the universal, Jay shows, shaped thinkers as diverse as Aristotle in antiquity, Aquinas in the Middle Ages, and Machiavelli as each grappled with the nature of reason. When a rising cohort of European thinkers came to question received wisdom during the Enlightenment, some philosophers tried to strike a balance between reason and critique, hoping to update the former for an era obsessed with the latter.

    Immanuel Kant looms large here. The sage from Königsberg’s innovation was to apply reason’s critical power to itself, probing the boundaries of knowledge and morals in the process. This project produced, Jay writes, “the most penetrating critical reconsideration of the foundation and limits of reason in the late Enlightenment (36).” Thanks to Kant’s transcendental subject, the concept both stood outside history and could be criticized within it, even if doing so meant relinquishing reason's ability to satisfactorily process topics like ontology and theology. Awed by Kant’s achievement, dissatisfied with the limits he identified, first Hegel, then Marx, would make expanding the concept’s power the hallmark of German philosophy. Their methods differed radically from Kant’s as they embedded reason within history, tracing its evolution in order to better understand its potential. Both, however, shared their predecessor’s hope that by finding some vantage point from which to critique reason, the concept’s emancipatory potential could be unleashed, not squashed.

    Such optimistic treatments of reason, however, would flounder on the political and economic disasters of the early twentieth century. In one of Jay’s most incisive chapters, “Reason in Crisis,” he traces the breakdown of European intellectuals’ faith in reason. Vitalism, the belief that beneath all orderly appearance pulses irrational and chaotic energies, and positivism, the belief that all beliefs to be rational must be empirically verifiable, posed grave threats to previous tenants of reason. A wave of skepticism threatened reason as intellectuals and writers questioned the rationality of arguments by pointing to their biological, historical, and overall limited nature.

    Enter the Frankfurt School. Their project, Jay argues, is best understood as a response both to this crisis of reason, and to the longer developments that precipitated it. Spearheaded by thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkeimer, the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists parsed the relation of reason to social domination. Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) famously traced modern humanity’s domination of nature and penchant for totalitarianism to the instrumental reasoning of the Enlightenment. Marcuse, meanwhile, explored both capitalism’s and communism’s use of reason to shape—and deaden—the individual psyche in One-Dimensional Man (1964). Although propounded indebted to the insights of Hegel and Marx, especially in their advocacy for a creative, critical form of reasoning, the Frankfurt School appeared equally Kantian in temperament—searching for reason’s limitations as much as they sought its liberating potential.

    Such inclinations, however, would shift with the rise to intellectual prominence of Jürgen Habermas and his communicative model of reason. “Rather than a faculty of the individual mind representing an object external to it,” writes Jay, Habermas holds that “reason should be understood more capaciously as an intersubjective procedure of validity testing (124).” Communication provides the realm in which this intersubjective verification unfolds, as people, conceived of as equals, debate and discuss in order to come to consensuses on various problems. While Jay provides critical readings of all his thinkers, and even dedicates a chapter to the philosopher’s critics, it is clear that he admires Habermas. This admiration, however, is most apparent not in the book’s treatment of Habermas per say, or even in any one chapter of the text, but in the work as a whole.

    Reason After Its Eclipse is as personal as it is abstract. Jay has spent a lifetime tracing, cataloguing, evaluating, and defending the project of critical theory, beginning with his monumental The Dialectical Imagination (1973). Reason After Its Eclipse was born from a conversation Jay had while researching that earlier project with the philosopher Friedrich Pollock, one of the original members of the Frankfurt School. When Jay asked Pollock what was the normative alternative to the instrumental reason that Marcuse, Adorno, and others had criticized, the elder philosopher exclaimed: “Horkheimer has already devoted an entire book to addressing that question!” (x) The name of that book: Eclipse of Reason (1947).

    Jay’s unanswered question lingers over Reason After Its Eclipse, a point he confirms in the introduction when he writes how the book ends with more “questions than answers, a performative affirmation of an important lesson of the exercise as a whole: that reason is as much critique as it is system-building, as open-ended as it is complete, as fallible in its conclusions as assertive in its premises (xii).” Ultimately, “performance” is the correct word to describe what Jay has staged, not only in the last chapter but in the book as a whole. At every turn he shows how to historicize reason as well as to hold out a higher hope in the concept.

    Jay models, that is, the sort of communicative rationality that Habermas has theorized, complete with its aspiration that thorough, patient, erudite scholarship can make a difference in how we think. It is this kind of hope—qualified, informed, yet bold—that has sustained the endless, self-reflective production that is critical theory. And it is work like Jay’s that helps to assure that reason’s light continues to escape total eclipse.