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Distributed for Brandeis University Press

Toward Nationalism’s End

An Intellectual Biography of Hans Kohn

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

Toward Nationalism’s End

An Intellectual Biography of Hans Kohn

This intellectual biography of Hans Kohn (1891–1971) looks at theories of nationalism in the twentieth century as articulated through the life and work of its leading scholar and activist. Hans Kohn was born in late nineteenth-century Prague, but his peripatetic life took him from the Revolutionary-era Russia to interwar-era Palestine under the British Empire to the United States during the Cold War. Bearing witness to dramatic reconfigurations of national and political identities, he spearheaded an intellectual revolution that fundamentally challenged assumptions about the “naturalness” and the immutability of nationalism. Reconstructing Kohn’s long and fascinating career, Gordon uncovers the multiple political and intellectual trends that intersected with and shaped his theories of nationalism. Throughout his life, Kohn was not simply a theorist but also a participant in multiple and often conflicting movements: Zionism and anti-Zionism, pacifism, liberalism, and military interventionism. His evolving theories thus drew from and reflected fierce debates about the nature of internationalism, imperialism, liberalism, collective security, and especially the Jewish Question. Kohn’s scholarship was not an abstraction but a product of his lived experience as a Habsburg Jew, an erstwhile cultural Zionist, and an American Cold Warrior. As a product of the times, his concepts of nationalism reflected the changing world around him and evolved radically over his lifetime. His intellectual biography thus offers a panorama of the dynamic intellectual cornerstones of the twentieth century.

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“Well-written and satisfying. . . . Gordon’s clear-sighted study draws on vast archival research in the United States (where Kohn largely deposited his papers), in Israel, and in Denmark; he looks at sources in German, Hebrew, and English, and the work is supported by a close reading of Kohn’s prolific oeuvre. The biography is organized into three parts, each representing a major ideological “shattering” and turn. There is much here of interest for students of comparative nationalism, nationalism theory, twentieth-century intellectual history, and the peripatetic twentieth-century Jewish experience.”

American Historical Review

"Gordon has written a work of fundamental importance, and it allows us to see one of the major scholars of the twentieth century in a new light."

H-Net Reviews

"Gordon treats with sympathy the ways that Kohn grew, changed and defined himself, and presents his ideas with lucidity. . . . Kohn belonged to this Central European Jewish intelligentsia, a generation that of course cannot be reproduced. But at least their stories can be told, which Gordon has so judiciously and honorably done."

Review of Rabbinic Judaism

"These superlative studies of Biale, Mendes-Flohr, Gordon, and Volovici should lead to ongoing exploration of ideas about fusing Judentum (Jewishness and Judaism) and nationhood as attempted in a Central European crucible, while cross-fertilized from Eastern Europe—such as Poland for Buber, and the Soviet Union for Kohn. These works reveal how Zionism gained traction and accrued substance among men of goodwill and extraordinary acumen. In tune with their earnest intellectual labor, they hoped for Jews to become mutually accountable to each other, and for Zionism to emerge as a source of greater good in the world. We also have been accorded fresh perspectives on how once cherished incarnations of Zionism are in retreat or otherwise frozen in their tracks."

Tel Aviv Review of Books

"Adi Gordon's biography is excellent."

Jewish Review of Books

"Gordon deftly explicates Kohn’s changing political views against the background of his tumultuous times. Gordon has written a true intellectual biography. …  Yet the real value of Gordon’s work lies not just in its contribution to Kohn scholarship but in its ability to maintain focus on the fluid interaction of ideas, personality, and circumstances. As such, it should be of interest to any intellectual historians, and not only to those with special interests in interwar Habsburg thought, Zionism, or U.S. Cold War ideology.”

The American Jewish Archives Journal

“In this elegant biographical portrait of Hans Kohn, a doyen of the academic study of nationalism, Adi Gordon highlights Kohn’s personal intellectual and existential struggle with the distinctively modern concept of nationalism, particularly as it informed Jewry’s self-understanding. Kohn’s life and letters are, thus, in effect, a mirror of Jewry’s struggle with the ethical and political challenge of Zionism and its nationalist agenda and conception of Jewish peoplehood.”

Paul Mendes-Flohr, University of Chicago

“Wonderfully detailed and fair-minded. . . . Gordon helps us as no other scholar has to recognize the impulses and anxieties that drove Kohn’s explorations.” 

David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley

“Unpacks the ideas of the most influential theorist of nationalism. . . . A major essay in intellectual history.”

John A. Hall, McGill University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments • Introduction • PART 1: AUTHENTICITY AND POLITICAL RUIN, 1908–1920 • A Turning Inward: Kohn’s Youth in Multinational Late Habsburg Prague • “The Decisive Years”: The Great War and the Waning of Imperial World Order • PART 2: SEPARATING NATION AND STATE, 1919–1934 • To Tame Empire, Nation, and Man: Political Agenda in the 1920s • Nation and State in Kohn’s Scholarship and Jewish Thought • “A Disillusioned Love”: Break with Zionism • PART 3: AN AFFIRMING FLAME, 1933–1971 • “The Totalitarian Crisis” and “the Last Best Hope”: Catastrophic Americanization and Breakthrough • Nationalism in the American Century • Coda: The Endurance of Kohn’s Jewish Question • Afterword • Notes • Abbreviations • Archives • Index

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