Markus Lang. Karl Loewenstein: Transatlantischer Denker der Politik. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007. 353 pp. EUR 46.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-515-08930-2.
Reviewed by Devin O. Pendas (Boston College)
Published on H-German (April, 2010)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing
An Atlantic Giant
The concept of an Atlantic World spanning Europe and the Americas has come to dominate much of the recent scholarship on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Similarly, the notion of a Transatlantic World linking Europe and the United States has emerged as a leitmotif in the historiography of the twentieth century. This approach has, for obvious reasons, been particularly fruitful for the intellectual history of German scholarly émigrés who fled the Third Reich to the United States. Markus Lang's well-researched and thorough study of the legal scholar and political scientist Karl Loewenstein is a valuable addition to this burgeoning literature.
According to Lang, a biographical study of Loewenstein reveals three crucial dimensions of the intellectual history of the scholarly emigration from Nazi Germany. First, it reveals an "internationalization" of scholarship, as direct contact and indirect influence increased across national borders. Second, it demonstrates the extent to which individual émigrés were confronted with a problem of "acculturation" to their new homelands. Finally, the émigré experience can be interpreted as a form of "normative westernization." In Lowenstein's specific case, these processes manifested themselves in a constant professional and intellectual tension concerning the extent to which he would adopt the methods and theories of the emerging "political science" of his new American home or whether he would remain embedded within the distinctly German tradition of Staatslehre. One of Lang's major arguments is that Loewenstein's failure to fully embrace either of these traditions, lingering rather uneasily between the two, accounts for both some of the major theoretical flaws of his oeuvre and for the rather limited impact his scholarship had in the United States and Germany.
The major conceptual problem in Loewenstein's work, according to Lang, is the decidedly vague quality of his notion of "power," which nonetheless assumes a central position in his theory of politics. In particular, Loewenstein's emphasis on institutions and law caused him to miss "important aspects of informal power relationships" (p. 79). Regarding Loewenstein's major work from 1957, Political Power and the Governmental Process, Lang writes: "The conceptual problems are, in the final analysis, traceable to the fact that in the case of the Verfassungslehre it is neither a German nor an American work, not a jurisprudential but also not a political science book. This fact also explains why the book's influence was rather limited" (p. 82).
Lang traces Loewenstein's intellectual trajectory beginning from his early studies of British and French constitutionalism during the Weimar Republic (chapter 2), which, Lang claims, exercised an enduring influence on Loewenstein's thought. As a Jew, Loewenstein was driven from his position on the legal faculty of the University of Munich in April 1933. With assistance from the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars and the Rockefeller Foundation, he was able to immigrate to the United States in 1936, where he took up appointments in political science, first at Yale and eventually at Amherst. According to Lang's reading, Loewenstein's turn to "political science" was therefore less a reflection of any fundamental intellectual reorientation on his part than it was a pragmatic adaptation to changed circumstances. As a result, Loewenstein was never fully able to integrate into the new disciplinary approach and remained partially wedded to older, German conceptual categories and approaches that sat uneasily with the process-oriented study of politics he pursued in the United States.
In the end, Lang discerns less transformation in Loewenstein’s thought than one might expect from a story about a transatlantic exile. "In the presentation of Karl Loewensgtein’s multifaceted work, it has become clear the great extent to which his political thought was shaped by continuity” (p. 299). According to Lang, Loewenstein used the comparative method to seek an Archimedean point from which to evaluate, criticize, and above all defend specifically democratic politics. This was one of the ways in which he remained wedded to Staatslehre, eschewing the more scientific approach of political science, which was too detached for Loewenstein. Although he always felt himself to some extent an outsider in the democratic United States, Loewenstein was committed to the success of democracy, in postwar Germany and elsewhere. Lang describes this as "characteristically an emigrant's point of view" (p. 300). According to Lang, however, in Loewenstein's case, this was an outlook he developed well before his actual emigration.
This dual emphasis on the continuity in Lowenstein's thought and on his emigrant perspective raises two questions concerning Lang's analysis. If there is as much continuity to Loewenstein's thought as Lang insists, then what is the actual explanatory power of the biographical rupture? If Loewenstein's engagement with liberal constitutionalism was shaped, as Lang insists, by his early life encounters with English and French constitutionalism, that is, if his move into political science was merely opportunistic, then what difference did his emigration to the United States actually make? Admittedly, Lang does contend that the encounter with political science did produce "certain changes and further developments" in Loewenstein's thought, but seemingly nothing so fundamental as to reflect a true rupture, either intellectual or biographical (p. 299). Lang also insists that "Loewenstein differed from most emigrants in that his internationalization as well as his acculturation and normative westernization did not begin only with his emigration, but was already characteristic of his work even before the Second World War" (p. 301). Thus, apparently, not only did the experience of emigration and exile not change Loewenstein's mind very much; his intellectual trajectory was quite different from that of "most emigrants." If so, then Loewenstein was a decidedly idiosyncratic figure. This possibility raises the question of how representative his intellectual biography can actually be. Indeed, one could argue that Loewenstein's biography indicates that emigration and exile were not indispensable to the intellectual history of transatlantic contact in the twentieth century, since it was possible in his case to acquire the three essential characteristics of internationalization, acculturation, and westernization even without (or before) that experience. These are logical inconsistencies in Lang's argument, but they also reflect the complexity and challenges of transatlantic history more generally. Lang's choice of intellectual biography certainly allows for a richness of content and detail, but to fully grapple with the challenges of transatlantic intellectual history may require a broader perspective, one that allows for a disentanglement of individual and collective trajectories.
. See Volker Berghahn, American and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); and Mary Nolan, "Americanization as a Paradigm for German History," in Conflict, Catastrophe, and Continuity in Modern German History, ed. Frank Biess, Mark Roseman, and Hanna Schissler (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007), 200-220.
. There is now a plethora of case studies of individual scholars or disciplines. See Uta Gerhardt, Denken in der Demokratie: Die Soziologie im atlantischen Transfer nach 1945 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007); or Matthias Stoffregen, Kämpfen für ein demokratisches Deutschland: Emigranten zwischen Politik und Politikwissenschaft (Opladen: Leske und Budrich Verlag, 2002). There are older studies that remain useful, such as Lewis Coser, Refugee Scholars in America: Their Impact and their Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); and Anthony Heilbut, Exiled in Paradise: German Refugee Artists and Intellectuals in America from the 1930s to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). More recently, see Jean-Michel Palmier, Weimar in Exile: Exile in Europe, Exile in America (London: Verso, 2006); and Edward Timms and Jon Hughes, eds., Intellectual Migration and Cultural Transformation: Refugees from National Socialism in the English-Speaking World (Vienna: Springer, 2003).
. Karl Loewenstein, Political Power and the Governmental Process (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965 [Verfassungslehre (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1959]).
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Devin O. Pendas. Review of Lang, Markus, Karl Loewenstein: Transatlantischer Denker der Politik.
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