The Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry

Toward Nationalism's End: An Intellectual Biography of Hans Kohn

Adi Gordon

Cover of "Toward Nationalism's End."Analyzes the intellectual evolution of Hans Kohn, pioneer of nationalism studies, revealing the centrality of the idea of the nation to the ideological struggles of the twentieth century

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 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.

"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 nationalism 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

Purchase From Brandeis University Press

About the Author

Adi Gordon is an assistant professor of history at Amherst College. He is the author of In Palestine: In a Foreign Land published by Hebrew University Magnes Press, and the editor of Brith Shalom and Bi-National Zionism: “The Arab Question” as a Jewish Question, published by Carmel Publishing House.