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.

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"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." - Michael Berkowitz, The Tel Aviv Review of Books

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.