Historian of the Left

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I am a historian of the German left, international social movements, and visualizations of the capitalist system. I have worked as a lecturer in humanities and history at Yale University, and I received my Ph.D. in history with an emphasis on critical theory from the University of California, Berkeley.

My book, New Lefts: The Making of a Radical Tradition (Princeton University Press, 2021), was shortlisted for the Council for European Studies Book Award. Long before the New Left of the 1960s, a series of smaller new lefts in Western Europe broke with mainstream Social Democracy and Communism. What I call neoleftism was an internal revolt against the established party and union forms. In three historical phases—radical antifascism in the 1920s-30s, left socialism in the 1940s-50s, and anti-authoritarianism in the 1960s—generations of neoleftists experimented with non-hierarchical councils, assemblies, and action committees. The book starts by analyzing Georg Lukács’s theory of new forms, and it proceeds with an archive-based history of the German group New Beginning as it operated in the antifascist resistance and postwar reconstruction. Many of the group’s members such Richard Löwenthal, Fritz Erler, Ossip Flechtheim, and Wolfgang Abendroth went on to prominent careers in academia or politics. My book also includes comparative cases from France, Spain, and Britain. Across Western Europe, neoleftists devised unorthodox Marxist theories whose results ranged from social democratic modernization to avant-garde counterculture. After passing through youthful radicalism, many experienced the irony of defending institutions they once opposed. The book culminates with the West German student revolt and the French May Movement of 1968, events which occurred amid a crisis of democracy and a transition to post-industrial society. Combining methods of intellectual history and critical theory, this book offers a bold reinterpretation of the New Left and its historical roots. The book has been reviewed in Boston Review, n+1, The New Journal, Intellectual History Review, Haaretz, and Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. I have been interviewed about it by The Nation and New Books Network.

My current book project concerns visual representations of capitalism in the Belle Époque. Partly due to advances in image reproduction technology, cartoons and other allegorical images spread in European and North American leftist newspapers between the 1890s and 1910s. Illustrations such as the Pyramid of the Capitalist System (1911) depicted the class hierarchy of industrial society in vivid terms. Circulating as posters and postcards, these images were a political education for workers who spoke diverse languages or could not read: they formed a visual repertoire of class struggle. This interdisciplinary project is relevant to our own age of highly mediatized politics, when by contrast to the early 20th century it seems impossible to visualize the capitalist system as a whole.

Along with publishing in academic journals such as Modern Intellectual History, The Historical Journal, and New German Critique, my work has appeared in popular forums such as Aeon, The Point, Foreign Policy, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Download my CV here.