Historian, Teacher, Writer

Selected Writings

German New Lefts (2019)

The New Left that arose in West Germany during the 1960s mimicked the antifascist reformations of the 1930s. For grassroots campaigns, extraparliamentary opposition groups, and radical student organizations of the postwar decades, the Marxist humanist theories and revolutionary socialist splinter groups of the interwar years served as attractive models. At the same time, the Sixty-eighter generation rebelled against a political establishment now represented by that earlier generation of neoleftist pioneers, their parents. But generational conflict was just the symptom of a deeper problem in the history of the midcentury Left: a succession of radical new lefts arose out of periodic frustration at institutionalized politics. This article published in New German Critique explores the missing link between Germany’s antifascist and antiauthoritarian new lefts: the so-called left socialists of the 1950s. In particular, Ossip K. Flechtheim’s science of futurology and Wolfgang Abendroth’s theory of antagonistic society translated antifascism’s legacies into a new paradigm of social protest. The left socialists’ support for the embattled Socialist German Student League laid the organizational and intellectual foundation for the sixties New Left. Recent studies of the “global sixties” have shown the transnational connections between new lefts across space; this article explains their continuity across time.

Going Underground (2017)

This essay in Aeon explores the history of the underground, the modern era’s most subversive political metaphor. From anarchists to digital hacktivists, underground resisters have imagined a subterranean realm that threatens to overthrow the world above.

Human Rights as Radical Anthropology (2017)

From the 1920s through the ’40s, European and Anglo-American Protestants perceived a crisis of humanity. While trying to determine religion’s role in a secular age, church leaders redefined the human being as a theological person in community with others and in partnership with God. This new anthropology contributed to a personalist conception of human rights that rivaled Catholic and secular conceptions. Alongside such innovations in postliberal theology, ecumenical Protestants organized a series of meetings to unite the world churches. Their conference at Oxford in July 1937 led to the creation of the World Council of Churches. Thus Protestants of the transwar era supplied the two main ingredients of any human rights regime: a universalist commitment to defending individual human beings regardless of race, nationality, or class and a global institutional framework for enacting that commitment. Through the story of Protestant thinkers and activists, this article published in The Historical Journal recasts the history of human rights as part of a larger history of critical reappraisals of humanity. Understanding why human rights came into prominence at various twentieth-century moments may require abandoning ‘rights talk’ for human talk, or, a comparative history of radical anthropologies and their relationship to broader socioeconomic, political, and cultural crises.

Hegel and the Revolutions Revisited (2016)

This review essay appears in the journal Modern Intellectual History. It focuses on two books from the recent Hegel revival in critical theory. Rebecca Comay’s Mourning Sickness (Stanford, 2010) and Susan Buck-Morss’ Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (Pittsburgh, 2009) reevaluate Hegel’s reactions to two of the most important political upheavals in the Atlantic world, the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution.

The Jewish Question in French Catholic Theology, 1944-1965 (2014)

Jean Daniélou

Through the lens of two very different French theologians, Jean Daniélou and Paul Démann, this working paper examines midcentury efforts to confront the problem of anti-Judaism in Catholic thought.

Risk, Miscarriage, and Exile: The Critical Hazards of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (2011)

In addition to highlighting the theme of risk in Adorno’s great unfinished work, Aesthetic Theory, this working paper traces his criteria for a “successful” artwork back to Leibniz, Lessing, and Kierkegaard.

Friends or Differends? Discursive Tonalities of Late Twentieth-Century Philosophy (2011)

Here is a review essay on Simon Choat’s Marx Through Post-Structuralism (London, 2010) and Pierre Bouretz’ D’un ton guerrier en philosophie (Paris, 2010). Central figures include Habermas, Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, and Deleuze.

“This is our Dunkirk”: Karl B. Frank and the Politics of the Emergency Rescue Committee (2009)

In this working paper, I seek to revise the standard account of the Emergency Rescue Committee and its primary agent Varian Fry, who famously coordinated the escape of thousands of prominent artists, intellectuals, and their families from Vichy France and the Nazis in 1940-41. I focus on the often ignored political backstory of the Committee, which formed in New York City amid various debates among German socialist émigré leaders and their American allies. Again, my central figure is Karl B. Frank (see below).

The German Resistance in New York: Karl B. Frank and the New Beginning Group, 1935-1945 (2007)

My BA thesis at Boston University. Karl B. Frank, alias Paul Hagen, was a charismatic intellectual and militant socialist who became known in the United States as “the leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in exile.” While this epithet was an exaggeration, he did represent a small group of antifascists called New Beginning that had formed in Berlin in 1929 and survived underground during the early years of the Third Reich. This thesis navigates the murky world of exile politics in order to evaluate Frank’s political influence as well as the missed opportunities of postwar German reconstruction.