Crisis, Values, and the Purpose of Science: Hans Morgenthau in Europe

| March 10, 2016
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Shortly after finishing his Habilitation at the University of Geneva in 1934, Hans Morgenthau typed a lengthy manuscript entitled Über den Sinn der Wissenschaft in dieser Zeit und über die Bestimmung des Menschen (On the Purpose of Science in These Times and on Human Destiny). Underappreciated and little known in the ever-growing literature on Morgenthau and classical realism at large, this manuscript provided the foundation for a series of publications throughout his life in which he ferociously and even polemically defended a normative role for “science” (Wissenschaft) in modern societies against the backdrop of the rise of behavioralism. Most famous among them is certainly Morgenthau’s first book in the United States, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (see Hartmut Behr in this forum). Indeed, forty years after Morgenthau had penned this manuscript in Geneva, he based the first part of Science: Servant or Master on it, indicatingthat he “never went much beyond what he had basically said and formulated” during his time in Europe.

Morgenthau wrote this work during a time of great personal turmoil. His Habilitation was only deemed satisfactory by the university after a positive intervention by Hans Kelsen; and his income had dwindled as anti-Semitic German students refused to attend his lectures. Since the situation in Geneva had become unbearable, he sought employment in the United States, but neither the Academic Assistance Council nor the Rockefeller Foundation, to which he appealed, offered help. His fiancée, Irma Thormann, even wrote a desperate letter to her former professor in Berlin, Carl Landauer, asking him to help Morgenthau in securing a position in the United States. At the beginning of 1935, when Thormann wrote the letter, Landauer was lecturing at Berkeley. His discouraging reply reached her two months later, when Morgenthau was on his way to take up a position at the recently established Instituto de Estudios Internacionales y Económicos in Madrid. Shortly thereafter, however, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War vitiated this option as well, forcing the Morgenthaus into an odyssey through Europe before finally emigrating to the United States in 1937.

Morgenthau’s restless life in Europe presages the larger developments that were about to shatter the entire world. As he wrote in 1943, “The air in which we dance has changed and the ground is shaking. What used to be accepted by everyone turns into a matter of dispute and therefore into a matter of scholarly concern.” The rise of fascism throughout Europe was the tangible political effect of fundamental metaphysical deficiencies that made Morgenthau question the role and scope of science.

These two concerns of Morgenthau, the crisis of modern societies and the purpose of science, would bring him to formulate an ethics of responsibility in later years and to support a reflective, democratic dimension in foreign policymaking. They remained the core concerns of his work, and the political events that led to them formed the backdrop of his worldview. Morgenthau, like many other émigré scholars, was a “traveler between all worlds,” meaning that Morgenthau in America cannot be understood without having knowledge about Morgenthau in Europe.

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Category: Issue 30.1, Roundtable: Morgenthau in America

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