Briefly Noted

| June 2014
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Secret Reports on Nazi Germany: The Frankfurt School Contribution to the War Effort, Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, and Otto Kirchheimer, Raffaele Laudani, eds. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013), 704 pp., $45 cloth.

Raffaele Laudani’s new edited volume, Secret Reports on Nazi Germany, is a collection of reports written during World War II by three central philosophers of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory—Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, and Otto Kirchheimer—for use by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the OSS, precursor to the CIA). Recruited by William “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of the OSS and a dedicated Republican, these neo-Marxist German-Jewish émigrés were certainly imaginative hires. Yet, as the book suggests, the partnership worked for the most part. While the reports, written between 1943 and 1949, exhibit the pithy, cold, and objective tone we have come to expect from political analyses, they also display an extraordinary application of the ethical and conceptual frameworks of the Frankfurt School in the service of unraveling the behemoth Nazi regime and fighting the spread of fascism.

Certainly, the political predilections of the philosophers led them to get some things wrong. In one report, for instance, Neumann misinterprets the nature of Nazi anti-Semitism, conceptualizing it as a “testing ground” for evil methods to be perpetrated against all groups not subservient to the Nazi system. Other times, the extreme nature of the prescriptions led the Frankfurt fellows’ plans to be dismissed outright. For example, their postwar plans for de-Nazification centered upon a socialist overhaul of the country’s economy as a way to revitalize German democracy, though the reports display considerable uncertainty regarding how this might come about.

More often than not, however, the assessments made by the Frankfurt fellows were shrewd and accurate, challenging some important, widely-held assumptions about Nazism at the time. Marcuse’s report on German social stratification, for example, corroborates his earlier claims about the perversely classist nature of the Nazi regime with statistical data, and features cold, hard number-crunching—an analysis sure to impress those who doubt the Frankfurt theorists’ often antipositivist methodologies.

Felix Gilbert and Herbert Marcuse’s debunking of the myth of Prussian militarism provided another important challenge to entrenched American political wisdom at the time. In contrast to Churchill’s anachronistic interpretation of National Socialism as a new manifestation of the old Prussian militarism, Marcuse emphasized that the Nazi state was designed to make a repetition of the humiliation of World War I impossible. A negotiated peace, the theorists predicted, was therefore unimaginable, and so the United States had to aim for a total defeat of Germany.

These insights, and many others, suggest that the Frankfurt School’s OSS reports helped shape the U.S. approach to warfighting and postwar justice in World War II. Yet the reports are not only a political and strategic triumph but also a philosophical one: at the center of the Critical Theory enterprise is an emphatically normative effort to change the world for the better; and as Laudani’s volume suggests, the analysis provided by the scholars in the service of the OSS is perhaps the most extraordinary example of the school’s attempts at praxis to date.

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 368 pp., $27.95 cloth.

Too often, development efforts to combat hunger, ensure access to clean water, and provide adequate medical services for the world’s poor are sabotaged by perpetual violence. In The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen compares this struggle to that of rural farmers of the nineteenth century American Midwest, when locusts laid indiscriminate waste to the resources of poor and vulnerable farming families. As Haugen argues, in the twenty-first century similar “locusts of violence” are assaulting the global poor, thwarting their endeavors to escape poverty, and frustrating the work of institutions and individuals that are trying to help them.

Of course, what makes violence particularly devastating to the global poor is that they have so few resources and little support to weather the added hardships. And compounding their vulnerability are the inadequate, corrupt, and stagnant criminal justice systems serving most poor communities. Haugen explains that in many of these communities the underlying causes of such dysfunctional systems include the remnants of colonial rule—systems that were never designed to protect people from violence and crime, but rather were meant to protect colonial rulers from the people. Today, “justice” often operates as a private enterprise, secured for those who can afford it and out of reach for those who cannot. But one of the most unsettling elements of a broken justice system is the fact that, time and again, poor people cannot even turn to their own law enforcement for help, as authorities themselves are often the perpetrators. A poor community’s police force is frequently, as Haugen describes it, its “most pervasive and predatory presence.”

Recounting his work with the International Justice Mission, Haugen portrays the de facto lawlessness that plagues billions of lives and outlines a number of prescriptions, including the need for trained, uncorrupted law enforcement; a sufficient pool of knowledgeable prosecutors; courts that are efficient and professional (too many individuals— perpetrators and innocents alike—languish in jail while their cases move through broken judicial systems); and greater personal security. Ultimately, says Haugen, addressing violence is a precondition for combating poverty, and for obtaining meaningful progress for poor and marginalized groups.

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Category: Briefly Noted, Issue 28.2

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