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The Frankfurt School in Exile

Author:

Thomas Wheatland

The Frankfurt School in Exile

Persuasive and pioneering research on the influence of German intellectuals on postwar American thought

Although much has been written about the Frankfurt School, this is the first book to closely examine the relationship between its members and their American contemporaries. The Frankfurt School in Exile uncovers an important but neglected dimension of the history of the Frankfurt School and adds immeasurably to our understanding of the contributions made by its émigré intellectuals to postwar intellectual life.

The Frankfurt School played a major role in the vast intellectual migration to the United States, yet most accounts focus largely on its prewar and postwar activity in Europe, much less on the important years of its American exile. With exemplary clarity and illuminating research, Thomas Wheatland’s book fills in some missing chapters in this institutional as well as intellectual history, including the Frankfurt School’s crucial sojourn at Columbia University, its relationships with the wider world of the New York intellectuals, and its impact on the New Left. He also stresses the influence of these American years on the Frankfurt critics themselves. This is a momentous, valuable, and highly informative book.

Morris Dickstein, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Members of the Frankfurt School have had an enormous effect on Western thought, beginning soon after Max Horkheimer became the director of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main in 1930. Also known as the Horkheimer Circle, the group included such eminent intellectuals as Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Leo Lowenthal, and Friedrich Pollock. Fleeing Nazi oppression, Horkheimer moved the Institute and many of its affiliated scholars to Columbia University in 1934, where it remained until 1950.

Until now, the conventional portrayal of the Institute has held that its members found refuge by relocating to Columbia but that they had little contact with, or impact on, American intellectual life. With insight and clarity, Thomas Wheatland demonstrates that the standard account is wrong. Based on deep archival research in Germany and in the United States, and on interviews conducted with luminaries such as Daniel Bell, Bernadine Dohrn, Peter Gay, Todd Gitlin, Nathan Glazer, Tom Hayden, Robert Merton, and others, Wheatland skillfully traces the profound connections between the Horkheimer Circle’s members and the intellectual life of the era. Reassessing the group’s involvement with the American New Left in the 1960s, he argues that Herbert Marcuse’s role was misunderstood in shaping the radical student movement’s agenda. More broadly, he illustrates how the Circle influenced American social thought and made an even more dramatic impression on German postwar sociology.

Although much has been written about the Frankfurt School, this is the first book to closely examine the relationship between its members and their American contemporaries. The Frankfurt School in Exile uncovers an important but neglected dimension of the history of the Frankfurt School and adds immeasurably to our understanding of the contributions made by its émigrés to postwar intellectual life.

The Frankfurt School in Exile

Thomas Wheatland is assistant professor of German history at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Frankfurt School in Exile

The Frankfurt School played a major role in the vast intellectual migration to the United States, yet most accounts focus largely on its prewar and postwar activity in Europe, much less on the important years of its American exile. With exemplary clarity and illuminating research, Thomas Wheatland’s book fills in some missing chapters in this institutional as well as intellectual history, including the Frankfurt School’s crucial sojourn at Columbia University, its relationships with the wider world of the New York intellectuals, and its impact on the New Left. He also stresses the influence of these American years on the Frankfurt critics themselves. This is a momentous, valuable, and highly informative book.

Morris Dickstein, Graduate Center, City University of New York

No one has made the case that there is such a profound resonance between the Frankfurt School and the New York Intellectual scene with the detail and depth that Wheatland applies to the topic. There really isn’t another book in the same ballpark.

David Jenemann, University of Vermont

An unusually thorough blend of intellectual and institutional history. [Wheatland’s] book ought to bring new attention to this highly suggestive part of the Frankfurt School’s story.

Adam Kirsch, Tablet

More solid, albeit a bit more theoretical intellectual history of the period in which America grew up and joined the rest of the world. Worth the effort.

Eric Alterman, The Nation

Sometimes it is really great fun to read scientific books. Thomas Wheatland has accomplished such a book with The Frankfurt School in Exile: the expert cannot do without it, and the interested layman will feel enriched. . . . Because [Wheatland] ventures into the intellectual-political themes in 1930s New York and 1940s America, he succeeds in drawing a powerful picture of the Frankfurt School in exile, which, contributes beyond the claims of an intellectual history to our knowledge of the present. Whoever believes that Critical Theory can be restored as social theory will not get by without this study.

H-Soz-u-Kult

Carefully researched and well written.

Choice

Cleverly applying a modified Marxism of his own to his analysis—explaining how the Frankfurt School’s ideology was informed by its own economy, for instance, and why Columbia initially welcomed the eminent emigres for curiously pragmatic reasons—Wheatland has produced a worthly successor to Martin Jay’s The Dialectical Imagination and Rolf Wiggershaus’s The Frankfurt School.

The Atlantic Montly

Wheatland’s book delivers an impressively researched and skillfully written account that is rich in narrative detail and replete with lucid summaries of difficult ideas.

German History

The Frankfurt School in Exile is a fascinating and compelling overview of an important episode in trans-Atlantic intellectual history. In exposing the material factors that affected the production of some of the twentieth century’s most demanding works of cultural analysis, Wheatland helps us approach the modernist period as a whole in an entirely new light.

Modernism/Modernity

This work is commendable for correcting popular myths about the Frankfurt school and as a rich social history of the Frankfurt school during a crucial phase of its development, illuminating the political and institutional dynamics of their work and its reception among American academics, literati, and leftists.

Journal of the History of Philosophy

This excellent book is a must-read for everyone dealing with 20th-century intellectual, institutional, and disciplinary history, with emphasis on exiled intellectuals from German-speaking countries. Those specializing in German culture studies in the U.S. will greatly benefit from the comprehensive and thoroughly researched analysis of the Frankfurt School in Exile and pay tribute to the tremendous achievement by hoping for a follow-up project.

Monatshefte

Wheatland’s history of the Frankfurt School in exile is ... a valuable contribution to the literature. Those familiar with or new to the Critical Theory tradition and its origins should find something here to stimulate fresh perspectives and more developed understandings. Wheatland’s book has found something that was left to say.

Left History

Wheatland’s commitment to uncovering the truth about the Frankfurt School’s American years is admirable. Anyone interested in the intellectual history of the twentieth century, especially transatlantic intellectual history, will want to read it.

Parrhesia Journal

It is a testimony to Wheatland’s erudition and far-flung research that his book provides a fresh and comprehensive treatment of the Frankfurt School in exile, satisfies curiosity on a wide range of related subjects, but also suggests new lines of inquiry. This thoroughly researched and fluently written book will appeal to a wide audience of scholars and students interested in
twentieth-century Western intellectual and political history.

American Historical Review

Wheatland’s study satisfies high scholarly standards: it’s well-researched, clearly written, and sheds new light on many aspects of the history of the HC [Horkheimer Circle].

Reviews in American History

A useful and welcome addition to existing scholarship.

German Quarterly

Thomas Wheatland offers a striking overview of the experience of the Frankfurt School of leftist German–Jewish émigrés, who took refuge on Morningside Heights at Columbia in New York during the 1930s and 1940s. Wheatland’s book is based on superb archival research and numerous interviews with key figures. Wheatland offers a particularly excellent, broad social network history of ideas in the 1940s as the Institute struggled to find an intellectual home.

Enterprise and Society

The Frankfurt School in Exile

UMP blog Q&A: The first comprehensive history of the Frankfurt School in its American exile

9/16/2009
Q: What is perhaps most generally misunderstood about The Frankfurt School? What about the school and the Horkheimer Circle did you hope to make people more aware of in conceptualizing this book?
A: In a letter of June 29, 1940, Max Horkheimer eloquently developed one of the metaphors that became central to the history of critical theory in America. Writing to actress and screenwriter Salka Viertel, Horkheimer despaired: “In view of everything that is engulfing Europe and perhaps the whole world, our present work is of course essentially destined to being passed on through the night that is approaching: a kind of message in a bottle [Flaschenpost].” This trope of the Flaschenpost has been taken literally by many of the historians and scholars of critical theory and has helped to reinforce the illusion of the Frankfurt School’s “splendid isolation” in the United States.
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