A collection of letters written by a prominent but largely forgotten historian during the World War II era.
Larson, a historian who worked for the U.S. Defense Department, is uniquely qualified to edit an assemblage of letters written by Prince Hubertus Z. Löwenstein: the correspondence in question is addressed to him. (The subtitle is somewhat confusing: Hans Christian is a nickname Löwenstein bestowed upon Larson, as is helpfully explained in a foreword written by Löwenstein’s daughter, Margarete von Schwarzkopf.) Larson met Löwenstein when, in 1942, he entered Hamline University in Minnesota, where Löwenstein—a German exile forced to decamp for the U.S. due to his anti-Nazi convictions—was a lecturer at the time. The letters are arranged chronologically, from 1942 until 1947, and while they cover a wide range of topics, they are understandably dominated by the specter of Hitler’s designs on European domination, the prosecution of the war, and the complex peace that followed. Löwenstein’s letters are often driven by an “anxiety over the fate of the Occident,” but they are not cynical; he hoped for a renewed, even further consolidated Europe to rise from the detritus of the war’s destruction. His missives are also filled with philosophical insight that’s sometimes delightfully idiosyncratic: “to hell with Aristotle, this source of all evils in the human mind!!!” He tells Larson, in 1945, that he’s planning a book on Hegel that rescues his work from its appropriation by Marxists. Supplementing the letters is intermittent commentary by Larson himself, who provides colorful historical context and makes a case for taking Löwenstein seriously as a prescient critic of authoritarian government in all its guises. Sometimes Larson’s curation seems odd: a few of the letters are more personal than political or philosophical, seeming a bit out of place. The collection will, of course, largely be of interest to professional scholars, but it could also be fruitfully read by any reader with a deep interest in Europe during a perilous time, as interpreted by an unusually incisive mind.
A fascinating look into the thoughts of a historian whose career deserves to be revived.