REFUGEE SCHOLARS IN AMERICA: Their Impact and Their Experience by Lewis A. Coser

REFUGEE SCHOLARS IN AMERICA: Their Impact and Their Experience

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An interesting catalogue raisonnÉ--but little more than that--of some 40 leading figures in the social sciences, the humanities, and literature who fled the Nazis to the US. Coser himself is a refugee and a distinguished sociologist (SUNY, Stony Brook). The galaxy of intellectuals whose life and work he summarizes inevitably makes a powerful impression in this group presentation, where cheek by jowl we have Erik Erikson, Bruno Bettelheim, Erich Fromm, Karen Homey, Paul Lazarsfeld, Hannah Arendt, Thomas Mann, Vladimir Nabokov, Roman Jakobson, Erwin Panovsky, Rudolph Carnap, and other luminaries of like magnitude. The problem is that, faced with so much talent, Coser really can't do too much more than identify it, salute it, and run. Apart from noting the obvious preponderance of central European Jews (and the various forms of anti-Semitism they met in academia, especially from 1933 to 1945), he ventures some sensible, if not surprising, generalizations: Gestalt psychologists (Koehler, Koffka, Wertheimer) had a hard time of it, because behaviorism ruled the roost in American universities. Psychoanalysts scored a sweeping triumph, because, among other things, Freud had paved the way for them. Austrian economists, who were statistically oriented, were readily accepted by their American colleagues; German economists, whose approach was more historical, were not. Coser adopts political scientist Franz Neumann's division of the refugees into three categories: 1) scholars, most of them younger men or women, willing to give up their European status and style (Karl Deutsch, say); 2) the outsiders who clung to their own system and either tried to remake America or withdrew into isolation (some inhabitants of the ""gilded ghetto"" at the New School); 3) those who tried to ""integrate new experience with old tradition"" (Neumann himself, Erikson, and practically all the successful refugees). All this is very well; but much is obviously missing, including serious analysis of individual contributions and a real sense of the private lives of these brilliant, often difficult, astonishingly varied people. In these regards, Anthony Hellbut's disorderly Exiled in Paradise (1983) has considerably more to offer (on refugee artists too, but fewer intellectuals). Coser's solid, prosaic performance will nonetheless have reference value.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1984
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press