NEW SCHOOL: A History of the New School for Social Research by Peter M. & William B. Scott Rutkoff

NEW SCHOOL: A History of the New School for Social Research

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On the whole, a fine, readable history of the New School, spanning the 50 years from its founding in 1917 to its decline in 1967. In retrospect, the founders, historians Charles A. Beard and James Harvey Robinson (who both had resigned in a huff from Columbia to protest the firing of two colleagues), appear ""somewhat quixotic and self. righteous."" Neither Columbia nor its faculty were as morally indifferent as Beard and Robinson alleged, the angers argue. But the new school which they (together with Herbert Croly, editor of the New Republic, heiress Dorothy Straight, and such supporters as John Dewey and economist Thorstein Veblen) established was unlike any other: informal, egalitarian, committed to academic freedom and democratic cosmopolitanism. Infatuated with the scientific mode, the founders believed that only when social scientists were freed from universities run by business-oriented boards and could organize research around social problems, could they meet the political challenge of social reconstruction. Ironically enough, under Alvin Johnson, who became director (and great fund-raiser) in 1922, the New School came to represent ""modernism."" Art critic Leo Stein, dancer Doris Humphrey, composer Aaron Copland lectured. During the Depression, the school offered artists a ""convenient if spartan refuge."" Philosophers Horace Kallen, Sidney Hook and Morris Cohen established the New School as the platform for pragmatism (which argued that no system of belief is eternally valid) in the 1930's and 1940's. In the 30's, the New School again became a center of social research. Johnson transplanted to New York a whole school of German social scientists who had been expelled by the Nazis from their positions and established the University in Exile (later named the Graduate Faculty). The most interesting chapter in the book, ""The Politics of Dissillusionment, 1933-1945,"" examines these refugees' search for the causes and cures of German and Italian fascism. The book also traces the parade of ideas and scholars who have moved through the New School (from Claude Levy. Strauss, Hannah Arendt, Roman Jacobsen and the Ecole Libre of the French exiles, to Erwin Piscator and his Dramatic Workshop) and concludes that the democratic humanism of the New School is no longer an answer to the chaos of the postwar world. Hence its decline. An impressive gathering of information and ideas, but a bit stuffy at times.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan