A New Social Contract: The Debate on Planning and Freedom in American Exile during the 1930s

Dissertation Project by
Eric W. Fraunholz

This dissertation project retraces the intellectual history of the University in Exile (UiE) at the New School of Social Research and the Institute for Social Research (IfS) at Columbia University in New York City during the 1930’s. The UiE and IfS not only share the experience of persecution in Germany and exile in the New York City during the New Deal era, both were also influenced by an undogmatic Western Marxism and promoted the focus on individual freedom in classical liberalism in their theories—albeit with different conclusions. Nevertheless, scholars have characterized both schools as mutally exclusive Denkräume. The study questions this assumption and traces points of contact as well as productive synergies and incompatibilities that will help to paint a clearer picture of the political economy and shifts in émigré scholars’ understanding of statist control and individual freedom in the United States during the adoption of New Deal policies in the 1930’s.

The study follows two basic questions: How did the experience of humanitarian and economic crisis and the New Deal influence the political economy of the UiE and the IfS? How was freedom as well as economic and social planning in a democratic society debated at the UiE and the IfS during their exile in New York City? I am expecting to find that the experience of the New Deal complicated fundamental theoretical and political dispositions in the UiE and the IfS. The UiE and the IfS, I argue, cannot be regarded as independent institutional actors but have to be analyzed in their historical and socio-political discourse and in dialogue with each other. Considering the UiE and the IfS in dialogue rather than in separated intellectual spheres reveals new perspectives on the political economy of both institutions.

Research Interest: