Hans Kohn

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Hans Kohn (Hebrew: הַנְס כֹּהן, or קוהן‎, September 15, 1891 – March 16, 1971) was an American philosopher and historian. He pioneered the academic study of nationalism, and is considered "the most influential theorist of nationalism" (John Hall, McGill University).


Born in Prague during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kohn was captured as a prisoner of war during World War I and held in Russia for five years. In the following years he lived in Paris and London working for Zionist organizations and writing.

He moved to Palestine in 1925, but visited the United States frequently, eventually immigrating in 1934 to teach modern history at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. From 1948 to 1961, he taught at City College of New York. He also taught at the New School for Social Research, Harvard Summer School.

He wrote numerous books and publications, primarily on the topics of nationalism, Pan-Slavism, German thought, and Judaism, and he was an early contributor to the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, where he died. In 1944 he published his major work The Idea of Nationalism which "can be appropriately thought of as the instigator of the now well trodden, and indeed almost taken as natural, dichotomy between Western and Eastern Nationalism. Kohn's The Idea of Nationalism sought to understand the emergence of nationalism through the story of the development of Western civilization and of the rise of liberalism, and to contrast this process with its illiberal challengers."[1] He also published a biography of Martin Buber. His autobiography, published in 1964,[2] includes reflections on the times he lived through as well as the facts of his personal life.

Kohn was a prominent leader of Brit Shalom, which promoted a binational state in Palestine.[3]


In 1929, Kohn wrote:

The means determine the goal. If lies and violence are the means, the results cannot be good. ... We have been in Palestine for twelve years [i.e. since the 1917 Balfour Declaration] without having even once made a serious attempt at seeking through negotiations the consent of the indigenous people. ... I believe that it will be possible for us to hold Palestine and continue to grow for a long time. This will be done first with British aid and then later with the help of our own bayonets -- shamefully called Haganah [defense] -- clearly because we have no faith in our own policy. But by that time we will not be able to do without the bayonets. The means will have determined the goal. Jewish Palestine will no longer have anything of that Zion for which I once put myself on the line.

Kohn's letter is quoted in Israeli Pacifist, The Life of Joseph Abileah, by Anthony G. Bing, with a foreword by Yehudi Menuhin, p. 69. Bing calls it "Kohn's letter of farewell to Zionism."

Historical works[edit]

  • Western Civilization in the Near East, 1936
  • The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Origins and Background, 1944
  • The Twentieth Century: A Midway Account of the Western World, 1950
  • Pan-Slavism: Its History and Ideology, 1953
  • Nationalism and Liberty: The Swiss Example, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1956
  • American Nationalism: An Interpretative Essay, Macmillan, New York, 1957
  • Heinrich Heine: The Man and the Myth, Leo Baeck Institute, New York, 1959
  • The Habsburg Empire, 1804–1918, 1961
  • Living in a World Revolution: My Encounters with History, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1964
  • Nationalism: Its Meaning & History, 1965, reprint/revised, 1982
  • Absolutism and Democracy 1814-1852, D. Van Nostrand, Princeton, New Jersey, 1965
  • The Mind of Germany, Harper Torchbooks, 1965
  • Prelude to Nation-States: The French and German Experiences, 1789-1815 D. Van Nostrand, 1967.


  1. ^ James Kennedy (University of Edinburgh) and Maarten Van Ginderachter (Antwerp University). "Nations and Nationalism from the margins: A research agenda". University of Antwerp. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  2. ^ Living in a World Revolution: My Encounters with History, Hans Kohn, Simon and Schuster (and Pocket Books), New York, 1964.
  3. ^ Zohar Maor. "Hans Kohn and the Dialectics of Colonialism: Insights on Nationalism and Colonialism from Within". Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook. 55 (1): 255–271. doi:10.1093/lbyb/ybq038.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gordon, Adi. Towards Nationalism's End: An Intellectual Biography of Hans Kohn, Brandeis (2017).
  • Gordon, Adi. "The Need for West: Hans Kohn and the North Atlantic Community." Journal of Contemporary History 46#1 (2011): 33-57.
  • Kohn, Hans. Living in a World Revolution: My Encounters with History (1964), Autobiography, a primary source.
  • Liebich, Andre. "Searching for the perfect nation: the itinerary of Hans Kohn (1891–1971)." Nations and Nationalism 12.4 (2006): 579-596.
  • Maor, Zohar. "Hans Kohn and the Dialectics of Colonialism: Insights on Nationalism and Colonialism from Within". Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 55 (1): 255–271. doi:10.1093/lbyb/ybq038.
  • Wolf, Ken. "Hans Kohn's liberal nationalism: the historian as prophet." Journal of the History of Ideas 37#4 (1976): 651-672. in JSTOR

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2009-11-05.