Sidney Hook in late life
December 20, 1902|
|Died||July 12, 1989
|Politics, Education, Marxism,|
|Communists and other conspirators could be barred from offices of public trust|
Sidney Hook (December 20, 1902 – July 12, 1989) was an American philosopher of the Pragmatist school known for his contributions to the philosophy of history, the philosophy of education, political theory, and ethics. After embracing Communism in his youth, Hook was later known for his criticisms of fascism and Marxism–Leninism. A pragmatic social democrat, Hook sometimes cooperated with conservatives, particularly in opposing Communism. After World War II, he argued that members of such groups as the Communist Party USA and other Leninist conspiracies could ethically be barred from holding the offices of public trust because they called for the violent overthrow of democratic governments.
Hook was born in Brooklyn, a New York City borough, to Jennie and Isaac Hook, who were Austrian Jewish immigrants. Sidney Hook became a supporter of the Socialist Party during the Debs era when Hook was in high school. He earned his Bachelor's degree at the City College of New York in 1923, then his Ph.D. degree at Columbia University in 1927, where he was a student of the noted pragmatist philosopher John Dewey. After Columbia, Hook became a professor of philosophy at New York University and, from 1948 to 1969, was head of the Department of Philosophy. He retired from the University in 1972.
Early career as Marxist
At the beginning of his career, Hook was a prominent expert on Karl Marx's philosophy and was himself a Marxist. He attended the lectures of Karl Korsch in Berlin in 1928 and conducted research at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow in the summer of 1929. At first, he wrote enthusiastically about the Soviet Union, and, in 1932, supported the Communist Party's candidate, William Z. Foster, when he ran for President of the United States. However, Hook broke completely with the Comintern in 1933, holding its policies responsible for the triumph of Nazism in Germany. He accused Joseph Stalin of putting "the needs of the Russian state" over the needs of the international revolution.
However, Hook remained active in some of the causes of the far Left during the Great Depression. In 1933, with James Burnham, Hook was one of the organizers of the American Workers Party, led by the Dutch-born pacifist minister A.J. Muste. Hook also debated the meaning of Marxism with radical Max Eastman in a series of public exchanges. (Eastman, like Hook, had studied under John Dewey at Columbia University.) In the late 1930s, Hook assisted Leon Trotsky in his efforts to clear his name in a special Commission of Inquiry headed by Dewey, which investigated Stalinist charges made against Trotsky during the Moscow Trials.
Later years as anti-Communist
The Great Purge encouraged Hook's increasing ambivalence toward Marxism. In 1939, Hook formed the Committee for Cultural Freedom, a short-lived organization that set the stage for his postwar politics by opposing "totalitarianism" on the left and right. By the Cold War, Hook had become a prominent anti-Communist, although he continued to consider himself both a democratic socialist and a secular humanist throughout his life. He was, therefore, an anti-Communist socialist. In 1973 he was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto II.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Hook helped found Americans for Intellectual Freedom, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. These bodies—of which the CCF was most central—were funded in part by the Central Intelligence Agency through a variety of fronts and sought to dissuade American leftists from continuing to advocate cooperation with the Soviet Union as some had previously.
In the 1960s, Hook was a frequent critic of the New Left. He was opposed to a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Vietnam War and defended California Governor Ronald Reagan's removal of Angela Davis from her professorship at UCLA because of her leadership role in the Communist Party USA.
Hook was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1965 and ended his career in the 1970s and 1980s as a fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution in Stanford, California.
The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Hook for the 1984 Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Hook's lecture was entitled "Education in Defense of a Free Society."
Hook's memoir, Out of Step, recounts his life, his activism for a number of educational causes, his controversies with other intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, and his recollections of Mortimer J. Adler, Bertolt Brecht, Morris Cohen, John Dewey, Max Eastman, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell.
Hook was a life-long agnostic.
He married Carrie Katz in 1924, with whom he had one son, John Bertrand Hook. They separated in 1933. Katz had studied at the Rand School in the early 1920s. There, she studied under Scott Nearing and came to write a chapter in his book The Law of Social Revolution entitled "The Russian Revolution of 1917" (1926). Friends from the Rand School included Nerma Berman Oggins, wife of Cy Oggins. She was a Communist Party member who was a "Fosterite" (i.e., she supported William Z. Foster amidst Party factionalism in the last 1920s). She went on to work at the Labor Defense Council. In 1935, Hook married Ann Zinken, with whom he had two children: Ernest Benjamin Hook and Susan Ann Hook.
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Hero in History
Hook opposed all forms of determinism and argued, as William James did, that humans play a creative role in constructing the social world and to transforming the natural environment. Neither humanity nor its universe is determined or finished. For Hook this conviction was crucial. He argues that, when a society is at the crossroads of choosing the direction of further development, an individual can turn to play a dramatic role and even become an independent power on whom the choice of the historical pathway depends.
In the book, Hook provides a great number of examples of the influence of great people, and the examples are mostly associated with various crucial moments in history, such as revolutions and crises. Some scholars have critically responded because, one of them claims
he does not take into account that an individual's greatest influence can be revealed not so much in the period of the old regime's collapse, but in the formation period of a new one (according to our model it is the fourth phase – see below). Besides, he does not make clear the situation when alternatives appear either as the result of a crisis or as the result of Great Man's plan or intention without manifested crisis.
Hook introduced a division of historic personalities and especially leaders into the theories of the eventful man and the event-making man, depending on their influences on the historical process. For example, he considers Lenin as having been an event-making man, in the perspective of certain important circumstance such as his changing the developmental direction not only of Russia but also of the whole world in the 20th century.
Hook attached great importance to accidents and contingencies in history thus opposing, among others, Herbert Fisher, who made attempts to present history as ‘waves’ of emergencies following after another
- The Metaphysics of Pragmatism Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1927.
- Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Interpretation New York City: John Day Company, 1933.
- Christianity and Marxism: A Symposium New York City: Polemic Publishers, 1934.
- The Meaning of Marx, an edited collection, 1934.
- From Hegel to Marx, 1936.
- John Dewey: An Intellectual Portrait, 1939.
- Reason, Social Myths, and Democracy, 1940.
- The Hero in History: A Study in Limitation and Possibility, 1943.
- Education for Modern Man, 1946.
- John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom, Hook, editor, 1950.
- Heresy, Yes; Conspiracy, No, 1953.
- Marx and the Marxists: The Ambiguous Legacy, 1955.
- Common Sense and the Fifth Amendment New York City: Criterion Books, 1957.
- Political power and personal freedom: critical studies in democracy, communism, and civil rights, New York City: Criterion Books, 1959.
- The Quest for Being, and Other Studies in Naturalism and Humanism, 1961.
- The Fail-Safe Fallacy, 1962.
- The Paradoxes of Freedom, 1963.
- The Place of Religion in a Free Society, 1968.
- Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy, 1970.
- Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life, 1974.
- Marxism and Beyond, 1983.
- Out of Step, 1987.
- Convictions, 1990.
- "Karl Marx and Moses Hess," 1934
- "Marx's Criticism of 'True Socialism,'" 1935
- "Marx and Feuerbach," 1936
- "Heresy, Yes—But Conspiracy, No," The New York Times, 1950
- Phelps, Christopher (1997). Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist. Cornell University Press. p. 132.
- Michael Denning, The Cultural Front, New York City: Verso, 1997, p. 425ff
- John P. Diggins, Up From Communism, New York City: Columbia University Press, 1974, then Harper & Row, 1975, pp. 169-170.
- Diggins, Up From Communism, pp. 51-58.
- "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
- "The ‘shocked’ treatment". Washington Times. December 8, 2005.
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
- "Jefferson Humanities Speech to Be Given by Sidney Hook," The New York Times, December 26, 1983.
- Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Web site (retrieved January 22, 2009).
- "The Heroism of Sidney Hook," National Review, June 15, 1984.
- Sidney Hook, Out of Step, New York City: Harper & Row, chapters 5, 7, 23, 28, and 29, 1987.
- Edward S. Shapiro, ed. (1995). Letters of Sidney Hook: democracy, communism, and the cold war. M.E. Sharpe. p. 2. ISBN 9781563244872.
This faith in rationality emerged early in Hook's life. Even before he was a teenager he proclaimed himself to be an agnostic. It was simply irrational, he declared, to believe in the existence of a merciful and powerful God in the face of widespread human misery. Only the pleadings of his parents that he not embarrass them in front of relatives and friends convinced Hook to participate in a Bar Mitzvah ceremony on his thirteenth birthday. People frequently asked him in his later years what he would say if he discovered after death that God really existed. He answered that he would simply state, "God, you never gave me enough evidence."
- Hook, Sidney (1995). Edward S. Shapiro, ed. Letters of Sidney Hook: Democracy, Communism, and the Cold War. M.E. Sharpe. p. 15.
- Phelps, Christopher (2005). Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist. University of Michigan Press. pp. 33–34, 128.
- Meier, Andrew (August 11, 2008). The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service. W. W. Norton. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-0-393-06097-3.
- Hook, S., The Hero in History: A Study in Limitation and Possibility. Boston, Masachuestts: Beacon Press, 1943, p. 116
- Grinin, Leonid, The Role of an Individual in History: A Reconsideration. Social Evolution and History, vol. 9, no. 2, 2010, pp. 95–136, 108.
- Professor Walter Earl Fluker Discusses Leadership, Obama and Civil Rights Pioneers 
- Hook, S., The Hero in History: A Study in Limitation and Possibility, Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1955, p. 142.
- Fisher, H., 1935. A History of Europe, vol. I, London, p. vii (reprint Fontana Press, 1984)
Selected bibliography by Hook
- Out of Step, Harper & Row, 1987. Autobiography
- Robert B. Talisse and Robert Tempio, eds., Sidney Hook on Pragmatism, Freedom, and Democracy: The Essential Essays, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002.
- Cotter, Matthew J., ed., Sidney Hook Reconsidered, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2004.
- Diggins, John Patrick, Up From Communism, New York City: Columbia University Press, then Harper & Row, 1975.
- Kurtz, Paul, ed., Sidney Hook and the Contemporary World, New York: John Day and Co., 1968.
- Kurtz, Paul, ed., Sidney Hook: Philosopher of Democracy and Humanism (a festschrift, for Hook's 80th birthday, containing four essays on his person and writings by Nicholas Capaldi, Milton R. Konvitz, Irving Kristol, and Paul Kurtz), Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1983.
- Levine, Barbara, ed., Sidney Hook: A Checklist of Writings, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1989.
- Phelps, Christopher (2005). Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist. University of Michigan Press.
- Sidorsky, David, “Charting the Intellectual Career of Sidney Hook: Five Major Steps,” Partisan Review, vol. 70, no. 2, pp. 324–342, 2003.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Sidney Hook|
- Book review of new edition of Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx (1933)
- Paul Mattick pamphlet in opposition to Hook, 1936.)
- Meyer Shapiro's polemic against Hook in Fourth International under the pseudonym "Morrison," 1943.)
- Julius Jacobson on Hook and Cold War liberalism
- Chronicle of Higher Education article on the legacy of Sidney Hook
- Christopher Phelps, "Left Hook, Right Hook: The Rules of Engagement."
- Review of David Gordon, Letters of Sidney Hook - by David Gordon (Fall 1998), 1995.
- A warning against Menachem Begin.
- John Patrick Diggins, Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred Dycus Miller, Jeffrey Paul, eds., "Sidney Hook, Robert Nozick, and the Paradoxes of Freedom,", Natural Rights Liberalism from Locke to Nozick (Social Philosophy and Policy, vol. 22, no. 1, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 200–220, 2005. ISBN 978-0-521-61514-3
- Dvid Sidorsky, essay on Sidney Hook, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, online
- Sidney Hook papers at the Hoover Institution Archives.
- A film clip "The Open Mind - An Unquiet Life, Part I (1987)" is available at the Internet Archive
- A film clip "The Open Mind - An Unquiet Life, Part II (1987)" is available at the Internet Archive