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Von Prag nach New York Hans Kohns (1891-1971) intellektuelle Biographie

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posted on 2023-06-08, 14:29 authored by Romy Langeheine
Hans Kohn (1891-1971) continues to be considered as a founding father of the academic research on and interpretation of nationalism. In more than thirty books and hundreds of articles he outlined his theory of this worldwide phenomenon. His theory is well-known as the so called “Kohn Dichotomy”. Based on the main categories of West and East, understood as metaphors and not geographic locations, he differentiated between two forms of nationalism: The Western model, based on the 18th century Enlightenment, emphasized rationality and individual liberty as the basis of progress, tending to limit the state power and aiming at world unity. Its non-Western (Eastern) counterpart is characterized by a reaction against the Enlightenment: it is irrational and romantic, and it glorifies the state power, tending to narrow and exclusivist views. However, Kohn was more than just a theoretician of nationalism – he spent the first half of his life as an active and influential member of the Jewish national movement. As a Zionist he advocated a concept of ethical nationalism that would take the rights of other peoples, particularly the Arab population in Palestine, into consideration. Contemporary research views Kohn either as a theoretician of nationalism or as a Zionist. Therefore, this study is the first attempt to present Kohn’s intellectual biography by emphasizing both dimensions. Based on and intertwined with the four main stages of Kohn’s life – his youth in Prague (1891-1914), as a prisoner of war in Russia (1915- 1920), as a Zionist in London and Palestine (1921-1934) as well as an academic researcher in the United States of America (1934-1971) – it examines the main threads of his thinking. The leading interpretative idea of this thesis is that throughout his life Kohn kept the conviction that nationalism based on ethical grounds can be a positive force leading to the unity of the world.


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