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Harald Hagemann and William Milberg, Guest Editors
Arien Mack, Journal Editor

Because we at the New School believe it is our moral obligation to follow in the footsteps of Alvin Johnson, and, like him, we believe that universities themselves have a special and primary obligation to help our endangered colleagues, we are in the process of working to establish a new University in Exile.

With this special issue of Social Research, the journal returns to its roots, casting a contemporary eye on the international movement of intellectuals in the twentieth century. It was this journal that, in the 1930s, became one of the main intellectual outlets in the United States for refugee scholars who had been persecuted in Europe and were finding their voices in their new country. Inevitably, these voices would be altered by the forced movement from one country to another, from one scholarly home to another, from one political environment to another.


Long a fact of life for individual scholars, the forced migration of academics became a mass phenomenon during the Nazi era. The international academic community responded with a range of initiatives to help endangered scientists and scholars migrate from Germany (and later German-annexed or occupied territories) and to continue their careers abroad. This essay analyzes the strategies and mechanisms that aided 2,000 German refugee academics between 1933 and 1945. Although scholar rescue initiatives today employ some of those strategies, they face formidable structural obstacles that make a repeat of the success of the Nazi era rescue effort unlikely.

American institutions continued to fund German economists after 1933, in the Third Reich as well as in exile. The examples of the Kiel Institute and of the refugees belonging to the Kiel School are analyzed as a worst-case and a best-case scenario respectively. The Institute used its grants and its access to the network of the Rockefeller Foundation to conduct research aimed at advising the Nazi government and to exert pro-German influence on the international science community. In contrast, American support for the refugees from Kiel saved lives and was a profitable investment resulting in the cheap import of highly skilled human capital.

The ghosts of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) presently haunt the United States. In manifold news articles and opinion pieces, pundits and thinkers from across the political spectrum wonder whether Donald J. Trump’s election indicates that the United States, similar to Weimar before it, is a democracy in decline, fated to be overrun by right-wing reactionaries. But the use of the Weimar analogy is not new. This paper examines three periods in which the Weimar analogy informed how Americans thought about their world: the 1930s–1950s; the 1960s–1970s; and 2016–2017. It shows that while the Weimar analogy served diverse functions, in each era under examination the failed republic’s history served as a critical reference point that helped intellectuals make sense of their present.

Against the background of the recent rise of forced migration in general and especially of academics from the Middle East, the article revisits the exodus of scholars and intellectuals who fled the Nazi and Franco regimes in Europe during the 1930s. It examines the solidarity programs and reception of émigrés in the United States and Mexico, especially at the New School for Social Research and at El Colegio de México in Mexico City. These programs are compared with recent agendas developed during the 2010s in Europe for academic refugees from the Middle East.

The University in Exile is legendary. So is Alvin Johnson, president of the New School, who set out in April 1933 to rescue distinguished German social scientists from the “claws of Hitler.” This paper suggests that intellectual historians have paid comparatively little attention to such émigré scholars. Some of the most important social scientists recruited to the University in Exile played important roles during the 1920s and early 1930s in policy institutes and government agencies until the National Socialists expelled them for political and “racial” reasons. In the United States they made significant contributions to policy and scholarship.


I shed new light on the second, post-emigration edition of Emil Lederer’s Technological Progress and Unemployment, published in 1938. Lederer became an important figure in the early years of the University in Exile after fleeing Germany—and his position at Humboldt University of Berlin—in 1933. Influenced by Allyn Young, he refined and extended his earlier, pre-emigration economic analysis of “excessively rapid” capitalist dynamics. Because of his greater emphasis on increasing returns and capacity utilization in the 1938-edition of his monograph, Lederer effectively explained involuntary unemployment as a coordination problem, whereby labor being offered in the market is simply not matched—by skill type, by level of experience, by location—with the labor being demanded by private firms. This view also accounts for his late focus on the compensation effect of additive product innovations. Accounting for the refinements and extensions Lederer makes for purely analytical reasons based on literature already available before exile, I argue that there is little left for an “emigration effect” to explain. In other words, his political exile had a limited, unidentifiable impact on his work on technological unemployment. In the second edition he still maintains the classical Ricardian view that, in the absence of product innovations, the adoption of rationalization techniques must lead to persistent involuntary unemployment, and that such displacement effects necessitate a persistent reduction in national income.

Adolph Lowe’s obituary praise of Hans Neisser (1895-1975) is appropriate and yet an understatement. Neisser was not only guardian but also a creator of good theory. Already before his emigration from Germany to the United States in 1933, he had achieved international recognition for his contributions to monetary theory, general equilibrium analysis and explanations of structural change and unemployment. This paper shows that, although emigration changed Neisser’s life dramatically, his scientific productivity remained remarkably unimpaired. In the spirit of his earlier research, Neisser developed a more general theory of business cycles and structural unemployment, and pioneered research and teaching in various fields of economics.

This essay is an effort to gauge the influence of New School economists—all refugees themselves—on the thinking of another refugee economist, Franco Modigliani, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1984 for his work in macroeconomic theory. The general question of the influence of refugees on each other’s thinking has already been raised. Still, we often think of the New School tendencies as unorthodox and politically on the left. And they generally were. But in this instance, Modigliani came under the influence of the New School refugee economist with the most impressive career in American economics. The result of this influence is a largely neoclassical synthesis of Keynes.


Gerhard Colm’s (1897-1968) theory of public finance emerged out of his Weimar-era research on taxation and spending. Colm’s unorthodox approach to taxation, government spending and economic planning dovetailed with the thinking of New Deal economists, with whom Colm worked shortly after arriving in the US as a refugee from Nazism. Public finance was central to democracy and a realization of “the public good.” Colm’s views are of enormous relevance today, an era where austerity remains the preferred policy stance in a downturn, and when the disconnect in public discourse between the public good and the means to pay for it has never been larger.

Frieda Wunderlich (1884-1965) challenged restrictive gender norms in Germany to become a public intellectual and scholar. Among the first faculty to join the New School’s University in Exile in 1933, she exposed ill-conceived fascist policies and used her expertise to engage New Deal policy debates. Over 30 years, she published while situated in a US institution committed to progressive education with staunch allies that included her school’s president and female vice president. To support endangered scholars today requires a willingness to continue to account for gender norms that often eclipse women’s educational achievements and diminish their public recognition as scholars.

Hannah Arendt and Albert O. Hirschman, political theorist and economist, fled Berlin in 1933 from France, and from France to the United States in 1940. Their parallel lives of flight and exile contributed to their ideas and to the books that would pave the way to their entry into American academe. Along the way, their experiences and insights as pariah scholars would lead them to explore the possibility of a post-nationalist social science.


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