May 11, 2015

Poison Ivy: The Inflamed Relationship Between Yale and Staughton Lynd

by Eli Motycka

America in the 1960s evokes images of protest, change, and challenge to the status quo, and at the center of these movements were students. College campuses brought hundreds of thousands of students in contact with each other, with millennia of human thought, and with professors who provided lenses to analyze national and international world events. At colleges and universities students learned and discussed their learning. Students questioned government and university policies and campuses became battlefields—literally, with violent protests at Berkeley, Columbia, and Kent State making national headlines, but also intellectually. At Yale in 1964, history professor Staughton Lynd’s political activism ran up against the university establishment put his case for tenure in jeopardy.

Lynd described himself in 1966 as a “Marxist-Quaker-pacifist-existentialist,” a moniker that reflects his beliefs in socialism and nonviolence. He believes in “existential-socialism,” that any conscientious action is supported by one’s individuality in the universe, and his fierce conviction to his morals sent him colliding with the academic establishment at Yale in 1968. Lynd, an associate professor who met all teaching commitments while protesting the Vietnam War across the world, was denied tenure at Yale because of poor communication made worse by a strained relationship with his superiors. The president of Yale and the chairman of the history department both protected Lynd’s right to protest but criticized his methods, corroding an already fragile relationship between a professor and the administration. Lynd responded with his own criticisms of Yale and reduced his chances for tenure to near zero. When the history department met to discuss Lynd’s future, two years of discord informed the decision to deny him a permanent position.

Lynd, after earning a B.A. from Harvard in social relations and a Ph.D. from Columbia in history, had spent three years on a commune in Georgia and a few more working with the civil rights movement in the South before he accepted an offer from Yale history professor Edmund Morgan for the fall of 1964. He entered Yale as an associate American history professor that September.
Citing his activism and establishment-challenging scholarship, Yale President Kingman Brewster welcomed Lynd to the faculty that fall, defending him to conservative alumni and critics as a responsible historian skeptical of traditional explanation.

Lynd stood out among the Yale history faculty for his radical politics and activism. In then department head John Morton Blum’s 2004 autobiography, Blum, who opposed the Vietnam War, praised Lynd’s in-class conduct but criticized his radical methods of protest, specifically his involvement with the Yale chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As the Vietnam War escalated, so did antiwar activism—a balance emerged between Lynd’s public protesting, scholarship and teaching.

Lynd became a central figure in the anti-war movement at Yale. He first made the Yale Daily News for speaking as a conscientious objector at an anti-war symposium on February 11, 1965, again receiving publicity for addressing a student anti-war rally two days after the symposium. Lynd was such an anti-war force on campus that the Yale Daily News satirized his anti-war activism in its May 8 humor issue: “Mr. Lynd said he is refusing to accept his salary as a part-time teacher (he protests three times a week) until something is done his way. ‘I’m not exactly sure what I want,’ he said, ‘but until it happens, I refuse to eat, breathe, or go to the bathroom.’”

Like campus anti-war movements across the nation, Yale’s received its share of criticism. The Yale Daily News printed pro-war letters as early as February 1965, and pro-war rallies coexisted with anti-war rallies on the Yale campus.

In August 1965, Lynd was arrested for crossing a police line while protesting the Vietnam War at the Capitol. This concluded a summer of anti-war activism, mostly in Connecticut, including a teach-out and a protest—the latter attracted 1500 demonstrators.

That fall, letters from alumni pouring into Kingman Brewster’s office condemning Lynd and demanding his termination. Brewster drafted a form letter response, which defended his commitment to academic and political freedom while expressing complete disagreement with Lynd’s views and methods. Notably, Brewster maintained that Lynd would be held to the same standards for promotion as his colleagues when pressed by alumni to sever ties with Lynd. Brewster articulated his position to alumni at an event in Los Angeles, stating that the university had a responsibility to protect its faculty and student dissenters—he deemed it “unthinkable” to persecute an individual based on his political beliefs. Brewster argued that the university would protect even the “irresponsibility” of “nationally visible and extreme pacifist protest by a faculty member,” a clear nod to Lynd. In this speech, Brewster drew a line—as long as Lynd upheld his teaching and scholarly duties and didn’t actively subvert the US government, Yale had a responsibility to treat him as it would any other assistant professor. Supporting the right of dissension is not supporting dissension, but that January, Lynd’s activism strained Brewster’s endorsement.

On December 19, 1965, after Yale had recessed for winter break, Lynd, Herbert Aptheker and Tom Hayden went to North Vietnam on a “fact-finding mission.” Aptheker, a leader of the American Communist Party and historian, had been invited to bring two friends to Hanoi by delegates of North Vietnam at the Peace Congress in Helsinki during the summer of 1965. Aptheker chose Lynd, and Lynd invited Tom Hayden, a founder of the SDS and prominent figure of the New Left. The trip lasted twenty-one days, ten of which were spent in North Vietnam. Aptheker, Hayden, and Lynd reached Hanoi on December 29 and a delegation from Hanoi welcomed them at the airport. In Hanoi, the North Vietnamese government arranged for the three to meet with government officials, North Vietnamese citizens, and a captured American pilot—Lynd also gave a speech condemning Johnson’s foreign policy, calling it “immoral, illegal, and antidemocratic.” Lynd returned to Yale on Sunday, January 9, in time to teach class the next day, having “raised Cain” in Moscow to make it back in time to teach a seminar the next day. Lynd didn’t miss a single class that entire year.

Lynd’s trip elicited a range of responses from the Yale community, including criticism from the Yale Political Union, a more moderate stance from former Political Union president and future US Secretary of State John Kerry, vitriolic letters to the Yale Daily News, and analyses of Lynd’s legal future. Kingman Brewster responded on January 18 with a statement in the News. He supported Lynd’s right to the free expression of his political beliefs while disapproving of the trip itself, labeling it “misguided and naïve,” but focused his criticism on the speech Lynd gave in Hanoi. He dubbed it an act of lending “aid and comfort” to the enemy—a reference to the statute for treason—and contrary to Lynd’s stated purpose of fact-finding. John Morton Blum took a similar stance, later calling the trip “foolish and exhibitionist, but within the boundaries of peaceful protest.” Blum also recalls Lynd scheduling his teaching commitments that semester for two consecutive days, allowing him to participate more freely in anti-war movement, which Blum considered neglectful of Lynd’s teaching obligations. In a letter to Brewster that spring, Blum, as chair of the history department, took complete professional responsibility for Lynd’s scheduling and discussed it with Lynd who agreed immediately to schedule future classes on more days of the week. While the Yale administration condemned his trip to Hanoi it had no reason to fault him for his teaching duties.

Though Lynd’s passport was canceled in February, Brewster’s remarks on Alumni Day later that month reveal a more lasting consequence of Lynd’s trip. Brewster said about his commitment to protecting conscientious objectors, “the outer limits of that faith now seem to be tested by actions which do seem to me—as I have said in public—naive and misguided.” Despite his condemnation of Lynd’s methods, as the deluge of letters from alumni continued so did Brewster’s commitment to Lynd’s rights as an independent protester. He drafted another form letter defending Lynd as “highly regarded as a teacher and scholar in American colonial history,”—isolating Lynd’s scholarship and teaching from his activism—and yet another on May 23, 1966, refusing to recommend Lynd’s dismissal as long as he did not “exploit the classroom for ulterior purposes.” That year alumni gave the most money to Yale in the university’s history, surpassing four million dollars and besting the previous year by $700,000.

Though Brewster received dozens of letters condemning Lynd, he received letters supporting Lynd’s employment and supporting Brewster’s uncompromising stance on academic freedom. Alumni pressure to remove Lynd was vocal but marginal and fiscally insignificant. In every letter, speech, and statement, Brewster defended Lynd’s right to protest.

Lynd, having been nominated by Blum in November 1965, received a Morse Fellowship for the 1966-67 academic year. The fellowship allowed him to research and write and he stayed in New Haven, continuing to entertain students in his home despite having no formal teaching commitments.

In April 1966, Blum informed Lynd and several other associate professors that Yale would not likely promote anyone to full professorship in the coming years due to budgetary limitations in the history department—in the past year the department had granted Professor Robert Lopez a raise and Professor George Pierson had recommended a candidate for hire. Regarding tenure, while the department had promoted Elting Morison and Rollin Osterweis to full professors that month, both were in their sixties and held significant positions elsewhere within Yale (Morison taught American studies while Osterweis coached speech and debate). In light of all this activity, budgetary constraints seemed less pressing than Blum made them out to be, but Blum’s actions were consistent with his statement—no junior professors were given tenure during the remainder of Blum’s chairmanship.

When Blum informed Lynd of his poor chances for tenure he also asked Lynd to clarify the text of a speech he made at an Ottawa anti-war rally a month before. Blum, speaking “as a friend,” proceeded to express his disapproval of Lynd’s rhetoric—the conversation then turned to Lynd’s bleak future at Yale. The two interpreted the conversation differently—Blum maintained the topics were unrelated, as he and Brewster had reiterated their commitment the separation of Lynd the professor and Lynd the activist. Lynd interpreted the conversation as his off-campus activism influencing his academic career. Before a meeting with Brewster about the Ottawa rally the next day, Lynd humorously admitted his own paranoia.

The most significant consequence of Lynd’s conversation with Blum was Lynd’s decision to leave Yale. Lynd applied for and was offered positions in the history departments at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle campus and Northern Illinois University, until the schools’ administrations vetoed Lynd’s appointment. That spring, Lynd requested a leave of absence, which was approved by Brewster, to teach in Chicago. Blum warned Lynd that this wouldn’t help his chances at tenure but he had already been told they were near impossible—Lynd left that June.

The next month, the Illinois Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities revoked Chicago State College’s job offer to Lynd, explicitly citing his political activism as the reason.
The 1915 and 1940 doctrines of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) ensure a professors’ freedom of inquiry and right to “speak or write as citizens… free from institutional censorship or discipline.” While Lynd never sought the AAUP at Yale—the university had an active chapter in the 1960s— it protected the rights of professors to engage in political pursuits as private citizens and deterred Yale from explicitly terminating a professor based on his or her beliefs articulated outside the classroom. Yale history professors Howard Lamar, who assumed the chairmanship of the Yale History Department after Blum in June 1967, Edmund Morgan, and C. Vann Woodward joined hundreds of academics and public figures in signing a petition urging the reversal of the Board’s verdict and preserve professors’ freedoms.

On September 25, at a Chicago State symposium on academic freedom, Lynd spoke about his experiences with the Yale History Department. He contrasted Blum’s optimism about tenure before the Hanoi trip with the April 1966 meeting about Lynd’s poor tenure chances, concluding that Brewster and Blum treated him differently based on his activism. The speech was so critical of Blum and Brewster that two history professors wrote to Yale asking how they could deny Lynd tenure, which they had yet to decide.
At the time of the speech Lynd was still an associate professor employed by Yale awaiting his tenure decision. Lynd had left New Haven to work in the Chicago community, then the headquarters of the SDS, happily leaving Yale behind—he articulated as much in his Chicago speech, burying any chance for tenure by stating that he did not want it. The Columbia University Forum published Lynd’s speech in their fall 1966 edition, and Lynd’s statement that he “would like to be offered tenure and then decline” fell under the scrutiny of the Yale history department.

C. Vann Woodward and Edmund Morgan responded to Lynd’s remarks with an article in the Columbia University Forum, the publication that initially printed the Chicago speech. Woodward and Morgan spoke as members of Lynd’s tenure committee: they reaffirmed their commitment to judge Lynd’s academic merit, but deemed Lynd’s comments about tenure relevant to their committee’s decision. They intimated that it would be misguided (and naïve) to give tenure to a man who didn’t want it.

Their colleagues agreed. On December 15, Howard Lamar sent a letter to Kingman Brewster stating that every professor in the history department was angry with Lynd for his remarks in Chicago —further, the budget constraints that compelled Lynd to go to Chicago were relieved soon after Blum vacated the chairmanship that summer. However, in a statement to the Yale Daily News on September 28 1967, Blum recalls the budget constraints that led him to tell Lynd tenure was unlikely but doesn’t mention the new budget calculus. Blum either wasn’t apprised of the department’s budget while on leave or deliberately omitted Lynd’s renewed chances for tenure, for which he, having just been publicly denounced by Lynd, had all the incentive in the world. That March, Lamar sent a letter to Lynd denying him tenure on scholarly grounds, expressing his disappointment in Lynd’s publications since coming to Yale.

Since coming to Yale, Lynd had written Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism about the history of American radicalism, the book Lamar cited in his letter denying Lynd tenure. Lynd regards Origins as somewhere between a pamphlet and true scholarship. Charles A. Barker’s review in The Journal of American History identifies the book’s political agenda, but finds it “strong nonetheless.” Eugene Genovese berates the book in a September 1966 review in the New York Review of Books, calling it “a travesty of history.” While the Harvard University Press and Cambridge University Press republished the book at their request in 1982 and 2009, respectively, its merits are subject to opinion and Yale disapproved. This is somewhat inconsistent with the fact that the department had persistently recruited Lynd and awarded him a paid year of research, not once presenting doubt in his scholarship until the tenure decision.

Lynd’s scholarship aside, it’s more significant that Yale didn’t offer him tenure because he said he didn’t want it. After his trip to Hanoi, Brewster labeled his acts treason and John Blum called his protests foolish, and Lynd lashed out with condemnation of his own. After his remarks in Chicago Lynd could have published On the Origin of Species and been denied tenure—by March of 1968, Lynd and Yale’s relationship had decayed to a point of disrepair.

Lynd was a committed and beloved teacher who went above and beyond his classroom obligations. While many alumni withheld donations to Yale and harshly rebuked Kingman Brewster for employing Lynd, others supported Brewster, and Lynd’s employment hardly affected financial contributions. Brewster felt and applied little institutional pressure to force Lynd out of Yale. Blum’s report of financial constraints wasn’t a conspiracy against Lynd, he told the same thing to the other associate history professors, but it is significant in that it compelled Lynd to leave Yale and induced the chain of events that soured Lynd’s relationship with the university.

Brewster’s criticism of the trip to Hanoi widened the divide between Lynd and the Yale administration. By April, when Blum broached Lynd’s poor chances of tenure and criticized his activism in the same breath, he left Lynd to read between the lines. Whether there was anything between the lines, it’s possible but there is no direct evidence. Yale Daily News editor Avi Soifer pinpointed this ambiguity in an eloquent and poignant tribute to Lynd, describing the tenure discussion as “an absurd tangle of nebulous criteria and value judgments.”

In a sense, Lynd was denied tenure because of his political activism. It led to the poorly conducted meeting by Blum and made Lynd paranoid and skeptical of Blum’s motives. Lynd’s commitment to social justice took him to Chicago and his speech in Chicago ruined his chances for promotion.
More plainly Lynd was denied tenure because he wasn’t supposed to grow old at Yale. Before Yale decided his future, Lynd decided it for himself—he went to Chicago to engage in the social and political movement of the Sixties. When it came time to decide Lynd’s tenure Yale relieved him of his commitment and for that, he is grateful.

Editor’s note: much of the information in this article comes from an interview conducted between the author and Professor Lynd

May 11, 2015

The New Curriculum at Brown University: The Battle for Student Choice

by Jason Goettisheim

The fervor of the late 1960s had fostered a spirit of student protest and reform at Brown University amidst racial tensions, the war in Vietnam, and backlash against the ROTC military program . In the winter of 1968, Brown students Ira Magaziner and Elliot Maxwell co-authored a report on Brown’s curriculum with recommendations to develop a new curriculum that would revolutionize Brown’s educational model . The so-called Magaziner Report gained notoriety, and on January 9th, 1969, the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy met to discuss reforms to Brown’s curriculum that would accomplish the primary goal of “focusing…education on the individual being,” especially through the “removal of…pressures which would defeat the seeking of self-knowledge” and the “removal of narrow, professional orientation” . The ultimate success of the resulting New Curriculum, which consisted of three seemingly radical reforms passed under a faculty committee led by Dean Paul Fritz Maeder—Modes of Thought courses, the introduction of the Bachelor of Science degree, and the adoption of the satisfactory-no credit system, as well as a statement on the university’s educational principles—must be evaluated in the context of these goals, with particular attention to the increased role and choice of the individual student in his own education . While the New Curriculum did expand the role of individual choice in the Brown undergraduate education, it did not wholly succeed in achieving its aims, serving more to redefine pre-existing policies in the context of student choice than to revolutionize the role of the individual.

The first reform of the New Curriculum discussed was the adoption of Modes of Thought, or MT, courses, developed as a means to replace general distribution requirements for freshmen and sophomores in order to give students more choice in their electives; however, their scope was limited due to lack of resources . Modes of Thought courses were proposed as a series of five to seven required seminar style courses of twenty or fewer students that did not fulfill concentration requirements in order to give freshmen and sophomores an introduction to a wide range of academic fields . The Special Committee on Educational Principles hoped that MT courses would “open up pathways of communication…and [give students the] opportunity to explore general areas of knowledge that might interest him” . The Committee made their desire to connect MT courses to the liberal arts explicit by releasing a report to the rest of the university administration stating that MT courses would not merely be an “attempt to duplicate the work of graduate schools” . MT courses were notably the one reform of the New Curriculum that did not face debate over its ideology; in principle, the Maeder Committee and the majority of faculty supported the notion of courses that allowed students to satisfy intellectual curiosities while “focusing…education on the individual,” as outlined by the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy . Yet MT courses did not truly meet that standard, as there was extensive logistical debate over whether the university’s resources would enable such an individualized course system to thrive. Opposition came chiefly from the faculty, as MT courses would require additional course planning and work for professors . Associate professor of biology Walter Quevedo, Jr. feared a dearth of faculty should they be redirected away from larger lectures and instead towards smaller seminars . French professor Edward Ahearn felt strongly enough about increased workload that he allowed his opinion to be published in the Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper of Brown University, arguing that MT courses would “tax the enthusiasm” of professors and detract from other graduate or undergraduate resources; additionally, he argued, departments viewed as more “popular” or those with more funding would be more favored by students, whereas general distribution requirements meant that students were previously spread more evenly across departments . Ultimately, the Maeder Committee passed MT courses on April 30, 1969, albeit with one notable amendment: while the courses would be allowed, they would not be required . Therefore, MT courses represented a shift towards student choice and individualized education as outlined in the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy statement, yet they were limited in scope and were thus subtler in their impact.

Following the decision to include MT courses in the curriculum, the Maeder Committee next debated the university’s ability to grant the Bachelor of Science, or Sc.B. degree, which raised concerns over the balance between specialization and breadth of study in the context of student choice . The Sc.B. was proposed as a means to recognize those concentrators who had delved more deeply into their studies in the sciences than the traditional student, as exemplified by extensive research or pre-professional work . The debate surrounding the inclusion of the Sc.B. degree was distinctly divided along departmental lines, with humanities professors serving as the chief opponents of the degree ; this was especially highlighted within the Maeder Committee, which consisted of a majority of humanities professors who believed, according to private meeting minutes, that the Sc.B. was too “specializ[ed]” and a “contradiction in [the] philosophy” of the liberal arts . Professor George Monteiro of the English Department decried the Sc.B. as a means to support “narrow professionalism” that gave the student “essentially no electives” . This was furthered by a fear among humanities professors that the Bachelor of Arts degree would suffer a “possible handicap” in prestige due its less requirement-intensive nature . The most important exception to this view was Maeder himself, who worked in the Brown Graduate School of Engineering and thus had a vested interest in supporting the Sc.B., recognizing its value in preparing students in the sciences for graduate work and his belief that degree choice was aligned with “the principle of [the] new curriculum.”

Publicly, the debate over the inclusion of the Sc.B. degree marked a debate over how Brown sought to define a student-centered approach to education. A student editorial in the Brown Daily Herald remarked that the freedom to choose a degree was more aligned with the Maeder Committee’s goal to center education around the student, as students would be “free agents” to choose their degree . One student in the Daily Herald argued that student choice did not necessarily mean “playing dilettante….[and] choosing random science courses”; while “departmental insularity…[should] not [be] the primary ingredient” of an education, he argued that the student should be able to pursue their own interests . This notion that student choice could mean specialization or pre-professional work during college marked a shift in Brown’s ideology, in that faculty had previously assumed that a broad liberal arts curriculum and student-centered education went hand-in-hand. On April 25th, 1969, the Maeder Committee recognized its inability to reach a decision, and instead voted to delay the decision on the inclusion of the Sc.B. to December of that year, at which time it was passed . While not necessarily aligned with the Committee on Curricular Philosophy’s goal of removing “narrow, professional orientation,” the inclusion of the Sc.B. did serve to facilitate student choice in education, redefining liberal arts as either a tool for broad education or specialization.

The final reform passed as a part of the New Curriculum was the adoption of the satisfactory-no credit, or S/NC, system; the debate surrounding its adoption reflected tensions surrounding the role of the individual in evaluating academic success. The discussion of the adoption of S/NC was met with criticism, especially in the original proposal to make every class at Brown mandatory S/NC; however, the decision was quickly made to have S/NC only exist alongside the A/B/C letter grade system . Opposition came largely from university administrators and untenured professors who felt they had the greatest stake in preserving the status quo and prestige of the university, which they believed S/NC directly threatened . The greatest public opposition came from University President Ray Heffner, who released a public statement to the Daily Herald when the S/NC system was first outlined, claiming it was a “serious deterioration of Brown’s standards”; noticeably, this was the only element of the New Curriculum that President Heffner publicly commented on, and he ultimately resigned the day after the S/NC system passed. Similarly, history professor Stephen Graubard, who had also resisted the proposal for MT courses, criticized S/NC as too flexible, believing it would make Brown the academic equivalent of “summer camp” . Beyond loss of prestige for Brown’s undergraduate program, there were fears over anticipated issues with graduate school admissions or loss of interest should the incentive of grades be removed; even the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy, which had endorsed MT courses and the Sc.B. degree, believed grades were necessary to “induce the student to study harder.”

Unlike discussion over MT courses or the Sc.B. degree, the debate surrounding S/NC was not just limited to the faculty. The consistency of discussion surrounding S/NC between private meeting notes and public statements by members of the Maeder Committee emphasizes a transparency in the debate process that suggests that the Maeder Committee viewed S/NC as the component of the New Curriculum most reflective of the university’s new emphasis on student choice, and thus one warranting university-wide debate. For these reasons, current Brown students who sought to avoid the competitive nature of grades were more vocal in their support of S/NC than other components of the New Curriculum. For these students, the S/NC system was a means for risk-free intellectual pursuits that, in the words of Brown Daily Herald reporter and student Robert Friedel, made students focus on “learning, not [being] anxious about credit.” Daily student editorials in the Brown Daily Herald between May 1st and May 8th 1969, during which the Maeder Committee discussed S/NC, reflect the level of student involvement in the decision . In this way, student approval of the curriculum reflected the increased student role that the curriculum itself was granting. Philosophy professor John Ladd, writing to support Maeder and thus a proponent of S/NC, explicitly described the connection between S/NC and student choice, calling grading “simply a sorting operation…[that] provides a comparative rank ordering of students” that “discouraged” students from taking intellectual risks or choosing courses outside of their intended field of study.

On May 8th, 1969, the university passed the S/NC system, representing a shift in the way the university viewed academic success by transitioning from a quantitative to a qualitative evaluative system . Although perhaps the greatest achievement of the New Curriculum for securing the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy’s original goal of an education focused on the “individual human being,” S/NC did not fully “remove…[the] pressures which would defeat the seeking of self-knowledge” by providing students with the ability to choose whether their classes would be taken for a traditional letter grade or not . S/NC in its final form as coexisting with the traditional letter grade system did not directly support the students by eliminating grades entirely but instead remained committed to student choice by providing students with the opportunity to choose the way in which they would be evaluated.

Following the passage of the New Curriculum, members of the Maeder Committee met to develop a final public statement on curricular and educational philosophy that would define the university’s role in the context of these curricular reforms . This retroactive discussion to finalize educational ideology was criticized by students in a series of anonymous editorials published in the Brown Daily Herald that urged for a “firm, coherent philosophy of higher education” . Professors who were not involved in the curricular discussions released statements to the Daily Herald criticizing the decision to discuss educational philosophy last; one professor of biology, Donald Kimmel, called it an “anachronism” to “implement a curriculum…if we haven’t talked about philosophy” . The decision of the Maeder Committee to delay discussion of educational philosophy reflects the fact that the New Curriculum did not wholly fulfill the principles first described by the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy. Thus, the Committee met to outline a document on the “Aims of Education” at Brown . The published “Aims of Education,” as described in the Brown Daily Herald on May 9th, claimed that education “has for its purposes the fostering of the intellectual and personal growth of the individual student” ; this placement of the student at the center of the educational focus was clearly more aligned with the original principles of the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy, yet the phrasing came under debate. Ira Magaziner himself informed the Daily Herald that the statement had been written in a spirit of “conciliation” ; the secretary for the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy wrote in a private letter to Maeder that he lacked the “confidence that [this] proposal actually do[es] impart [new] meaning” . Yet this statement is ultimately reflective of the spirit of the New Curriculum as a whole; more nuanced and reformative than revolutionizing, it reaffirmed the position of the student and student choice at the center of the university, albeit through different and more subtle means than originally intended. Mathematics professor Michael Rosen pointed out that Brown had “not always accepted the idea that it is the function of the university to foster personal growth,” noting that the shift from “knowledge” to “personal growth” as a focus reflected the more individualized nature of Brown in the age of the New Curriculum . Meeting minutes from the Curriculum Committee from throughout the development process are consistent with this view, revealing that members thought the university had taken a curricular shift away from knowledge in the “central position” to an emphasis on “community” .

The New Curriculum marked an explicit ideological desire to make students the central focus of the undergraduate education, highlighting individual choice. The reforms that made up the New Curriculum did help to increase opportunity for individual choice, but they did not revolutionize student choice to the extent that was originally intended. The New Curriculum was thus limited in fulfilling the principles and goals first outlined by the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy, especially as it still preserved a focus on pre-professionalism and grading. Instead, the New Curriculum was a redefinition, a newfound balance between the previous system and greater student choice. Ultimately, the adoption of the New Curriculum serves to underscore tensions in educational philosophy in a tumultuous age, an example of an entire community grappling with defining the fundamental nature of education itself.

May 11, 2015

The Soviet Novel and the Soviet Author: Sholokhov and Tikhii Don as icons of post-revolutionary paradoxes in the 1930s

by Natasha Bluth

Tikhii Don (And Quiet Flows the Don), by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, is an epic novel of epic proportions, widely known as “perhaps the most influential Soviet novel in its time.” Sholokhov’s four-volume chef-d’oeuvre, written and published serially in the Soviet magazine Oktyabr (October) from 1925-1940, held an important role in the post-Bolshevik Revolution Soviet Union. The novel was an icon of socialist realism and a cultural product of the enormous Soviet project to form the New Soviet Man, the author transforming into bona fide new man himself. Both Tikhii Don and Sholokhov serve as representations of the paradoxes of the post-revolutionary and Stalinist Soviet Union, products of the regime just as much as its own producers. The novel, which functioned as a diary, and its author ushered in the emergence of the New Soviet Man during the 1930s, exemplifying the convergence of private and public spheres within the socialist realist discourse.

Born in 1905 in a rural village called Kruzhilin on the northern bed of the Don River in what is known as the Veshenskaia stantsia of Russia, Sholokhov continues to stump historians and biographers with a life story riddled with contradictions. As biographer Herman Ermolaev writes, the writing of an outline of Sholokhov’s life “requires a more cautious and critical approach to the available information than would the writing of a…biography of any other contemporary writer of his magnitude.” As a socialist realist writer personally promoted by Iosif Stalin, Sholokhov’s homeland complicates his image; the Veshenskaia stantsia was the administrative region of the anti-Bolsheviks of the White Army, who joined forces with the native Don Cossacks – a longstanding semi-military caste that was persecuted by the Bolsheviks and the Communist Party on the grounds that they were a threat to the Soviet regime – during the Russian Civil War from 1917-1922. A confounding factor to Sholokhov’s epic novel therefore, is the fact that “The collecting of materials and the principal work on the first three volumes…were carried out in a conservative and predominantly anti-Soviet environment.” Sholokhov lived in a territory controlled by the Whites during the war, which is why, he claims, he wrote Tikhii Don as “the struggle of the Whites against the Reds, and not the struggle of the Reds against the Whites,” despite the fact that he aligned himself with the Red Army. In fact, Sholokhov participated in combat against the anti-Bolshevik partisans throughout this time, helping to punish prisoners, and to collectivize the region’s farmlands and requisition food in order to actualize Bolshevik efforts. His active involvement pushed him to the brink of being executed twice.

Sholokhov’s life after the war in many ways embodies the concept of the New Soviet Man, an ideological model most famously linked to socialism by Leon Trotsky, in his essay, “The Future of Man”:
“For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at best as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in this sense also, that the man of today, with all his contradictions and lack of harmony, will open the road for a new and happier race.”

The New Soviet Man was meant to be a devout communist, a hard-worker, and a selfless individual, who acted on behalf of the collective. For example, one legendary “new Soviet” was Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov, a man who mined 102 tons of coal in less than six hours – fourteen times his quota – and who became the namesake of the Stakhanovite movement, designed in 1935 by the Soviet government to inspire socialist competition and forward progress among its population across all industries.

From humble beginnings, Sholokhov too became a household name over time. His parents, of the lower middle class – his father balanced work between a cattle trader, a farmer, and a miller and his mother, a widow of a Cossack – remained illiterate for most of her life; Sholokhov far exceeded the limits of his parents’ existence. He attended school as a child, and served in the Red Army (the Bolshevik side) for three years during the civil war from age thirteen. Writing since age seventeen, Sholokhov moved to Moscow in 1922 to work as a journalist, sustaining himself financially with work as an accountant, a stonemason, and a dockworker before returning to Veshenskaia two years later, marrying, and focusing solely on writing. His commitment to the Bolsheviks during the civil war a defining experience. It comes as no surprise that the majority of Sholokhov’s literature centers on the topic of the revolution, collectivization in the territory of the Don River, and World War II. While early on he was critiqued by reviewers who classified him as “a peasant writer who sees the world from the viewpoint of revolutionary peasantry, without paying due attention to the leading role of the working class” and later had to defend himself against accusations of plagiarism, Tikhii Don nevertheless won Sholokhov the Stalin Prize – the most prestigious honor in the Soviet Union – and in 1965, the Nobel Prize in Literature. Thus, Sholokhov’s path from an uneducated and rural family to success as a widely lauded socialist realist writer is a story that fits snugly into the Soviet narrative of a self-made, hard-working, and inspirational new man, which is exactly how Sholokhov was portrayed by the regime and considered by Stalin. In 1932, Sholokhov joined the Communist Party and in 1937, he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. After the initial bout of undesirable reviews, critics were “eager to point out the descriptions that could serve as illustrations to Stalin’s policy.” Throughout his life, he continued to be endorsed as an upstanding Soviet – in 1959, he accompanied Khrushchev on a trip to Europe and the United States, he served on the USSR Academy of the Sciences in 1939, he received the Hero of Socialist Labor award two times, and he eventually became the Vice President of the Union of Soviet Writers.

Sholokhov’s reputation is somewhat surprising given the chaotic climate of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Consolidating his power since becoming General Secretary in 1922, Stalin focused on localizing and building communism in the USSR, turning away from Lenin’s push for worldwide revolution. The reality of the 1930s, a decade that began eight years into Stalin’s reign, was characterized by shortages in consumer goods, overcrowding in homes and substandard living conditions. The First Five-Year Plan, inaugurated in 1928, worked to rapidly industrialize the Soviet Union in addition to collectivization, which created mass civil discontent and widespread famine in its effort to more appropriately distribute agricultural products. Stalin also instigated a period known as the Great Purge from 1934-1939, during which those considered undesirable citizens were executed or sent to the newly constructed Gulag system of labor camps. Regarded as threats included former Red Army generals who could overthrow Stalin, Trotskyites, old Bolsheviks, and alleged political subversives (often arbitrarily chosen) deemed a menace to the Soviet project. While a member of the Communist Party and a longtime supporter of Stalin and his projects, Sholokhov’s personal correspondence with the leader and his refusal to observe Stalin’s demands in regards to Tikhii Don make it remarkable that he was not at the very least arrested during the time of the purges. In his first letter to Stalin, for instance, Sholokhov appeals to the leader “for food aid to the Upper Don and for a dispatch to Veshenskaia of ‘genuine Communists’ to conduct an impartial investigation and to expose ‘not only all those who employed the loathsome ‘methods’ of torture, beating, and abuse against collective farmers, but also those who inspired this.’” Moreover, the novel itself does “little to defend the Red terror, to propagate the official version of the Civil War, to justify, under the guise of class struggle, the destruction of millions of peasant lives during collectivization.” Furthermore, Sholokhov rejected edits by Stalin for the ending of his novel, impervious to Stalin’s stubborn delay of the publication of the novel’s last volume. For a time in 1938, the NKVD (the Soviet secret police) made preparations to murder the author on the grounds that he was planning “a Cossack uprising in collaboration with foreign agents,” of which Stalin, at the very least, was aware, but for reasons still unknown, Sholokhov was spared. Ermolaev posits that if it was Stalin who made the final call, he “could have decided that the Party needed a young Soviet writer of Sholokhov’s stature to enhance its own prestige as a creator of cultural values.” Regardless, Sholokhov’s epic Tikhii Don was both a product of its time and a propagator of Soviet culture that was glorified as a masterpiece of socialist realist art.


As for any literary movement and its productions, it is necessary to look at Tikhii Don from “the point of view of the semiotics of culture.” Deemed an “official classic” of Soviet literature, Sholokhov’s novel is a complex amalgamation of words and signs that have meaning only in their sociopolitical context. Coupled with the utter restructuring of the USSR thanks to Stalin’s economic and agricultural polices, the Stalinist regime initiated a far-reaching cultural revolution that furthered Soviet policy, “always aimed at social engineering.” In the effort to “destroy the old and construct the ‘new,’” the party-state initiated an overarching and far-reaching impulse to strive for “a ‘cultured’ way of life.” This kul’turnost’ was distinct from the traditional Russian word for “culture,” kul’tura; the latter was “something one possessed” whereas kul’turnost’ was “something one purposefully acquired.” Entrenched in in the Bolshevik discourse, “Becoming cultured had always been a proper and necessary individual goal.” It was the cultural revolution that developed and continued to feed into a new literary genre and its surrounding mentality, socialist realism.

Socialist realism – as a literary genre and a model for Soviet consciousness – gave the cultural revolution of the 1930s a direction, motivating Soviets to “view the present through the prism of an imagined future.” Those who had been Bolshevik revolutionaries were cognizant that many of their ideals had not been fully realized in the aftermath of the revolution; in particular, many criticized the “privileged new elite that emerged in the 1930s [that] would have been called bourgeois during the revolution.” In a time of enormous upheaval, “to study” and “to build” became the dominant verbs, in opposition to associations of “uncultured,” “uncivilized,” “backward,” or “dark.” For those who professed allegiance to the Soviet ideology, “the Revolution mean primarily bringing “light” to the country – “consciousness,” a regulated, rational order, an end to all prejudice and superstition, and modernization.” As the ideal Soviet consciousness remained but a point in the future during the 1930s, Stalin adopted socialist realism in order to bolster the national project and spread it to all realms of life. For example, socialist realism became “the entire aesthetic underpinning of official Soviet art.” It also operated as a motivational tool. In the socialist realist view of the world, “a dry, half-dug ditch signified a future canal full of loaded barges,” and was the breeding ground of the New Soviet Man, “a human machine, an untiring worker, or an unfettered, integrated ‘personality,’” that everyone could and should strive to become. Essentially, the average peasant worker could transform into a heroic overachiever. The Soviet mentality was therefore not a reflection of the present, but rather focused on “the means by which life was becoming what it would and must be” in unidirectional progression toward the brighter future that was guaranteed by socialism.

The focus on the individual in terms of the New Soviet Man within the realm of socialist realism bolstered the futurity of the collectivist Soviet project. This played a key role in merging the worlds between private and public, allowing each individual to participate in the progression towards socialist utopia. In essence, material rewards, like culture, were “as yet available only to the few. But they [could] be won by hard work; and one day, when the building of socialism [was] completed, there [would] be abundance for all to share.” Not surprisingly, ordinary people doing superior work became a home base the regime often returned to and the feats of these individuals were advertised as “heroism” in order to inspire the general population. In publications, ordinary Soviet men and women were announced as “individual high achievers in the factories and collective farms – as a reward for outstanding achievement.” Individuals like Stakhanov were placed on a pedestal in the pubic eye in order to promote socialist competition and the general betterment in Soviet life. This breech of space between the public and private realms was physically written into newspapers, which often reported these awards in conjunction with stories that covered “severe shortages for the public as a whole.” Literary content also meshed the private and public realms, projecting two respective themes of collectivity and individuality, universalism and uniqueness – “the notion that people from all nationalities share certain characteristics as human beings” and “the idea that each and every human being is totally unique” existed in simultaneity. Ordinary heroes, members of the communist masses, were spotlighted in the social discourse, which conveniently concealed widespread and pervading issues of the general public (like widespread famine and NKVD arrests and murders) by focusing on the various heroic individuals. Altogether, this further reinforced the Soviet ideological concept that superimposed “a better ‘soon’ on a still imperfect ‘now.’”

The drive for self-transformation during Stalin’s reign led to an urge to express private thoughts, which can explain why diary writing skyrocketed in popularity during the period. To become the New Soviet Man, reflection of one’s work and one’s role in society was necessary in order to become a better citizen and thus an enhanced member of the collective. Bolsheviks “sought to transform the population into politically conscious citizens who would embrace historical necessity and become engaged in building socialism out of understanding and personal conviction.” Political education campaigns of the Soviet regime “prodded individuals to consciously identify with the revolution, and to thereby comprehend themselves as active participants in the drama of history.” In this way, “one’s ‘biography’ became an artifact of considerable political weight,” something that was enhanced by growing numbers in the population that could read and write. At the same time, the process was not one-sided. While the Communist regime invested heavily in the production of autobiographical narratives, “these voices were not solely adapting to the regime’s interests,” but projected voluntarily, therefore sustaining the Soviet project on their own. The desire to insert oneself in the social and political order gave socialist realism a dual-purpose that was simultaneously transformative and participatory. In essence, Sholokhov’s Tikhii Don does just this; it serves as an expression of the individual within Soviet society projected to the masses, and thus another tangible cultural product by an active individual within a larger collective.

Consistent with the incorporation of private experience into the public discourse during the post-revolution period, Sholokhov’s Tikhii Don functions like a Soviet diary, and thus serves as an applicable case study of the 1930s mentality. A semi-autobiographical work, the novel expresses one author’s personal historical perspective on the Don Cossacks from before the First World War leading up to their 1918 anti-Soviet uprising, when the group declared open war against the Bolsheviks. Often thought of as a novel about the Russian Civil War, the plot “follows the fate of a young man as he experiences the day-to-day events of war, some mundane and some too horrifying for words to adequately describe.” Born in 1905, Sholokhov was too young to fight in the First World War, but “conducted extensive interviews with veterans in preparation for writing the novel.” He also experienced warfare himself as a member of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, which awarded his work an individualized quality. While fictional, the documentary-style writing and inclusion of actual historical figures in the novel was accepted “by readers and critics to have conveyed the ‘truth’ of war.’” Reading as a personal narrative, Tikhii Don thus mirrors the structure of the diaries of the 1930s, functioning in a similar way in that it inserts a private discourse into the public sphere.

An individualized account positioned on the axis of Soviet history, the novel consequently served both individual and public purposes as a socialist realist work. Regardless of Sholokhov’s personal impetus for writing the novel, any discussion of decossackization as a Soviet policy remained “a ‘blank spot’ in historical literature” that was publicized in the field of literature solely via the publications of Sholokhov’s Tikhii Don and Iurii Trifonov’s Otblesk kostra (Fireblow). Sholokhov’s novel revealed the story of a suppressed portion of society that had been silenced – and effectively decimated – in the early twentieth century; through mid-1919, the Red Army occupied much of the Don, “permitting the Soviet regime to engage in various forms of social engineering of the body politic.” Because of the potential blemish on Stalin’s regime in the event that the story of the Cossacks were publicized, the brilliance – perhaps unintentional – of Sholokhov’s masterpiece lay in the fact that it “admitted that there had been atrocities” but that “these [atrocities] were described as the excesses of individuals.” His understanding of the events surrounding the Cossacks and World War I also provided readers “the ability to escape one’s atomized existence and comprehend oneself as a particle of a collective movement.”

Given its content and form, Sholokhov’s novel earned a spot in “the core group of socialist realist novels,” and was formally sponsored by Stalin. Accordingly, it serves as a historical artifact, a symbol of the sociopolitical environment thanks to its “official” status in the Soviet Union. In four-layers, the novel manages to incorporate Marxism-Leninism, traditional Bolshevik myths and heroic images, the official Soviet viewpoint and individual perspective all into one novel. Likened to legend, but told as history, Tikhii Don was incontrovertible and thus party-minded. A product of the era, the work situated the individual into the public discourse and at the same time reverberated communist ideology back to its reader, thus representing the official party-state mentality in literary form to perpetuate the socialist realist dialogue. On the one hand, the story covered actual events, but on the other, it followed “the conventionalized stages of the master plot,” endorsed by Soviet officials like the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP ). The publication of Tikhii Don was controlled by the party-state, but it also “‘reflected the cultural values of what was a starkly ‘proletarian’ and positivist age.” Additionally, while it told of actual historical events, the novel was written as an epic. This “modal schizophrenia,” a term coined by literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, gave the novel “two diametrically opposed senses of reality,” to project the image of “a completed, perfected world, separate from the world of the author,” which accommodated the futurity of the Soviet project.

In one enormous sweep, the publication of Tikhii Don represented the key paradox of the post-revolution era under Stalin: the increasingly complexity in the relationship between the individual and the collective. Sholokhov ran into multiple problems trying to publish his novel. Many Soviet officials questioned his point of view, as it was “written from the perspective of the defeated Whites and not the victorious Bolsheviks.” The RAPP criticized Sholokhov as “neither a proletarian writer, or more importantly, a Communist writer” who did not give appropriate weight to workers and their problems. Maxim Gorky, the First Secretary of the Soviet Writers’ Union appointed by Stalin, met with Sholokhov and later with Stalin himself, who declared to the Sholokhov, “‘Some people think that this third book of your novel will give much pleasure to our enemies, the White émigrés.’” Sholokhov, who explained how Tikhii Don continues to show how the White Army was “crushed on the Don and the Kuban,’” ultimately earned Stalin’s approval. Because the author was only twenty-three-years-old when the novel was published, controversy surrounding the actual writer of the text surfaced as early as 1929, and the author was later accused of involvement in anti-Soviet activities, specifically collaborating with kulaks, a class of wealthy farmers that Stalin wished to exterminate during the collectivization campaign. Others “denied that the Cossack uprising that Sholokhov witnessed himself in his youth ever happened,” providing further evidence that Tikhii Don, as a publication, was an iconic example of tension between the private and public discourses in the 1930s.

Just as the novel was an icon of the era, Sholokhov’s personal success serves as a poster child for the New Soviet Man within the larger Soviet project. Adapted three times for film in 1931, 1958 and 2006, as well as an opera, which premiered in 1935, Tikhii Don became a widely celebrated masterpiece of socialist realism in its representation of the Soviet mentality as a historical work of fiction. As an author, Sholokhov became a shining example of a communist writer who “wrote himself into the revolutionary narrative [and] acquired a voice as an individual agent belonging to a larger whole.” He won the Lenin Prize in 1939 and the newly created Stalin Prize in 1941, becoming a model Soviet specimen, the definition of an ordinary man turned Stakhanovite. Presented to the Soviet public, Sholokhov’s work was a potent revolutionary narrative of self-transformation within the regime because he accomplished the Soviet responsibility “to possess a distinct ‘biography,’ to present it publicly, and to work toward self-perfection.” Tikhii Don was an active Soviet tool, “deployed to intervene…and align on the axis of revolutionary time.” Sholokhov the writer can be considered a Soviet symbol of the 1930s due to the fact that he was denied certain liberties, awarded others, but who ultimately became a self-motivated New Soviet Man in the process.

Together, Tikhii Don and Sholokhov are literary and historical icons of the paradoxes of the post-revolutionary Soviet Union, a period whose dual discourse blurred the line between the private and public realms. Together, both the novel and its author “adapted, reflected [and] interacted with culture” in a symbiotic fashion. A cultural product of the era of socialist realism, the novel functioned like a diary. It simultaneously endorsed and perpetuated the Soviet mentality in its content and form, and also worked as a tool to sustain the Stalinist ideology. In a similar fashion, the author and his individual accomplishments were products of the cultural revolution, as well as its producers – Sholokhov not only projected Stalin’s project, but also became a living and breathing symbol of New Soviet Man.


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May 11, 2015

The Waldheim Affair: Why the Investigation of One Man’s Past Changed the History of His Country

by Paul Cichocki

“The responsibility of each and every one of us to remember and to seek justice.”
— Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, 1993

As a young Austrian interested in the history and politics of my country, I had heard of Kurt Waldheim, but all I knew was that he had been Secretary-General of the United Nations and later president of Austria. Intrigued by the fact that a diplomat from the small country that is Austria became leader of the U.N., I began to read about Waldheim, in search of the tale of a national hero who brought international prestige to Austria. But soon, I understood that Waldheim’s life was far more nuanced and complex than that: he had lied about his wartime role in the Wehrmacht, creating a national and international controversy termed “The Waldheim Affair.” In particular, the Waldheim Affair marked the end of Austria’s reluctance to investigate its Nazi past and the disintegration of the victim myth, which denied Austria’s participation in Nazi crimes. This opened the doors for Austrians to examine and speak about their wartime memories. The Waldheim Affair subsequently sparked a dramatic revision of Austrian public memory that replaced the victim myth as the foundation of national identity with an acknowledgment of Austrian responsibility in Nazi crimes. This essay will explore the significant role of the Waldheim Affair in the period of Austrian history before which Austrians understood themselves as victims of Nazism, but from which they emerged with a sense of co-responsibility for Nazi crimes.

Kurt Waldheim was perhaps not directly responsible for Nazi crimes, but he may have been able to prevent some of them. Born near Vienna in 1918, Waldheim graduated from the Vienna Consular Academy in 1939 and from the University of Vienna as a Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1944. He held various diplomatic positions before serving as Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs for Austria from 1968 to 1970. Waldheim was Secretary-General of the U.N. from 1972 to 1981. When he was campaigning for Austria’s presidency in 1986, the Austrian news magazine Profil sparked what would become the Waldheim Affair by publishing details of his war record. This report showed that Waldheim had neglected to mention his Wehrmacht service in the Balkans, an area noted for Nazi deportations of Jews and crimes against civilians. His ‘forgetting’ of this time period suggested to some his direct involvement in the atrocities, and the Waldheim Affair gained international attention when the New York Times and the World Jewish Congress focused on Waldheim’s story, damaging Austria’s image abroad. An International Commission of Historians published a report in February 1988 stating that Waldheim was not a war criminal, but criticized him for his complicity. The repot argued that he must have known about these atrocities but failed to take action to stop them.

In this sense, Waldheim’s wartime involvement may be similar to that of many other Austrians. In fact, Günter Bischof, an Austrian-American historian, terms Waldheim’s story a “quintessentially representative Austrian tale.” Indeed, Waldheim himself regarded his wartime involvement as average rather than exceptional: “I did nothing more during the war than did hundreds of thousands of other Austrians, which was to fulfill my duties as a soldier.” Robert Herzstein, an American historian, describes ‘averageness’ of Waldheim as a typical product of a particular Austrian political culture that avoids direct confrontation with the past. Waldheim sought to “‘overcome’ the past rather than confront it.” This approach led Waldheim, a veteran cavalryman, to clarify that he merely used horses of a riding stable under SA (Sturmabteilung, paramilitary wing of the Nazi party) control. Fred Sinowatz, of the SPÖ (Social Democratic Party) and chancellor at the time, famously commented on Waldheim’s clarification: “Let us then note that not Waldheim was part of the SA, but only his horse.” Sinowatz’s remark ridicules Waldheim’s effort to distance himself from Nazi crimes. In addition, it highlights what Bischof has called Waldheim’s wartime career as a Pflichterfüller (lit. ‘duty fulfiller’): Waldheim may have denied his proximity to Nazi crimes because he felt that he merely fulfilled his duties as a soldier.

But instead of provoking the immediate end of Waldheim’s political career, Peter Utgaard points out that the divulgence of Waldheim’s past created a split in Austrian society between rejection and defense of Waldheim. Kurt Bergmann, political director of the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) at the time, has outlined that it was important to generate Austrian solidarity in the presidential campaign (in which Waldheim stood as a candidate of the ÖVP): “It was all about fighting back that someone from outside had influenced an Austrian election.” International criticism of Waldheim, such as from the United States, was indeed often seen as unfair and was bitterly objected. The ÖVP strategy proved fruitful and Waldheim was elected president of Austria on 8 June 1986, winning a clear majority of fifty-four percent of the vote. Waldheim’s election only intensified the controversy, however, and in the spring of 1987, the U.S. Justice Department placed the Austrian president on the immigration watch list, banning him from receiving a United States visa. This humiliation combined with previous negative international press attention triggered frustration due to the sentiment that, as a result of Waldheim’s wartime past, all Austrians were being criticized.

It is necessary, in any case, to consider the Waldheim Affair in the context of the victim myth. Utgaard, an American historian, calls this the dominant theme in the official memory of the recent past in postwar Austria and the base on which the identity and legitimacy of the Second Austrian Republic has been formed. The victim myth is “a number of interconnected themes that turned the Austrian experience from 1938-1955…into a positive narrative of redemption to mark the (re)birth of a new democratic, prosperous, neutral, and non-German Austria.” The themes in question include the ideas that Austria was a victim of German aggression, invaded and forcibly annexed, and then suffered from an unjustly long occupation by the Allies. As Heidemarie Uhl, an Austrian historian, suggests, the victim myth allowed Austria to “externalize” National Socialism as a period of foreign rule “standing outside Austrian history and for which Austria bore no responsibility”. The victim myth turned Austria into a passive and innocent subject of Nazi crimes.

However, Utgaard maintains that the Waldheim Affair and its aftermath provoked a fundamental shift away from the victim myth. While there had been several scandals that had shaken the comfortable silence offered by Austria’s victimization theory, the significance of the Waldheim Affair lies in its magnitude and its sustaining influence. Utgaard puts the Affair’s impact plainly: “Austria’s old myth of victimization had lost credibility.” Although many themes related to the victim myth continued to propagate officially, the Austria-as-victim myth had become an indefensible aspect of Austrian national identity by the late 1990s. Indeed, Evan Bukey’s Hitler’s Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era, 1938-45 demonstrated not only that there was sweeping popular Austrian support for the Anschluss, but that a majority of Austrians supported the Nazi regime until the end of the war. As a result of the controversy about Austria’s Nazi past that the Waldheim Affair sparked, it became difficult to sustain the idea that Austria was merely a victim of Nazism.

Indeed, the Waldheim Affair led Austrians to examine their war history perhaps for the first time, and subsequently inspired a shift in public memory away from the victim myth as the indisputable foundation of Austria’s postwar identity. Uhl identifies 1986 as a turning point after which “Austrian memory” and the “specific Austrian way of remembering and forgetting” have appeared prominently in discussions of Austrian history and politics. Historians, literary critics, and others have produced new work on Austrian history in the era of World War II in which publications on Waldheim and the Waldheim controversy were an important part. In fact, much evidence suggests that Austria’s young people are enthusiastic to tackle their country’s past. The search for Austria’s history inspired a shift in public memory, but Utgaard explains that the significance of the Waldheim Affair lies not in the origin of a nationwide rejection of the victim myth, as this mythology continues to circulate especially in official memory. Rather, the Waldheim Affair fundamentally destabilized the country, and opened up a void, which a new Austrian identity would soon occupy.

Curiously, Waldheim himself acknowledged Austrian responsibility for Nazi crimes. This is almost ironic, or perhaps indicative of his cleverness to adapt to the spirit of the times, but, in any case, helped make co-responsibility a part of the newly emerging Austrian identity. In conjunction with the 1988 fiftieth anniversary of the Anschluss, Waldheim made a televised speech in which he reminded his fellow nationals of Austria’s historic responsibility in World War II: “There were Austrians who were victims and others who were accomplices. …Let us not create the impression that we had nothing to do with this. Obviously, there can be no collective guilt, but as head of state of the Republic of Austria, I want to apologize for the crimes of National Socialism committed by Austrians.” This admission of Austrian involvement in Nazi crimes might be a surprise after Waldheim’s fierce battle in the preceding years to demonstrate his distance from Nazi atrocities, but it is representative of the spirit of the times which had come to ‘internalize’ National Socialism as part of Austrian history. Waldheim himself might have realized the changing spirit of the times and therefore acknowledged Austrian wartime guilt. In the aforementioned speech, Waldheim also asked his audience to consider Austria’s identity in the late 1980s as the following: “Stable and ready to talk, cosmopolitan and cooperative, confident and looking toward the future…as a country that has come to terms with itself.” These ideals originate from the understanding that through the exploration of their past, sparked by the Waldheim Affair, Austrians had broken with decades of ignorance towards the Nazi years and instead begun to build a new, clean and future-oriented identity.

Several years later, in 1993, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky articulated the characteristics of Austrian wartime responsibility in its specifics, setting a trend for high Austrian government officials to acknowledge these disturbing chapters in the country’s history. He differentiated between collective guilt and collective responsibility: “We have always felt, and still feel, that the connotation of ‘collective guilt’ does not apply to Austria. But we do acknowledge collective responsibility, the responsibility of each and every one of us to remember and to seek justice.” Rather than accepting guilt then, Austrians carry responsibility for the past. Vranitzky justified Austrian responsibility through Austrian support of the Nazi apparatus: “We share moral responsibility because many Austrians welcomed the ‘Anschluss,’ supported the Nazi regime and helped it to function.” Because Austrians were part of the Nazi machinery, it is the responsibility of Austrians to acknowledge that Austrians were not entirely separate from Nazism.

To comprehend the emergence of this understanding, it is important to consider the social and political context in which the Waldheim Affair erupted. In particular, Heinz Fischer, President of Austria at the time, suggested in his funeral speech for Waldheim in June 2007 that the controversy around Waldheim’s Wehrmacht involvement came at a time when Austria had not yet digested its wartime past. Austrian guilt was projected onto Waldheim, together with unanswered questions posed by the children and grandchildren of the war generation to their fathers and grandfathers. Significantly, Fischer attributes the intensity of the Waldheim controversy to a paradigm shift in the handling of the country’s recent past. At a speech at the University of Tel Aviv in 2008, moreover, Fischer makes it crystal clear that some Austrians are responsible for Nazi atrocities: “Overall, too many Austrians had played a horrible and unforgivable role during the NS (National Socialism) time.” Fischer’s remarks assert that the Waldheim Affair’s power to contribute to an investigation of Austria’s wartime past derived from a burning necessity to do so, which decades of ignorance had created. At the same time, Fischer’s admission to Austrian Nazi guilt also indicates that the paradigm shift from historical denial to a critical perspective of the Austrian past has been permanently and irrefutably established.

This acceptance of responsibility has become an indispensable ingredient in a new Austrian identity. In the words of Uhl, acknowledging “co-responsibility implies that National Socialism is a part of Austria’s ‘own’ history” and the Second Republic therefore bears responsibility for the Austrian share of Nazi crimes. Indeed, Austrian public memory and identity has internalized responsibility for the country’s past. This acknowledgment has joined with other themes of identity: Utgaard details that new motifs including the reconstruction, fifty years of parliamentary democracy, active participation in the United Nations, and neutrality, together with old themes of culture, have created an unquestioned and democratic new Austrian identity. The struggle to build an Austrian identity and sense of nationhood has been successful. While in 1964 only forty-sevent percent of Austrians agreed to the statement “The Austrians are a nation,” seventy-four percent did so in the 1980s, when the Waldheim controversy raged. By 2007, eighty-two percent believed that Austrians encompassed a nation. A strong Austrian identity, free of the victim myth but instead colored with responsibility for Austria’s contribution to Nazi atrocities, is the foundation on which Austria has embarked into the twenty-first century.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand the nuances in Austrian public memory as perception of the past changed over the decades. My grandfather’s memory sheds light on these nuances. He attended high school in the 1950s and tells that the years of the war, barely more than ten years earlier, were taught in school as a ‘black hole’—there was nothing worth mentioning that had recently happened in Austria. In front of this background, Waldheim’s ‘forgetfulness’ about his Wehrmacht service does not become excusable, but it should be understood as intrinsically Austrian, for many Austrians chose to forget, or not talk about, their proximity to Nazism. Perhaps this is why Austrians termed international criticism of Waldheim’s forgetfulness unfair: glossing over and disremembering the war years was an act that many partook in, so they felt personally attacked. Despite their objection to outside voices, Austrians nevertheless looked inside their own past, a process which the Waldheim Affair not only rendered socially acceptable, but desirable and necessary. Due to the Austrians’ previous reluctance to investigate their wartime past, the explosive controversy of the Waldheim Affair was a deathblow for the victim myth as the foundation of Austrian identity. As a result of a shift toward a more self-critical public memory, the new national identity included some Austrian responsibility in the atrocities of National Socialism.
Indeed, Austrian public memory of the wartime years has transformed dramatically over the past decades. Peter Schieder, central secretary of the SPÖ at the time of the Waldheim Affair, states: “[The Waldheim Affair] has certainly led to a more thorough analysis of the past. In families as well as in society and in politics.” Part of what Austrians found in their investigation of the past was responsibility for their proximity to Nazi crimes. After the Waldheim Affair, this co-responsibility became a component of today’s, distinctly neutral Austrian national identity.

Perhaps the most important ingredient of Austria’s identity is its neutrality. On 26 October 1955, the Austrian parliament declared the country permanently neutral and Austria’s national holiday on 26 October commemorates the event. As a consequence of its neutrality, Austria cannot enter military alliances or accept the establishment of military bases on its territory, and declares itself neutral towards the fighting parties in a war. Austrians, who have now accepted some responsibility for wartime crimes, may now feel even more strongly committed to neutrality to ensure that Austria never again becomes entangled in war crimes.


Bischof, Günter, and Anton Pelinka. Austrian Historical Memory & National Identity. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1997.

Bundesprä : Rede in Der Universität Tel Aviv Zum Thema “90 Jahre Republik Österreich”, 16.12.2008. Accessed November 16, 2014.

Bundesprä : Trauerfeier Für Altbundespräsident Dr. Kurt Waldheim Im Wiener Stephansdom, 23.06.2007. Accessed November 26, 2014.

Cichocki, Rainer. Online interview by author. November 30, 2014.

“Die Affäre Waldheim.” Zeitgeschichte Informationssystem. Institut Für Zeitgeschichte Der Universität Innsbruck. Accessed March 31, 2015.

“Fred Sinowatz Und Die Waldheim-Affäre.” Accessed November 23, 2014.

Kunz, Josef L. “Austria’s Permanent Neutrality.” The American Journal of International Law 50.2 (1956): 418-25. JSTOR. Web. 01 Apr. 2015. 420.

“KURT WALDHEIM (AUSTRIA).” UN News Center. Accessed November 23, 2014.

Tributsch, Svila, and Peter A. Ulram. Kleine Nation Mit Eigenschaften: über Das Verhältnis Der Österreicher Zu Sich Selbst Und Zu Ihren Nachbarn. Wien: Molden, 2004.

Uhl, Heidemarie. “From Victim Myth to Co-Responsiblity Thesis: Nazi Rule, World War II, and the Holocaust in Austrian Memory.” 40-72.

Utgaard, Peter. Remembering and Forgetting Nazism: Education, National Identity, and the Victim Myth in Postwar Austria. New York: Berghahn Books, 2003.

“WALDHEIMAFFAIRE VOR 20 Jahren.” Accessed November 30, 2014.

May 11, 2015

Modern North Korea: State of Repression or In a State of Hegemonic Consensus?

by Tamsin Rankine-Fourdraine

North Korea presents itself as somewhat of a conundrum to many western observers and commentators in contemporary society. Following the split of Japanese controlled Korea along the 38th parallel following the allied victory in WWII between Russia and American control and the consequent Korean War from 1950 to 1953, fuelled by Cold War antagonism, the state has remained almost inaccessible to foreigners and emigration is forbidden. Recent events concerning cyber attacks on South Korea and the release of ‘The Interview’ a popular satirical film ridiculing Kim Jong-Un with James Franco and Seth Rogen have once again brought this small state into the global spotlight. The western world is inundated with media imagery of a populace that seems to act only en masse and that displays absolute devotion to the dominant political system and its successive supreme leaders. It is difficult for those accustomed to democratic and capitalist systems, which emphasise individualism, to understand how it is possible that North Koreans continue to support a government that represses the individual in favour of the state. Antonio Gramsci, a noted Italian scholar, argued that hegemony “refers to an order in which one concept of reality is dominant, informing with its spirit all modes of thought and behavior… 
hegemony is the predominance obtained by consent rather than force of one class or group over other classes.’ This definition of hegemony and the control it can garner, when applied to the DPRK, can explain how the Kim family and a socialist doctrine has been able to maintain supremacy since 1948 where so many similar states have failed. We will explore here to what extent hegemony is intrinsic to the rule of, functioning and continuing existence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The predominance of the Kim family has been attained, not solely through direct political repression and military strength, as many Western observers assume, but through these factors in combination with a very specific ideology known as chuch’e that has created the consent within the DPRK needed for the regime to survive. That genuine consent of North Koreans to their government exists is often dismissed as implausible by the Western media due to our prejudice of the superiority of a liberal political system. However the chuch’e doctrine has created consent by giving North Koreans a unique world-view and a sense of self as part of the greater corporate identity of the DPRK. Furthermore, it has created a populace that actively supports its government, and thus supports its continued dominance. Chuch’e permeates much of daily life and the active support and adherence of North Koreans to this ideology reinforces the ability of the state to survive and provides a mechanism of hegemony within the DPRK that is supported by the political party, its leadership and the military. Nonetheless, there exist exceptions to the power of the chuch’e ideology in creating consent, as put into the evidence by the issues of human rights, refugees and defectors. Nonetheless, these issues have been approached with a Western point of view that does not necessarily give an accurate picture and requires further analysis.

The chuch’e philosophy was essential to the formation of a self-reliant North Korean state in the 1960’s following the devastating Korean War and has helped maintain its continued existence today. The one party political system that has kept the Korean Worker’s Party, with successive members of the Kim family at its head, in power and the military nature of the DPRK have helped support the chuch’e philosophy but have also been shaped by it.

It is important to understand that although the DPRK is a politically repressive regime it has obtained, in the majority, the consent of the people thanks to chuch’e. Ruediger Frank, an expert in this field, describes the ideology as having ‘successfully merged anti-Japanese and anti-American nationalism, the fear to again lose independence, a crude type of Leninism, xenophobia… and traditional familism into one.’ More specifically, chuch’e is an ideology that embodies three principles; an objective consciousness of the contemporary world that determines our behaviour, creativity in responding to external conditions that humans are subject to and a sense of self-determination. Furthermore, the chuch’e philosophy requires the individual to be repressed in order for the corporate entity to thrive. The analogy that has often been used is of the state as a fishbowl and the citizens as the fish: the individual cannot live or have meaning without the existence of the fishbowl. As Han Park, a scholar of chuch’e philosophy, states ‘if they sacrifice their biological lives for the collective body, they will attain the life of the political-social body that will live as long as the nation exists.’ Therefore, North Koreans are asked to repress their individuality not only for the state’s needs but also because it will benefit themselves; they will be rewarded with a fulfilled political life if they do not attempt to escape the fishbowl. Thus, chuch’e creates a reciprocal relationship between the existence of the state and the collectivism of its citizens, which allows the state to function without opposition and justifies the repression of the individual.

The continued importance and relevance of chuch’e to North Koreans can be attributed in part to the flexibility and fluctuation of its meaning and purpose. Han Park has identified five different phases in its evolution: as anti-Japanism, as antihegemonism (in regards to distancing the DPRK from China and Russia), as a nationalist ideology (to solidify the regime’s power), as paternalist socialism (in response to the succession of Kim Jong-Il) and as Weltanschauung (world view). As the political needs of the DPRK changed so did the ideological emphasis of chuch’e, which allowed the state to justify changing policies.

This fluctuation is not something that chuch’e theoreticians attempt to hide: one scholar explained to Han that ‘an ideology that is alive has to change as any living being must change.’ Indeed Kim Jong-Il argued that “ideas determine everything” and stated that ‘communism had fallen in the West because of the dilution and erosion of ideological purity.’ According to this argument the chuch’e ideology’s ability to remain relevant to the need of the state is the reason that the DPRK has managed to survive into the present day where other socialist states have not. Thus, the hegemonic group has been able to persuade individual North Koreans to support the government’s changing political agenda by changing the chuch’e philosophy’s focus whilst continuing to rely on the base structure of chuch’e’s founding principles of consciousness, creativity and self-determination.

Han Park reveals that North Koreans believe that the advent of chuch’e was made possible not only by Japanese colonization, which revealed a lack of nationalistic spirit and a weak military, but also the presence of Kim Il-Sung himself. Kim embodies not only a friend of the working class, but a nationalist hero as a liberator of Korea from imperialism. Furthermore, he is represented as inherently having all the qualities of chuch’e. Although the DPRK is a one-party political state ruled by the Korean Worker’s Party and a small elite, the real power rests within Kim Il-Sung’s rule, and that of his children. The legitimacy of the descendants of Kim Il-Sung was legitimised by chuch’e during the paternalist socialism phase identified by Han. During the period when Kim’s successor came into question, chuch’e theoreticians drew on Korean traditions to help legitimise the change in ideology. They drew on the age-old Confucian value of filial piety as well as the dynasty of ‘sage kings.’ As Han argues, the ‘deification of the leader’s family was not a deviation from the old Oriental despotic cultural perspective,’ therefore theoreticians were presenting the Kim line as reinstating an age-old tradition that had been temporarily disrupted by Japanese occupation. Thus, hegemony was being achieved through a reliance on the pre-existing historical and cultural values of Koreans, explaining why it has been so successful.

The successful transition of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un into the role of the great leader can similarly be credited with this amalgam of chuch’e and the Confucian tradition. Although Kim Jong-Il was initially presented as having inherent leadership qualities, his leadership was also legitimised by his position as the son of Kim Il-Sung and a reliance on the Confucian value of filial piety. The paternal socialism phase of chuch’e did not only place the leader in the role of the father of the nation, but also reinforced the collective identity of North Koreans as one family. One North Korean expressed the view that ‘our whole society has become a big revolutionary family.’ If the citizens of the DPRK regard themselves as one family then it follows that their collective filial piety is automatically directed toward the ‘father’ Kim Il-Sung and his descendants. Historian Bruce Cumings proposes an analogy with Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic argument laid out in his essay ‘The King’s Two Bodies.’ Kantorowicz depicts Kim Il-Sung as the eternal, perfect leader and Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un as frail human vessels of this eternal leader. The descendants are legitimised by their relationship to the eternal leader, whose image remains omnipresent in contemporary society. Nonetheless, their legitimisation through chuch’e is not as robust as Kim Il-Sung’s who was ‘sanctified as the generator and embodiment of the ideology,’ with each generational divide will come a loss in legitimisation through chuch’e and a need to use other methods to legitimise the succession.

Chuch’e explains not only the legitimacy of the Kim succession, but also the nature of the DPRK’s militant society. Park Han has identified militant nationalism as one of the philosophical principles of chuch’e that originally stemmed from a North Korean rejection of first Japan, and then the United States, as imperial aggressors. North Korea had to be strong militarily in order to able to defend itself and be self-reliant. Thus, the DPRK has a national conscious that is military in nature as well as having compulsory military service resulting in one in every twenty citizens is in the military. These statistics can make it easy for an observer to assume that the DPRK is a military dictatorship, especially since the introduction of the ‘military first’ policy or Songun Chongch’i in the mid 1990’s. However, the Korean People’s Army in fact ‘serves as an important resource and catalyst for developing the national economy’ in the more general move away from a planned economy. This exemplifies the flexibility of chuch’e since it has been utilized to create a military that acts not only as a mechanism of defence against imperialist power, but also as a body that can contribute to the DPRK’s self-reliance through economic work. Thus, for the majority of North Koreans the military is not a repressive force but rather another institution that embodies the chuch’e philosophy. Since most North Koreans will serve in the military, the Korean People’s Army represents an institution involving a great part of society that reinforces chuch’e and thus the hegemony within the DPRK.

Therefore, there exists in the DPRK a widespread influence of chuch’e in creating a hegemonic culture which legitimises, and is reinforced, by the need for the repression of the individual in favour of the state, the rule of the Kim family and the presence of militant nationalism. Those accustomed to a liberal political system find it very difficult to understand how precisely these supposedly repressive elements of North Korean society can be tolerated by its populace. The media that informs these observers nearly always overlooks the importance of chuch’e, which is unique to North Korea, in explaining the consent for this construction of society in the DPRK. Instead the media prefers to present North Korea through socialist and military dictatorship stereotypes, which are easier for their audiences to understand.
It can be seen from the above analysis that chuch’e provides the mechanism of hegemony and has thus constructed and evolved with North Korean society and policy. However, to understand the success of chuch’e we must look to the evidence of support for this hegemony within daily life, of which there is much. This support is often what is most puzzling and alien to outside observers as we are presented with images of the mourning masses at Kim Jong-Il’s funeral, mass games and a populace that lives constantly surrounding by propaganda. Indeed, it is easy for outside observers to assume that North Koreans are either brainwashed or acting out of fear. Understanding the influence of chuch’e in quotidian life can discredit this preconception. For example, one North Korean slogan states that ‘only if the chuch’e idea is firmly in your mind, will you know how to get up in the morning and be a good citizen of our state.’ Hence, chuch’e is an ideology that the government expects its citizens to apply to their every day lives in a concrete manner and not just as an abstract ideological philosophy.

Despite this expectation, the British diplomat John Everard’s observations of daily life in North Korea gives an account of a populace that lives a very normal and somewhat banal life: his acquaintances ‘described home life as comfortable enough most of the time, if crowded.’ Living standards are clearly not as high as South Koreans are accustomed to, for instance the energy supply is far from regular and only fifty-five percent of Koreans had access to a flushing toilet in 2008. It is important to note that the North Koreans that Everard met did not seem to complain or blame the government for this, which would be an undermining of the chuch’e philosophy. Chuch’e is put into action in a more evident manner in Everard’s description of a society that still relies on traditional customs and values in regards to filial piety, marriage, gender relations, sex, leisure activities and education. Furthermore, Everard provides examples of North Koreans who apply chuch’e to their daily life in order to be ‘good citizens of the state.’ Schoolteachers impressed Everard with ‘their unflagging efforts to teach their students’ even though they lacked supplies and worked in unheated classrooms. Furthermore, leisure activities are almost always collective, whether it be playing chess or going for a walk, Everard notes that ‘voluntarily spending time by oneself seems strange to Koreans.’

Thus, the chuch’e ideology subtly permeates daily life by emphasising traditional values and influencing the manner in which North Koreans live, however, it also manifests itself more prominently in state-organised mass events. One example of this is the P’yongyang Mass Games of 2003. In the 2004 documentary A State of Mind, we glimpse how important it is to two very young gymnasts to be able participate in this nationalistic and collective event and perform for their dear leader Kim Jong Il. Mass events such as the games are reminiscent of the chuch’e analogy of a collective nation of fish and the government as the fishbowl. The fishbowl is needed to facilitate the event but the fish are essential to the equation as performers. The games are both of form of entertainment but also a source of national pride as they reinforce the idea of North Koreans as one collective body that can succeed thanks to the state. They are a symbolic embodiment of chuch’e.

On the other hand, one important factor must be brought to the table: the majority of Everard’s observations of Korean daily life are restricted to the inhabitants of P’yongyang, the population of which is limited to the elite and those that the party esteem to be worthy of residing there and thus the city receives the most resources. This elite class that maintains political control is today composed of the descendants of the Manchurian guerrillas who fought alongside Kim Il-Sung. They support the succession of the Kim line because it ensures that they can retain their place in society. Their claim to this elite status rests on the same justification of their ancestor’s sacrifice and success in freeing the homeland from Japanese colonialism.

Historian Bruce Cumings states that P’yongyang’s power elite assumes that ‘fidelity to the old principle and the true way… will allow their country to weather the adverse winds of the past two decades.’ Thus, it was this faction of elites that secured the succession of Kim Jong-Un after the unexpected and sudden death of his father. As Ruediger Frank notes: ‘it was the Party who acted as the Kingmaker. Even the introduction of Kim Jong-Un to the public was done in the context of a Party Conference.’ Subsequently, although the mechanism of chuch’e can be credited with assisting to legitimise and hegemonise the rule of Kim Jong-Un, it is the elite class, represented by the Party, that have allowed this rule to be perpetuated. Referring back to Gramsci’s definition of hegemony, Kim Jong-Un’s rule is possible thanks to a mixture of the force of one class over others and consent, not simply one or the other.

The critique of Everard’s limited point-of-view is undermined however since he does venture out of P’yongyang to visit the countryside giving us some idea of the pervasiveness of chuch’e throughout the DPRK. He observes that ‘life on collective farms looked hard’ due to the lack of machinery, equipment and resources and subsequently the manual labour that is required. These farms are the country’s largest employer with 1.9 million women and 1.5 million men within the workforce, yet they accept the conditions and work collectively to benefit the state without complaint. Everard observed that the farmers seemed well fed and lived in spacious accommodation, albeit with little opportunities for entertainment. The chuch’e philosophy may not seem essential in creating hegemony here but the collective nature of this farm work is justified and reinforced by the ideology, giving farmers’ daily work a greater purpose.
Moreover, the North Korean feature film Girls in Our Hometown, a classic example of state produced propaganda, also gives us an idea of how chuch’e philosophies are adopted in everyday country life – or at least the way in which the government in the DPRK wants its citizens to adopt them. Not only does the film vilify Western consumerism and individualism, through the immoral influence of the protagonist’s sister who urges her to abandon her newly blind soldier boyfriend, but it reinforces the idea of collectivism. Firstly, there are celebratory scenes where we see the young men and soldiers working hard on a construction site to benefit the village. However, the chuch’e mentality really manifests itself through the idea that the women feel that they are all being shamed even though only one girl abandoned her wounded lover. Ultimately, one of the women steps in to marry the soldier and the protagonist must learn to live with her choice. This shows that the chuch’e ideology can be found as a central focus in popular culture and it permeates not only city, but also country life. The elites and leading members of the Party and their influence are not to be found here, however collectivism is more prominent in the daily life of country dwellers.

It is clear that hegemony has been created by the chuch’e ideology independently, but also in conjunction with the institutions of the dominant political party and the military. There are also however further points to be considered, which show that not all North Koreans consent to their current order, namely the issues of defectors or refugees and the supposed abuses of human rights. These problems are evidence that the DPRK is a politically repressive state, this is not what is being argued, but rather that these issues have been distorted by Western observers who use them to perpetuate the preconception of the DPRK as an evil and oppressive state. For instance, the UN argues that the state has created ‘a climate of fear that pre-empts any challenge to the current system of government and to the ideology underpinning it.’ However this claim has been undermined by critiques of scholars such as Hazel Smith who argue that claims of human rights abuses have not been backed up by accurate evidence, but rather extrapolated information and grainy satellite images.

Defection is one manner in which North Koreans can express their repudiation of the North Korean state, it can be regarded, ultimately, as a failure of the chuch’e ideology. The number of defectors escaping into the South stabilised at around 1,000-1,500 North Koreans a year in 2002. Although this may seem to be a high number, historian Andrei Lankov makes the point that it bears no comparison to the 21,000 East Germans who defected into West Germany every year whilst the Berlin Wall remained standing. Even so, defectors have garnered a huge amount of attention in the media, not only because they provide source of information about the secretive regime but also because they are used as evidence of the evil nature of the regime. Conversely, Hazel Smith, in her critique of the UN’s report on human rights in the DPRK, argues that ‘knowledge about North Korea is subordinated and filtered through the prism of the classic concerns of national security,’ thus the information provided by defectors, concerning the regime, often becomes misleading as it is tailored to fit with Western liberal preconceptions of how society should be structured. Similarly, Christine Hong has even argued that human rights have become ‘a battlefield in which very recognisable cold war conflicts… continue to be played out.’ Therefore, the media and even the UN’s portrayal of defectors must be treated with caution.

Correspondingly, the documentary Seoul Train follows the attempt of some defectors to escape their underground existence in China and maintains that those ‘the price of getting caught likely means death.’ However this kind of generalisation is exactly the problem that Hazel Smith is trying to address. If defectors are, as Seoul Train contends, condemned to almost certain death why would a defector like Kim Hyong-dok risk his life by attempting to re-enter the North two years after he escaped? It must also be noted that a large proportion of North Koreans defect for economic reasons and not political ones. The failure of the economic well being of the regime is a very different reason for defection than political repression. In these cases we do not necessarily see a rejection of chuch’e, but of the living conditions within the DPRK. These have been exacerbated by the economic restrictions placed on the DPRK by other countries, such as the U.S. which ‘place significant stress on the country’s economic woes.’ Undoubtedly, this type of ‘imperial aggression’ can only reinforce the need for North Korean self-reliance as demanded by chuch’e philosophy.

Another aspect of the defector problem that is often overlooked is the inability of defectors in adjusting to South Korean society. Not only do they lack the skills to work in fulfilling jobs, but they also ‘feel lonely and guilty… and are often misunderstood by their countrymen.’ This sentiment shows how chuch’e takes a profound role in developing the mental state of North Koreans since even those who make the active choice to defect feel alienated from liberal societies whose values we uphold. Therefore, the issue of defection demonstrates that a portion of North Korean society do not subscribe to, or have lost faith in, the chuch’e ideology and thus can no longer find a place in this society. Nonetheless a great number of these defectors are leaving primarily for economic reasons. That a number of them find themselves unable to adjust to other societies also speaks to the importance of chuch’e in creating a persuasive and all encompassing ideology that makes the DPRK unique and difficult for outsiders to understand.

Given the current speculation concerning the future of the DPRK it is important to understand the manner in which its society is constructed and the ideology, and hence mentality, that lies behind it. In the final analysis it is clear that chuch’e plays a much more important role than is at first evident to the casual observer. It has intertwined itself with Korean traditions to legitimise the rule of three generations of the Kim family, and adapted itself to the changing issues and policies that have affected the DPRK. It has allowed for the incorporation of a militant national consciousness and gives each individual a purpose within the collective body of the state. In this manner chuch’e touches every aspect of how the state functions and society is constructed. In contrast, British diplomat Everard shows the normality of everyday life, but it is precisely chuch’e’s ability to be pervasive without being overbearing that makes it so successful and unique to the DPRK. It is reasonable to argue that human rights and defection show the repressive qualities of the hegemony within DPRK, nonetheless the criticisms that have been advanced of the evidence for these leave room for an argument to be made that chuch’e does have a very strong hold of North Korean mentality and hegemony. Although films such as ‘The Interview’ may be popular with modern audiences, we must remember that they are created for entertainment purposes and that, like any other country, lying behind the DPRK’s current regime is a tangled and multifaceted culture and history.


Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, W. W. Norton & Company (2005)

Bruce Cumings, “North Korea’s Dynastic Succession,” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, v. 10, issue 9, no. 1 (February 27, 2012)

Brookings Institute, “North Korea’s Military-First Policy: A Curse or a Blessing?” (March 31, 2009)

Everard, John, Only Beautiful, Please, A British Diplomat in North Korea, Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, (2012)

Gramsci, Antonio, Prison Notebooks; cf to J. V. Femia, Gramsci’s Political Thought, Oxford, 1981

Lankov, Andrei, North of The DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea, McFarland (2007)

Pak. S, Girls in my Hometown (1991)

Park, Han S. North Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom, Lynne Rienner Publishers, (2002)

Seoul Train (2005) accessed 05/12/14

Ruediger Frank, “North Korea after Kim Jong Il: The Kim Jong Un Era and its Challenges,” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, v. 10, issue 2, no. 2 (January 9, 2012)

Smith, Hazel “Crimes Against Humanity?” Critical Asian Studies, (2014) 46:1, 127-143, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2014.863581

United Nations Human Rights Council, “Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (February 7, 2014)

May 11, 2015

Historicizing Mental Health: a Hermeneutical Approach to Suicide

by Nicole Hasslinger

“The unclear is the unclean, transitional beings are particularly polluting, since they are neither one thing nor another.”
– Victor Turner

Suicide is an incredibly complex and oftentimes confusing aspect of human societal life. Even with some general agreement about diagnostic categories within the mental health framework, there is little consensus about proper therapies. The use of psychotropic drugs is highly contentious. Much of this stems from unresolved questions of causality. Is the distress a temporary emotional state, or a long-term biological problem? Is the distress a result of an internal ill or an external stress? ‘Public Health’ models of care define mental health holistically, considering the social and emotional resources available to an individual, in addition to biological factors. As one navigates contemporary debates about mental health, it becomes increasingly clear that human behavior—if it is understood at all—is not understood from a single analytical level.

Current analysis of suicide, through the lens of mental health, is an explicitly modern analysis. This is not to deny that humans have defined and treated pathologies of the mind for thousands of years. To be clear, the idea that wellness of the mind is intricately linked to physical processes can be found in Ayurvedic texts dating from the fifth century BCE. Rather, this is to say that the current conceptualization of mental health is an analysis produced through western scientific and sociological inquiry. The cures that people prescribe and the stories that people tell in order to explain, understand, ameliorate, punish, or nurture human behaviors have changed over time. Examining self-killing is a difficult task and cannot be undertaken without a historical study of the history of mental health.

Ambiguity and unrest surround suicide. Responses to self-killing transition the liminal act out of solitude and into the realm of the social and of the living. The meaning of suicide becomes the rituals, laws, and writings that put it to rest. It is within this frame that Michael MacDonald and Terence R. Murphy begin to examine suicide in Tudor and Stuart England. Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England is a study not of the object of suicide, but of the complex, malleable, and historically specific subject of suicide. The history of suicide is moreover a social and cultural history of early modern England.

MacDonald, the primary author of the text, argues that hostile reactions to suicide rose and fell throughout the early modern era concurrent with larger historical trends. In the sixteenth century, suicide punishments hardened due to Henrician law reforms. Amidst increased stringency on the part of the Crown, voices of the Protestant Reformation further intensified popular hostility toward self-killing. Protestant evangelists emphasized the diabolical causes of self-killing. As they saw it, self-killing was a manifestation of the sin of despair –“the very antithesis of Christian hope.” Having been corrupted by the devil, the bodies were denied traditional burial. People performed rites of desecration in order to put these ‘sleepless souls’ to rest. However, the mid-seventeenth century marked the beginning of a more secularized understanding of suicide.

MacDonald describes the actions of various classes and groups that, through a slow and piecemeal process, secularized self-killing. The cumulative result of this variegated secularization becomes the edifice of individualism. MacDonald and Murphy’s research is as much about suicide as it is about the formation of “a recognizably modern conception of the person.” Through this narrative, the authors return to the liminality of suicide. Despite an unwieldy time scale and occasional anachronisms, Sleepless Souls finds its strength in interpolation and ideological rigor.

A major challenge of this study is that it attempts to examine suicide on “all levels” over the course of three centuries. MacDonald takes a self-described “neotraditional” approach to historical narration. The book is traditional in the sense that it relies on macro-level historical events such as the Tudor revolution, The Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment. However, MacDonald takes pains to avoid an entirely teleological interpretation of these events. The authors utilize a framework that is arguably Foucauldian: they envision power as multi-directional, and focus on the machinations that make and unmake powerful entities. For example, the authors recognize the important role that ‘middling sorts’ played in growing leniency toward suicide. Decades before any change in the law, records from the King’s Bench showed both a steady rise in cases judged non compos mentis (proclaimed innocent by reason of insanity) and a steady decline in goods seized from suicide cases. Further analysis of these records revealed that coroner’s juries, comprised of local community-elected men, colluded with the families of suicides to undermine the crown’s punitive laws. The inclusion of these unlikely historical actors shows consideration for the interrelated processes of social construction. Instances such as this offer validity and nuance to the authors’ macro-level arguments.

Methodologically, the authors complicated traditional teleology through detailed analysis of a wide variety of sources. MacDonald and Murphy studied legal writing, religious texts, court records, newspapers, plays, diaries, suicide notes, and literature. In the framing of the book, the authors employ the sociological work of Emile Durkheim as a foil for their research. Where Durkheim’s work suffered from the use of statistics alone, MacDonald and Murphy would gain insights from subjective source material. Through these methods, the authors temper major trends and contextualize static evidence. For example, suicide rates amongst nobility and gentry were disproportionately low in Tudor England, which led the authors to believe that there were inaccuracies in the courts’ reporting. Through the examination of diaries, they revealed cases in which suicides were reported as accidental deaths to protect nobility. Qualitative research was essential to the aims of this study. The fact of self-killing in early modern England, as Murphy argues, is not as historically interesting as the interpretation of it. At one point, Murphy dismisses the precision of suicide rates and goes as far as to say, “Its history is the history of illusions.” An entire third of the book is devoted to “Hermeneutics” in order to explore popular—or “folk”—beliefs about suicide. Murphy, through self-conscious use of subjective sources, makes a compelling case for cultural history.

A major theme in Sleepless Souls is the growth of individualist culture in the early modern era. The authors carefully avoid speculation about the historical existence of individualist thinking. Instead, they focus on the crystallization of individualism politically and rhetorically. The narrative begins within the context of the history of suicide. Employing the words of Michael Dalton, seventeenth century writer, the crime of self-killing, “is an offense against God, against the king, and against Nature.” A life was considered not as an individual, but rather within a familial, political, and religious context. To kill oneself in early Tudor England was to deny the Lord his child and the Crown his soldier. The Crown punished suicides posthumously by requiring families to forfeit all property. In the latter half of the seventeenth century, the English Revolution and Restoration challenged central authority and championed property rights. A 1693 parliamentary statute significantly impaired the Royal prerogative courts’ ability to enforce forfeiture. The statute, Murphy writes, “was an expression of the cult of private property.” At the time, private property was both a growing economic reality, and a popular idea amongst Enlightenment thinkers.

MacDonald and Murphy describe the social mechanisms that gave rise to cultural individualism with a high degree of complexity. The authors observed trends in elite and intellectual thought—such as neoclassicism and Romanticism—which valorized the actions of individuals as heroes, and martyrs. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the growth of print culture increased public literacy, as well as overall the exposure of individuals’ voices. The authors argued that suicide notes rose to “literary heights” at this time. Suicide notes evoked the readers’ sympathies and allowed individuals some control over the narrative of their own death. Literacy, Murphy writes, “enabled suicides to use their deaths as expressions of their own failure and to find personal satisfaction.” The individualism that Sleepless Souls describes is particularly located in public culture. Succinctly put: affective individualism was more than a set of attitudes; it was active participation in a literate culture that considered the feelings and actions of ordinary people to be worthy of realistic representation.

In this text, the power that is prescribed to the individual is political and discursive. Individualism, in this sense, is specific to the literate society.

Perhaps the most interesting social phenomenon highlighted by the history of suicide is rationalism. The early modern era is often defined by secular politics, Enlightenment philosophy, and “new science.” These belief systems rely on self-assumptions of truth, and a human capacity for objectivity through reason. In the context of rational thought, suicide can be an incredibly subversive act. MacDonald and Murphy explored philosophical works by Montesquieu, Radicarti, and Hume that employed Epicurean atomism in defense of suicide. From various angles, they argue that the objective truth of materialism renders suicide neutral, and in some cases even positive. These logics are unfortunately operationalized in a very public incident in 1732. Richard and Bridget Smith shot their toddler and hanged themselves, leaving behind three lengthy suicide notes. The Smiths’ notes rationalized the murder-suicide with what Murphy calls, “scientific deism.” Their scientific observations led them to a pious end, “deduced from the Nature and Reason of Things.” Rationalism provided these individuals righteousness and truth in their beliefs. Their specific thoughts needed no social validation because they could observe truth for themselves.

The eighteenth century also brought about the idea of journalistic realism, in which writers publicly constructed truths from their observations. In their history of suicide, MacDonald and Murphy claim that, “Realism is as artificial a convention as allegory.” Newspaper reports used feverous suicide notes, circumstantial evidence, folk beliefs and the polemical anxieties of the writers themselves. While their precision is indeterminate, these articles remain telling stories, illustrative of the contemporary cultural beliefs.

By the end of Sleepless Souls, the very notion of truth becomes a social construction. Liminal in nature, self-killing posed many ethical, eternal, and existential questions. Michael MacDonald and Terence R. Murphy neatly historicized and contextualized each answer that early modern England had to offer. Secularization and individuation in the history of suicide reflected an increasingly rational and demystified modern worldview. MacDonald and Murphy’s work prompts the post-modern reader to measure materialist ideas against humanist faith in sociability and interdependency. This historical narrative touches only lightly upon a persistent and unfailing institution: the family. The authors mark a qualitative change in familial relations from “ritual to sentiment,” and leave something to be desired in this category of analysis. Sleepless Souls is an otherwise thorough account. In the curious and unfixed gaze of the historian, suicide remains an unsettling act. Only time will tell truth of suicide and “the undiscovered country from whose bourn / no traveler returns.”