Jewish Social Studies 11.1 (2004) iv, 1-2
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Steven J. Zipperstein
|Hans Rogger, 1923-2002|
Hans Rogger, the distinguished historian of Russia and the preeminent expert on imperial Russian policy toward Jews, was born in Herford, Westphalia, in 1923 and died in Los Angeles in 2002. The articles in this special section of Jewish Social Studies were presented—with several other papers—at a conference at UCLA on October 27, 2003, entitled "On the Historical Imagination of the Outsider: Russia, Jews, and the Work of Hans Rogger."
Rogger was the author of National Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Russia (1960), The European Right: A Historical Profile (co-edited with Eugene Weber and published in 1965), Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881-1917 (1983), Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia (1986), and numerous articles. He taught at UCLA from 1961 until the time of death.
Beginning with his research on eighteenth-century Russian national consciousness, Rogger's work was characterized by close, exacting readings of text—governmental, literary, and otherwise—and an insistence on understanding even the shrillest of voices with empathy and in historical context. Rogger's temperament was a liberal one, and he spent much of his academic career explicating illiberality, explaining its preoccupations, its biases, and its hatreds but in ways that lent them an internal coherence often lost on other, less meticulous, less cautious, less dispassionate scholars. His work on the chasm, misconstrued in late imperial Russia and blurred later in the wake of the Russian Revolution, separating Russian conservatism and right-wing politics remains definitive, and he shaped indelibly contemporary historical [End Page 1] understanding of both. Still more influential was Rogger's research, over the course of many years, into Russian governmental policy toward Jews. Here he undermined widely, often fiercely held beliefs in the culpability of the tsarist regime for the pogroms of 1881-82, and the assumption that the regime shared, and also consistently promoted a coherent policy vis-à-vis its Jews. Instead, Rogger found that its stance was characterized by uncertainty, not clarity; by distrust for Jews, but no clearly wrought policy of persecution; and, above all, by fear of change that rendered all radical solutions, including reactionary ones, inconceivable.
Rogger's scholarship tended to suggest, never hector, to nuance. His work was characterized by its unusual subtlety and by a considerable conceptual daring that ran deep, that was implicit in his densely documented prose and nearly always beneath the surface. He was self- effacing and principled—no doubt, at times, to a fault. Rogger destroyed a full-length monograph he had quite nearly completed on the Beilis Affair, reducing its essential findings to a first-rate article on the subject (reprinted in his Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia) after the publication in 1966 of Maurice Samuel's popular book The Blood Accusation.
Rogger understood with rare clarity that the excavation of historical truth was excruciatingly difficult, that its discovery demanded more even than mere erudition and exacting labor but also considerable, sustained historical imagination. He was a deeply cultivated person, greatly moved by music and the arts, widely read in European literature, in political theory, and in many different areas of history, sophisticated and worldly. A close, meticulous, original reader of the Russian classics—he built deft, suggestive analyses into his monographs of Russian writers ranging from D. I. Fonvizin to Dostoyevsky—the writer closest to his own temperament was, arguably, Chekhov. In a famous letter to his editor Suvorin, Chekhov states, much as Rogger might have, "We shall not play the charlatan, and we will declare frankly that nothing is clear in this world. Only fools and charlatans know and understand everything."
Hans Rogger was a man of singular clarity of mind, wit, and brilliance, and those who loved him miss him still with disquiet. His voice—gentle, severely principled, uncannily perceptive—influenced profoundly his many students as well as his many academic admirers. A glimpse at this debt, ongoing, fertile, and transparently affectionate, is evident in the following articles. For a...