- Precarious Cosmopolitans:Arendt and Hirschman as Refugee Intellectuals
Among the many German intellectuals who crossed the Atlantic in 1940 to flee persecution and probable death were Hannah Arendt and Albert O. Hirschman. There was much that they shared. The progeny of the Weimar Republic's tolerance and intellectual openness, they were heirs to a complex, uneven, and truncated process of Jewish integration. Both were secular, steeped in the classics of the German gymnasium tradition. Arendt was slightly older, by almost nine years, and just emerging from her university education as Hitler rose to power, while Hirschman was still embarking on his. Both fled in 1933 and found a home in Paris. It was there that they would each sketch out their first ideas for a book about the nature of totalitarianism, which they would complete only once they had landed, via Marseilles, in the United States. It was in Paris that the networks and resources that would eventually convey them to the United States were created. It would be in the United States, however, that the two would exercise influence in their respective fields, political philosophy and development economics.
These parallel lives represent two trajectories of flight and exile, but also of the migration of European ideas to American shores, [End Page 1051] and their first reception. Passages of displacement and accommodation would create new vistas for a new world order after 1945. The tales of Hirschman and Arendt represent two efforts to think about the world as it was coming out of the horror that forced them from Germany, two efforts to explore a social science that might rise above the substructure of methodological nationalism, which both agreed had played a role in the interwar crisis. Their agendas were in part the source of their early cool reception, as American social sciences (and other national styles) were not ready to pose basic questions about the centrality of the nation-state in economics and politics in the age of the Cold War. Their quests shared a common theme: to find what Arendt labeled ways to "think without bannisters" (Denken ohne Geländer)—a way of envisioning the world and developing analytical tools that did not rely upon the old supports, some of which, like nationalism, had contributed to the ruin of the openmindedness that sired them (King 2015, 27). This would apply to the areas of economics and ethics, as well as the bonds between them.
The move to the United States, and the backwards gaze at the destruction of Europe, gave them perspective on the wider sources sown into the ways in which modern European integration created a basic problem for states and markets. Their displacement, as so often happens with exile, confronted them squarely with the problems of borders, belonging, and the importance of place in the making of a new order that was not quite ready for their insights. And those experiences bore directly on the making of Hirschman's National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade (1945), which would be recovered in the 1970s as political economists turned to the role of trade in global affairs; and Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which would go on to have multiple lives as an exploration of Soviet autocracy in the Cold War, and more recently as a formative work in thinking about obligations to strangers. They were very different books, but both were steeped in the personal experience of being estranged and concerned with a world order that would transcend the commitments to the sovereignty of the nation-state as the foundation of post-war internationalism (Berghahn 2001; Jay 1986; Coser 1984). [End Page 1052]
The lives and early works of Arendt and Hirschman are but one pair of personal stories in a wider epic about displacement and the history of the cosmopolitan imagination. These two intellectuals confronted a double bind. First, their integration into German society and institutions could never quite be taken for granted; they were, to some degree, outsider-insiders even before their flight. Then, it was their being driven from their attachments to home that made them outsiders to all nations. They would both eventually become US...