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VOL. 23, NO. 5OCTOBER 3, 1997

Lecture Series: Ira Katznelson Will Speak on the Effect of War and the Holocaust on Political Studies

Ira Katznelson

By Fred Knubel

Columbia political scientist Ira Katznelson will examine the damage done to faith in human betterment by World War II and the Holocaust in three public lectures at the University this month.

  "In the early years of the 20th century, the disclosure and invention of knowledge was underpinned by profound optimism," Katznelson said in preparing his lectures.

  "Enfolding human reason geared to the progressive accumulation of learning would replace darkness with light and keep barbarism at bay," he said. "By mid-century, such beliefs had been contradicted by events. The experience of the 1930s and 1940s transformed efforts in the United States to understand modern politics, as political scientists, sociologists and historians tried to retain the ideals of the age of reason in the midst of catastrophe."

  The talks will be given on consecutive Mondays, Oct. 13, 20 and 27, at 8:00 P.M. in the Dag Hammarskjold Lounge on the 6th floor of the International Affairs Building. Admission will be free. They are the fifth in the Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures sponsored by the University Seminars at Columbia.

  "Desolation and Enlightenment: Political Knowledge After the Holocaust, Totalitarianism, and Total War," is the title of the series.

  • The first, on Oct. 13, "The Origins of Dark Times," will discuss "the period's most powerful accounts of the multi-dimensional calamity that befell western liberal civilization," Katznelson said. He will focus primarily on the work of émigré scholars Hannah Arendt and Karl Polanyi.

  • The second, on Oct. 20, "A Seminar on the State," will consider change in the concept of the state, which before the period had been seen as diminishing in importance. "Under conditions of duress, political analysis no longer could credibly avoid dealing with the state as a site of mobilized coercion or as an instrument for public purpose," he said. Katznelson will explore the work of scholars who addressed the subject, including Professors David Truman, Richard Hofstadter and C. Wright Mills, who were members of Columbia's University Seminar on the State.

  • The third, on Oct. 27, "Policy's Purpose," will probe the scholarship of Harold Lasswell, Robert Dahl, Charles Lindblom and others. It will explore the origins of modern policy studies that, "guided by experience and fear, sought to learn how to pilot governmental action to prevent harm as well as do good," Professor Katznelson said.

  "My first purpose in presenting these lectures is that of intellectual history," he said. "I think this generation of scholarship has been poorly understood in spite of its role in shaping subsequent patterns of inquiry.

  "The second is that of memory. To the extent we remember this special body of work, we tend to treat it in fragments, discipline by discipline, in a sanitized way; we forget just how charged and purposeful these often integrated efforts at social science and history were.

  "The third is hortatory. Though our times are vastly different, we continue to be marked directly and indirectly by the catastrophic legacies of holocaust, totalitarianism, and total war, yet today's political inquiry resembles in its assumptions that of the early years of the century rather more than that of mid-century. I think this mixture of simplification and forgetting represents a reduction, a mistake and a lost opportunity. I would like to recall scholarship at the end of the century to the tasks, subjects and means deployed by the postwar generation. I would like to do so not simply to celebrate their work but to subject it to a critique for what it did not achieve and subjects it did not address, thus suggesting, by way of extension, what we might do today."

  Katznelson is the Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History. His lectures, supported by a bequest from the Leonard Hastings Schoff and Suzanne Levick Schoff Memorial Trust, will be published by Columbia University Press.