Franz Neumann: An Appreciation Power and Freedom

Franz Neumann: An Appreciation Power and Freedom

Among professional political scientists the late Franz Neumann easily took a position hors cadre. In a drab trade he excelled in brilliance. Among circumspect searchers of validated facts he stood out as a man of ideas and an author of challenging, daring, sometimes paradoxical generalizations. In the long run it may be even more important that he was at all times poignantly aware of the fact that the subject matters he dealt with, power and freedom, were both basic and unavoidable phases of human existence.

Neumann had served his political apprenticeship with the inert unions and the hapless Social Democratic Party of the Weimar Republic. From this, his basic political experience, he had drawn a life-long sharp contempt for vacuities and make-believe and a burning interest in ever-renewed analysis of all relevant progressive and regressive factors of history. The choice of these terms—occurring ever so much more often in his later writings—indicates what in Neumann’s view constituted the yardstick of legitimate value judgment in political science: a rationally ordered non-oppressive society in which all social and organizational forms were arranged so as to maximize freedom of the individual. He moved with equal facility in contemporary and historical fields. If he inclined towards generalizations, he always tried to buttress them up from his rich store of historical knowledge. His London Ph.D. thesis of 1935, excerpts of which are included in a recent volume, bears witness to that as much as do his later works. Yet, the bulk of articles and papers collected in this volume were written in the decade after the appearance of his main contribution to political science, Behemoth. This work, translated into many languages, though ironically enough not into German, still—a decade and a half after its first appearance and after a deluge of material on Nazi Germany—offers the most meaningful explanation of the German scene in the 1930’s. The bulk of the papers now re-issued, while extending the scope of inquiry to a variety of present day institutions and problems pick up the themes treated in Behemoth—though at times with significant variations. The book had emphasized the economic causes for the rise of National Socialism and, moreover, showed how capitalist relationships of production, either openly or subterraneously, continued to play a major part in the operations of the monopolistic German command economy. In terms of political theory it contended that the Nazi state, lacking a coherent government doctrine, was not an integrated state but rather an agglomeration of four separate totalitarian bodies, communicating with each other on an ad hoc basis.