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3— The Voice of America
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The Voice of America

Dubiel: Today I'd like to talk with you about the time you spent working as a communications specialist for the American government. First of all, could you discuss how and where you worked during the war? Perhaps you could start by naming the institutions where you were employed, either part- or full-time.

Lowenthal: For nearly the entire war period, I held an advisory position in the Domestic Media Department of the Office of War Information. Later, in 1944, I worked for the Bureau of Overseas Intelligence, on German material specifically. This bureau was a part of the Office of War Information. While I was working in Washington, Marcuse was working for the Office of Strategic Services, and we often saw each other there. Several of my colleagues from the Institute worked there: Neumann, Kirchheimer. Pollock was an advisor for the War Production Board. Adorno and Horkheimer didn't hold any government jobs.

Dubiel: It would be hard to imagine that they could have.

Lowenthal: I can't say much about my work for the Domestic Media Department. It wasn't especially exciting—mainly routine. My job after 1944 in the Bureau of Overseas Intelligence was more interesting. There each of us had to evaluate radio programs and press materials in our respective languages. My job was to analyze

Translated by Ted R. Weeks.


the radio programs of the German armed forces and German press material, both of which were supposed to yield information on what was going on in Germany, particularly concerning morale. I worked with interesting people there. At the desk next to me sat Ruth Benedict, the famous anthropologist, who worked partly on Germany and partly on the Netherlands. I still remember our conversations comparing Westphalian and Dutch eating habits! Nonetheless, I must say I remember my time in Washington as a very frustrating experience. There were too many people, and there was a great muddle of bureaucracy, professorial vanity, and phony intellectuals—I didn't find it satisfying. So I wasn't too unhappy when my duties called me back to the Institute, to take an active part in a study on anti-Semitism among American workers. This study, financed by the American Jewish Labor Committee, was never published.

Dubiel: Marcuse told me that his job in the Office of Strategic Services consisted of identifying, along with other specialists, the groups in fascist Germany who contributed to its economic recovery. As you know, that happened as a preparatory stage of the later, poorly carried out denazification process. Did you also work in this context?

Lowenthal: Unfortunately, no. I would have much preferred to work in the Office of Strategic Services. But for personal reasons, that didn't work out. There were some really interesting people working there: H. Stuart Hughes, Carl Schorske, Felix Gilbert. They carried out interesting, historically oriented studies, whereas our work was then often very short-term and unmethodical. We neither did much good nor caused much harm, I believe.

Dubiel: I'm amazed that your work in the OWI was so disorganized. I've always thought that when governments hire intellectuals for such functions, they must have a clearly defined research plan with a clear organizational hierarchy and precisely defined questions and instructions.

Lowenthal: I don't mean that everything was totally chaotic. It


was, you know, wartime, and the American governmental apparatus was inflated with new agencies and personnel. And, to tell the truth, it wasn't really prepared for such things as intelligence work. In this respect, the United States had no real tradition in international politics, as existed in the European countries and especially in the totalitarian systems. No, the work there was not especially satisfying. That was not the case later with the Voice of America; the work there was an intellectual and scientific challenge.

Dubiel: Could you explain that in a little more detail?

Lowenthal: My task consisted of setting up a research division that was to evaluate the effects of the Voice of America radio programs. And I did just that, in fact, setting it up for a broad, international area. My immediate superiors in the State Department helped me a great deal in this, and many American social scientists assisted me to an extraordinary degree. We employed many experts in the social sciences and maintained contracts with university institutes and commercial research firms. All of the plans for these widespread activities were worked out in our office. Above all, we approached the effects of mass media in a quite different manner than was usual in American studies at that time. Unfortunately, this new approach didn't last long; that was one of my biggest disappointments. American studies at that time were influenced essentially by the needs of the advertising industry. Our work had two primary target areas. The first of these was the Soviet Union and its satellites, and here our work was basically archeological. Naturally, we couldn't examine the effects of the programming in the Eastern Bloc directly, so we had to develop completely new methodologies. One was the questioning of refugees. That was a very dubious method because it involved such a selective sample. Other material for our investigations came from the reactions of the Soviet Union to our broadcasts, including its jamming of them.

The other important investigations involved communication habits. One can't naïvely assume that all nations and cultures respond in the same manner, for example, that reactions in the Near


and Far East to printed or electronic media would be the same as in the United States. In this context we examined the formation of public opinion leadership: What sources supply public opinion with information, for example, in rural areas? How are opinions formed and disseminated? In the café, by the mule driver, or by the messenger who goes from the village to the big cities and brings back information? Our task consisted, as I already said, of evaluating the specific effects of the radio broadcasts, but we also studied other media. Of particular theoretical and methodological importance was the set of questions aimed at revealing the conceptions an average inhabitant of another country would have of America, of American culture and politics. How was one to know whether and to what extent a conception can be traced back to a certain source—a certain broadcast or a certain film? It was interesting to pursue in detail the question of how the image of America is influenced in different countries.

One other important aspect of our work involved our relationship with the producers of the radio broadcasts. Here our task was fundamentally to bicker, that is, to criticize what was being produced in the broadcasts. For that reason, we weren't exactly popular with the programming directors. After all, we were investigating the relationship of the radio producers to their public. We were, so to speak, their auditors.

Dubiel: I don't understand something here. Now, the Voice of America was an agency of the State Department. I thought that in the United States there were only private radio stations. Or is that a dumb question?

Lowenthal: The Voice of America was an arm of the State Department, later of the U.S. Information Agency. You're confusing that with the American radio industry, which covered the domestic market. We were forbidden by law to transmit any of the Voice's programs to America. The Voice's programs were—and still are today—broadcast by radio stations in Europe and Asia. Some were


also broadcast from New York, for example, the German-language Stimme Amerikas—but you're much too young, you've certainly never listened to that. No, your question isn't dumb at all; there were and are private radio stations that had and have a commission similar to that of the Voice of America: Radio Liberation and Radio Free Europe. These are semiofficial government agencies whose credibility is, on the one hand, strengthened by the fact that they don't appear as direct agencies of American foreign policy. On the other hand, they are often rather excessive in their radicalness. You surely know that; sometimes the administration was caused a lot of embarrassment and effort because these semiofficial propaganda agencies went too far. For example, in 1956 during the Hungarian uprising, it was difficult to prevent Radio Free Europe from encouraging the Hungarian population to engage in further useless bloodshed.

Several things interested me as a sociologist in this work: the development of new methods in communication research; the relationship—of which I experienced a good deal myself—between the scholars engaged in evaluation and the producers of media programs; and finally, the contact with the hierarchical competitive struggles in the various sections in the State Department, especially in the Foreign Service. Diplomats and other high government officials who worked in Washington looked down on this enormous propaganda apparatus and the information service much more than the officials working out in the field did. To their way of thinking, this was no way to conduct foreign policy; they treated us with great condescension. Whenever they wanted to know something from us, they would always demand immediate answers. For example, I often gave lectures in the Foreign Service Institute, and I might suddenly be asked, "So what do we have to do to make the Russians like us or so that this or that happens, and how can you prove this or that assumption?" While they had disdain for our nondiplomatic activities, they nonetheless demanded quick answers to difficult,


complex questions. I felt as if I were in an echo chamber, where from all sides I was pummeled with questions, none of which I quite understood. My biggest and most fundamental mistake at that time was to equate American with German government service. I was around fifty, and if German standards had applied, I probably would have stayed in the foreign service until retirement. Today I sometimes have to laugh at my naïveté then. I didn't realize the internal mobility and politicization of the governmental apparatus. I finally came into great difficulties when the Republicans took over the helm and, besides that, the entire agency was transferred to the organizational framework of the U.S. Information Agency. Then they made my life very tough, broke up my department, and reduced my research funding in order gradually to force me to quit. But I only resigned after I was offered a professorship at Berkeley.

Dubiel: How did that come about?

Lowenthal: Like a bolt from the blue I was offered a visiting professorship at Berkeley, for which I obtained—with some difficulty—a leave from the government. I was then invited to spend a year at Stanford's Center for Advanced Studies, where I did enough sociological research to be offered a professorship at Berkeley. In that connection a concrete example of the sociology of role change occurs to me. As director of research for the Voice of America I was often approached by the director of the Voice, who wanted to use our results, of course, only to the extent that they were advantageous for him, that is, in order to expand his staff or his budget. The senior officials in the State Department, however, wanted to know only the critical side. So I was tugged back and forth between the wishes of the director and those of his superiors: the one wanted only justification, the other only criticism. That was a precarious position. I have many more sociologically interesting stories from that job, but that would take up too much time here.

Dubiel: Leo, I have a burning question. At that time in the early fifties, with your political past and in that politically sensitive position, surely you would have been an ideal victim for McCarthy?


Lowenthal: Yes, in fact, one of the main targets of attack of McCarthy and his henchmen, those loathsome lawyers Roy Cohn and David Shine, was the information service of the American government. According to them, the Voice of America was controlled by Communists. They constantly harassed us in New York. They had set up their headquarters in the Waldorf Astoria in order to better interrogate us. (I believe I already told you that the main offices of the Voice of America were located in New York.) They continually summoned the political and technical directors and the various division chiefs of the separate departments, in both secret and public sessions. They never summoned me. That was astonishing, because I was, after all, the man from that odd institute in New York, I held a quite high position in the propaganda apparatus of the State Department, and I had a past they certainly knew about. I was convinced that they would interrogate me one day.

At that time I used to keep my writings stacked on the desk in my office. On top of the pile I had placed an offprint of an essay with the title "Portrait of the American Agitator." That was an advance copy of my later book Prophets of Deceit . If I had been summoned to testify in Washington, I would have taken that stack with me and placed it so that the committee and the television crew could have read the title. Then if some senator, outraged at the unambiguous allusion, had asked me to explain myself, I would have calmly said that I brought the books along for the sole purpose of demonstrating my scientific qualifications to the honorable senators. Unfortunately, I was never given that chance; I was never called to testify. I've often thought about it, but I've never quite been able to figure it out. Perhaps it had something to do with my institutional independence; after all, I could have just gone back to the Institute. I can only tell you the following story, which I learned from the executive director of the Voice of America. I simply said to him, "Ask around why I haven't been called to testify." So he asked one of those unpaid assistants of McCarthy's, the well-known William F. Buckley, a very rich, archreactionary journalist belonging to the farthest right


wing of American journalism. And he said to the director, "Yeah, that Lowenthal. We had him at the top of our list, we looked into every corner of his past, but we couldn't find anything against him." I was aghast, of course, and said to my informant, "Do me a favor and go back and tell them that I'll help them find something!" But nothing happened.

In connection with the State Department's efforts to get rid of me, I had to go through another security investigation. That was a favorite way to humiliate the people they wanted to get rid of. As a rule, the investigators who carried out such supplemental security investigations held at least the same civil service rank as their "victim." At that time I was director of a department, so I should have been interrogated by the director of the security office of the foreign service or his representative. But in order to humiliate me even more, I was interrogated by a petty civil servant whose name I'll never forget: Mr. Spence. He was a kind of glorified nightwatchman at our New York office. It must have been a trauma for him, because from his perspective I was a bigwig.

On his desk were the questions—written by someone else—that he was to ask me. He sat at a little desk, in front of which were a few chairs and a comfortable armchair, in which I sat. Then came the stereotyped questions—I'll just mention a few of them. Among others: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" I could answer that with no. Then: "Do you now or have you ever had sympathies for the Communists?" There I said yes. He just about fell off his chair. He made sure that I had understood the question correctly. I said that I now no longer had sympathies for the Communists; my official position and area of activity spoke for this. But I was born in 1900. "In 1917, the revolution broke out. We were pupils in one of the most liberal high schools in liberal Frankfurt. We hated the Kaiser and the world war, and we saw the Bolshevik revolution as an act of liberation for humanity." And, I added, I would hope that the American government would never


place anyone in a sensitive post who was of my generation and yet had never felt sympathies for international Communism. The man looked at me in astonishment and asked, "Should I write all that down?" I said, "You don't need to. I'll place a State Department memorandum in the files"—which I did, too, and nothing happened to me. And then the man, still following his instructions, accused me of having only investigated the material of right-wing agitators in my book Prophets of Deceit . I told him, "I'm sorry, but the American Jewish Committee paid me ten thousand dollars to write a book about anti-Semitic agitators." The Communists might well be very wicked, but in the United States they aren't anti-Semitic, at least not in terms of their ideology. The next question contained the accusation that in my lectures at Columbia University I had paid inordinate attention to the works of Karl Marx. To that I answered that when I accepted the job as lecturer at Columbia I had taken an oath to be scientifically objective, and consequently I would have been committing an act of considerable dishonesty if I had given a lecture on the history of social philosophy and simply ignored the most important social philosopher of the nineteenth century, Karl Marx, and his followers. And so the questions continued, each more stupid than the preceding one.

Dubiel: This interrogation, this security examination, then, was a degradation ritual to make you quit your job. But it surely had some connection with the McCarthy interrogations to which others were subjected? And didn't the fact that they suddenly no longer wanted you at this post have, possibly, something to do with your ideological and scientific background?

Lowenthal: I hardly think so. More likely it coincided with a new trend. First of all, they wanted a Republican to fill my post, and second, there was a strong bias against the scientific orientation of our methods. The Republicans were old-fashioned and set all their hopes on the intelligence apparatus. They were no longer willing to spend money on scientific research. It's also not true that so many


people were fired because of the McCarthy trials. Very few who had secure positions were actually fired. This is all very interesting sociologically. If somebody were writing about the sociology of the state machinery, there would be a lot of material on that from the McCarthy years. There were many people who served as informers for McCarthy, among them officials from the Voice of America. But even more important than one's party affiliation, in an American-type government, is which governmental branch controls your office. Of course, Republicans and Democrats aren't friends, but Congress and the executive branch are even greater enemies. If—and this happened frequently during the McCarthy years—somebody from the executive branch would say something to the Congress people that could hurt the executive, that was the greatest crime. We had a man in our department, a unit supervisor—I don't want to mention his name—who was one of the head informers and was constantly going over to the Waldorf Astoria to relate his horror stories to Cohn and Shine, and probably to McCarthy as well. The man had a secure position; he couldn't be fired. I remember a meeting in which I took part. We realized that we couldn't fire him, but we had to "punish" him somehow. So he was transferred to Kabul, Afghanistan.

Dubiel: Can you talk some more about those events?

Lowenthal: The McCarthy committee wasn't at all liked by the members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. When McCarthy began to interfere with the business of this important congressional committee, they formed their own subcommittee, the so-called Hickenlooper committee. This committee summoned me and asked me about the effects of the Voice of America in the Soviet Union. The next day the New York Times published my testimony on the front page. I thought I was going to be famous! But, as it turned out, it was a media flash-in-the-pan, even with my photo and testimony on the front page. The senior officials in the State Department were very annoyed at this sudden public vis-


ibility. I was severely reprimanded for my testimony. Well, all of that's probably not so interesting, but it is interesting that the two committees were at loggerheads: while the McCarthy committee had no use for me, the Foreign Affairs Committee treated me with a great deal of respect.

Dubiel: Could we speak now a little more generally about foreign policy in the United States?

Lowenthal: Well, I had my views on American foreign policy insofar as my work provided some insight into it. The interesting thing was how much the entire mode of thinking was influenced by domestic interests and conditions, by events in domestic politics and in business life. Let me give a few examples. I was always amazed at how little interest the Voice of America and other propaganda agencies had in South America. People would always say, "We've got them in our pocket." And I would respond in conversation, "Those are authoritarian feudal societies. There are surely groups other than these military juntas who in the distant future could determine the destinies of these countries." They ignored that. This attitude was manifested in the fact that only second-rate people were used for the programs destined for South America, and little attention was paid to them. Perhaps in this respect the behavior of my department was representative of the entire State Department. That's one good example. The other was Africa. For Africa there was simply nothing. I wrote memorandum after memorandum suggesting that we do some programming in Swahili, but nothing came of it (that changed later on). I must say that in my time, as I saw it, Africa scarcely appeared at all in the immediate realm of American foreign policy. What amazed me most was the undifferentiated thinking with regard to Stalin's anticipated death. This was in 1953; he was already very ill, and it was obvious that he would soon die. Endless position papers were written, full of speculations on what would happen after his death. Would civil war break out, would tensions between the military and the party


become critical, would the political apparatus be able to take the strain, would unrest result, would it possibly even be a good opportunity for intervention? You can't even imagine all the nonsense written in those days. Of course, little Leo Lowenthal wasn't asked for advice, but if I had been given the opportunity, I would have predicted that nothing dramatic was going to happen. I would have said, "The whole governmental system has been in the saddle for almost forty years now, the majority of the people living there don't know any other system, the government and the military apparatus are dependent on each other; the country is in a stage of industrial reconstruction after a horrible war, nothing extraordinary will happen that could threaten the system." At that time, they took me for a fool, but I was right. It left a deep impression on me, this official wishful thinking and anticipation of the Soviet Union's collapse after the death of Stalin.

Dubiel: Leo, when you talk like this about American foreign policy from the perspective of your work, it occurs to me that though your description of foreign policy is critical, it is, so to speak, critical only of immediate circumstances. You mentioned that whole hemispheres, for example, Latin America and Africa, were ignored because the Americans supposedly "had them in their pocket anyway." You've also told me often enough about American blindness toward certain developments in Communist China and about the personalistic image many officials and politicians had of the development of the Soviet Union. You've mentioned to what extent American diplomats and other employees of the U.S. foreign service remained estranged from the country in which they were stationed, always assessing local conditions, so to speak, from the cultural-imperialist bias of the United States. They generally wouldn't learn the language well enough to communicate, had contact only with the country's upper classes, and consequently seldom gained a realistic picture of social conditions, even in the countries where they were considered friends and allies. None of


this goes beyond the limits of immanent criticism. I could well imagine that you'd write memoranda about all of this, concluding with the recommendation that the foreign service be reformed. In short, what surprises me is that you didn't come up with a more radical critique of American foreign policy. Only once, when you were speaking about the disappointment of all of your political hopes—and you also brought postwar political development in the United States into this global disappointment—you came a little nearer to my expectations. My generation, that is, the social scientists who got their political education through the experience of the Vietnam War in the context of the student movement in the late sixties, had very specific and clear-cut criticisms of American foreign policy. So, the combination of this political socialization and a relatively good knowledge of Southeast Asia and Latin America has made me firmly convinced that the United States represents an imperialist power. For that reason, it's considered astonishing—and the target of these accusations has, of course, usually been Herbert Marcuse, but I've heard them made in reference to you, too—that people like all of you, with a clear-cut intellectual, socialist tradition, who are counted among the founders of Critical Theory, had no qualms about entering the service of a power that, just one generation later, was unequivocally seen as imperialistic. What do you say to the charge that the United States is an imperialist power?

Lowenthal: I'm not interested in posing as an ardent critic of American foreign policy. I looked at it from the vantage point of my specific function; after all, I was only the director of a certain department within the American propaganda apparatus that didn't make political decisions itself. I'm emphasizing this only in order to make clear that what I'm about to say is merely an aphoristic marginal note, not a conclusive assertion. The governmental activity didn't compromise either Marcuse or me. For practical reasons I was forced to find suitable employment. As you know, the Institute's funds had become diminished, and already beforehand I had ac-


tively tried to find an acceptable academic position, an endeavor in which I finally succeeded after this "detour" in government. The "cunning of reason" sometimes works for the individual, too. I've already told you the story about M. I. Finley, a respected professor of classics; when he was denounced by the Committee on Un-American Activities, he was fired from his crummy job at a tiny college and ended up being offered a great position in Cambridge. But, to get back to the subject, I'd have to say that neither during the war, when I worked for the Office of War Information, nor in the postwar period did I ever have the feeling that I was working for an imperialist power. At that time, American foreign policy was essentially reactive and in no respect active. I consider it false radicalism to say that the politics of the cold war were nothing but a manifestation of American imperialism. After all, there were two superpowers opposing each other, and it's difficult to make out just who—the United States or the Soviet Union—engaged in the more imperialistic politics right after the war.

Dubiel: Now you're starting to take the defensive, probably because the category of imperialism is so morally loaded. Because of that, your answer sounds a little like a justification. Let's take a sober look at the term. There are certain elements of definition on which we can quickly agree. And when these elements are applied to the process of foreign policy precisely in this period right after the Second World War, the term's meaning becomes clear. I am following the accepted formulas of established American political science. By imperialism, I mean the establishment of a permanent military establishment; the setting up of a defense industry that is independent of war cycles, that is, an industry specifically implemented for the production of military goods; the setting up of a permanent crisis staff that, in the American case, is ultimately more influential than the Secretary of State but is located not in the normal institutional apparatus of the government but rather, as it were, adjacent to it. (I refer here, of course, to the National Security


Council, which is basically a war agency—no Western European country has anything analogous.) I'm also thinking about simple historical facts that, as far as I know, became known only in retrospect—for example, that under Truman the military budget was suddenly doubled with the justification that the role of the United States as the guarantor of international stability or as the leader in world politics could not be made plausible except by a permanent war readiness. These are all things that became obvious only after a whole series of interventions. At least since Vietnam they have been unmistakably evident. My question is, was there at that time a consciousness, for you or among your colleagues, of imperialism as I've just defined it?

Lowenthal: I concur completely with your description. Nonetheless, in those days, as I was working for the government, I wasn't really conscious of it. What was always present, and still is today, although the Americans usually have to pay bitterly for it, is the belief that in order to carry out foreign policy effectively, it's necessary to form an alliance with whatever class happens to be on top at the moment, without an exact analysis of what sort of scoundrels those people may be and what sort of real support they enjoy in their society. I've often said to you that American foreign policy is essentially reactive. They let the world name the topics, as it were. It's a strange mixture of Calvinistic moralism and politics for capitalist interests, which are incorporated in an opaque and often very contradictory synthesis. Charlie Wilson's outrageous saying, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country," is a perfect expression of the American mentality. In this country, many people really do believe that what supports the economic system and its values is simultaneously compatible with a moralistic line on how to live one's life, equally in the private and in the public context. Consequently it happens that they have dealings with those scoundrels in Iran and those criminals in Vietnam and God knows where else. When they finally realize that it isn't working out, they


go off—in the exact same short-sighted and reactive manner—in search of new allies, with whom the same process starts all over again. The Americans are in this respect like a Hegelian thinker, who always supports as "logical" whatever party happens to have the power at that moment. This policy leads nolens volens to relativism and even amoralism. Most American politicians aren't even conscious of this policy.

An undialectical concept of American imperialism is questionable. Essentially what that means is that American foreign policy is on the one hand forever trying to counteract, by means of armaments, alliances, and intervention, its constant fear of being outdone militarily while on the other hand trying simultaneously to forestall the ever-present threat of a global economic crisis, by gaining new markets and protecting old ones. If you want to call that imperialism, fine. I think it's nothing more than a clear-cut emanation of the capitalist production system.

Dubiel: You're paraphrasing Lenin . . .

Lowenthal: Yes, and all this is by no means so different from what is happening on the other side, in the Soviet Union and now also gradually in China. Already in 1950 I said that the United States and the Soviet Union are very similar systems, differing only in details of institutional processes. I don't believe, for example, that the National Security Council is so unique. I'm sure that similar institutions exist in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Dubiel: That is to say, today you support—like many of your former colleagues and allies—a sort of negative, critically interpreted convergence theory.

Lowenthal: You have to keep in mind that the United States's role as a world power is very new. Just how long is this business going to last? The Americans became an international power, involved in modern world history, only toward the end of and after the First World War. That's just a bit over half a century ago. Many


peculiarities, particularly institutional ones, of American foreign policy are very simply explained by the fact that in this respect—unlike the Western European nations—the United States has no tradition reaching back into the nineteenth century or even earlier.

Dubiel: I'd like to offer one more observation I've made on the basis of a closer acquaintance with American postwar history. The ability to recognize precisely the imperialist character of American politics was, after all, very much hampered by the following circumstance: if you judge foreign policy strategies by the same right-left parameters that you can apply to domestic politics, then the pertinent contending factions of the postwar period present a very confusing picture. The people who already during the war and later in the postwar period were interested in a leading world role for the United States were, after all, the liberals with strongly moralistic—if not messianic—pretensions. In contrast, most of the conservatives at this time felt a strong interest in keeping America sheltered from world history. Today we tend to identify imperialist strategies with the right-wing, conservative, or even fascistic groups in the United States. And precisely this perception makes the assessment of American foreign policy so confusing for Europeans. But that also illustrates very nicely what you just said about U.S. foreign policy being a contradictory synthesis of Calvinist moralism and the politics of capitalist interests.

Lowenthal: Besides, Helmut, we don't want to forget that America's primary enemy in both world wars was Germany, first a Wilhelmine and then a fascist Germany. And if these enemies weren't a good moral justification for a policy of liberal intervention, then I don't know what would be. The anti-interventionists in the United States on the eve of the Second World War were practically fascists. This "America first" movement was a very precarious affair. The fascistic and anti-Semitic fringe groups I examined in my research were at that time, as you know, fanatically


isolationist. Even within certain strata of the working class, insofar as these were anti-Semitic, there was the attitude: how does all of this concern us?

Dubiel: I'd really like to continue our discussion, but unfortunately our conversation has to fit into one book. So back to the biography. In the course of your work with the Voice of America you traveled more or less all around the world. What especially interests me now are the trips to Europe, your return to Germany in the early postwar years. Please continue.

Lowenthal: I first returned to Europe after the Hitler years, or as Germans usually say—regrettably—"after the war," in 1949 on business for the Voice of America. My first destination was England. At that time, of course, there were no jets that were able to make the whole journey nonstop. We had to land in Shannon, Ireland, and were forced, half-asleep, to disembark and wait in the airport café. As soon as I saw the waiter I was struck by an impression—of the servility and assiduity with which the dreadful coffee was served. As I contemplated this specific type of servility and assiduity, which I never experienced in quite the same way in America, I thought I noticed beneath the obsequious politeness something hidden, namely the resentment, the rage and envy, felt by the proletarian class toward the bourgeoisie that had just arrived in that expensive airplane. I hadn't seen that for fifteen years in America: Americans, after all, are fooled by a completely successful middle-class ideology—tomato juice unites us all beyond any class differences! Shannon was the return to an archetypical experience. My entire political memory was revived when I reexperienced this sharp class difference in a psychologically recognizable form. This was Europe.

Dubiel: Leo, a similar experience occurs to me, which complements yours in all aspects because it also took place in an airport, in Los Angeles. A black waitress in a cafeteria in the TWA building started up a conversation with two passengers, a well-off


couple who had just returned from a vacation in Miami. The three of them exchanged remarks about their life stories, and the man, who clearly belonged to the upper middle class, told how he had acquired his business. At that point the black waitress responded, without a trace of reserve or distance, that she'd tried to make her fortune in business at one point, but "I didn't make it." In this small conversational scene, two classes were personally represented: upper middle and lower middle. They dealt with each other without a trace of psychological class barriers. Here in the United States there's an ideological egalitarianism that permeates every facet of social life. That really is different in Europe. Even in those societies where the integration of the proletariat into bourgeois society has taken place smoothly, as in the case of the Federal Republic, there are still remnants of a once-intact class consciousness. The status anxieties of the petit bourgeois, the helpless resentment against the upper class, which manifests itself in all that silly talk about "the little man"—it's all a perverted, lingering trace of this.

Lowenthal: That's just what I meant, you've formulated it perfectly. Suddenly, all of that was there once again: the class differences that express themselves in this reserve, in the distance, the gestures. These signs signaled to our group that we lived in another, socially different world.

Dubiel: Yes, Leo, in this we agree, but what can we do with it? It can be said that the American dream is the perverse apogee of a thoroughly ideological class harmony, which the ruling strata in the Federal Republic can only dream about. Their ideological motto of "social partnership" certainly hasn't taken root to the same extent; the residues of a once-intact class consciousness must still be too strong. But then again, I'm inclined to defend this psychological class harmony, without a theoretical backup for my position. The United States represents the most perfect bourgeois society the world has ever known, including its positive aspects. Everyday life here is so easy and pleasant, so free from the authoritarian-Wil-


helmine fuss that still characterizes much of political life in the Federal Republic today. It's reminiscent of the concept of competition in the third volume of Das Kapital: bourgeois equality is such a massive psychological reality in the United States that it really does determine a good part of daily behavior. Here I'm ambivalent to the point of helplessness. . . .

Lowenthal: Yes, when I first came to America, I said: this is capitalism without a bad conscience. When someone in Germany called someone a capitalist or spoke about capitalism, a friend-foe relationship was immediately established. Here it's different. Nobody tries to deny that this is a capitalist society. This is probably because America's emergence as a society occurred at the height of the bourgeois age. America had no feudal mortgages on its future. Here there are unfortunately no pretty ruins of castles or other historical relics of earlier times, but similarly lacking is that feudal ideal of obligations to those above and below, the ritual maintenance of social boundaries. But I'd better get back, finally, to the waiters in Shannon and to my first trip back to Europe. The airplane landed in London. There I saw for the first time the destruction caused by bombing. The city made a most depressing sight, characterized by extreme lethargy: very little reconstruction work was under way. One of my most embarrassing experiences—this was once again at the airport, waiting for my flight to the Continent—was to see the stout, overly well fed, loud, and uninhibited German-speaking businessmen. At that time I heard the absurd story that Germans were sending their English friends "Care" packages—don't forget, this was 1949. There I thought to myself, for once in my life I'm on the winning side, whereas otherwise I generally feel more comfortable among the losers. And yet here it was no use to me anyway, for the tables had already turned again. From London I flew to Italy, and from there I traveled by train through Austria to Germany. The next morning I woke up in my sleeping car in Innsbruck and saw bombed-out Austrian buildings


for the first time. I admit quite freely today that at the moment I said to myself, "Not enough, not enough." Suddenly the whole rage, the fury, the grief at all the horror Hitler had brought about, exploded in me. An old acquaintance picked me up at the train station in Munich. He suggested that we go directly to the Oktoberfest, and I agreed, half out of politeness and half out of melancholy. On arriving there, I just about turned around and flew back to America. The whole crap had started up anew: there were those loud, fat, boozing oafs in the giant tents, making a ruckus drinking, eating sausages, and swinging their mugs, the oom-pah-pah bands were blaring. It was ghastly.

Another experience I remember was Dachau, where I went with a group of colleagues from my office. I was walking, in a kind of daze, in the little cemetery in front of the ovens, and I suddenly saw that one of my American colleagues was pulling out his camera to take a picture of me. I came at him like one possessed and shouted, "Jim, you can't take a picture of me here." He didn't understand that at all. The thought that I, a Jew who had survived through no merit of my own, would stand in front of the memorial at Dachau and have my picture taken for "fun," as it were, was more than I could stand. From Munich I traveled to Frankfurt, where I stayed awhile. Frankfurt was the headquarters of the High Command. Yes, Helmut, I had some experiences in Frankfurt, but should I tell about all that?

Dubiel: Yes, by all means.

Lowenthal: Well, then, I was quartered in a V.I.P. hotel, the Hotel Carlton by the train station. And there, after all those years, was the same manager who had been there in the early thirties, before Hitler. He recognized me right away; in earlier days I had frequently eaten there. He asked, "Herr Dr. Lowenthal, what brings you to Frankfurt again?" He was astonished when I told him that I was an official in the American foreign service. Then I asked him what I could do that evening—it was a Sunday. He suggested a


cabaret, I think on Lindenstraße. When I checked my coat at the cloakroom, I heard from the stage of the cabaret a soubrette singing a melody from the Threepenny Opera . I must have muttered to myself out loud in English, "Well, that's how I went out and that's how I come back!" The cloakroom lady looked at me with astonishment. I had only wanted to say, half subconsciously, I left with Brecht, and here I was, returning with Brecht.

And another story occurs to me just now. The next morning I was picked up from the Hotel Carlton by an official American government car. The driver was a young German, about eighteen years old. When I walked out of the hotel, he diligently opened the rear door of the car, and I said to him in German, "No, that's not necessary; I'll sit up front with you." He was completely amazed. Then we began to talk. He was greatly impressed by the fact that I spoke German so well and especially by the fact that I could chat with him in the Frankfurt dialect. I told him that, as a German Jew, I had emigrated in time to avoid Hitler and that I had, so to speak, made my fortune in America. Then this boy said to me in Frankfurt dialect, "Ja, Herr Doktor, that was really dumb of Hitler to start in on the Jews. After all, everybody knows that Jews have money." That was one of the saddest experiences I had. This innocent boy, who must have been born around 1931, was chronically afflicted with this ideological poison that Nazism had spread and left behind. At that time I didn't feel capable of enlightening the boy. In any case, it was a depressing experience and colored my first impressions of post-Hitler Germany. Shall I go on?

Dubiel: Yes, yes.

Lowenthal: One of the few people in Germany who impressed me positively at that time was the then vice-chancellor of Frankfurt University, Franz Böhm. I can't remember when I had seen him last, but he knew who I was. Even before I got around to formulating my impressions, he said, "Isn't it depressing? Nobody ever knew about anything. Everywhere you find this feigned ignorance


about the goings-on in Germany during the Hitler years." Böhm had great moral integrity. My meeting with him was actually my only uplifting experience of that visit. During a business trip to Heidelberg I also visited a prominent social scientist, who, as a well-known Social Democrat, had immediately been fired from his post by the National Socialists. So I went to see him, and, typical for a German professor, he continually called me "Herr Doktor" to establish the proper distance between himself, the "Herr Professor" and a commonplace "Herr Doktor." When I asked him how he was doing, he immediately began to complain about the American occupation authorities. He complained about the planned but long since shelved school reform that would have done away with Latin and the learning of other classical languages. I couldn't resist asking him what he really had to complain about. After all, with the help of the American victors he was back in his job, and he was doing well materially. After this conversation about the school reform that hadn't been carried out, he asked me what had impressed me most in Germany, and I told him about my encounter with Franz Böhm. I also repeated to him that again and again I had run into the phenomenon of Germans claiming not to have known anything about the atrocities committed under Hitler. To this he responded with a slightly smug smile, "Well, Herr Doktor, you in America carry out so many empirical studies. Have you ever done a study on how fast the living forget their dead?" After he used the almost incredible pronoun "their" in connection with "dead" to refer to the Jews and the other countless victims murdered by the Germans, I bowed and took my leave. It was a shattering experience. But enough of that now.

Dubiel: You wanted to tell about the behavior of certain American officials with whom you had dealings during your travels in Germany.

Lowenthal: Yes, Helmut, I'll start off with an amusing story that is very characteristic of the mentality of both the Germans and


the Americans. In my research department in New York we didn't do any of our own research on the effectiveness of the Voice of America programs because the American occupation authorities in Germany maintained their own research department. It was precisely this agency that I was to visit. It had already struck me in America that a surprisingly large number of listeners commented unusually warmly and cordially on the Voice of America. I simply couldn't believe that they had been listening so zealously or that they had been thinking so benevolently about it. So I asked my colleague—that was, so to speak, my official task—"What do you do, exactly? What approach do you use? How do you find respondents?" "Well," he said, "we send a postcard to the people whom we want to interview stating that on a certain date an American official of the High Commission will come to ask them a few questions." My immediate response was, "Fine, I understand everything." The Germans, the defeated, wanted to make a good impression when they had dealings with Americans, and they could easily guess what the Americans wanted to hear. This anecdote is equally characteristic for the authoritarian German character as for the indescribable naïveté of the Americans, who, after all, must have known from their methodological training what an interview prejudice is.

But there were also more serious stories. I flew with a military airplane from Frankfurt to Berlin; that was the only way—it was the time of the blockade. I flew together with a rather highly placed State Department official who also worked for the U.S. Information Agency (USIA). The airplane had hardly taken off when he turned to me and said, "Leo, since you're in Germany, why don't you buy yourself some jewels?" I said to him that I had never bought jewels in my life and that I didn't have the slightest intention to buy any in Germany. At that time, despite the German currency reform—you're probably too young to remember that, Helmut—the cigarette economy still prevailed in Germany, and it was easy for


the relatively well-off American occupiers to buy up jewels and other objects of value. In Berlin we were picked up by an official government car with a German driver, as usual. Even before we reached our office the car stopped in front of an apartment house in Charlottenburg. My colleague got out and said that it wouldn't take long and he would be right back. At this point the German driver, who had found out that I was of German origin, turned around and asked me, "Do you know what the gentleman is doing up there?" Without being asked he proceeded to inform me that my colleague's jewel dealer lived there. Helmut, this is by no means an isolated incident. Many of my colleagues urged me to buy jewels, furniture, and china at that time because everything was so cheap. I was appalled at this mentality, not because I had any great sympathy for the Germans but because the fact that government officials were so set on plundering the Germans for a few cents was really repugnant. Furthermore, these government employees, who often weren't career officials and who after the occupation years settled back into civilian life at home, had something in common with the senior diplomats and military men, namely, great ignorance about Germany. Hardly anyone made the effort to learn the German language or to establish contact with the German population. I remember how one high official of the USIA urged me to stay on in Germany because they could really use me there. I told him that I was in the process of setting up a large research agency in the United States, and that he wouldn't accept my conditions anyway. He asked, "What are your conditions?" I would have demanded a binding promise from all my employees that, first, they would not engage in black market activities; second, they would be able to converse in colloquial German within a year; and third, they would have to name me five German families with whom they interacted socially. This was, in my view, the only way to carry out the politics of information, or any politics whatsoever, in a democratic manner.


Well, I don't have to tell you that these conditions weren't accepted. Fine. A year later an equally high official in Austria made me the very same offer, and I smilingly named him the same conditions, and he naturally laughed, too. Those were sad experiences.

In 1951 I once again took an extensive trip to Europe, visiting, among other places, Scandinavia. I was in Sweden first, and I came away with a most uneasy feeling. I had always called this nation the land of "psychological isolationism." Modern world history had always bypassed the Swedes. They made a lot of money selling their ball bearings to both the Nazis and the Russians—to whomever was a good customer. They kept out of the war, the country blossomed, there were more Cadillacs to be seen on the streets of Stockholm than in New York. Already at that time Sweden was a consumer society, especially as seen by someone coming from England, as I did. By the way, I forgot to mention that on my first trip from England to Germany I could hardly sleep because of the constant noise of construction. The Germans were hauling rubble away until late at night, and early in the morning they would start up again. Not just I, but many people coming from England to Germany were struck by this. It was already possible to see how things would develop. Also, I often heard the Germans lament the magnificent buildings the Americans had bombed and destroyed. But on none of my trips, whether in 1949, 1951, or 1953, did I ever hear a German express regret at what the Germans had done during the war. And that was certainly not limited to the bombing of beautiful buildings.

From Sweden I continued on to Oslo. There I was picked up at the airport by an English-speaking driver. That was an amusing incident. I had never been to Oslo before, and yet when we drove into the city I knew the precise locations of the Grand Hotel, the Café Central, the theater, and so on. The driver asked me if I had been in Oslo often, and I had to tell him it was my first time. Then I explained to him that I had worked on Hamsun and Ibsen and was


well acquainted with Norwegian literature. Seeing Oslo was something like déjà vu.

Dubiel: That's really a beautiful story.

Lowenthal: Another good story comes to mind, the one about the Edvard Munch collection. Have I already told it to you?

Dubiel: No.

Lowenthal: As you know, I'm a great admirer of Edward Munch. In fact, I just made a special trip to Washington to see the Munch exhibition. At that time there was no Munch museum in Oslo, as there is today. The paintings were still in the National Gallery. Unfortunately, I was always busy during its opening hours. So I gathered up all my courage and called the director of the National Gallery and asked him if he could suggest a way for me to see the paintings in spite of my schedule. In response he asked me, "What are you doing right now?" I answered, "I'm on the phone with you." Thereupon he said, "Then hang up the receiver and come to the front door of the museum. I'll open up for you, and you can look at the Munch paintings to your heart's content." And that's how it happened. Sometimes I say jokingly that I hope that was the only time I consciously misused the "power" of my official position for private ends. But I'm not ashamed of it.

There's another interesting Norwegian story I'd like to tell. As you may know, Helmut, the Nazis wanted to make Oslo the center of their international radio communications, both military and civilian. At that time they forced the Norwegians to erect an enormous building full of state-of-the-art radio equipment. This monster was naturally much too big for Norwegian purposes, and when the director of the state radio agency showed me the many rooms and studios, they were mostly empty. I asked the director—it was an obvious enough request—to acquaint me with the department concerned with audience research. He replied emphatically: "We don't have one." I was astonished and said, "You, perhaps the most democratic nation of Europe, you don't have one?" "Yes, perhaps


precisely for that reason we don't. Because we are such a democratic nation, we also have cultural-political and pedagogical intentions. If we were to test listeners' preferences to see what the people out there in the country, in the fjords, in the little towns, liked to listen to, they would surely ask for hillbilly music and the like. That's just what we don't want; we want to offer them a highly cultured program. So we don't ask them in the first place." I've often had to think back on this story; it's a wonderful example of the paradoxes of modern democracies.

Dubiel: Yes, when one takes a look at the programming of the mass media here in the United States, that sort of authoritarian nurturing of culture can appear thoroughly worth consideration.

Lowenthal: Perhaps I could tell one more story.

Dubiel: As long as I can light up another cigar.

Lowenthal: Go right ahead. For me as a sociologist, certain experiences in Spain and Greece, particularly in the countryside, were interesting. At that time it struck me—and this made an enduring impression—that the poorer people, especially the rural people, seemed considerably more satisfied with their lot than corresponding groups in Western Europe or, especially, in America. In these countries, which are still in the early stages of capitalist development, I always had the impression that where the entire hinterland wasn't yet completely in the clutches of capitalism, human beings lead a more relaxed and contented life. I can still see in my mind's eye—and this is the archetypical experience I wanted to tell about—a Greek peasant sitting at the side of a country road with a glass of wine, gazing into the distance. I saw that in Spain and Portugal, too. Agreed, the distance between what such people know and what would be available and possible for them at the height of capitalist development is so enormous that the "good life" doesn't even enter the picture, neither on the plane of their objective experiences nor on that of their psychological experience potential. For me, as I said, that was another of those archetypical experiences—in


contrast to the waiters at Shannon airport. Greek or Portuguese peasants aren't Irish waiters.

Dubiel: Well, okay, Leo, but what of it? What can be done with this description of idyllic and bucolic ways of life? What does one do with this nostalgic romanticism, this romantic criticism of industrial society, which I'm also prone to express? I lived for a long time on a farm, but I'm always ashamed to articulate that kind of romantic critique of civilization out loud.

Lowenthal: Yes, Helmut, but one just can't help asking oneself—and here a conservative element comes into my perception—if the price one must pay for integration into modern society isn't too high. Perhaps in this idyllic, preindustrial way of life there lives on, in a murky form, a bit of that utopian dream about a human approach to nature.

Dubiel: I don't find that conservative at all. If one puts you in the theoretical context of your one-time colleagues at the Frankfurt Institute, then this memory of archaic forms of life and experience is something like a utopian imago . Utopian not in the sense of the labor movement as the designation for the anticipated highest level of social development, but rather in the sense of a comprehensive critical philosophy of history such as that offered by Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment .

Lowenthal: After all, in a certain respect I've been a specialist for nature ideologies ever since my Hamsun essay. The conservative-reactionary content of Hamsun's glorification of nature really has nothing to do with what I've been saying.

Dubiel: This irritated antimodernism, which often occurs in the form of a critique of technology, was certainly more than just a conservative phenomenon, at least in German romanticism. That today, more than a hundred and fifty years later, this antimodernism has acquired a progressive function, that's the dialectic of history. This whole bundle of alternative movements, which you can see here in California more strongly than anywhere else—holistic


medicine, macrobiotics, rural communes, baking one's own bread, natural childbirth—all those are, after all, just variations on that theme.

Lowenthal: But I reject all of those things: those are completely artificial things. You can't turn back history. It's not possible.

Dubiel: But just what do you mean, then?

Lowenthal: I don't want to say more than the following: this archetypical experience with the Greek farmer taught me—and this makes me simultaneously sad and happy—that human beings can also live that way, that their lives are in order without being driven by an unending restlessness, as ours are. Their way of life is a utopian spark that shows, I'll say it once again, what was once possible. Today on the spot where I saw the Greek peasant there probably stands one of those hideous hotels for mass tourism. I don't know whether this relationship to nature can ever be restored. I don't think so. But it really took hold of me, that scene then; I'll never forget that man on the bench in front of his house, there on the way from Athens to the foothills of Sunium.


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