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December 20: Sidney Hook

December 20, 2013

hook2An important American philosopher and Marxist who became a fervent critic of leftwing politics and totalitarianism of both the left and right, Sidney Hook was born in Brooklyn to Austrian Jewish immigrants on this date in 1902. For six decades he was a leading proponent of John Dewey’s pragmatism, and he headed New York University’s department of philosophy for thirty-five years, but Hook was best known for being one of the first major leftwing intellectuals to break with the Soviet Union and develop anti-Communist views, to which he was fiercely attached as a Cold War liberal, defending the war in Vietnam and U.S. military hegemony. “[T]he spirit of absolutism,” Hook wrote, “is the greatest enemy of a liberal civilization. It can be curbed only by the pragmatic temper that tests all principles by their consequences for the quality of human experience.” Hook made common cause with conservatives and social democrats alike to found the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. In 1973, he was a signer of the “Humanist Manifesto II.” Hook’s many awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. To see him discussing his belief in socialism, look below.

“I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature.” —Sidney Hook