Paul Hollander, RIP

Sad news a few days ago of the passing of Paul Hollander, the long time professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and author of several important books about the culture of “fellow-traveling,” that is, the pathology of left-leaning intellectuals and cultural figures who were always taken in by the latest Communist totalitarian regime merely because they mouthed the slogans of revolutionary utopia.

The most famous of Hollander’s books was Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals In Search of the Good Society, published in 1981. It was a fabulous catalogue of the foolish credulity of leftists, and he followed up this book with several sequels, all of which I have . .  . somewhere. I wasn’t able to chase them down over the weekend at home to dust off some greatest hits.

Alexander Riley of Bucknell University offered one of the best appreciations of Hollander and his work in the journal Society just two years ago, and is worth sampling at length:

That Paul Hollander is not more widely celebrated by his own discipline is perhaps itself something of a corroboration of the ascendancy of the alienated, adversary intellectual culture that has been the central theme in much of his research. The wide learning, rigorous intellectual spirit, and grand vision evident in that work could once be found with some frequency in American sociology, in the books and articles of men like Robert Merton, Seymour Martin Lipset, Edward Shils, Barrington Moore, and Daniel Bell. Hollander is today one of the rare remaining reminders that a half century or so ago, before the academic revolution that accompanied the broad cultural sea change of the 1960s and 1970s, there existed serious thinkers, brought to the discipline by the desire to understand how human societies really work. These scholars were seemingly immune to the kind of self-righteous ideological and moral prejudices that provide in advance answers to inquiries that should be settled empirically and they were therefore prepared to modify or abandon hypotheses based on evidence. Their acute vision was fortified by long years of study not only in their own fields but also in adjacent disciplines such as history and political science.

Hollander’s intellectual trajectory was powerfully shaped by personal experience, even as he learned and meticulously applied an approach to social science research that forbade a simple translation of this experiential affect into published conclusions. He grew up in mid-twentieth century Hungary and escaped the country as a young man after Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the 1956 democratic uprising. In his own words, these early events produced a lifelong “morbid fascination” with the processes by which some intellectuals betray their calling and come to support and aid the legitimation of totalitarianism and dictatorship.

There’s more at the link, including good short summaries of his other books on this theme. They don’t make sociologists like Hollander any more.

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