Leonard Krieger: Historicization and political engagement in intellectual history
This essay explores the methodological and historiographical legacy of Leonard Krieger (1918-1990), one of the most sophisticated and influential intellectual historians of his generation. The author argues that Krieger's mode of historicization exemplifies essential methodological practices neglected by contemporary historians and provides a model for scholarly political engagement. The essay is divided into four sections. The first provides an overview of Krieger's last two works: Time's Reasons, a methodological and historiographical study, and Ideas and Events, a posthumously published collection of essays written throughout Krieger's life. The second section, focusing on the essays on Sartre, Kant, and Pufendorf in Ideas and Events, defines Krieger's mode of historicization as the pursuit of theoretical tensions in conceptual structures and their explanation through the dilemmas of thinkers. Krieger's historicization of tensions and dilemmas was constrained, however, by his privileging of internal theoretical explanations over external contextual ones. The author argues that opening theories to broader historical contexts may provide more satisfactory historical explanations. Seeking to explain Krieger's apprehension about radical historicization, the third section traces Krieger's problem with coherence - the construction of historical patterns - from Ideas and Events to Time's Reasons. Krieger's conflicting commitments to the historicist conception of history and to universal values resulted in fear that historicization would lead to a complete dissolution of historical coherence and meaning. The fear, suggests the fourth section, was rooted in Krieger's political experience. Like many in his generation, Krieger believed that German Historismus was implicated in National Socialism. He sought to liberalize Historismus through a synthesis with natural law. This impossible project failed, but Krieger's engagement of the past to address contemporary problems remains exemplary. By constructing histories of current problems and historicizing his own position and concerns, he rendered history useful to the present. Such political engagement can provide a model for those seeking to re-engage history for radical political reform.
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