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Sidney Hook (December 20, 1902 – July 12, 1989) was a prominent New Yorkmarker intellectual and philosopher who championed pragmatism.


Born in Brooklynmarker to Jennie and Isaac Hook, who were Austrianmarker-Jewish immigrants, Hook was a Socialist Party supporter during the Debs era when he was in high school. He earned his Bachelor's degree at the City College of New Yorkmarker in 1923, then his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1927, where he was a student of the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey. Upon finishing his studies, Hook was hired by New York Universitymarker, which employed him until his retirement in 1972. From 1948 to 1969 he was head of the department of philosophy.

At the beginning of his career, Hook achieved prominence as an expert on Karl Marx's philosophy and was himself a Marxist. He attended Korsch lectures in Berlin in 1928 and did research at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscowmarker in the summer of 1929. He wrote enthusiastically about the Soviet Unionmarker. In 1932 he supported the Communist Party's William Z. Foster when he ran for President of the United States. However, Hook broke completely with the Comintern in 1933, holding its policies responsible for the triumph of Nazism in Germanymarker. He accused Stalin of putting "the needs of the Russian state" over the needs of the international revolution.

Hook remained, however, active on the far left during the Great Depression. He was a leading member of the American Workers Party headed by A. J. Muste. He also debated the meaning of Marxism with radical Max Eastman (who, like Hook, had studied under John Dewey at Columbia University) in a series of public exchanges. In the late 1930s, Hook assisted Leon Trotsky's efforts to clear his name in a special Commission of Inquiry headed by Dewey, which investigated Stalinist charges made against Trotsky during the Moscow Trials.

The Great Purge prompted in Hook an increasing ambivalence toward Marxism. In 1939, Hook formed the Committee for Cultural Freedom, a short-lived organization that set the stage for his postwar politics by opposing "totalitarianism" on the left and right. By the time of the Cold War Hook was a prominent anti-Communist, although he continued to consider himself a democratic socialist throughout his life.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Hook helped found Americans for Intellectual Freedom, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. These bodies—the CCF was most central—were funded by the CIA through a variety of fronts, and sought to dissuade American liberals or leftists from continuing to advocate cooperation with the Soviet Union.

In the 1960s, Hook was a frequent critic of the New Left attaining notoriety for his outspoken support of the Vietnam War and for his defense of Governor Ronald Reagan's decision to fire Angela Davis from her position as a professor at UCLA because of her membership in the Communist Party (she was later rehired). He ended his career in the 1970s and 1980s as a fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution in Stanfordmarker, Californiamarker.

The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Hook for the 1984 Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Hook's lecture was entitled "Education in Defense of a Free Society."

Hook's memoirs, Out of Step, recount his life, his activism for a number of educational causes, as well as his recollections of John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and Morris Cohen.

On May 23 1985 Hook was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.



  • The Metaphysics of Pragmatism Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company (1927)
  • Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Interpretation New York: John Day Company, (1933)
  • The Meaning of Marx (edited collection, 1934)
  • From Hegel to Marx (1936)
  • John Dewey: An Intellectual Portrait (1939)
  • Reason, Social Myths, and Democracy (1940)
  • The Hero in History, a study in limitation and possibility (1943)
  • Education for Modern Man (1946)
  • John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom (editor, 1950)
  • Heresy, Yes; Conspiracy, No (1953)
  • Marx and the Marxists: The Ambiguous Legacy (1955)
  • Common Sense and the Fifth Amendment New York, Criterion Books, (1957)
  • Political Power and Personal Freedom (1959)
  • The Quest for Being, and Other Studies in Naturalism and Humanism (1961)
  • The Paradoxes of Freedom (1963)
  • The Place of Religion in a Free Society (1968)
  • Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy (1970)
  • Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life (1974)
  • Marxism and Beyond (1983)
  • Out of Step (1987)
  • Convictions (1990)


See also


  1. Michael Denning, The Cultural Front, Verso, New York, 1997, p. 425ff.
  3. John Diggins, Up From Communism, Harper & Row, 1975, pp. 51-58.
  5. "Jefferson Humanities Speech To Be Given by Sidney Hook," New York Times, December 26, 1983.
  6. Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  7. "The Heroism of Sidney Hook," National Review, June 15, 1984.
  8. Sidney Hook, Out of Step, Harper & Row, 1987, chpts. 7, 23, 28 and 5.

Further reading

  • Sidney Hook: A Checklist of Writings, ed. Barbara Levine, Southern Illinois University, 1989.
  • Sidney Hook: Philosopher of Democracy and Humanism, ed. Paul Kurtz, Prometheus, 1983.
  • Sidney Hook Reconsidered, ed. Matthew J. Cotter, Prometheus, 2004.
  • Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist, by Christopher Phelps, Cornell University, 1997 (2d ed., University of Michigan, 2005).

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