31 August–3 September 2010

Intellectual History of the Cold War

Seventh international conference in the series "Between ‘Total War’ and ‘Small Wars’: Studies in the Societal History of the Cold War"


It is widely accepted that, whatever else the Cold War was, it was also an ideological conflict. At its very core was a war of ideas, and it was marked by constant confrontation and competition between two antagonistic ideological systems. The very conditions of political reflection were fundamentally transformed by the logic of the Cold War. Any attempt to understand and rewrite the history of the Cold War will remain incomplete without consideration of its ideological and intellectual dimensions.

The war of political ideas and the political mobilization of intellectuals are only one part of what this conference will address as the intellectual history of the Cold War. One of the inherent and most striking features of many aspects of the period was the total mobilization of knowledge—that is, the production, organization, and application of knowledge to serve the purposes of the bloc confrontation. The influence of political ideologies or the political activism of intellectuals were but one—albeit, the most visible—element in this fundamental process, a process that has even shaped the post-Cold War world. Research universities are, for example, essentially products of the Cold War. The Cold War transformed the structure of political knowledge, changed its producers, networks, and institutions, and influenced the mechanisms for distributing and utilizing knowledge. At the conference, we aim to apply a "holistic" approach to the intellectual history of the Cold War that does justice to these complex interrelationships.

Starting point of the conference are three assumptions with respect to the epistemic and intellectual impact of the Cold War:

1. The Cold War generated a specific set of concepts and ideas of the political. We do not mean to imply that the Cold War started with a tabula rasa in the realm of political thought. Rather, intellectual resources from the past were re-constituted and transformed in a process in which a distinctly Cold War mode of political reflection took shape. Nonetheless, there were continuities of thought; the logic and fundamental structure of the Cold War resulted in new ways of thinking about risk, conflict, and crisis as permanent features of the political; of deliberating the very possibility of politics in the face of imminent nuclear annihilation; of designing schemes for controlling societies and planning the future; of conceiving images of humankind and human development in the modern age. Theories of modernization, game theory, cybernetics, and futurology were among the most distinct political discourses of the Cold War.

2. The Cold War generated specific epistemic modes—modes of producing knowledge as well as modes for recruiting and mobilizing intellectuals and academic experts. Structural links between knowledge and institutions, the culture and habitus of experts, or constant shifts in intellectual roles (as scholars, scientists, or public intellectuals became government or alternative experts and vice versa) point to the epistemic modes of the Cold War. "Think tanks", the intelligence apparatus, foundations, universities, new academic disciplines such as area studies, and scientific or literary networks are places where epistemic communities were formed and mobilized in, for, and against the Cold War. This feature applied both to the East and the West and to the antagonists’ relations with the "third world".

3. The Cold War generated specific fields and forms in which knowledge was utilized for political goals, with protagonists as diverse as government consultants and dissident milieus actively involved. This functional aspect of political knowledge in the Cold War was demonstrated in different areas, including military strategy and psychological warfare; modernization policies, the formation of postcolonial elites, and intellectual resistance to the modernization paradigm; or the political impact of alternative experts and protest discourse.
The conference will address these fundamental issues of the Cold War on a global scale and pay special attention to problems of transformation and transfer. We especially encourage contributions dealing not merely with (a) the discourses and ideas of the Cold War, but also with (b) institutions, modes of recruitment, and networks crucial to the production and distribution of political knowledge as well as with (c) the political function and application of knowledge and ideas. Scholars are asked to refrain from submitting proposals focusing on biographies of intellectuals or on the history of ideas on an abstract level and without reference to concrete political situations and to the epistemic structures of the Cold War. Most welcome are multi-dimensional studies on key intellectual figures and networks, discourses, and institutions that reflect on and test the assumptions on the intellectual history of the Cold War outlined above. In particular, the conveners also invite contributions on countries other than the two superpowers, i.e., on minor powers within the opposing blocs or in the "third world".