Weiss, John 1927–
Weiss, John 1927–
PERSONAL: Born March 31, 1927, in Detroit, MI; son of Karl E. (a tailor) and Mabel (Harper) Weiss; married Eva Gelfman, June 12, 1953 (some sources say 1952; divorced 1971); married Janice O'Hare (a political worker), March 9, 1972; children: (first marriage) Paul, Elizabeth. Education: Wayne State University, B.A., 1950; Columbia University, M.A., 1953, Ph.D., 1958. Politics: Democrat.
ADDRESSES: Home—2776 Webb Ave., Bronx, NY 10468. Office—Department of History, Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York, Bronx, NY 10468.
CAREER: Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, assistant professor, 1956–65, associate professor of European history, 1965–68; Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York, Bronx, NY, professor of history, 1969–; Graduate Center of the City University of New York, professor of history. Former head of Michigan Committee for McCarthy for President. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1944–46; became petty officer, 3rd class.
MEMBER: American Historical Association.
Moses Hess, Utopian Socialist, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1960.
(Editor) Origins of Modern Consciousness, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1965.
The Fascist Tradition: Radical Right-Wing Extremism in Modern Europe, Harper (New York, NY), 1967.
(Editor) Nazis and Fascists in Europe, 1918–1945, Quadrangle Books (Chicago, IL), 1969.
Conservatism in Europe, 1770–1945: Traditionalism, Reaction, and Counter-Revolution, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1977.
Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1996.
The Politics of Hate: Anti-Semitism, History, and the Holocaust in Modern Europe, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2003.
Contributor to The Uses of History, edited by Hayden White, Wayne State University Press, 1968. Contributor to scholarly journals. Editor, Graduate Comment, 1961–63; co-editor, New University Thought, 1962–66.
SIDELIGHTS: Educator and historian John Weiss is the author of several books that focus on the changes wrought by industrialization on the social and political climate in Europe. In such works as Conservatism in Europe, 1770–1945: Traditionalism, Reaction, and Counter-Revolution and Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany, he examines what Social Education critic Charles Keserich termed "con-servativism in extremis, reacting desperately to the threats opened by 'rapid and modernizing social change.'"
Weiss's studies have focused predominately on the early half of the twentieth century, particularly upon the social and political settings that would give rise to fascism during the years between the two world wars. In The Fascist Tradition: Radical Right-Wing Extremism in Modern Europe, Weiss examines the fascist movements of Italy and Germany as outbreaks of extreme conservatism, a means whereby political and economic forces could be controlled in the two countries, and whereby what he terms "the sacred rights of private property" could be preserved "without recourse to liberal and radical domestic reforms." A reviewer in American Historical Review noted that The Fascist Tradition "rejects the argument that fascism is truly radical and uninterested in preserving the established order,… that fascist successes stem less from the needs of the conservative Right than from the failures and absences of the progressive Left…. It is clear, concise, and, to me, unconvincing."
In his 1995 work, Ideology of Death, Weiss again breaks with tradition by suggesting that the Holocaust did not depend upon the unique character of Adolph Hitler for its inspiration. The culture of post-World War I Germany—which had its political roots in the anti-Semitic sentiment encouraged by several Lutheran and Catholic clergymen during the nineteenth century—contained numerous social groups "with hundreds of thousands of followers whose ideas were no different from those of the Nazis," according to the author. Anti-Semitism was only a part of the "kaleidoscope of hatreds" that characterized German society at the time, explained New York Times Book Review critic Michael S. Sherry, and it "overlapped, in bewildering and contradictory ways, other hatreds," including those against Czechs, Slavs, Catholics, and others. Such prejudices crystallized under Hitler, but were not inspired by him. While noting that by "ascrib[ing] consistency, power, even perverse sincerity, to ideas" such as anti-Semitism, Weiss is writing "old-fashioned history," Sherry praised Ideology of Death for its ability to "invite … other historians to grasp the full scale of modern Europe's hatreds."
In The Politics of Hate: Anti-Semitism, History, and the Holocaust in Modern Europe Weiss expands further on concepts and arguments from Ideology of Death. He explores in depth the unique aspects of German anti-Semitism and how those characteristics allowed the Holocaust to come into existence in Germany, rather than elsewhere in Europe, where anti-Semitism was often more extreme than in Germany. Weiss looks carefully at the use of anti-Semitism for political purposes throughout Europe, observing that such anti-Jew messages were often directed at, and accepted by, the European educated classes, educational institutions, and intellectuals. He establishes a background for the rise of Nazism and explains the use of political power to force institutionalized hatred. Weiss also looks carefully at Italy and why anti-Semitism did not take root there as thoroughly as it did elsewhere in Europe. At its core, his work seeks an answer to questions that even today lead to unfathomable answers: Why did so many Germans and Europeans work to destroy the Jews, and why did so many others stand by and let it happen? Weiss establishes "important background for the rise of Nazism and the willingness of politicians, as well as average citizens, to acquiesce in the destruction of European Jewry," commented Frederic Krome in the Library Journal. The book "documents anti-Semitism in Europe in a clear, concise, and accessible way," reported Peter J. Haas on the Menorah Review Web site. Booklist reviewer Brendan Driscoll concluded: "This well-argued books reminds us that racially defined power struggles are far from extinct."
Weiss once told CA: "My major interest is to show the relationships between ideology and social and historical change. Plus, I am much interested in the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Weiss, John, The Fascist Tradition: Radical Right-Wing Extremism in Modern Europe, Harper, 1967.
American Historical Review, June, 1968, review of The Fascist Tradition, p. 1517.
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany, p. 764; February 1, 2003, Brendan Driscoll, review of The Politics of Hate: Anti-Semitism, History, and the Holocaust in Modern Europe, p. 96.
Choice, May, 1970, review of Nazis and Fascists in Europe, 1918–1945, p. 449.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1969, review of Nazis and Fascists in Europe, 1918–1945, p. 989; October 15, 1995, review of Ideology of Death,p. 1480; February 1, 2003, review of The Politics of Hate, p. 220.
Library Journal, January 15, 1970, review of Nazis and Fascists in Europe, 1918–1945, p. 157; November 15, 1995, review of Ideology of Death, p. 88; March 15, 2003, Frederic Krome, review of The Politics of Hate, p. 100.
New York Times Book Review, January 28, 1996, Michael S. Sherry, review of Ideology of Death, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, November 6, 1995, review of Ideology of Death, p. 74.
Social Education, January, 1969, Charles Keserich, review of The Fascist Tradition, p. 121.
Ivan R. Dee, Publisher Web site, http://www.ivanrdee.com/ (February 15, 2006), biography of John Weiss.
Menorah Review Web site, http://www.menorahreview.org/ (February 15, 2006), Peter J. Haas, "The Study of the Holocaust and Its Discontents," review of The Politics of Hate.