Neumann, Franz 1900-1954
The German-born political theorist Franz Leopold Neumann was prominent in the cohort of exile scholars who brought the contested legacy of German social theory to American social and political science after 1933, especially in the study of modern democratic and dictatorial states.
Neumann was born to a Jewish family on May 23, 1900, in Kattowitz in Silesia (now Katowice, Poland). After completing his doctoral dissertation and his qualification for legal practice, he apprenticed with the leading Social Democratic labor lawyer, Hugo Sinzheimer (1875–1945), in Frankfurt. In the last years of the Weimar Republic, Neumann, in practice in Berlin, served as lead counsel for the building trade union, as well as for the Social Democratic Party. His name was reputedly high on the National Socialist (Nazi) arrest list, and he left for London in May 1933. There, he studied at the London School of Economics with Harold Laski (1893–1950) and Karl Mannheim (1893–1947), and he earned a second doctorate with a political theory dissertation on “The Governance of the Rule of Law,” directed above all against the national socialist jurist Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), who had earlier intrigued him. In 1936 he came to Max Horkheimer’s (1895–1973) Institute of Social Research in New York, initially as a legal advisor and eventually as a collaborator in the research program. Between 1943 and 1947, impelled by a contraction of the Institute’s activities and the less-than-perfect fit between his political focus and the philosophical preoccupations of the Institute’s core, he was—somewhat uncomfortably—in U.S. government service, involved above all in vainly planning a reformed social-democratic future for Germany. In 1949, after two years as a visitor, he became a professor in the Department of Public Law and Government at Columbia University in New York City. Neumann died in an automobile accident on September 2, 1954.
Neumann’s publications may be divided into three periods, and key writings from all three phases have been variously retrieved by later generations of scholars in Germany, Italy, and the United States. During his years as a labor lawyer in Weimar Germany, following a methodological dissertation designed to permit a critique of German socialism’s failure to move beyond its pre–World War I (1914–1918) tactical individualism in matters of criminal law, Neumann published several important articles, as well as a book, on the place of labor law in the scheme of the Weimar constitution, with labor law being taken, following Sinzheimer, as a body of socially initiated law that runs progressively against the liberal property law foundations of the civil code. The collective efforts of organized labor were an integral presupposition of this laborist approach, and the Weimar constitution was understood as a composite of democratic majoritarian parliamentary rule and a pluralistic social bargaining regime.
In the first years of exile after 1933, in his well-known Behemoth (1942), as well as in his posthumously published second dissertation—both of which harshly criticized in the light of events his own earlier assumptions about organized labor—Neumann offered a diagnosis of National Socialism as a political malformation arising from the legal and political order of monopoly capitalism, which neither liberalism nor laborism can comprehend. His structural analysis led him to deny the view, not alien to some of his Institute associates, that the regime should be understood as a brutally overdeveloped state with an all-encompassing bureaucracy. The Fascist slogans of “corporatism” and “totalitarian state” were mere ideological cover for a condition of incoherent conflict, according to Neumann. Nazi Germany was not to be likened to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) but to his Behemoth (1682), the account of civil war and “confusion.”
Notwithstanding the Marxist sociological tools he applied to its structure, Neumann’s critique focused on the absence of a rational state in Nazi Germany and the dynamic destructive consequences of the unresolvable power struggles that constituted the system of rule. Expansionary and exploitative war without limit was the only way for such a regime, and such overreach cannot achieve a settled victory. The frame of Neumann’s argument recalls the reading of G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) advanced at nearly the same time by his friend Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979) in Reason and Revolution (1941), but Neumann lacked Marcuse’s philosophical interests and he placed the weight of his work on the conjunction of his political theses with his detailed and authoritative analyses of current social, political, and economic information from German sources. It was the latter aspect that won him the greatest recognition from the dozen or more academics that reviewed Behemoth, but the more conjectural frame fascinated younger political writers, such as C. Wright Mills (1916–1962), who welcomed the work as an inspiration for a fresh, unhackneyed start for leftist diagnosis of trends whose dangers were not limited to Germany. Mills’s influential Power Elite (1956) applies the analytical features that he most appreciated in Neumann’s study to the American conditions of the 1950s. Neumann’s mix of high humanistic ideals and tough-minded acceptance of stubborn facts recurrently intrigue a constituency on the independent Left, notably in Germany.
Neumann’s writings after his years of wartime government service were constructive in aspiration, notwithstanding his occasional evocations of the critical theory formulas of the Institute of Social Research; but the work remained inconclusive. On balance, it represented an attempt to develop a theory of liberal democracy that would be responsive to the social and cultural concerns of the radical thinkers he took as his models, but that would, at the same time, support a secure constitutional order. The distinguishing feature of his work throughout is the conviction, first, that law is a mode of power and, second, that not all power in legal form is simply reducible to domination by force or fear. In its aspect as a pattern of guaranteed rights, the rule of law has a minimum ethical function beyond its ideological and economic roles; in its character as rule by democratic enactment, it has the possibility of transforming society. Neumann’s central puzzle was how a political force, subject to the logic of power and confronted with the totalitarian threat immanent in all advanced societies, could serve the objectives implicit in the idea of a free and rational humanity.
Neumann, Franz L. 1929. Gegen ein Gesetz zur Nachprüfung der Verfassungsmäßigkeit von Reichsgesetzen. Die Gesellschaft: Internationale Revue für Sozialismus und Politik 6 (6–1): 517–536.
Neumann, Franz L. 1930. Die soziale Bedeutung der Grundrechte in der Weimarer Verfassung. Die Arbeit 7 (9): 569–582. Reprinted in Franz L. Neumann. 1978. Wirtschaft, Staat, Demokratie: Aufsätze, 1930–1954. Ed. Alfons Söllner. Frankfurt, Germany: Edition Suhrkamp. Translated as Tribe, Keith, ed. 1987. The Social Significance of the Basic Laws in the Weimar Constitution. In Social Democracy and The Rule of Law. Trans. Leena Tanner and Keith Tribe. London: Allen and Unwin.
Neumann, Franz L. 1932. Koalitionsfreiheit und Reichsverfassung. Berlin: Heymann.
Neumann, Franz L. 1932. Reichsverfassung und Wohlfahrtsstaat. Das Freie Wort 4 (26): 6–11.
Neumann, Franz L. (as Leopold Franz). 1935. Zur marxistischen Staatstheorie. Zeitschrift für Sozialismus 2 (26/7): 865–872. Reprinted in Franz L. Neumann. 1978. Wirtschaft, Staat, Demokratie: Aufsätze 1930–1954. Ed. Alfons Söllner. Frankfurt, Germany: Edition Suhrkamp.
Neumann, Franz L.  1986. [The Governance of] The Rule of Law. Leamington Spa, U.K.: Berg.
Neumann, Franz L. 1957. The Democratic and the Authoritarian State: Essays in Political and Legal Theory. Ed. Herbert Marcuse. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Buchstein, Hubertus. 2003. A Heroic Reconciliation of Freedom and Power: On the Tension between Democratic and Social Theory in the Late Work of Franz L. Neumann. Constellations 10 (2): 228–246.
Intelmann, Peter. 1996. Franz L. Neumann: Chancen und Dilemmas des politischen Reformismus. Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos.
Iser, Mattias, and David Strecker, eds. 2003. Franz L. Neumann: Power, Constitution, Critique. Constellations 10 (2): 211–263.
Kettler, David. 2001. Works Community and Workers’ Organizations: A Central Problem in Weimar Labour Law. In Domestic Regimes, the Rule of Law, and Democratic Social Change, 23–43. Glienicke/Berlin and Cambridge, MA: Galda+Wilch.
Mills, C. Wright. 1942. The Nazi Behemoth: Book Review of Behemoth by Franz Neumann. Partisan Review (September/October). Reprinted in C. Wright Mills. 1967. Power, Politics, and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills. Ed. Irving Louis Horowitz, 170–178. London and New York: Oxford University Press.
Perels, Joachim, ed. 1984. Recht, Demokratie, und Kapitalismus: Aktualität und Probleme der Theorie Franz L. Neumanns. Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos.
Scheuerman, William E. 1994. Between the Norm and the Exception. The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Söllner, Alfons. 1996. Deutsche Politikwissenschaftler in der Emigration. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1996.