The God That Won: Eugen Kogon and the Origins of Cold War Liberalism

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<jats:p> Eugen Kogon (1903–87) was one of the most important German intellectuals of the late 1940s. His writings on the concentration camps and on the nature of fascism were crucial to West Germany’s fledgling transition from dictatorship to democracy. Previous scholars of Kogon have focused on his leftist Catholicism, which differentiated him from the mainstream. This article takes a different approach, asking instead how Kogon, a recovering fascist himself, came to have so much in common with his peers in West Germany and in the Cold War West. By 1948, he fluently spoke the new language of Cold War liberalism, pondering how human rights and liberal democracy could be saved from totalitarianism. He did not do so, the article argues, because he had decided to abandon his principles and embrace a militarized anti-Communist cause. Instead, he transitioned to Cold War liberalism because it provided a congenial home for a deeply Catholic thinker, committed to a carceral understanding of Europe’s fascist past and a federalist vision for its future. The analysis helps us to see how European Catholics made the Cold War their own – an important phenomenon, given that Christian Democrats held power almost everywhere on the continent that was not controlled by Communists. The analysis reveals a different portrait of Cold War liberalism than we usually see: less a smokescreen for American interests, and more a vessel for emancipatory projects and ideals that was strategically employed by diverse actors across the globe. </jats:p>






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Chappel, James (2020). The God That Won: Eugen Kogon and the Origins of Cold War Liberalism. Journal of Contemporary History, 55(2). pp. 339–363. 10.1177/0022009419833439 Retrieved from

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James Gregory Chappel

Gilhuly Family Assoc Professor

James Chappel is the Gilhuly Family Associate Professor of History at Duke University. He works on the intellectual history of modern Europe and the United States, focusing on themes of religion, gender, and the family. His most recent book is called Golden Years: How Americans Invented and Reinvented Old Age (Basic Books, 2024). It is a history of aging, health, and disability in the USA from 1920 to the present. Pre-order now!

His first book, Catholic Modern (Harvard, 2018), asks about the transformation of the Catholic Church in 20th century Europe. How did Catholics, long affiliated with monarchism and anti-Semitism, come to accept liberal democracy and capitalism? How, in a word, did Europe's Catholics become modern? The book argues that the major transformation took place in the 1930s and 40s. In those crucial years of violence and war, Catholics decided to stop trying to conquer society as a whole, and start trying to salvage "the family" as the source of moral authority and political order. The book thus explains how and why Catholics became buttresses of the postwar democratic order, and also explains the new centrality of gender and family ethics to Catholic life, thought, and policymaking.

His next project, tentatively entitled The Ends of Life: Getting Old in the American Century, uses similar methods to explore the history of old age in 20th century America. This is under contract with Basic Books. The book asks how American society has grappled with the truly stunning expansion of the life course in the twentieth century. In some ways, this was handled remarkably well, given the American state's notable failures in other dimensions. Elder poverty plummeted, and the elderly are really the only Americans who have access to a functioning welfare state. This success, though, is limited -- many older Americans, especially women and immigrants, are falling through the safety net. And this success comes with a cost. The unique success of the elderly at accessing benefits has led to generational conflict that is debilitating for American democracy. This book attempts to understand how we got to this place, and how we might imagine a more intergenerational future. 

James has published in both scholarly and popular venues, including Journal of Modern History and The Nation.

For more information, visit his personal website.

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