Carl E. Schorske dies at 100; Pulitzer-winning historian taught at Berkeley and Princeton
Carl E. Schorske, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, “genius grant” recipient and popular classroom lecturer, whose book “Fin-De-Siecle Vienna” is widely regarded as a classic work of intellectual scholarship, has died. He was 100.
Schorske died Sept. 13 at a senior facility in East Windsor, N.J., according to Martin Mbugua, a spokesman for Princeton University where the historian was a professor emeritus.
Before joining Princeton, Schorske taught at UC Berkeley, where he was a faculty leader challenging the university’s restrictions on political expression during the turmoil of the mid-1960s Free Speech Movement.
“Fin-de-Siecle Vienna,” published in 1980, is a broad and detailed survey of Austrian politics and culture at the end of the 19th century, a setting that profoundly influenced the 20th century.
The era was a time of provocative sensuality, dreamy escapism and rising demagoguery, with Austrian George Ritter von Schonerer perfecting a fiery right-wing populism that would deeply impress a young Austrian, Adolf Hitler.
“As Schonerer was an angry man, so his ideological montage appealed to angry people: artisans cheated out of their past with no comfort in the pieties of the present and no hope in the prospect of the future; students with the spirit of romantic rebellion unsatisfied by the flat homilies of the liberal-ethical tradition,” Schorske wrote.
“These were the first of the rootless, the spiritual predecessors of decaying Europe’s special jetsam whom rightist leaders would later organize.”
The book, released when he was in his mid-60s and near retirement from Princeton, was the culmination of his academic career. New York Times critic John Leonard, who studied under Schorske at UC Berkeley, found that “Fin-De-Siecle” confirmed what he had hoped for and suspected, that Schorske was “smarter and better than the rest of us.”
“Culture is his air and water; he respires ideas, and whistles and hums as he does so,” Leonard wrote. “His book is a wonderful place to live.”
In 1981, the same year he won the Pulitzer, Schorske was part of the first group of “genius grant” recipients from the MacArthur Foundation. In 2007, he was presented Austria’s Victor Adler Prize for lifetime achievement. The Vienna Review praised Schorske at the time for restoring the city to “its rightful place on the international map of 20th century cultural and political studies.” Schorske was made an honorary citizen of Vienna in 2012.
His other books included “German Social Democracy,” “The Problem of Democracy” and “Thinking With History.” He also was an accomplished singer, and played in string quartets with friends.
Born in New York in 1915, Carl Emil Schorske was the son of a German banker and remembered growing up in a family immersed in politics and art, what he would call “elite cultural equipment.” He studied at Columbia University as an undergraduate and received a master’s and PhD from Harvard University. In 1942, he married Elizabeth Rorke, with whom he had five children. Elizabeth Rorke Schorske, a human rights and antiwar activist, died in 2014.
During World War II, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, and his duties included compiling a psychological portrait of Nazism that would explain its appeal. Among his colleagues were two future friends who became leading intellectuals of the postwar era, Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown.
After the war, he taught at Wesleyan University for 14 years, until 1960 when he joined UC Berkeley. At Berkeley he worked to remove a ban on campus speakers who belonged to the Communist Party. As the campus became the epicenter of the crisis facing American universities, he also became an advocate for education reform, pressing the administration to add courses on contemporary social problems.
By 1966, Schorske was featured in a Time magazine article as one of the country’s 10 “great teachers.” He earned standing ovations for his lectures, in which, as he explained to the magazine, he aimed to be “relevant to where the action is.”
“If I lecture on social democracy,” he said, “well, that’s a subject I have finished with. I’ve written my book. It’s out of my system. But if I lecture on 20th century culture, my work now; I really cook with gas.”
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