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Peter Gay (1923–2015)

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1 See Peter Gay, My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Germany (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 23; also see Moritz Fröhlich—Morris Gay: A German Refugee in the United States (Washington, D.C.: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, 1999). For an important overview of Gay's intellectual development, see Mark S. Micale and Robert L. Dietle, “Peter Gay: A Life in History,” in Enlightenment, Passion, Modernity: Historical Essays in European Thought and Culture, ed. Mark S. Micale and Robert L. Dietle (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000). I also benefited from reading Helmut Walser Smith's conference paper, “Reluctant Return: Peter Gay and the Cosmopolitan Work of a Historian,” which he generously supplied to me. This has since appeared in Andreas W. Daum, Hartmut Lehmann, and James J. Sheehan, eds., The Second Generation: Émigrés from Nazi Germany as Historians (New York: Berghahn, 2015), 210–28.

2 Gay, My German Question, 32.

3 Ibid., 81.

4 Ibid., 133.

5 Ibid., 159.

6 Ibid., 167.

7 Gay, Peter, “At Home in America,” The American Scholar 46, no. 1 (Winter, 1977): 40.

8 Peter Gay, “A Life of Learning,” ACLS Occasional Papers Nr. 58 (2004), 6.

9 See Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (Boston: Beacon, 1955), 238–74.

10 Gay, “A Life of Learning,” 6.

11 Hallowell was the author of The Decline of Liberalism as an Ideology, With Particular Reference to German Politico-Legal Thought (London: Kegan Paul, 1946), as well as Main Currents in Modern Political Thought (New York: Henry Holt, 1950); Kirk, one of the founders of “traditionalist conservatism,” was the author of The Conservative Mind, from Burke to Santayana (Chicago: Regnery, 1953)

12 Gay, Peter, “The Enlightenment in the History of Political Theory,” Political Science Quarterly 69, no. 3 (1954): 378.

13 Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1932), 30–31.

14 Gay, “A Life of Learning,” 5.

15 Gay, “The Enlightenment in the History of Political Theory,” 379.

16 For Gay's criticism of the notion of “secular religion,” specifically as applied to the French Revolution, see his Rhetoric and Politics in the French Revolution,” American Historical Review 66, no. 3 (1961): 664–76.

17 Here, as elsewhere, Gay was deeply influenced by Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment [1932], trans. Fritz C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951). On the distinction between seventeenth-century rationalism and the pronounced empiricism of the philosophes (with Kant, of course, providing the necessary synthesis), see pp. 93–133.

18 Gay, “A Life of Learning,” 5.

19 Peter Gay, Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist [1959], 2nd ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), xiii. The book's dedication reads: “To the Memory of Franz Neumann: Aufklärer.”

20 Peter Gay, The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1964), x. In referring to an intellectual history focused on “cultural clichés,” Gay may have had in mind the work of Richard Hofstadter (e.g., Anti-Intellectualism in American Life [New York: Knopf, 1963]). For a later (slightly different) formulation of the “social history of ideas,” with greater emphasis on its contrast with Marxist approaches, see Gay, Voltaire's Politics, 2nd ed., xiv-xv.

21 Gay, The Party of Humanity, x.

22 See esp. Robert Darnton, “The Social History of Ideas,” in The Kiss of Lamourette (New York: Norton, 1990), 219–52.

23 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, vol. 1, The Rise of Modern Paganism (New York: Norton, 1966), vol. 2, The Science of Humanity (New York: Norton, 1969).

24 Gay, The Enlightenment, vol. 1, 3.

25 Ibid., 373.

26 Ibid., 4.

27 See, in this context, Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1946).

28 For this argument, see de Dijn, Annelien, “The Politics of the Enlightenment: From Peter Gay to Jonathan Israel,” Historical Journal 55, no. 3 (2012): 785805.

29 Peter Gay, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (New York: Harper and Row, 1968).

30 Gay, My German Question, 200.

31 Gay, Weimar Culture, xiv.

32 Ibid., 103, 105.

33 Ibid., 127.

34 Ibid., 41.

35 Ibid., 145.

36 Gay, “A Life of Learning,” 7.

37 Peter Gay, Style in Art (New York: Basic Books, 1974); idem, Art and Act: On Causes in History—Manet, Gropius, Mondrian (New York: Harper and Row, 1976).

38 Peter Gay, Freud, Jews and Other Germans: Masters and Victims in Modernist Culture (Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1978), xiv.

39 Ibid. Another factor may have been Gay's desire to avoid becoming ensnared in the Sonderweg question, which seemed to loom over his early plans for a cultural history of the German empire. For evidence of this, see esp. Gay, Freud, Jews and Other Germans, 1–28.

40 Peter Gay, Freud for Historians (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); idem, A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987); idem, Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York: Norton, 1988); idem, Reading Freud: Explorations and Entertainments (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990).

41 See esp. Gay, A Godless Jew, 35–68.

42 Ibid., 59–60.

43 Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Times, 747. See Schorske, Carl, “Politics and Patricide in Freud's Interpretation of Dreams,” American Historical Review 78, no. 2 (1973): 328–47; idem, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: Vintage, 1980), 181–207.

44 Gay, Freud, Jews and Other Germans, 33.

45 See, in particular, the devastating critique by Toews, John E., “Historicizing Psychoanalysis: Freud in His Time and for Our Time,” Journal of Modern History 63, no. 4 (1991): 504–45, including the description of Gay's book as an “insider's biography” (p. 507).

46 Gay, A Life of Learning, 15–17.

47 Erik H. Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (New York: Norton, 1958). For Gay's animadversions against “reductionism,” see Gay, Freud for Historians, 184–85.

48 Peter Gay, Education of the Senses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); idem, The Tender Passion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986); idem, The Cultivation of Hatred (New York: Norton, 1993); idem, The Naked Heart (New York: Norton, 1995).

49 Peter Gay, Pleasure Wars (New York: Norton, 1998).

50 Gay, Education of the Senses, 5.

51 In a particularly critical review of The Cultivation of Hatred, James R. Kincaid made the comparison explicit: “Gay waves away Michel Foucault and his followers in a bibliographical note, but compared to Foucault's work this volume is very pale indeed, facile and shallow, making one wish that the two historians were not so rudely divided: one has all the note cards and the other all the ideas.” See “Victorian's Secret,” The New York Times, Sept. 5, 1993.

52 There were heroes in this struggle and there were also villains. A graduate student at Yale once described how Gay had reacted angrily to a passage in his seminar paper, not because his analysis was weak or his research poor, but because Gay so disliked a quote in it from Thomas Carlyle.

53 Peter Gay, “The Deluge,” New York Review of Books, March 19, 1964.

54 See, e.g., his response to a review essay by Michael Ignatieff, in “The Jewish Freud,” New York Review of Books, June 12, 1986.

55 Gay, The Rise of Modern Paganism, ix.

56 Gay, Freud, Jews and Other Germans, xi-xiv.

57 See esp. ibid., ix, on the role of counter-transference in the writing of modern German history.

58 Whereas Cassirer presents Kant as the philosopher who synthesized the Enlightenment traditions of rationalism and empiricism, Kant plays almost no role in The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, which presents the story as largely complete by the end of the 1770s—just in time for the American Revolution.

59 Gay, My German Question, 203. Gay told me that he had seen and enjoyed the movie Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996). (For the record, so did I.)

60 See the extended discussion in Gay, The Cultivation of Hatred, 368–423.

61 Peter Gay, Mozart: A Life (New York: Viking, 1999), 30–31, 35–37.

62 Peter Gay, Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815–1914 (New York: Norton, 2002); idem, Savage Reprisals: Bleak House, Madame Bovary, Buddenbrooks (New York: Norton, 2002).

63 Gay, My German Question, 111–12.

64 Ibid., 110.

65 “Peter Gays Münchner Rede im Wortlaut,” Spiegel-Online, Nov. 24, 1999 (

66 Peter Gay, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond (New York: Norton, 2008), 565.

67 Gay, Freud, Jews and Other Germans, 52.

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Central European History
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