The Cold War Enlightenment

Histories of late-twentieth-century political thought converge on the theme of exhaustion.  With the Second World War serving as the bonfire of the grand collectivist political ideologies that dominated the interwar years, the liberals who found themselves the leading voices of political conversation in Western states after 1945 spoke of a new, post-political age.  Yet the seemingly endless fascination with the dyspeptic liberalism of the post-Second World War generation obscures the emergence of a more constructive and energetic theory of social and political order during the Cold War decades.  The central contention of my research project is that in postwar British and American thought we can identify a coherent, multifaceted, and programmatic account of politics and social life in liberal republics.  I call this  the Cold War Enlightenment.

Where do we find such strands of neo-Enlightenment thinking?  In this project I focus on three Cold War-era disciplines: analytical philosophy, decision theory, and development economics.  None have yet drawn sustained attention from historians of political thought, but each contained far-reaching reflections on the problems of finding a secular basis for social order and international stability.


Joel Isaac is a CRASSH Early Career Fellow 2014-15

Joel Isaac is a University Lecturer in the History of Modern Political Thought and a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge.  From 2005 until 2007, he held the Keasbey Research Fellowship in American Studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He took up a lectureship at Queen Mary, University of London in 2007, and remained there until assuming his current post in the Faculty of History.  In 2011 Dr. Isaac held the Balzan-Skinner Fellowship in Modern Intellectual History.

His research focuses on the history of social and political thought in the United States.  He has a particular interest in the ways in which theories of knowledge drove a key set of conceptual changes in the human sciences during the twentieth century.  Much of his work in this area was presented in his first book, Working Knowledge: Making the Human Sciences from Parsons to Kuhn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), which was awarded the Gladstone Prize by the Royal Historical Society.

Dr. Isaac is also much interested in how the Cold War shaped political ideologies in the United States.  He has co-edited a volume with Duncan Bell on this topic, Uncertain Empire: American History and the Idea of the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).  He has also published a number of essays dealing with this topic.


Tel: +44 1223 766886