Hook, Sidney, 1902-1989. | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center
Sidney Hook was born in Brooklyn to Austrian-Jewish immigrants. Hook was a Socialist Party supporter during the Debs era when he was in high school. He earned his Bachelor's degree at the City College of New York in 1923, then his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1927, where he was a student of the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey. Upon finishing his studies, Hook was hired by New York University, which employed him until his retirement in 1972. From 1948 to 1969 he was head of the department of philosophy.
At the beginning of his career, Hook achieved prominence as an expert on Karl Marx's philosophy and was himself a Marxist. He visited Moscow in 1929 and wrote enthusiastically about the Soviet Union. In 1932 he supported the Communist Party's William Z. Foster when he ran for President of the United States. However, Hook broke completely with the international Communist movement in 1933, holding its policies responsible for the triumph of Nazism in Germany. He accused Stalin of putting "the needs of the Russian state" over the needs of the international revolution.
Hook remained, however, active on the left during the Great Depression. He was a leading member of the American Workers Party headed by A. J. Muste. In the late 1930s, Hook assisted Leon Trotsky's efforts to clear his name in a special Commission of Inquiry headed by Dewey, which investigated Stalinist charges made against Trotsky during the Moscow Trials.
The Great Purge prompted in Hook an increasing ambivalence toward Marxism. In 1939, Hook formed the Committee for Cultural Freedom, a short lived organization that set the stage for his postwar politics by opposing "totalitarianism" on the left and right. By the time of the Cold War Hook was a prominent anti-Communist, although he continued to consider himself a democratic socialist throughout his life.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Hook helped found Americans for Intellectual Freedom, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. These bodiesâ€”the CCF was most centralâ€”were funded by the CIA through a variety of fronts, and sought to dissuade American liberals or leftists from continuing to advocate cooperation with the Soviet Union.
In the 1960s, Hook was a frequent critic of the New Left. He ended his career in the 1970s and 1980s as a fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution in Stanford, California.
On May 23, 1985 Hook was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.