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Jamie Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature by Marie Elizabeth Burks

The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature

by Jamie Cohen-Cole

University of Chicago Press, 2014, 368 pages.

The Closed World of the Open Mind

In Jamie Cohen-Cole’s hands, the concept of the open mind becomes an effective historiographical tool with which to trace some of the intersections of the social sciences and American political culture during the Cold War. Cohen-Cole shows how open-mindedness—“a kind of mind characterized by autonomy, creativity, and the use of reason” (2)—became a salient notion in postwar America. He argues that, for an elite community of intellectuals and scientists, policy makers, foundation officers, and university administrators, the image of the open mind was capacious enough to “unify the political and intellectual desiderata of the time” (2).

There is growing interest among historians of science in how social scientists and other experts thought about thinking during the Cold War. One group of authors contends that efforts to define rationality constituted a central project of the postwar human sciences, representing a quest to simultaneously unify disciplines and stave off nuclear war.[i] Historians have also begun to emphasize that the character of the social sciences wasn’t determined by the national security state and its demands. Social scientists’ working relationships with government and military agencies were in fact often characterized by ambivalence, negotiation, and even intellectual autonomy.[ii] Echoing these voices, Cohen-Cole points out that there is not always “a clear and direct connection between the forms of human reason analyzed in the sciences and Cold War military imperatives,” and that “significant segments of social science operated on a much broader political register than those defined by military concerns” (7).

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