Moishe Postone (1942–2018) was one of the leading interpreters of Marx and Critical Theory. His analyses drove the critique of political economy beyond the limitations of traditional Marxism and demonstrated the significance of Marx’s theory for an understanding of global capitalism today. Postone’s contributions to a critical theory of modern antisemitism, his interventions into the German politics of memory, and his analyses of reductive and ultimately reactionary critiques of capitalist modernity on the Left as well as the Right had a profound and lasting impact on scholars and political activists in the German-speaking world and increasingly in other national contexts.
Postone was born in Edmonton, Canada, on April 17, 1942, the oldest son of Evelyn and Rabbi Abraham Postone. He attended a residential Jewish high school in Chicago before beginning his studies at the University of Chicago, where he completed his Bachelor in Biochemistry, his Master’s degree in history, and his preliminary PhD studies in History. He taught at Brooklyn College and Richmond College in New York before moving to the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in·Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1973, where he continued his doctoral work on the Marxian critique of labor and time with Iring Fetscher. He taught classes at Frankfurt and published important contributions to public debates on antisemitism, the German Left, and the German politics of memory.
After completing his DPhil in 1983 at Frankfurt, Postone returned to Chicago for a position at the Center for Psychosocial Studies, and in 1987, accepted a Harper Fellowship in the College of the University of Chicago. He was an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology before accepting a faculty position in the College with a joint appointment in the Department of History. In 2012, Postone was appointed Thomas E. Donnelley Professor in the Department of History and the College. He was an associate of the Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies, a co-editor of Critical Historical Studies, and a co-chair of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory.
Postone was a committed teacher, and both his thought and his pedagogy continue to influence the many undergraduate and graduate students with whom he worked. He was the chair of the University of Chicago's Core course "Self, Culture, and Society" for almost 25 years, served on the dissertation committees of over sixty graduate students, and won awards for excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching.
His most important work, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx's Critical Theory, appeared in 1993. It was awarded the Theory Prize of the American Sociological Association in 1996 and was translated into eight languages. Collections of his articles and essays on Marx and critical theory, Left-wing politics, National Socialism, antisemitism, and the politics of memory have appeared in France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Japan, and Brazil. Interest in Postone’s thought continues to grow amongst scholars from a broad range of disciplines, from the social sciences to the humanities, as well as internationally, with a number of recent translations.
In collaboration with the Center for Transcultural Studies, the MPLP aims to preserve Postone’s work and to promote engagement with his ideas and pedagogy. It is in the process of creating a detailed index for his papers, which will be deposited in the University of Chicago’s Special Collections, and an accessible repository for his published and unpublished writings at www.moishepostone.org, as well as for recordings of his academic seminars and activities as a public intellectual. It will furthermore facilitate publication of hitherto unpublished texts, and support scholarship and public debate engaged with Postone’s work and legacy.