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Harold J. Laski Collection

An inventory of his collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: KM
Date: Dec 1988

Biographical History

English political scientist and socialist. Born in Manchester, Harold Joseph Laski was educated at Manchester Grammar School and New College, Oxford, and lectured at McGill University (1914-16), Harvard (1916-20), Amherst (1917) and Yale (1919-20, 1931). In 1920 he joined the staff of the London School of Economics, and in 1926 became Professor of Political Science. He was chairman of the Labour Party in 1945-46. A brilliant speaker, as lecturer at the London School of Economics he had a great influence over his students. His political philosophy was a modified Marxism. He had a strong belief in individual freedom, but the downfall of the Labour government in 1931 forced him to feel that some revolution in Great Britain was necessary. His works include Authority in the Modern State (1919), A Grammar of Politics (1925), Liberty in the Modern State (1930) and The American Presidency (1940).

[From Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1997) (c) Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Harold J. Laski Collection consists of Incoming correspondence, a few miscellaneous items of Memorabilia (two menus and a luncheon ticket), and Printed material (one book).

Correspondence is by far the largest segment of the collection. Among Laski's correspondents are editors (Archibald Cary Coolidge, Herbert Croly, Wilbur Cross, C. P. Scott) and historians (Carl Becker, Emile Cammaerts, Charles H. McIlwain) as well as jurists and legal scholars (Hugo Black, Louis Brandeis, James Bryce, Benjamin Cardozo, Zechariah Chafee, Felix Frankfurter, Manley Ottmer Hudson, Hermann Kantorowicz, Hans Kelsen, Christian Lange, Roscoe Pound, Stanley Reed, Harlan F. Stone). Also included in the collection are literary figures (Robert Bridges, E. M. Forster, Edmund Gosse, H. Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, John Livingstone Lowes, Archibald MacLeish, Grace Norton, Siegfried Sassoon); philosophers (Morris Cohen, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell); social reformers (Jane Addams, Roger Baldwin, Upton Sinclair); and statesmen (Stanley Baldwin, Joseph Caillaux, V. K. Wellington Koo, Harold Macmillan, Jan Masaryk).

Much of the correspondence (Roger Baldwin, Becker, Cardozo, Frankfurter) centers around discussions of Laski's books, articles and other writings. After reading Laski's Introduction to A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants, Felix Frankfurter offers this criticism (30 Mar. 1924):

If you only keep in mind a little bit us poor worms who grub along as best as we can even when we have a taste for scholarship. I can't help feeling that a little more mastication of your erudite reading and a little less specific allusion to it would neither hurt your scholarship nor pamper those of us who want to be scholars.

There is also considerable elaboration by many of the correspondents (Chafee, Cohen, Mary Follett, Hall, Russell) concerning their own work and the progress of their social, political, and legal thinking. Delivering a "plague" on both houses of extremism, legal scholar Zechariah Chafee defends against Laski's charge of "intellectual disdain," while allowing that this attitude is not altogether "alien" to him:

The pacifists who attribute every act in war to the meanest motives while they rely on inherent human nobility to settle all future controversies, the militants turning the churches into a few battleships and a proposed system of military training, loading us down with expenditures that make it hard to save enough to travel and enjoy life, menacing us and our sons with future wars over this and that fear. And after all being somewhat conservative myself - though my associates fight with damned rotten methods - why not say so and do my best to make them listen to me who wouldn't to a radical. And I have to keep saying it ad nauseam, for they will assume I share the views of those whose rights I assert.

And philosopher Morris Cohen writes (14 Sept. 1925) of the formulation of his beliefs during the writing of Reason and Nature, a work which he describes as

... an attempt to lay the foundations for the philosophy of the future when the expansion of population must come to a halt and when the values of order will have to be recognized as coordinate with those of change or progress.

With the majority of the correspondence generated during the 1920s and early '30s, there are frequent observations about the world political climate in the interval between the two wars. In a 1939 letter, Hugo Black laments:

I wish it were possible to talk with you concerning the major world crisis now to the front. A recent careful study of Hitler's Mein Kampf has brought to me a vivid appreciation of the paralyzing philosophy of his ambitious plans. That his ideology (if such can be inaptly designated) may not spread, is my fervent prayer.

The literary figures and journalists in the collection display a high regard for Laski's writing skills and literary taste. Editor Herbert Croly expresses his satisfaction with Laski's weekly book reviews in the New Republic, and Foreign Affairs editor Archibald Coolidge proposes that Laski write an article for the journal contrasting Lenin with Mussolini. C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian offers his appreciation for Laski's rewriting of a portion of an article which had been misplaced (9 July 1928):

Nothing I think can be more difficult than to recover the form & substance of a thing once written - or more repellent! I am proportionately grateful.

Among the literary correspondence is an item from Siegfried Sassoon outlining his plans for a poetry reading at Harvard:

My show consists of the following -
i) 15-20 minute introduction, giving several ideas of how & why I write war-poems ...
ii) Read a sequence of about 20 war-poems, -showing process of getting fed-up with war.
iii) Read a few non-war poems to lighten the preceding gloom ... I think I can make my reading of poetry audible to an audience of up to 500 people, but don't suppose anything like that number would be persuaded to turn up & hear me!

Perhaps the most insightful evaluation of Harold Laski himself comes from Roscoe Pound, Dean of the Law School of Harvard University (7 Nov. 1918):

I rejoice to see you reaching for realities while so many are following the mob after shadows.

Arrangement of the Collection

Alphabetical by topic or title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Addams, Jane, 1860-1935.
Asquith, Margot, 1864-1945.
Baldwin, Roger N. (Roger Nash), 1884-1981.
Baldwin, Stanley Baldwin, Earl, 1867-1947.
Becker, Carl L. (Carl Lotus), 1873-1945.
Black, Hugo LaFayette, 1886-1971.
Brandeis, Louis Dembitz, 1856-1941.
Bridges, Robert, 1844-1930.
Bryce, James Bryce, Viscount, 1838-1922.
Caillaux, Joseph, 1863-1944.
Cammaerts, EĢmile.
Cardozo, Benjamin N. (Benjamin Nathan), 1870-1938.
Chafee, Zechariah, Jr., 1885-1957.
Cohen, Morris Raphael, 1880-1947.
Coolidge, Archibald Cary, 1866-1928.
Cortot, Alfred, 1877-1962.
Croly, Herbert David, 1869-1930.
Dewey, John, 1859-1952.
Follett, Mary Parker, 1868-1933.
Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965.
Gosse, Edmund, 1849-1928.
Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider), 1856-1925.
Hall, H. Duncan (Hessel Duncan), 1891-
Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928.
Hudson, Manley O. (Manley Ottmer), 1886-1960.
Huysmans, Camille, 1871-1968.
Kantorowicz, Hermann Ulrich, 1877-1940.
Kelsen, Hans, 1881-1973.
Koo, V. K. Wellington, 1888-1985.
Lange, Christian L. (Christian Lous), 1869-1938.
Laski, Harold Joseph, 1893-1950.
Leacock, Stephen, 1869-1944.
Lowell, A. Lawrence (Abbott Lawrence), 1856-1943.
Lowes, John Livingston, 1867-1945.
MacLeish, Archibald, 1892-1982.
Macmillan, Harold, 1894-1986.
Masaryk, Jan, 1886-1948.
McIlwain, Charles Howard, 1871-1968.
Norton, Grace, 1834-1926.
Pound, Roscoe, 1870-1964.
Reed, Stanley Forman, 1884-1980.
Russell, Bertrand, 1872-1970.
Sassoon, Siegfried, 1886-1967.
Scott, Charles Prestwich, 1846-1932.
Sinclair, Upton, 1878-1968.
Stone, Harlan Fiske, 1872-1946.
Thomas, Albert, 1878-1932.


Authors, American.
Authors, English.
Historians -- United States.
Intellectual life -- 20th century.
Intellectual life -- Books and reading.
Law -- Political aspects.
Political questions and judicial power.
Political scientists -- United States.
World politics -- 20th century.


Great Britain -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
United States -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.

Genres and Forms



Political scientists.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Harold J. Laski Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Original collection, purchase, 1966.

Our Lady the Common Law: An Anglo-American Legal Community, 1870-1930 by Richard Cosgrove, gift of Richard Cosgrove , 1987.

Leonard Paris correspondence, gift of Judith Roth, 2002.

Table of Contents



Printed material