(1874–1935), philosopher and lawyer. Jindřich Kohn was born in Příbram, studied law at the Czech University in Prague, where he worked as junior lawyer, and later became an advocate in Pilsen (Plzeň). In 1927 he moved to Prague, where he took over an attorney’s office.
Kohn’s friendship with Tomáš G. Masaryk, a professor of sociology at the Czech University and, later, the first president of Czechoslovakia, was crucial to the development of Kohn’s political and philosophical thinking and activities. Kohn was a cofounder of the Realist Party, led by Masaryk, as well as a member of the latter’s Sociological Society. He was also the chairman of the Czech section of the Pan Europe Union, a pacifist organization that supported the idea of creating a United States of Europe, using the U.S. model as an example, which was a project advocated by Masaryk.
Kohn was active in several Czech Jewish organizations and became the leading ideologist of the integrationist movement. Within the Czech Jewish movement, he opposed the nationalist interpretation of assimilation usque ad finem, which would end in a total fusion of Jews with the Czech nation. He maintained that Czech national identity was rooted in Czech culture and Czech spiritual values rather than in a nationalist political program. He was a cofounder in 1907 of the Svaz českých pokrokových židů (Union of Progressive Czech Jews), which criticized the older generation of Jews for aligning themselves with Czech politicians who had supported antisemitism. Other leaders of this movement included Viktor Vohryzek, Bohdan Klineberger, Viktor Teytz, and Eduard Lederer. After World War I, Kohn was not offered a position in the dominant organization of Czech Jews, Svaz Čechů Židů (Union of Czech Jews), as the union’s leadership was committed to the total assimilation of Jews into the Czech nation.
Kohn was among the few Czech integrationists who did not oppose Zionism; instead, he viewed it as a valuable alternative to the integration of Jews into the Czech nation. He did not consider the process of assimilation to be a one-sided phenomenon but rather a process of adaptation that could enrich both sides of the population—the minority as well as the majority. The idea of assimilation as a constantly occurring human adaptation became a leading topic in his philosophical texts, one he explored far beyond pragmatic discussions of Czech Jews and Zionists. Kohn eventually developed a theory of demosophy based on the idea that one can observe progressive changes in history that ultimately lead to the humanization of mankind. He viewed individuality as a creative asset of society that contributed to a dialectical conflict between decay and progress that was necessary for progress and change.
Most of Kohn’s writings appeared in a multitude of journals and newspapers. He was the editor in chief of the journal Směr in Pilsen and contributed regularly to Čas, Nová doba, and the Jewish Rozvoj, Tribuna, Rozhled, and Kalendář českožidovský. He often published articles under the pseudonyms J. K. Pravda, Verus, and Junius. At the beginning of the 1930s, Kohn was rediscovered by young Czech Jewish academics from the Kapper Association, which opposed the nationalist Svaz Čechů židů. It was thanks to the posthumous publication by this association of a collection of Kohn’s articles entitled Asimilace a věky (Assimilation and the Ages; 1936) that the depth and originality of his philosophy was finally revealed to a broader public.
Kateřina Čapková, Češi, Němci, Židé? Národní identita Židů v Čechách, 1918–1938 (Prague, 2005); Egon Hostovský, “The Czech-Jewish Movement,” in The Jews of Czechoslovakia, vol. 2, pp. 148–154 (Philadelphia, 1971); Hillel J. Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry: National Conflict and Jewish Society in Bohemia, 1870–1918 (New York and Oxford, 1988).