From Montreal youth to Oxford chair, G.A. Cohen became one of our era’s great philosophical minds.
Princeton University Press
82 pages, hardcover
Gerald Allan Cohen was a product of the lost world of Canadian communism. His working class parents were Jewish Marxists who toiled in Montreal’s garment trade. In 1945, when Cohen was four years old, they enrolled him in the Morris Winchevsky School. Morning classes were taught in English and covered conventional topics. But in the afternoon the language of instruction switched to Yiddish and the lessons included the history of class struggle.
One day in 1952, Quebec’s Red Squad raided the school, hoping to find communist literature. The political innocence of Cohen and his classmates was preserved by a quick-thinking teacher who put on a happy voice and clapped her hands as the police arrived: “Children, the Board of Health is inspecting the school and you can all go home early.” Cohen and the other delighted students ran outside, unaware they had McCarthyism to thank for their freedom.
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