FBI Investigated the Father of Modern Anthropology For Being a 'Jewish International Communist'

Claude Levi-Strauss is familiar to anyone who took Anthropology 101 as the most important anthropologist of the 20th century and a father of structuralism, the theoretical forebear to post-structuralism, post-modernism, deconstruction and all that weird subversive French philosophy your parents warned you about. Which may explain why the FBI spent close to a decade spying on him in the 1940s.

Levi-Strauss, who died in 2009, fled Nazi-occupied France for the United States in 1941. He taught anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York City, worked as a French-language radio announcer for the U.S. Office of War Information, and eventually served as a cultural counselor for the French Consulate before returning home after the war to write an acclaimed memoir and revolutionize anthropology.

FBI Investigated the Father of Modern Anthropology For Being a 'Jewish International Communist'S

While he was here, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI kept close tabs on him, largely on the strength of an anonymous letter to Hoover warning that Levi-Strauss was a "Jewish international Communist." According to the 70-page copy of Levi-Strauss' FBI file we obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, FBI agents spent 10 years monitoring the man, going so far as to investigate his elderly aunt, secretly read his mail, and query the CIA for information on him. The files contain no evidence of any crimes, nor any firm indications that Levi-Strauss was ever affiliated with the Communist Party. The most damning information it contains is the aforementioned anonymous tip, a report from the Secretary of Labor that Levi-Strauss and surrealist writer Andre Breton were "closely connected with a group in Mexico which is very bad, having something on their minds different from 'what the rest of us have on our minds,'" and the presence of Levi-Strauss' name in a notebook found in the Mexico desert purported to contain "a worldwide syndicate of Communist professors, writers and editorialists."

In his 1955 memoir Tristes Tropiques, Levi-Strauss recounted being detained upon his entry to the U.S. in 1941 until an FBI translator could be summoned to read through all his French papers—he was suspected, he said, of being a German agent. But there's no indication that he was ever aware of the intense interest Hoover had in his activities over the following decade.


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