Daniel W. Drezner

Samuel Huntington, R.I.P. (1927-2008)

This has not been a good week for American intellectuals.  As I blogged before, Rabbi Arnold Wolf passed away earlier this week.  It turns out that Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington has died as well.  I got to know Huntington when I was a post-doctoral fellow at Huntington’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies.  He might ...

This has not been a good week for American intellectuals.  As I blogged before, Rabbi Arnold Wolf passed away earlier this week.  It turns out that Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington has died as well.  I got to know Huntington when I was a post-doctoral fellow at Huntington’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies.  He might have been the most socially awkward political scientist I ever met — not an easy task given my field.  This awkwardness disappeared in his writing, which was fluid, cogent, and usually disconcerting to accepted wisdom.   This is not to say I always agreed with Huntington — I most certainly did not (here’s me not agreeing with him yet again).  But I will miss pushing back at his ideas.  One could always debate Huntington’s hypotheses, but only fools would dismiss them out of hand.  Here’s a link to Harvard’s press release, and here’s a link to Robert D. Kaplan’s excellent Atlantic profile of Huntington from 2001.  This paragraph of Kaplan’s rings true: 

Sweeping and icy statements dominate Huntington’s books. These blunt judgments contrast sharply with Huntington’s unimposing physical presence and unaffected demeanor. He looks like a character from a John Cheever story, someone you might forget that you had ever met. He blinks. He plays nervously with keys. He is balding, and stares intently at his palms as he talks. The fragile exterior conceals a flinty core. “Sam is very shy,” Brzezinski says. “He’s not one of those guys who can shoot the breeze at a bar. But get him into a debate and he is confident and tenacious.” A former student says, “Sam is a geek with a backbone of steel.” Another of his students demurs: “Sam isn’t a geek. He’s a quintessential Victorian man of honor—very quiet and contained, yet extraordinarily tough when the occasion demands.”

I don’t know if there’s an afterlife, but if there is I hope that Wolf and Huntington are having a rip-roaring debate.  UPDATE:  Here’s the Boston Globe‘s obituary (surprisingly, the New York Times just runs the AP version).  As pointed out in the coments, most of the write-ups of Huntington focus on The Clash of Civilizations, which is unfortunate, since The Soldier and The State is probably his best book.  Of course, even if Soldier had the greatest effect on political science, Clash has probably had the greatest effect on world politics.  ANOTHER UPDATE:  Foreign Affairs has a nice tribute page to Huntington, consisting of his Foreign Affairs articls and reviews of his major books. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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