Samuel Huntington, 1927-2008
A tribute to the provocative, brilliant, and intellectually fearless cofounder of Foreign Policy.
When Samuel P. Huntington and Warren Demian Manshel cofounded Foreign Policy in 1970, their explicit goal was to attack entrenched orthodoxies in the Washington debate. They promised a journal that would be "serious but not scholarly, lively but not glib, and critical without being negative."
Huntington passed away on December 24, grandly and rightly praised as one of the world’s most influential thinkers. His long career as an intellectual impresario was less well known: With his fertile mind and boundless energy, Huntington produced not only groundbreaking books and articles but also an amazing array of academic and editorial initiatives, of which this magazine is only one example.
To mark this legacy, we could think of no better way to pay homage to this intellectual giant than to discuss his ideas. We asked a group of respected scholars — some his former students, some his sparring partners — to share their thoughts on the man and his lasting work. In keeping with Huntington’s own tradition of free-wheeling intellectual debate, we asked them to highlight both those ideas of his they admired and also those with which they disagreed. We’ve included their tributes — with the full text here.
As many of our colleagues have noted, Huntington was at heart a contrarian whose first instinct was to be deeply suspicious of the conventional wisdom. His great skill was in showing how such wisdom was often wrong, and at times even dangerous. We at FP have tried to continue this tradition. For showing us the way — and for his many other contributions — this magazine is one of the many grateful institutions that will miss him.
— The Editors
Samuel P. Huntington always asked big questions and made controversial arguments that forced his readers to think. His relentless curiosity, commitment to tackling important real-world issues, and intellectual fearlessness were both inspiring and daunting. That rare combination of traits may explain why he is the only foreign-policy intellectual whose fan club includes realists, liberals, and neoconservatives.
— Stephen M. Walt
Of all the great political scientists in the past half century, Sam Huntington stands out as the only one who has made fundamental contributions to each of the four subfields of political science: political theory, American politics, international relations, and comparative politics. Sam had a unique gift that might be called an "Intellectual Midas touch" — whatever he wrote became a classic.
— Minxin Pei
Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." The bulk of Huntington’s research was dedicated to the poking and prodding of that statement. Although Huntington was a lifelong Democrat, his primary insight in political science was to emphasize the central conservative truth and highlight the formidable barriers to achieving the central liberal truth.
— Daniel W. Drezner
Sam’s most influential book was not The Clash of Civilizations, but Political Order in Changing Societies. Contrary to the conventional wisdom in the early 1960s that modernization would bring about simultaneous economic progress and political development, Sam saw just the opposite. He observed that modernity is stabilizing, but modernization — the process of achieving modernity — breeds instability.
If Political Order is his greatest achievement, The Soldier and the State exerted the most influence, casting a long and lasting shadow over the entire subject of civil-military relations. Huntington’s ideas helped convince Americans that a large peacetime military establishment was not a threat to democracy — a conclusion at odds with much of America’s liberal tradition.
His emphasis on political order and its relationship with well-organized governments and capable leadership in Political Order has left the impression that Sam advocated authoritarian rule for developing countries. Yet, nowhere in Political Order does Sam explicitly claim that autocracy is more capable of providing order than democracy. What he does argue is that weak democracies in developing countries are doomed to fail. Truth hurts, but Sam was not afraid of saying it.
As recently as 1984, in Political Science Quarterly, he concluded "the limits of democratic development in the world may well have been reached." That was a huge, boneheaded mistake, missing the third wave momentum that was already gathering, but it did not stop a great social scientist from regrouping, uncovering where he went wrong, and documenting the scope and causes of the great transformation that followed.
— Lawrence Diamond
Huntington was simply a great man. Not just because of his remarkable career as scholar, teacher, mentor, magazine founder, academic administrator, practitioner, and public intellectual, but because he had a rare capacity to engage with ideas he didn’t share and to respect those who disagreed with him. His willingness to say what he thought even when it might be impolitic was an inspiration for anyone who tries to grapple with the complex political challenges of our era.