From Josef Joffe
The author writes this appreciation of Samuel Huntington with some trepidation. When he first met Sam as a graduate student at Harvard in 1969, he gave up after two lectures in his course “Political Order in Changing Societies.” He was driven away by Sam’s halting, diffident delivery. Also, remember that “cool,” which Sam was not, was the order of the day, as life oscillated between the Great Strike at Harvard, Saturday Night Live, and the widespread, almost ritualized use of grass and acid.
Having unburdened himself of his shameful defection from Sam’s classroom, the author can all the more happily praise him as one of the greatest, nay, the greatest, political scientist of the second half of the 20th century. All the accolades his colleagues and the “Baby Sams” (his students who went off to establish themselves as “Huntingtonians” in America’s great universities) have bestowed on him are absolutely right, possibly even understatements.
Go to the obituary on Harvard’s website; it is all true: “most influential political scientists of the last 50 years,” “every one of his books had an impact,” “they are part of our vocabulary,” “one of the giants of political science….” Let’s add to the hyperbole. He was the greatest of a generation of greats, which comes along maybe once a century. These figures were Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Thomas Schelling, Kenneth Waltz, Barrington Moore, and Stanley Hoffmann, all born in the 1920s, all graduates of Harvard and Yale, Chicago and Columbia, all university teachers at an early age. Sam was 18 when he graduated from Yale, 23 when he started teaching at Harvard. (Add Karl W. Deutsch, born 1912 in Prague and trained there before he came to Harvard.)
“I do not think we will see his like [Huntington's] again,” writes Princeton’s Aaron Friedberg in an e-mail. This is true, but for reasons which transcend the luminous figure of Sam. His (and his ilk’s) political science is no longer “science” in an age where more and more is written about less and less, where careers are grounded on miniscule specialization, where science qua “numbers crunching” or model-building reigns supreme. In this world, the rules of “real” science make for both timidity and risk-aversion in the formulation of questions and the execution of the answers.
After defection from Sam’s class, it took this author another 20 years to re-establish regular contact with him—when he followed an invitation to become the Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National Security for a year in 1990-91. This is when he met Nancy, who proved once and for all: Any man who marries a woman like Nancy can’t be all bad. This woman of Armenian ancestry was the best a Jewish mother could be: solicitous, loving, smart, funny, but without any of the other qualities that have made Jewish mothers the butt of countless psychoanalytical jokes.
Whosoever loved Sam, loved and loves Nancy—this is the secret why hardened academics today grieve and extol so copiously.
It is easy to admire Sam for his fabulous intellectual output across the full spectrum of political science. It is easy to hold up each and every book of his and place it in the pantheon amidst shouts of “influential,” “definitive,” or “path-breaking.” Just look at Soldier and the State which has gone through 15 printings and was at the center of a symposium at West Point last year.
Who can claim that his own book was translated into 39 languages, as was The Clash? What has made it, or the Third Wave, or Political Order into milestones is not their unassailability. Indeed, it is a sheer intellectual pleasure to “deconstruct” the pro-authoritarian bias of Political Order today. Or to pick apart the Clash, as thousands of lesser minds have already done.
But who will embark on projects of this kind of sweep, breath and depth? Or write as elegantly as Sam has done?
That’s over in American academia, as is that fabulous confluence between America’s rise to world power and the influx of some of Europe’s greatest minds, courtesy of Adolf Hitler. Never before has there been such a perfect match between the demand for and the supply of great talent. One hates to think what would happen to a young Sam today. He might still graduate from Yale at age 18, but would he have become a Harvard professor at age 23? With that independence of mind, that contrarian spirit, that relentless search for conventional notions to be slain? Would a young Sam still be able to ask the Big Questions? And sin against so many idols demanding fealty to contemporary standards of correctness?
Let me close by quoting one of the “Baby Sams,” Stephen Rosen: Sam “was loved by those who knew him well because he combined a fierce loyalty to his principles and friends with a happy eagerness to be confronted with sharp opposition to his own views.” How many are left at Harvard, Stanford et al. whom we might honor with such an accolade? This is why his friends and students feel a loss that will grate forever.