Monday, December 29, 2008

Samuel P. Huntington 1927-2008

The great Harvard political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, died Christmas Eve. My first exposure to Huntington was as an undergraduate when I read American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (1981). In that book, he presented America as a uniquely principled nation that, because it was founded moral-political principles rather than on blood or soil, we are always living with an "I v I gap," an ideals versus institutions gap. We aspire to realize certain noble principles as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, but because we are flesh we always fall sort of them to some degree or another. Sometimes the gap is wider and sometimes not so wide. At times when the gap becomes painfully wide, we throw ourselves into domestic turmoil. The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movements are just two salient examples of such times. This struck me as a theory that does justice to what is admirable in the American political experience while at the same time recognizing American shortcomings, as opposed to constantly accusing the nation of hypocrisy as the they do on the political left.

From one generation to the next, Samuel Huntington helped bring clarity to what is so often the confusion that is political life, both at home and abroad.

Read Robert Kaplan's 2001 article on Huntington in The Atlantic, "Looking the World in the Eye." It gives you a good overview of his education, his professional life, and his publications.

The Economist calls Huntington "one of America's great public intellectuals." His politics, they tell us, were more complicated than today's hard left, hard right, and confused and compromised center.

He was a lifelong Democrat, a representative of that dying breed, the hard-headed cold war liberal. He wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson and acted as a foreign-policy adviser to Hubert Humphrey. He briefly served in the Johnson and Carter administrations (he was a particularly close friend of Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of Barack Obama’s early backers). He was a fierce opponent of the neoconservatives who thought they could transplant American values into Mesopotamia.

But he believed that it was vital to mix liberal idealism with a pessimism rooted in a conservative reading of history. He rejected the economic reductionism that drove the Washington consensus, and insisted instead on seeing people as products of culture rather than as profit-and-loss calculating machines. He also rejected the beguiling idea (some say it has beguiled The Economist) that all good things tend to go together—that free markets go hand in hand with pluralism, democracy and the American way. He felt that America was a living paradox: America’s culture turned it into a universal civilisation but those values were in fact rooted in a unique set of circumstances.

His faculty page biography:
Samuel P. Huntington is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor. He graduated with distinction from Yale at age 18, served in the Army, and then received his Ph.D. from Harvard and started teaching there when he was 23. He has been a member of Harvard’s Department of Government since 1950 (except for a brief period between 1959 and 1962 when he was associate professor of government at Columbia University). He has served as chairman of the Government Department and of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. His principal interests are: national security, strategy, and civil military relations; democratization and political and economic development of less-developed countries; cultural factors in world politics; and American national identity. During 1977 and 1978 he worked at the White House as coordinator of security planning for the National Security Council. He was a founder and co-editor for seven years of the journal Foreign Policy.


• The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (1957)
• The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics (1961)
• Political Order in Changing Societies (1968)
• American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (1981)
• The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (1991)
• The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order (1996)
• Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2004).
"Assimilation Nation" is a 2004 review of Who Are We? from the May 31, 2004 issue of National Review.

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