Samuel Huntington (1927-2008)

I returned from vacation to learn that one of my graduate advisors, Samuel Huntington, passed away on Christmas eve.  Huntington was the type of broad intellectual that has become a vanishing breed in academia.  He had a knack for identifying the big themes that were worthy of our attention and had the courage to make bold arguments while always remaining respectful of those with whom he disagreed. 

Now we are mostly left with academics who dwell on the latest methodological technique rather than what is substantively important.  Just pick up a recent copy of the American Political Science Review and you will search in vain for anything important, useful, and accessible. 

And the public intellectuals who still attempt to ask the big questions too often give answers that have all the depth of a self-help book.  Has Thomas Friedman ever made an argument that was not already the bland conventional wisdom of the Rotary Club in a small midwestern town? 

Josef Joffe said it best: “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?”

Huntington’s passing isn’t just the personal loss of a wonderful man, teacher, and scholar.  It also marks the end of an era.

4 Responses to Samuel Huntington (1927-2008)

  1. Greg Forster says:

    And the man could never get a fair shake. The Clash of Civilizations is the most widely misrepresented book since…well, since the book it was written to rebut, Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.

  2. Larry Bernstein says:

    I disagree with Greg. Everyone pretty much recognizes that Huntington was right about Clash of Civilizations. I think there was a WSJ editorial by some famous academic who wrote in the companion document condemning Clash that he was wrong. I think the most misrepresented Huntington book is Who are We about Mexican immigration where the Left views him as a Nativist and a Nazi. I think Huntington is bang on.

    I also disagree with Jay on several of his main points. First, I don’t think Huntington would have gotten into Yale at 14 now. Most Ivy League schools believe that you need a certain maturity before you can take full advantage of their facilities. They even want their MBAs to be in their mid 20s and not 20.

    I also think that “Academia” wasn’t lost to the “no idea” academics recently. Huntington was in his 80s and his been alone for decades. Academia was lost in the 60s and that was 40 years ago. I am 42 and it has been lost my entire life, so let’s get over it.

    I would be interested in hearing which of Huntington’s books will be relevant in say 50 years:

    #1 Clash of Civilizations (I think the view will be shock that anyone disagreed with the thesis)

    #2 Soldier and the State (I just read it and loved it)

    #3 Who are We (Immigration will be a big topic in perpetuity)

    #4 Political Order in Changing Societies (democracy not that stable vs. authoritarianism)

    For the record, I didnt like his book The Third Wave.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    It’s true that a lot of people agree with what they’ve been told is the thesis of Clash of Civilizations. But in most cases, neither those people nor the people whose accounts they’re relying on have actually read the book, and I find that virtually everyone who characterizes the thesis of the book does so erroneously.

    I describe Clash as being more widely misrepresented than Who primarily because a lot fewer people have heard of Who.

  4. Larry Bernstein says:

    At a recent book club with the former Mexico foreign minister, I sent out the relevant chapter on Mexican immigration to the club. It is a lightning rod for criticism. It was written to incite and it does. Huntington makes a few points. 1. All citizens need to speak English. 2. No amnesty. 3. Mexican Citizens need to give up their dual citizenship. My liberal friends found this criteria offensive.

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