Samuel P. Huntington: A Great American Patriot and A Giant Among Scholars (1927-2008)
The Huffington PostApril 23, 2009
William E. Jackson Jr.Posted April 23, 2009 |
Cushing Strout, The New Heavens and New Earth:
"But we have his promise, and look forward to new heavens and a new earth..." 2 Peter 3:13 in the New English Bible
A memorial service for Prof. Samuel P. Huntington was held
today in the
Rows of books, suggestive of stages in his most productive life, lined the walls of the Niebuhrian realist's "war room." (
I am a child of Niebuhr
, he once told an interviewer, attracted by the theologian's
compelling combination of morality and practical realism
.) Stacks of bulging file folders full of clips and journal articles and academic papers burden the tables in between. His relentless curiosity had always served as his main research assistant. Samuel Huntington, it was said, had an "intellectual Midas touch."
The mounds of research material could be imagined as a series of powder kegs linked to a single fuse of intellect--"a force of intellectual nature"--that had been boldly prescient in vision and provocative in action.
As one entered the room, his major works were lined up on a
bookshelf, full of iconoclasms. (Telford Taylor once said that
The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics . It was a significant revelation at the beginning of the 1960's that strategic programs were the product not necessarily of some strategic overview or a rational assessment of the threat, but instead the outcome of political negotiations between the military services and the executive and legislative branches. And it was my baptism as his research assistant at the Institute of War & Peace Studies of Columbia University.
Political Power: USA/USSR, with Zbigniew Brzezinski as co-author, compared the principal similarities and differences between two very different political systems; and posed the question: convergence or separate evolution?
Political Order in Changing Societies depicted modernization as a disruptive process that could spark instability; and that would not necessarily metamorphose into Westernization.
Organization is the road to political power, but it is also the foundation of political stability and thus the precondition of political liberty.
The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century demonstrated that, in many countries, democratic political institutions were becoming the custodians of political order (
in dealing with departing autocrats, the least unsatisfactory course may well be, do not punish, do not forgive, and above all do not forget
And, most famously, the pre-9/11/01 The Clash of
Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order foreshadowed the collision of
Islam with the West. Professor Rosovsky of Harvard has given us the key to
Sam's importance: all of his major works dealt with a centrally important issue
of our time, with a broad brush, and always asked big questions.
If a scholar has nothing new to say, he should keep quiet. The quest for truths is synonymous with intellectual controversy.
Ideas have consequences, looking back or looking forward. And his insights could be disturbingly uncanny. From "The Clash" of 1996:
Somewhere in the Middle East, a half dozen young men could well be dressed in jeans, drinking Coke, listening to rap, and between their bows to Mecca, putting together a bomb to blow up an American airliner.
It has been written of Sam, by Robert Kaplan: "in the decades ahead his view of the world will be the way it really works."
By the rear courtyard window, there was a comfortable chair, with stacks of books at hand by younger colleagues: Walt (Taming American Power); Nye (Bound to Lead); Allison (Nuclear Terrorism). And The Israeli Lobby, recently dedicated to Sam by its two authors, in part because he understood that "scholarship is not a popularity contest." Nearby, the Holy Bible (Revised Version).
Behind the chair, and above the clock, a 1957 painting of Martha's Vineyard by Molita Phillips featuring wild flowers growing along the coastline of a sound, with a lighthouse on a far island; a collage of photos of grandchildren at the shore, and grandpa in a tall hat. As his wife, Nancy, told the Harvard Crimson:
He loved the Vineyard, loved his garden, and lived a fairly simple life
, remembering her husband's remark,
I can breathe again
, after returning to his favorite refuge, where they had spent summers for 40 years.
Along the other wall, past another mound of files and journals--the edibles of a voracious appetite for facts about the outside world--the trail led to his primary work station in a swivel chair at the electric typewriter. Here, neurons fired in his brain forming synapses that mysteriously produced ideas, with the body sustained by self-administered insulin shots. Beside him, photos of Nancy and two sons at Harvard graduations, with a proud father in red and black regalia.
The scene above was very similar to his environment in the
fourth-floor warren of a brownstone walkup on West 116th,
A Burkean by conviction--"the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do
nothing"--and a Hobbesian through historical observation.
The American political genius is manifest not in our ideas but in our liberal institutions
--e.g. the separation of powers and checks and balances in the Constitution.
Sam Huntington was always a "man at work" (a
Protestant and American virtue) fueled by intellectual fearlessness, and
political courage, a "democratic Machiavelli" who was anything but an
ideological triumphalist. He was not solely a creature of the academy, as in
But not without mischief. For
he thrived by adopting an oppositional position to much of political science
. Serious scholars had to confront this "geek with a backbone of steel" in
their path; and his impulse was to scrap, defending the
scholar's duty to say what he actually thinks in stark and general terms. This
is most clearly on display in Who Are We: The Challenges to
but to say what he thinks is going on in it--and then to prescribe a course of action that serves the national interests of his government
As a life-long Democrat, Sam Huntington held liberal ideals, as should have been obvious to those who knew him; but he recognized that such ideals could not survive without military power, even as the Cold War became history.
Posit: In the modern world, he controls the future who organizes its political thought as manifested in politics. No cultural determinist--and an enemy of multiculturalism--Sam agreed with Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." Heady stuff.
In his own last testament in Who Are We--"a gift
As a patriot, I am deeply concerned about the unity and
strength of my country as a society based on liberty, equality, law, and
individual rights. *** I believe that ... Americans should recommit themselves
to the Anglo-Protestant culture, traditions, and values that for three and a
half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and
religions and that have been the source of their liberty, unity, power,
prosperity, and moral leadership as a force for good in the world. *** THAT IS
The American Creed was
the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America...Key elements of that culture include: the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief
that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, 'a city on a hill'.
With Robert Frost, Sam reminded us that "the land was ours before we were the land's."
Huntington the teacher (or Puritan preacher), bound by realism but sustained by hope:
All societies face recurring threats to their existence, to
which they eventually succumb. Yet some societies ... are also capable of
postponing their demise by halting and reversing the processes of decline and
renewing their vitality and identity. *** If that commitment is sustained,
have been eclipsed. Was he confusing good intentions with clarity of analysis? Let us hope not.
This sermon was given by the namesake of an earlier Samuel
Huntington, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of the
Continental Congress--whose framed lithograph hangs in the stairwell of the
A modern-day founding father and public intellectual calling
upon Americans to conserve
This was the scene Samuel Huntington left behind when he
last moved with Nancy Arkelyan to Martha's Vineyard south of the
Critics say that
SPH concluded in American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony.
The great advantage of the American is that he has arrived at a state of democracy without having to endure a democratic revolution; and that he is born free without having to become so.
DeTocqueville, as quoted on the title page in Louis Hartz,
The Liberal Tradition in
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