In Memoriam: Samuel P. Huntington


for Affairs, Weatherhead Center International. 2008. “In Memoriam: Samuel P. Huntington”. Copy at


Samuel P. HuntingtonSamuel P. Huntington, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University, was one of the giants of political science worldwide during the past half century. He had a knack for asking the crucially important but often inconvenient question. He had the talent and skill to formulate analyses that stood the test of time.

The book that brought him to the public eye, and public controversy, The Clash of Civilizations (1996), painted on the broadest global canvas. It focused on the significance of religious and other cultural values as ways of understanding cohesion and division in the world. It was the intellectual foundation in 2003 for his opposition to the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq. This book anticipated reasons for challenges and tragedies that unfolded in Iraq during the past five years.

Among political scientists, two other books were particularly influential. His Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) challenged the orthodoxies of the 1960s in the field of development. Huntington showed that the lack of political order and authority were among the most serious debilities the world over. The degree of order, rather than the form of the political regime, mattered most. Moreover, it was false that "all good things go together" because the relationships between political order, democracy, economic growth, and education often created complex challenges and often undercut each other. In the decades the followed, this book remained the most frequently assigned text in research university seminars to introduce graduate students to comparative politics.

Huntington's The Third Wave (1991) looked at similar questions from a different perspective, namely, that the form of the political regime—democracy or dictatorship—did matter. The metaphor in his title referred to the cascade of dictator-toppling democracy-creating episodes that peopled the world from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s, and he gave persuasive reasons for this turn of events well before the fall of the Berlin wall.

Huntington's first book, The Soldier and the State (1957), examined the question of civilian authority over the armed forces, or the lack thereof. Huntington's principal interest was to understand what he called professional "objective civilian control" over the military in the United States but, in so doing, he shed much light on the successful evolution of civilian authority over the military historically in Europe and also in communist countries.

Huntington's books revealed his mind but ordinarily he made readers work harder to figure out how he felt. He was a highly disciplined author, a stylist of English language prose, and a master craftsman of arguments and their texts. Yet, in his last book, Who Are We? (2004), he left no doubt where he stood on the question that then concerned him. He was an American patriot, and he would like to be remembered for this faith as well.

Samuel Huntington graduated from Yale College in 1946 and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard in 1951. He spent the rest of his career teaching at Harvard, except for a period at Columbia University from 1958 to 1962. He served as Chairman of the Harvard Government Department (1967-69; 1970-71) and as director of the (Weatherhead) Center for International Affairs (1978-1989). He founded Harvard's Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and served as its director from 1989-1999. He was the Chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies (1996-2004).

Mentor to generations of scholars in widely divergent fields, he was the author or co-author of a total of seventeen books, on American government, democratization, national security and strategic issues, political and economic development, cultural factors in world politics and American national identity. He wrote insightfully about war and peace, development and decay, democracy and dictatorship, cultures and structures, migration and displacement, and many other topics. His graduate students teach at the world's leading research universities and have served in governments and international organizations. Shy in demeanor, Huntington was feisty at seminars and conferences, welcoming debate, and relished the exploration, critique, and defense of complex ideas.

A life-long Democrat, he was foreign policy advisor to Vice President Hubert Humphrey in his 1968 presidential campaign and served in the Carter Administration on the National Security Council staff as Coordinator of Security Planning (1977-78). He also co-founded and edited Foreign Policy magazine. He served as president of the American Political Science Association (1986-1987) and received the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas for Improving World Order.

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