Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How to earn respect and be a great scholar

Stephen Malt's tributes to his mentor, Samuel P. Huntington;

Last but not least, Huntington was simply a great man. Not just because of his remarkable career as scholar, teacher, mentor, magazine-founder, academic administrator, foreign-policy practitioner, and public intellectual, but because he had a rare capacity to engage with ideas he didn’t share and to respect those who disagreed with him. I took issue with him on several occasions—and didn’t pull any punches when I did—his reaction was to answer my criticisms fairly and forcefully and then help recruit me to Harvard. Needless to say, this is not typical behavior in the thin-skinned world of academe. John Mearsheimer and I dedicated a book to him not because he agreed with our thesis (though some of his own writings contain similar warnings about the distorting influence that ethnic groups could have on U.S. foreign policy), but because his willingness to say what he thought even when it might be impolitic was an inspiration for anyone who tries to grapple with the complex political challenges of our era. I will miss him, and so will his admirers (and critics) around the world.

From an earlier tribute;

I was not Sam’s student, but came to know him first as an intellectual force through his writings, then as a rather intimidating presence when I was a research fellow at Harvard in the 1980s, and later as friend and eventual colleague. To me, Sam’s true greatness is not measured by his scholarly contributions alone—though they were vast—but by his deep commitment to the life of the mind and his conviction that scholars should focus their efforts on the core political and social problems of the day. His work was often (always?) controversial, because he invariably tackled big questions and wasn’t afraid to offer provocative and sometimes unfashionable answers. In a world where most academics shun controversy and thereby render themselves irrelevant, Sam stood out. He knew that writing about politics was not a popularity contest, and that spirited but civil debate was essential to a healthy democracy. And it was impossible not to be inspired by his dedication and discipline.

Perhaps most remarkably, Sam was among the most intellectually tolerant academics I have known. He held strong views and defended them vigorously, but unlike most people in my profession, he didn’t mind if you disagreed. I can testify to this personally: when his “Clash of Civilizations” thesis was first published in article form, I debated him on this topic at the annual meeting of the American Political Science and I subsequently wrote a sharply critical review of the book for Foreign Policy magazine. Because Sam always loved a good argument—particularly if it was about substance and not ad hominem—he never held this against me and we grew closer as a result. Indeed, he subsequently helped recruit me to Harvard and he and his wife Nancy made a special effort to welcome us here. One could hardly imagine a better role model.

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