At a time when Big Data and quantification too often rule the day in U.S. foreign policy analysis, when web-sites and other digital instruments provide instant and often misleading “information”, the achievements of Stanley H. Hoffmann emerge even more clearly. Devoted to reading and writing, to circumscribing if not eliminating “presentism”, Stanley was mentor and friend to generations of students who cherished his wit and insights. His loyalty to them was legendary. And ours to him.
He lived his life according to his own impossible standards. He practiced what he preached. He insisted on an interdisciplinary analysis of politics at both the national and international levels, on learning as much from the arts as from the more conventional social science “disciplines”. Deeply aware of human foibles, Stanley spent decades trying to explain the French and the Europeans to the Americans and vice versa, a thankless task at so many intervals. A brilliant essayist who wrote for the New York Review of Books and the Atlantic as well as for the more traditional scholarly journals on both sides of the pond, Stanley’s lengthy career at Harvard allowed him to remain wedded to his early studies of history, philosophy and law as he developed abiding interests in political leaders and in ethics.
Stanley’s personal and professional lives intersected. In two remarkable autobiographical accounts in Ideas and Ideals, a Festschrift Michael J. Smith and I assembled in honor of his 65th birthday in 1993, he recounts that, like Edith Piaf, he regrets nothing. In childhood he en- joyed playing both Mickey Mouse and Felix and the Cat at the same time in a Carnival parade in France. He was an early lover of dualities who writes that “world politics” chose him. A survivor of war, dislocation and transplantation from the old world to the new, Stanley brought a critical demeanor to academe and to power wherever and however it became institutionalized.
As his generational colleagues like Henry A. Kissinger and Zbigniew Brezinski chose Washington and in and out careers in Ivy League schools, the Council on Foreign Relations and other think tanks, Stanley resisted the lure of politics since he wrote he was unsuited for it. Not surprisingly, it was Judith Shklar from Riga he admired most, both for her intellect and also for her persistence when they were forced to enter the Harvard Faculty Club via separate doors to eat together.
Stanley found his own distinctive voice and always had something refreshing and iconoclastic to say. When others insisted on elevating theories to dogma, he resisted. When others worried about American primacy or decline, he worried about what primacy might accomplish. When others wasted time arguing whether the nation-state was either obstinate or obsolete, he explained why it is both. When others carved up international relations into ever smaller mazes, he strived for elusive coherence and links to political thought.
By urging us to study “the unit” as a way of understanding the international system as a whole, he emulated this friend, Hedley Bull, of whom he wrote: “A highly civilized voice, in which skepticism and hope were admirably balanced. There are few such voices left.” We mourn the loss of a remarkable man who supported his students when they choose academe as they pushed the rock up the hill, as he did, even when the rocks got heavier and the hills got taller. An absent voice to encourage those who will choose lives outside academe with all its allures that so often resemble the academy in its pretensions.
Linda B. Miller, Wellesley College and Argentia Team