Samuel Huntington died a pariah among America's intellectual elite. It's because he was normalby E K / February 28, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Samuel Huntington passed away on Christmas Eve. He is assured a place in the pantheon of modern “big idea” thinkers, alongside his student Francis Fukuyama. But few in this group were as controversial, or as consistently unpopular among their peers. Huntington was accused of everything from militarism to nativism. Noam Chomsky attacked him in the pages of the New York Review of Books over the bombing of Vietnam, and later described the Clash of Civilizations (1996)—Huntington’s most famous book—as a tool for the American elite to “control people.” He was denied membership of America’s prestigious National Academy of Sciences twice.
Why did he raise such hackles? Certainly, he was politically difficult to pin down. A lifelong Democrat, who worked for the ultra-liberal presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and voted for John Kerry in 2004, he was also a consistent conservative who backed the Vietnam war. His brief military career left an indelible mark, nowhere more evident than in his first book, The Soldier and the State (1957), which extols the ethos of the elite West Point military academy. At West Point, he wrote, “collective will supplants individual whim”—a latter-day Sparta in the midst of a civilian Babylon. With this book, his destiny to rile liberal colleagues was well underway; one reviewer portrayed him as a third-rate Mussolini.