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A Realist Tribute to an Extraordinary Idealist

4 34 11
21.09.2021

During my first year in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, I took a seminar titled “Future World Orders.” Early in the term, during a discussion of Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society, I made what I thought were some trenchant comments about the book. The young assistant professor teaching the course replied that there were two problems with what I had just said. First, my argument was tautological. Second, it was empirically wrong, and he added dryly that to achieve both errors in one comment was a neat trick. He said this gently, however, and I felt I’d been schooled but not humiliated. His real point was that I might want to do a bit more thinking before I opened my mouth.

The young professor who gave me this important lesson was John Ruggie, who passed away last week. I was fortunate to have him as a teacher in that class back in 1978, and as a colleague at the Harvard Kennedy School over the past 20 years. As those who knew him can attest, John was an exceptional person, one of only a handful of political scientists who combined equally outstanding contributions to scholarship with equally significant achievements in the real world. Most scholar-practitioners turn out to be better at one activity than the other, but John was a master in both realms.

John’s scholarly profile was unusual for a political scientist. Although he published several books over the course of his career, he never wrote a magnum opus that laid out his vision of the world in detail. Instead, his academic reputation rests primarily on a set of remarkable essays, works of tremendous range and vision, and each the product of deep learning and careful thought.

During my first year in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, I took a seminar titled “Future World Orders.” Early in the term, during a discussion of Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society, I made what I thought were some trenchant comments about the book. The young assistant professor teaching the course replied that there were two problems with what I had just said. First, my argument was tautological. Second, it was empirically wrong, and he added dryly that to achieve both errors in one comment was a neat trick. He said this gently, however, and I felt I’d been schooled but not humiliated. His real point was that I might want to do a bit more thinking before I opened my mouth.

The young professor who gave me this important lesson was John Ruggie, who passed away last week. I was fortunate to have him as a teacher in that........

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