Biography of Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington was born in 1927 in New York City. He grew up in a family of publishers, and by the time he was 18 he had already graduated from Yale University. During World War II, he served in the US Army. This direct experience with US foreign policy and warfare would shape his interest in political science. After returning from duty, he went on to attend the University of Chicago for a Masters degree in 1948, and Harvard University for a doctorate in 1951, both in political science. Huntington was immediately offered a position among the faculty at Harvard. Eight years later, he was appointed to the position of associate director of the Institute for War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, though he would return to Harvard by 1962. There, he would go on to hold a number of administrative positions in the government and international affairs departments.

Huntington began his research with a particular focus on America. Over time, he branched out to include comparative politics and foreign policy as well. He published his first book in 1957, entitled The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. This text explored the connection between the military and political power in the United States. It would go on to spark a debate about how these relations between the civil and military spheres should develop. However, it also prompted Harvard to deny Huntington tenure when he first sought it in 1958 because of the controversy the book raised. Four years later, as Huntington’s reputation had begun to grow, he was invited back to Harvard with the promise of tenure. At this point in his career, it had become clear that he was going to be an influential voice in political science.

In 1968, Huntington published the book Political Order in Changing Societies, arguing that instability was likely in countries that were still developing at the time. This text marked a shift toward focusing more on international relations than purely on domestic politics. In 1970, he went on to found the journal Foreign Policy, which became an important publication for academic writing about international relations and global politics. He also served as an advisor to Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968, was chairman of the Democratic Party’s Foreign Policy Advisory Committee, and helped to coordinate security planning under President Jimmy Carter. Though he worked mostly in academia, Huntington did branch into consulting with politicians on how best to approach foreign affairs. In fact, he met his wife, Nancy Arkelyan, when they worked together on a speech for Adlai Stevenson’s presidential bid in 1956. The couple went on to have two sons.

Toward the end of the 20th century, Huntington published one of his most well-known works, The Clash of Civilizations. This text argues that the post-Cold War world will be shaped by the competition between seven or eight major civilizations. It also warns against the rise of Islamic and Chinese power, and the ways in which the rise of these civilizations might contribute to the declining power of Western civilization. Like his first book, this text would go on to spark debate and controversy. Huntington continued to write about domestic and foreign policy for the remainder of his career, publishing a number of other texts. His work on comparative politics and foreign affairs became influential, and even foundational, for scholars that came after him. He died in 2008 at the age of 81.

Study Guides on Works by Samuel Huntington

In 1992, Samuel Huntington first presented the central argument of what would become The Clash of Civilizations in a lecture. Huntington was the first scholar to argue that cultural identity would be the most important factor in shaping global...