Stanley Hoffmann

1996 Balzan Prize for Political Science: Contemporary International Relations

To Stanley Hoffmann, who, through his teaching and writings, has raised political science to a discipline of syntheses, thus elucidating the full complexity of international contemporary relations.

Stanley Hoffmann was born on November 27, 1928 in Vienna (†2015). His Austrian mother took him to France in 1929, where they spent the next ten years in Nice and Paris, right up to the beginning of the Second World War, where the menace of Hitler’s troops was looming all over the French territory. The end of the hostilities in 1945 marked the very same year in which Stanley Hoffmann finished high school, and the doors to university study were opened. Simultaneously, he was to study political science and law in Paris (diploma from the Institute of Political Studies in 1948, diploma from the Institute of Advanced International Studies in 1950, licence in law in 1948, and doctorate of law in 1953). In addition, there was an M.A. degree in Government from Harvard University in 1952. He was assistant secretary of the French Association of Political Science in 1952-1953, and 1955. This year also marked his appointment as Instructor at Harvard, and the beginning of a brilliant teaching career: professor of Government since 1963, chairman of the Center for European Studies from 1969 to 1995, Douglas Dillon Chair of the Civilization of France from 1980, and an invitation to occupy the Chair of American Civilization at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, 1983-1984.

Stanley Hoffmann has never lost contact with France. As he wrote in the Introduction to his book of essays on France: “I owe to French education whatever I may be. I was blessed in my school and immediate post-school years with teachers whose warmth and kindness I can never repay. My deepest friendships are in France, along with the landscapes imprinted in me”.

Yet, no matter how strong his ties are to France, his horizons go beyond the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. His first volume, International Organizations and the Political Powers of States, published in 1954, sets the framework in which Hoffmann began his studies of contemporary international relations. The State of War (1965), dedicated to Raymond Aron, presented his conception of the theory and practice of international politics, as he had already formulated it in an article in the “Revue française de science politique”. In it, Hoffmann laid out the position which he would hold in debates among the theoreticians. He had no intention of enclosing himself into the confines of any one school, or within those of geographic borders. His preferences were for an empiric approach. He wished to keep himself free so that he could look at the whole vast field of observation before him. It was no coincidence that Hoffmann, with his adventurous intellectual spirit, published Gulliver’s Troubles (in English, 1968, and in French, 1971), in a period when all the attention was placed upon the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. In it, he discussed the “illusion of omnipotence”, opening up a debate on the structure and the dynamics of contemporary international relations which was destined to clash with the political science experts in search of theories for systems, and clinging to bipolarity.

He directed his attention towards the protagonists of international relations, on all levels. “What interests me most”, writes Hoffmann in his Ideas and Ideals, an often-quoted text, “is to know why individuals and groups behave in a certain way, what they intended to do, and what they actually achieved, how ideas shape interests and the institutions, and how the institutions shape civil society”.

The inquisitiveness of Stanley Hoffmann knows no limits. He examines the societies he observes under every aspect, in their relations on a regional and global level, he focuses on truly important or insignificant political figures, finding the right terms to describe them. General de Gaulle is not only a hero, but an artist of politics. The chapter in which he introduces de Gaulle and the world carries the subtitle: “The Stage and the Play”.

Stanley Hoffmann is, in his own way, a master of maieutics. He practices dialogue, in an age when great conflicts of every type multiply. And he does this with his essays in important journals and magazines, and with those with whom he dialogues continually through his books of essays: Decline or Renewal (1974), which comprises 18 texts written in 18 years; The European Sisyphus (1995); Duties Beyond Border: On the Limits and Possibilities of Ethical International Politics, a collection of conferences held in 1980.

Observing the train of thought of Hoffmann through all that he has published, one ascertains the progress of his reflections on ethics and culture, on the role of values in society in an age in which decisions on public affairs do not belong only to those with political power, and depend instead on the relations between ever more tightly related societies.

The numerous honors attributed to Stanley Hoffmann during his entire career prove his extraordinary influence as a great professor, and the importance of his methods which continually deepen and renovate the study of contemporary international relations.

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