Monday, September 04, 2006

Unfinished Business

Back on August 16th, Alexander L. George died at the age of 86. Professor George was one of most distinguished IR scholars of the late twentieth century. From 1968 until his retirement in 1990, he taught at Stanford where my colleague Dan Caldwell had the good fortune of studying with him and becoming his friend.

Over the course of his long and productive career, Professor George published a number of influential and important works. In 1956, George and his wife, Juliette L. George, published Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House, a psychological biography of Wilson that has influenced all of Wilson's subsequent biographers. His 1975 work, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy, co-authored with Richard Smoke, won the Bancroft Prize for American History and Diplomacy. Force and Statecraft: Diplomatic Problems of Our Time, was co-authored with Gordon A. Craig back in 1983. A fourth edition prepared by Paul Gordon Lauren (who spent two weeks in residence at Pepperdine last spring) has just been published by Oxford University Press.

There are many other noteworthy books left behind by Professor George: The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy, Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War, and Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in American Foreign Policy, to name just a few more. Professor George's last book, published just over a month before he died, was On Foreign Policy: Unfinished Business. It is a discussion and summary of some of the research questions that Professor George hoped others would take up.

I've been reading this slender volume this weekend. It is a book marked not only with the elegance and clarity characteristic of all of Professor George's writing but with a profound humility as well. I recall my mentor at the University of Virginia, Inis Claude, talking about the persistence and the importance of the "big questions" in international relations; the same awareness of the value of enduring questions pervades On Foreign Policy: Unfinished Business. As George noted in the Introduction (p. vii), "Typically what we report in our journals deals mainly with what we, and hopefully others, consider to be progress in developing knowledge and theories. Perhaps too seldom do our journals invite or publish articles that focus instead on important puzzles or gaps."

As I have time over the next few days, I plan to discuss a few of the questions that Professor George left for us to ponder. For now, though, I want to suggest this distinction between the researcher and the teacher: We rightly judge the researcher by his or her contributions to some body of knowledge. That is, it is the answers left behind that are important. But we properly judge the teacher by a different standard, it seems to me. The teacher is judged by the questions he or she leaves for students to ponder.

Professor George was clearly a great researcher and a great teacher.