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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Samuel Hutchison Beer, Harvard Political Science Scholar, Dies at 97

Samuel Hutchison Beer, a noted Harvard University political scientist, died at the age of 97 on April 7, 2009.

For years, Beer was the world's leading expert in British politics, but he also studied the American political system, and was active in American politics as a lifelong Democrat and chairman of Americans for Democratic Action from 1959 to 1962. He worked on the staff of the Democratic National Committee and as occasional speech-writer for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and 1936. He was a reporter for the New York Post in 1936 and 1937 and a writer at Fortune magazine in 1937 and 1938.

After his wartime duty as captain in artillery, Beer served in the U. S. military government in Germany in 1945. While at Oxford he traveled to Germany and noticed the rising threat of Nazism; after the war he was able to pursue his interest in the question of how so civilized a country, governed as a democracy, could lose so much.

When he returned to Harvard to teach in 1946, he gave a course on that topic and became the leader of an approach to comparative government that made sense of facts through the ideas of political, social, and economic theory. He began a Harvard course, "Western Thought and Institutions," that was as much history as political science, and as much political theory as comparative government. He continued this famous course for over 30 years, to the benefit and admiration of thousands of Harvard students.

Beer's first book was The City of Reason (1949), a study in the tradition of Oxford idealism that sees the reason inherent in human things rather than hovering above and critical of irrationalities. Avoiding the vague complacency of such a view, he launched the thorough study of British politics that made him celebrated in Britain as the man who knew their politics better than they did. In 1965 he published the book that secured his reputation, British Politics in the Collectivist Age, combining an analysis of postwar British socialism with the hard facts of political parties and pressure groups.

His study of American politics was crowned by the publication of his major work To Make a Nation: The Rediscovery of American Federalism in 1993. In it he stressed the original national purpose behind the idea of states' rights, often abused to diminish the American nation.

Always a partisan outside but never inside the classroom, Beer took a leading role in opposing the student rebellion of the late sixties at Harvard, criticizing the politicization of universities. In 1998 he also criticized the politicization of impeachment, testifying to the House of Representatives in the case of President Bill Clinton. Sphere: Related Content

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