On October 1, Juan J. Linz, Professor Emeritus of Political and Social Science at Yale University, a great master of contemporary political science, a scholar of outstanding prolificacy that became a point of reference for many of our works and a great friend of Italian political science, passed away. Born in 1926, Linz lived and studied in Spain and the United States, emerging as one of the finest students of comparative politics. His works on the collapse of democracies (The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes, with A. Stepan, 1978), totalitarian regimes (Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, 1975 and 2000) and democratization processes (Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, with A. Stepan, 1996) made him one of the key figures of the twentieth century in the field of social science. He left us a superb introductory essay to La sociologia del partito politico by Roberto Michels (1966). Just a few weeks before his passing, IPSA had announced the creation of the Juan Linz Prize. The Italian Association of Political Science and Italian Political Science warmly remember his stature and professional achievements with a contribution by Prof. Leonardo Morlino.
Juan José Linz Storch de Gracia contributed greatly to our understanding of Fascist phenomena from various different perspectives. He was the scholar who originally developed the model of the ‘authoritarian regime’, building on his first-hand knowledge of Francoism in Spain; who designed the most systematic, broad typology of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes; theoretically shaped the notion of the sultanistic regime; and formulated a new approach to studying the crisis of democracies as well as the transition to and consolidation of democracies in different areas of the world (especially, Southern Europe, Latin America and Eastern Europe). He conducted research into and published on nationalism (especially in the Basque Country) and federalism, as well as on business, local and party élites. Linz also hegemonized the debate about types of regime by showing the vulnerability of presidential regimes vis-à-vis parliamentary ones. In his analyses, he very often focused on the past, besides cultivating a personal in-depth interest in Max Weber, Roberto Michels, Pareto and a number of other classic scholars. But Weber remained his guiding star, to the point that several colleagues considered him to be the last, best ‘student’ of Weber. And in an interview with Snyder he affirmed: “Whenever I start working on something, I usually look to see whether Weber has anything to say on that theme” (see Munck and Snyder 2007, 182). As professor first at Columbia University, and then, for several decades, at Yale, he supervised dozens of PhD students (Stepan mentions 65 doctoral dissertations, completed under his direction or co-direction; Washington Post, 3 October 2013). Even more important, he was a point of reference for anyone studying political change in areas such as Southern and Eastern Europe, or Latin America. At the cost of sacrificing himself and working for years until late at night, he always found the time to meet and talk to young researchers who came from around the world to meet him, especially when his generosity and willingness to give time to others became widely known.
As a passionate intellectual, he was always deeply involved in the contemporary political debate of his country. This was when his extensive, in-depth historical and comparative knowledge, and his sheer erudition, complemented with passion and civil engagement, emerged to the full.
What can we – the people who met him, read and reread his works, and held discussions with him, sometimes for hours to the point of feeling exhausted – learn from him? What is his legacy for us, as a scholar, academic and man? This short piece of writing is an attempt – inevitably subjective – to answer this triple question. Let’s start with the scholar first.
Linz was a member of that European generation of young scholars who, right after World War Two, made the ‘leap’ into empirical analysis from a different, non-empirical background, mainly, Linz included, from law. It was for him, and for several others, that in 1961 Robert Dahl wrote the ‘epitaph for a monument to a successful protest’ to describe the success of behavioralism in political science (and other contiguous social sciences), referring to it as “an attempt to improve our understanding of politics by seeking to explain the empirical aspects of political life by means of methods, theories, and criteria of proof that are acceptable according to the canons, conventions, and assumptions of modern empirical science” (American Political Science Review, 55:4, 767). For Linz and his colleagues in those years, this meant escaping from ideologies and empty ‘bavardage’ or chattering, and carrying out effective, empirically grounded, in-depth analysis. Linz’s constant attention to this was an aspect of his own precocious maturity as a scholar, and at the same time the first essential lesson he always transmitted.
If empirical research was the right direction to take, how and what methods should be used to carry it out? Here we have learned two different lessons that could be interpreted in a variety of ways, but both of which are very strong. On the one hand, it is much better to do, i.e. to conduct research, rather than to talk about how to do, i.e. to spend endless time discussing methods. Without in any way denying the importance of methods and methodologists, Linz always maintained (and transmitted) the sound realism of someone who had done and was effectively doing empirical research, and who had direct experience of the complexities and intricacies of reality, and therefore knew that a rigid implementation of methodological rules can only be paralyzing for the researcher. On the other hand, there has to be an awareness that the empirical method to apply depends on the research question you have in mind. Absorbing that lesson means accepting a ‘methodological opportunism’, being a qualitative researcher who even acts as a historian, hunting down documents and witnesses, and/or being a statistician – maybe not a very sophisticated one, as we do not really have the data for it – who analyzes in-depth quantitative data. Linz was a ‘methodological opportunist’, and through his example encouraged us to be so as well. But he can also simply be admired – without being tempting to imitate and to follow him – for the skill and erudition he displayed when writing about the history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain.
The awareness of reality and its complexities, complemented by the Weberian tenet that reality in its wholeness is impossible to know, led Linz to be very modest, even humble, when developing and presenting the theoretical results of his empirical analysis. Despite having grown up as a scholar during a period of great illusions about the possibility of building general theories of politics, Linz was never seduced by those illusions, in addition to sharing a skepticism that made him so close to Samuel Finer and so distant from Gabriel Almond, who, in a famous presidential address to the American Political Science Association (1966), made a plea for developing a ‘systemic functionalism’ as the future for political science. In this perspective, in the sub-field of comparative democratization, where Linz was so influential, widely read and quoted – especially the works he co-authored with Alfred Stepan – there was a sort of ‘retreat from theory’ vis-à-vis the previous years. This meant developing a well-designed theoretical framework and at the same time empirically analyzing each case within that framework in order to achieve specific explanations for that case.
Within this perspective, his work also contains a non-explicit, though conscious, acceptance of a systemic assumption: the best way of understanding and explaining a case is to see the process and its interactions during a precise span of time and within a given territory or country. Thus, in the end, in his own work and in the very important research coauthored with Stepan, Linz proposed an explicit approach where the theoretical framework supplied the direction of research, and the empirical analysis of each specific case, supported by a number of different qualitative and quantitative data, supplied the results.
With hindsight we can now accept and fully understand the position of Weber, when he was conducting research and writing. We can also understand the consciously shaped theoretical position of Linz, who, on the one hand, was reacting to the excess of ambitions and illusions cherished by Easton, Almond and other scholars, who were intellectually dominant during the 1960s and 70s, and even later on; and who, on the other hand, was well aware of the complex realities and all the specificities of each case, of which he had a profound knowledge. But today, thanks to all the possibilities offered by computers, new software and other developments in knowledge, we can accept the more ambitious theoretical goals set by the rational choice approach, And, above all, we can follow Elster and others and consider a key theoretical goal, singling out the key mechanisms and, if there are the available data, the key processes of a phenomenon in a precise area and within a precise span of time. Thus, we can now accept the new theoretical challenges set up by other theoretical approaches. Besides, we could even read Linz’s most famous piece, the one on authoritarian regimes (1964), in this perspective, where limited pluralism, mobilization or lack of it, mentalities and a small leading group are the components that interact and build a mechanism that is at the core of every regime we define as authoritarian.
Within this analysis of Linz’s theoretical approach, it is worth adding a side feature, which is important for knowing him and which at the same time provides another lesson for us. As is evident from what has already been said, Linz’s line was far removed from the approach or theoretical position of Easton and others. But never would he have written a harsh attack like the one launched by Brian Barry against Almond (British Journal of Political Science, 1977, 7:1-2, 99-113 and 217-253), or even a strong criticism of the kind directed, once again at Almond, by Finer (Government and Opposition, 1969, 5:1, 3-21). Moreover, despite the enormous number of publications, as evidenced by the seven volumes excellently edited in Spanish by José Ramon Montero and Thomas Jeffrey Miley (Madrid, CEPC), Linz never wrote a book review or a review of literature article. Despite the large number of quotations he employed – Linz was an avid reader – there is also never, or only very rarely, a written critique of another work in his own articles and books. This suggests that he did not view writing as an opportunity to show that he was fully enlightened on a given topic and that all other scholars writing on it had a poor understanding; or as a chance to take academic vengeance, also by ignoring those we do not like. On the contrary, the progress of knowledge is at once a collective and an individual endeavor, where everyone’s contribution to understanding of a topic can be acknowledged, and at the same time it is possible to add one’s own knowledge, emerging from new data and additional in-depth analysis. I suspect that Linz never liked bullfights. In a discipline where bullfights and harsh and sometimes unfair competition seem to be the rule, this is a powerful lesson to bear in mind.
Although this first dimension will be regarded by most colleagues as the most important one, we should not forget the other two, which made him such an outstanding and unique scholar.
In contemporary political science, dominated by Harzing’s Publish or Perish, where we are obsessed by Google citations, impact factors and the h-index, and you feel a great researcher if your h-index is more than 40, and a poor scholar who has wasted her or his life if it is 30, Linz published his most quoted and best-known piece on authoritarian regime in an edited book brought out by an unknown, small publisher (Helsinki: Westermarck Society). The scholar, who was Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, received the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences (1987), one of the most important European awards in social science, the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science (1996), which we are accustomed to regard as the Nobel Prize for political scientists, and the Karl Deutsch Award (2003), which is the most important IPSA award, given every three years, kept his “Patterns of Land Tenure, Division of Labor, and Voting Behavior in Europe”, a key contribution to a classic topic in sociology and political science, in his desk drawer for about ten years, and only published it in 1976, when requested to do so by a colleague who had read the original paper (Comparative Politics, vol. 8, no. 3, April). When Fred I. Greenstein and Nelson W. Polsby, the editors of the first Handbook of Political Science (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Press, 1976), asked Linz for a forty- to fifty-page essay on authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, they received, sometime later, a 236-page contribution that was impossible to refuse because of its content and level of scholarship. It became most of the third volume of the Handbook, entitled Macropolitical Theory (pp. 175–411), and was later re-published more than once, also as a separate book.
These are just three examples of a way of interpreting our profession that would not allow any of us to survive today, and even less so could it be imitated by a younger scholar. There is no doubt that the informal rules existing in the profession years ago gave a fine and respected scholar like Linz room to behave in this way. But the real lesson here is another one: a passion for content, complemented by a commitment to probe as deep as possible on every occasion, should be our effective priority. This goes well beyond the wish simply to publish, abiding by rules that more and more are turning the discipline into a conformist science, where it is more important to meet deadlines and to be formally impeccable than it is to achieve additional and more in-depth knowledge.
In this respect my guess is that his own intellectual gifts were enhanced by the climate of the Department of Sociology at Columbia, where Merton, Lazarsfeld, Kingsley Davis, Lynd, Lipset, Wright Mills were the professors and later the colleagues of Linz, and that this climate accounts for his way of becoming a social scientist in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
What Charles C. Wright Mills was writing in those years about being an ‘intellectual craftsman’ was clearly present in the mind of the young Linz, despite his almost non-existent relationship with the difficult leftist intellectual: from devoting attention to research topics relevant for one’s own time and accepting the central task of understanding the meaning of one’s own historical period to the necessity of avoiding the arbitrary specialization of prevailing academic departments, to the awareness that “you inherit and are carrying on the tradition of classic social analysis”, so we should understand “man not as an isolated fragment, not as an intelligible field or system in and of itself”, but try “to understand men and women as historical and social actors” (Wright Mills, Oxford University Press, New York, 1959) – all this was something that Linz learned from Wright Mills and the other great scholars of those years, and that he transmitted to us, even in the way he addressed the above-mentioned priorities in the pursuit of his profession.
Linz’s notion of ‘limited pluralism’ as a key characterizing element of an authoritarian regime came in for severe criticism from overly factious and partisan Spanish colleagues, who misread his theoretical proposal with the charge that the expression was an indirect way of legitimizing Franco’s regime. Such a malicious reading of his work was undoubtedly cause for some hurt. But in addition to understanding that this was all part of a bitter and unavoidable political debate that ran on throughout the final years of Francoism, he retained all the civil commitment and passion of a ‘good man’. In a sense, we can look to him here as an example, but there is nothing to learn. It is a kind of personal gift that cannot be imitated or achieved as such. It is as Manzoni has Don Abbondio say: “if one does not have the courage, he cannot give it to himself”. If one is not a good man, one cannot become it. And for a lot of us, Juan Linz was simply a good man, and most of us cannot be as he was.