The American political scientist Karl Wolfgang Deutsch (1912-1992) was ranked among the foremost social scientists of the post-World War II era. Few, if any, other thinkers in this field attained his level of intellectual originality, professional importance, and peer-group recognition.
Karl Wolfgang Deutsch was born to German-speaking parents in 1912 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. His father Martin was an optician while his mother Maria (Scharf) was deeply involved in domestic and international political causes, eventually leading her to become one of Czechoslovakia's first woman parliamentarians. Young Deutsch graduated from the German Staatsrealgymnasium in Prague with high honors in 1931, whereupon he entered Prague's German university, completing his first degree there in 1934.
His continued studies at the same university were interrupted due to Deutsch's active opposition to the increasingly dominant Nazi presence which beset this university's faculty and student body by the mid-to-late 1930s. After a sojourn in England where Deutsch studied optics, he returned to Prague, gaining admissions to the Czech-national Charles University—a major distinction for a German-ethnic Czech—where he attained high honors in seven fields and received his doctorate in law in 1938. Shortly thereafter, Deutsch and his wife Ruth (Slonitz) left their increasingly troubled and intolerant homeland for a new life in the United States.
Deutsch thus became an integral part of that unique migration of European intellectuals who sought refuge from Hitler's barbarism in the New World. Like most in this group, Deutsch experienced a permanent effect from this profound transformation which was to manifest itself both in his scholarly work and in his relentless engagement on behalf of a general improvement of the human condition. It was at this time that the cornerstone of his life-long credo became firmly entrenched: "My life's aim has been to study politics in order to help people overcome the four chief dangers of our time: large wars, hunger, poverty, and vast population growth. For this end, I have sought more knowledge for greater competence and more compassion."
While enrolled at Harvard University in a doctoral program for political science as a recipient of a student-funded scholarship for refugees from Nazism, Deutsch never surrendered his immense talents to the sole pursuit of an academic career. Rather, he rendered his services to the United States government as an analyst of authoritarian political systems, in the course of which he became one of the main contributors to the famous "Blue Book" on Juan Peron's efforts to extinguish democracy in Argentina. Deutsch also participated in the International Secretariat of the San Francisco Conference of 1945 which was a direct precursor to the United Nations Organization.
In 1951 Deutsch completed his doctorate at Harvard, receiving the much-coveted Sumner Prize for his dissertation. Entitled "Nationalism and Social Communication," it represented a path-breaking study both of the cohesive integrating and also of the destructive-alienating dimensions of modern nationalism and its political manifestations. Spell-binding in its theoretical ambition and empirical scope, Deutsch's dissertation also broke new methodological grounds by using sophisticated quantitative analyses to illustrate the relationship between politics and society. Deutsch's book with the same title published two years later has remained a classic in the literature of political science to this day.
Rose to the Top
Following his professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 1952 and 1958, Deutsch accepted a teaching position at Yale University where, during the course of the 1960s, his influence and prestige reached the top of his profession. Here he published his seminal The Nerves of Government, which revolutionized the study of politics by introducing concepts derived from cybernetics for a more nuanced analysis of essential political mechanisms such as power, authority, governance, cohesion, conflict, guidance, and breakdown. It was mainly at Yale that Deutsch supervised the doctoral work of a large number of exceptional students, all of whom have since assumed prestigious posts at the world's leading universities where they continue to uphold his intellectual legacy.
Deutsch established the Yale Political Data Program, which is one of the most important organizations to develop quantitative indicators for testing significant theories and propositions in social science. In addition, his exceptional qualities as a teacher and educator were duly honored by the Yale Political Union, which awarded him the esteemed William Benton Prize for 1965 for having done most among the Yale faculty to stimulate and maintain political interest on campus. Deutsch left Yale University in 1967 for Harvard University where in 1971 he became the Stanfield Professor of International Peace, a post he held until 1983 when he was named an emeritus professor. He stayed at Harvard until 1985. After 1976 Deutsch was also invested with the directorship of the International Institute for Comparative Social Research of the Science Center in Berlin where he and his team of international scholars pioneered and refined the study of global modeling in political science.
The most convincing testimony to Deutsch's eminence in political science emanates from the impressive accolades and prestigious awards his colleagues in the field bestowed upon him over the years. In addition to having lectured at well over 100 academic institutions all over the world, Deutsch was the holder of seven honorary doctorates from prestigious universities both in the United States and Europe. His colleagues' recognition of his merits also extends to having elected him president of the New England Political Science Association (1964-1965), of the American Political Science Association (1969-1970), and of the International Political Science Association (1976-1979), among a number of other leading scholarly organizations. Deutsch served on the editorial boards of six internationally prestigious academic journals. He was the frequent recipient of such coveted fellowships as the Guggenheim and was decorated with the Grand Cross of Merit, which is the Federal Republic of Germany's highest distinction bestowed upon a civilian. Deutsch was a member of the National Academy of Science and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Deutsch died of cancer in November 1992 at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Further Reading on Karl Wolfgang Deutsch
Deutsch's most important books are Nationalism and Social Communication (1953, revised 1966); The Nerves of Government (1963, revised 1966); Arms Control and the Atlantic Alliance (1967); Nationalism and Its Alternatives (1969); and Tides Among Nations (1979). He also has written two successful college textbooks entitled The Analysis of International Relations (1968, revised 1978) and Politics and Government: How People Decide Their Fate (1970, revised 1974, 1980). The most comprehensive analysis of Deutsch's work by leading scholars in the field can be found in Richard L. Merritt and Bruce M. Russett (editors) From National Development to Global Community: Essays in Honor of Karl W. Deutsch (1981). His obituary appeared in the November 3, 1992 edition of the New York Times.