Tag Archives: University of Washington

From Politics to Political Philosophy: 1966-1980

Part Five of the essay Professor Without Portfolio.

Just as I was closing in on the B.A., I was encouraged to apply for admission to the M.A. program by one of the several mainland profs found taking “leave” at the University of Hawaii in those days—Bob Horwitz of Michigan State University. To test his notion that I would make a good academic, he hired me to interview Hawaiian homesteaders on Molokai, the Big Island (Hawaii), and Oahu for his Ford Foundation land study. Each of these families homesteaded 30-35 acres, all but the house and yard of which was planted to pineapple and harvested by Dole Corporation. My first published academic writing grew out of that work. It concerned the “unrealized promise”, as I saw it, of a timber industry on the Islands’ watersheds, which were “reserved” by the missionaries-turned-land owners exclusively to irrigate sugar cane and pineapple crops. (Ellie’s family had direct experience with this Hawaiian form of “colonialism”: On a certain Friday early in the 20th century, her grandfather was kicked by a mule that was used to “flume” cane to the mill on Maui by way of wooden irrigation raceways. He died early the following week; the Planters did not provide weekend medical services on the plantations.)


The land study work introduced me to Alan Spitz, a student of Horwitz’s who had been in Army Intelligence in Japan. He had married Mariko there, and they had two children almost exactly the ages of Sam and Kelly. He and I often took the four of them on Sunday mornings to the comparatively empty beaches at Waikiki or Diamond Head, and talked of cabbages and kings and other such things as they got sand-caked and sunburned. (“What were you doing? They could have been burned to a crisp or carried off by sharks!!”) Over the years after Hawaii, Alan often invited me from Kenyon to discuss the Marxism of Mao Tse-tung and related matters at seminars and lecture series he organized as department chair or dean at Washington State, Michigan State, and the Universities of Wyoming (Laramie) and of New Hampshire (Durham). He admired my notion that the “totalitarians” were prompted by “ideology” rather than opportunity, but didn’t think political philosophy was within his intellectual reach. For my part,  I admired his humility—and wondered why I, of all people, blundered in where angels feared to tread!  I lost track of Alan and his family when his nomadic academic career carried him to the University of Alabama at Huntsville, and mine to the First National Bank of Chicago.


Horwitz, himself, brought me to Kenyon from the University of Washington in 1967 to help “refound” the college’s department of political science, an assignment he had won as Kenyon prepared to admit women after 145 years of men only. The department had been roiled by the doctrinal dispute of the day—between the social science and traditional “civics” treatment of the subject—and had been reduced by retirements and resignations. In moving from Michigan State to a liberal arts college, Horwitz (who had studied under Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago) was pursuing his pedagogical preferences—but also a rare opportunity to build a political science department in an image he had learned from Strauss. At Kenyon, he became the classic academic entrepreneur. Even the most accidental encounter with him on campus or in the village became a departmental meeting or petition. The president and dean worried that he would exact a new position or speaker invitation from them during the briefest of exchanges at the post office or in the grocery. He made us the second largest department in the college, close upon the heels of English, the blessed beneficiary of Kenyon’s post-war recruitment of John Crowe Ransom and the Kenyon Review, the house journal of Ransom’s  “new criticism”. (Eventually, of course, all of us in the humanities at Kenyon and similar places were eclipsed by the employment promises of the bio-sciences.)


Horwitz’s singular dedication to the Kenyon assignment was characteristic of him—and helped me moderate my own similar propensity later on. Despite the medical and dietary advice he received from the Cleveland Clinic in the early days of heart bypass surgery, he died about two-thirds of the way through my 15 year tenure there. (He would regularly come out to the house on slack days at the college on the pretext of consulting on a departmental issue, make straight for the refrigerator, and consume whatever forbidden fruit he could find there—all beyond the knowledge of his wife and doctors.)