The Best Political Scientist in the World Goes on Half-Time, Still an Optimist

A hush suddenly falls on a small crowd of students gathered outside the Geological Lecture Hall. The students, who are waiting for the lecture hall to open so that they can take their places for Gov. 20, "Introduction to Comparative Government," have spotted their professor, Karl W. Deutsch, walking toward them. All eyes focus on the Stanfield Professor of International Peace and all conversation stops. No one knows quite what to say or how to act in front of world-renowned professor. Deutsch himself seems a bit ill at ease with all the attention, but he sits down on the first of the concrete steps, ignoring the dust that collects on his heavy black trousers. Sensing the distance that separates him from the students, he turns to a young man at his right who is wearing a shirt reading "photographers do it in the dark." Deutsch smiles and at the same time knits his brow. "You are a photographer?" he asks, his strong German accent making even small talk somehow seem significant. The student, relieved to have something to say, he is and plunges into a discussion of photography. Soon several students are sitting on the steps around Deutsch, discussing the best makes of cameras and the best time of day to take photos.

Karl W. Deutsch knows his lenses. He spent two years studying optics in England during the 1930s, when the political climate in his native Czechoslovakia kept him from teaching law. That stay in England, however, was only a small digression in a career that has spanned...a childhood and youth in Prague, Czechoslovakia, anti-Nazi efforts there while Hitler was consolidating his power, immigration to and studies in the Unites States,, and position today as president of the international Political Science Association.

Now, at age 67, Deutsch has completed his last full year at Harvard. In accordance with the University's retirement rules, he will still teach in the fall term for the next four years; but he will spend each spring and summer in West Berlin as director of the International Institute for Comparative Social Research.

"Maybe at this stage of my life I'll get more opportunities to learn and research," he says with a twinkle in his eyes.

Deutsch will continue to hold his chair in the Government Department as Stanfield Professor of International Peace until his retirement is complete in 1981. He will present guest lectures in Gov. 20 in addition to teaching several graduate seminars.


As Deutsch describes it, Central Europe in the 1920s and '30s was an exciting, stimulating, and at times frightening place in which to grow up. Among the friends and neighbors of the Deutsch family were many Sudetan Germans who felt they had been cheated out of self-determination at the end of World War I, and who consequently heartily approved--especially after two crippling depressions--of the ascension of Chancellor Hitler and of Hitler's intention to restore order and unite German people all over the world.

The Deutsch family was also German and also lived in the Sudetan region of Czechoslovakia, but Karl and his parents disagreed with their neighbors and vigorously opposed Hitler's militarism. Mrs. Deutsch resisted Nazism in Parliament as a member of the Social Democrat coalition; Mr. Deutsch's anti-Nazi efforts later earned him a place in German newspapers as "an enemy of the Third Reich,"; and Karl served as a student organizer of the anti-Nazi movement in Prague.

Because of the political climate young Deutsch was unable to get a job in his chosen profession, teaching law. As a German and as a Social Democrat, he found all doors closed to him. "The Czech universities employed only Czechs, and the Nazi universities employed Nazis," he recalls softly.

With no other options open, Deutsch left for England to study optics. He says his study of the mathematics and physics associated with optics was partly responsible for later turning him towards the quantitative side of political science, an area that he pioneered.

He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1935 and spent the next three years organizing the opposition to the Nazis. In 1938 he and his wife came to the United States to elicit support for the anti-Nazis cause, expecting to stay four weeks and then to return home. In the meantime, however, Hitler issued his famous ultimatum demanding freedom for Sudetanland. Several weeks later, Britain capitulated at Munich, and Deutsch was advised by Czech authorities not to return home for his own safety.

He received a scholarship from Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. program in government and he finally received his Ph.D. in 1951, after delays caused by World War II and by his teaching job at MIT. By then, his parents had escaped from Czechoslovakia and joined him in Cambridge.

Deutsch leans forward in his chair and speaks with special earnestness as he reflects upon the Nazi period. "I think I can understand its terrible psychological appeal," he begins quietly. "Any people suffering from mass unemployment is vulnerable. But I also learned that it is not true that al people give in when confronted with overwhelming force. I know of too many who didn't.

His eyes wander briefly around his office as he recalls the sadness he felt when Britain gave in to Hitler at the 1938 conference in Munich. "Democracy can make terrible mistakes," he admits, "but one lesson I've learned from it is that one should never give up, no matter how bad it looks. If the forces for good in the world were not greater than the forces for evil, we would not be here."

Deutsch hit it off immediately in the United States. "Within a week of being here I was at a youth conference and met Eleanor Roosevelt. I figured that a country like that is a great one. Then I met faculty members who I admired very much. And also, I find Americans the best neighbors anywhere."

Deutsch volunteered to fight for America during World War II but was rejected because of his poor eyesight. Instead, he worked for the U.S. State Department for two years in the Office of Strategic Services, using his fluency in English. Czech, German, and French, his reading knowledge of Latin, and his general understanding of Spanish and Russian for OSS intelligence analysis.

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