Juan Linz (Luis Magán, El País)
Juan Linz (Luis Magán, El País)


Noted political scientist and sociologist Juan Linz passed away Wednesday.   I asked his longtime friend and co-author (The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes (1978), Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation (1996), and India and Other Multinational Democracies (2011)) Wallace Sayre Professor of Government at Columbia University Alfred Stepan to offer a few thoughts on the life and career of Linz, and he was kind enough to oblige with the following.


On Tuesday, professor Juan J. Linz, one of the most important thinkers and teachers in the social sciences, died in New Haven at the age of 86. Linz was Sterling Professor Emeritus of Political and Social Science at Yale University. He was born in Weimar, Germany in 1927, but after his father died his Spanish mother moved to Spain and Linz became a Spanish citizen, a citizenship of which he was always proud and retained to the end of his life.

Linz’s books and teaching have had a profound influence in shaping discussions in the academy and in public life. He is particularly known for his development and analysis of the distinct regime types found in the world, namely totalitarian, authoritarian, sultanistic and democratic types. He also opened up the debate about presidential versus parliamentary forms of government, and contributed seminal works on democratic breakdowns and problems of democratic transition and consolidation throughout much of the world.  Linz designed innovative public opinion surveys which make it possible for the first time to document that citizens are capable of “multiple but complementary identities”;  these surveys were crucial in opening up new ways of studying nationalism in such diverse areas as Spain, Scotland, Sri Lanka and India.

The closest thing to a Nobel Prize in political science is the Johan Skyette Prize, which Linz was awarded in 1996. In 1992 the World Association of Public Opinion Research awarded him its highest honor, the Helen Dinerman Award. In 2003 the International Political Science Association gave him the Deutsch Prize. In 1987 Linz received the Príncipe de Asturius Prize, Spain’s highest honor.  Linz was also the recipient of numerous honorary degrees.

Linz was a famously generous, inspiring and much-loved professor and teacher. He played a central role in nurturing graduate students through to the completion of their doctorates — 65 doctoral dissertations were completed under his direction or co-direction. His students came from all over the world; many of them are now well-known professors in universities across the globe.

In the last two years of his life Linz wrote and spoke about the growing dangers of inequality and governmental paralysis in the U.S. political system.  We will miss his persistent and profound reflections about how to build a better polis.