A Social Scientist Who Made a Difference

irvinglouishorowitz.jpgIrving Louis Horowitz, who died last week at 82, was a force of nature–a brilliant, cantankerous, sociologist of astonishing range; a forceful and important publisher (Transaction Books, Society magazine); and a radical acolyte of C. Wright Mills who moved to the right as he saw the crippling effect doctrinaire Marxists were having on social science and on American universities in general.

He was indescribable in life, and now that he has passed, description is yet more difficult. How to explain the way this relentless American captured the very core of European academic publishing and did so with an elan, capaciousness, and certainty which put to shame the coyly careful deliberation of competing publishers. He was on his own and was beholden to no suits, and may not even have owned a suit himself, except perhaps one he rented from himself for the state occasions even civilians must endure. How he managed the finances of his operation was a question which provoked many who threw up their ink-stained hands and finally simply decided: this was how ILH did things and the luckier we were for it.

What animated him was an unending commitment to the word and the book and the journal in the service of social science which told people something important about themselves. And he deeply admired those who had preceded him in his work, those who did it before think tanks and tenure reviews and were–for heaven’s sake–concerned with ideas. If there was a secret to his success, it was his infectious sense that publishing what he published was IMPORTANT and that anyone who was true to the highest ethic of their formative education HAD to come to the aid of ILH whenever he called.

For example, he supported a foundation to provide help to talented doctoral candidates from all over the world to go all over the world to do work which had the core of competence and the sheen of possible great human utility. Since I had once been co-research director of the HGF Carnegie Foundation, which also awarded grants, he asked me to join the committee reviewing applications. I did it, I think, three times.A committee of skillful, accomplished academics met in DC or Princeton for two days after plowing through acres of applications. It was agony. I was then wholly uninterested in that style of social science, the meetings ate up a fine spring weekend, I had become forlorn in contemplating the redemptive power of social science. Why do it? But it was painfully difficult at some point to decline to serve any more. One did not deny ILH and I was doing it! I escaped, but not before he asked me to write a new introduction to a classic monograph which should be in print and now is and it was a privilege to reintroduce it to readers living in a distant century – now.

Irving had the sense that the old stuff was important to the new. He felt the longevity of ideas and their curiously durable spinal cords. He was a man of his time, and of 300 years ago. As we know from his writing, he was fierce about ideas, and as sage and cool in publishing material he detested as the material he loved. He knew dangerous environments. When his parents moved to New York City, I’m told his father, who was a locksmith, decided to locate in a dicey neighborhood because that’s where he could be useful. Irving’s model too, surely. And Horowitz saw the modern campus as a danger zone, increasingly, and he engaged an astonishing international array of people in the effort to protect it.

All condolences to his fiercely effective wife, Mary Curtis, and to those who worked closely with Irving and must be amazed there are no elegantly worded letters from him in their USPS mailboxes and bewilderingly confounded that there’ll be no more.

Who can replace him? No one.

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Lionel Tiger is Darwin Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Rutgers University.

Lionel Tiger

Lionel Tiger

Lionel Tiger is Darwin Professor of Anthropology Emeritus at Rutgers and the author of many books, including "The Decline of Males."

2 thoughts on “A Social Scientist Who Made a Difference

  1. I never met ILH but had productive dealings and correspondence with him.
    To the extent that we have him to thank for the wonderful catalog of Transaction books, including many important reprints, and for such journals as Society and AQ — and I don’t really know what that extent is — I feel huge gratitude to him.
    Also, his important book on the crisis in sociology…

  2. Irving Louis was a real mensch. Probably the last of the grand old-timers in publishing. He would read your submitted manuscript and personally make a decision regarding publication. And it would take only a few days at most. No outsider reviews and all the rest. He was Transactions.
    He was also a bit crazy. During one American Political Science Convention he started yelling at me, then screaming. Bystanders were horrified. Yet, despite this outburst, we had a nice relationship over the years. He even published three of my books afterwards.
    He was an original in the best sense of the word.

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