When did your interest in politics really begin? Did you know early on what you wanted to do “when you grew up”?
I was raised in a highly political family. At the age of five I first experienced what political scientists call cross-pressures. My parents were active Democrats and my father was a leader of the Fifth Ward Independent Voters of Illinois, in Hyde Park; but my kindergarten girl friend was the daughter of the Republican alderman. At seven, I recall putting up hand-made signs for Paul Douglas, running for the Senate in 1948, and Adlai Stevenson, running for Governor. I also recall my disillusion when someone tore them down a few hours thereafter. They were, I thought, quite attractive. After all, I had carefully used different colors of crayon.
My mother was the biggest influence on my life. She was very bright, and very much an activist. Throughout her life she was joining or organizing something in order to make the world better. She had been part of the reform movement of the years before, and during, World War II, influenced by the Progressive movement, social democracy, and the New Deal. So until I came to Shimer I thought I would “do politics,” perhaps serve as a city manager somewhere. That really came from the Progressives’ conception of politics as ensuring clean, efficient government.
Shimer reinforced what was probably my basic inclination – certainly that of my father -- toward the life of ideas. So I kept my interest in politics but focused on trying to understand it rather than to become a political administrator.
And then, after Shimer, you started graduate work at Harvard? That must have been quite an adjustment!
Not so much as you might think. For the first year of graduate school, I was almost mute in seminars – hard as that is for anyone who knew me before or since to believe. I was somewhat intimidated. But it wasn’t so long before I discovered three things. First, the graduate students I was with were not as smart, on average, as the early entrants whom I had hung out with at Shimer. (Indeed, it is not clear to me that I have ever been with a brighter set of people than those early entrants – although we are not talking here about maturity.) Second, I was better at thinking about politics than most of my graduate student peers. Finally, Shimer had taught me critical skills, and how to write. In a sense, Shimer proved itself to me at Harvard.
Somewhere along the way, you ended up at Stanford, doing lots of research and publishing.
Yes. Shimer probably played a role in my move to Stanford, since I came as the director of an interdisciplinary international relations program, with strong ties to history and the humanities. Shimer had prepared me for such interdisciplinary work. It is important to note that I went to Stanford as a teacher as much as a scholar. Indeed, my career has been notable, in comparison with many others of my generation, for my consistent concern with teaching both undergraduates and graduate students. I have never sought to minimize my teaching involvements – indeed, this year, I am teaching an overload at Duke. On my curriculum vitae I proudly list the former PhD students of mine – 27 at current count – now active in the profession of political science, or related professions. They teach at such universities as Columbia, Harvard and Stanford, as well as colleges such as Colby, Vassar, and Wellesley.
It was at Stanford, however, that I first became widely known in my field. Joseph S. Nye and I published a book called Power and Interdependence, which received quite a bit of scholarly attention. It was one of the first books to explore the politics of what is now known as “globalization,” emphasizing political economy and the activities of non-state actors, rather than simply focusing on issues of war and peace. Nye was then, as he is now, at Harvard, and we had to collaborate on that book without fax or email. Many drafts crossed the continent via U.S. mail! We also spent quite a bit of time together, both during 1972 (before I went to Stanford), when I was on leave at Harvard, and at his house on the famous Commons in Lexington, Massachusetts. “The “embattled farmers” had stood, 200 years before, outside the window of the little study where we worked on world politics and interdependence.