Alexander George, 'giant' in international relations, dead at 86

Alexander George

Alexander George

Alexander L. George, the Graham H. Stuart Professor of International Relations, Emeritus, internationally known for his pioneering work in political psychology and foreign policy, died on Aug. 16 at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle following a massive stroke. George was 86.

"Many people consider Alex George to be the greatest scholar of international relations of his generation," said Dr. David Hamburg, president emeritus at Carnegie Corporation of New York and a former chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.

A professor of political science at Stanford from 1968 to 1990, George published seminal articles on the impact of cognitive beliefs on an individual's political behavior and on the role of stress in decision-making. He also developed methods of using case studies as a basis for building theories of political behavior, especially in the areas of Cold War foreign policy.

George bridged the two worlds of academia and policymakers, said Hamburg, who met George in 1957 at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where both were fellows.

He was the among the first to lead behavioral scientists into studying the "very painful and dangerous" issues of nuclear crisis management during the Cold War era and to carry knowledge directly to policy leaders, Hamburg said. George "focused a great deal of attention on reducing nuclear danger," he added. "I regard him as a truly great scholar and human being."

George was born in Chicago on May 31, 1920, and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Chicago, where he received his doctorate in political science in 1958.

During World War II, George was a research analyst for the Federal Communications Commission from 1942 to 1944 and served as a civil affairs officer in post-war Germany from 1945 to 1948. He taught at the University of Chicago and the American University in Washington, D.C., and from 1948 to 1968 was a specialist on the study of decision-making and international relations at the RAND Corporation. George became director of the social science department at RAND before joining the Stanford faculty in 1968.

A prolific author, George came to prominence with the publication of his first book, Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House (1956), which he co-authored with his wife, Juliette L. George. Controversial at the time of its publication, it is regarded as one of the best psychological biographies ever written.

In 1994, a special issue of the journal Political Psychology was dedicated to examining and honoring George's work. In the publication, scholar Janice Gross Stein called George an "architect, engineer and community-builder in political psychology" who had left an "enduring blueprint for the study of the psychology of international relations."

George's scholarship also has had a significant and continuing impact on historical case-study methodology in political science, said Scott Sagan, the co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford. George is co-author of the highly regarded Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (2005).

Sagan also noted George's substantive research contributions to foreign policy research. His work has been "particularly important in developing our understanding of deterrence and coercive diplomacy," Sagan wrote in an e-mail.

In 1975, George was awarded the Bancroft Prize for American History and Diplomacy for Deterrence in American Foreign Policy, which he co-authored with Richard Smoke. His 1993 book, Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy, urges collaboration between the practitioners and scholars of politics.

After his retirement from Stanford, George was a distinguished fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., where he was invited to discuss the role of regional conflicts in international affairs alongside Nobel laureates Oscar Arias Sanchez, former president of Costa Rica, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

George continued his scholarship and writing until a few months before his death. His latest work, On Foreign Policy: Unfinished Business (2006), reflects on his 60 years of scholarship and work on public policy.

Among the many honorary degrees and awards presented to George are the MacArthur Prize, awarded in 1983, and the Johan Skytte Prize in political science, awarded in Sweden in 1998.

The "most wonderful" award of all, however, was the National Academy of Sciences Award for Behavioral Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War, given to George in 1997, said Juliette George. "His life's work from beginning to end was to maintain the peace," she said.

George's legacy includes his enormous generosity to his students, Hamburg said. "He was one of the most generous people I have ever known."

"Alex George is a giant figure in the study of international relations," Sagan said. "He will be missed, but his influence on future generations of political scientists will live on."

In addition to Juliette, George is survived by a daughter, Mary L. Douglass and son-in-law John Douglass of Edmonds, Wash.; a son, Lee L. George of Soquel, Calif.; and two grandchildren, Julie and Ben.

A private family service for George was held Aug. 22. The family has suggested that memorial gifts be sent to the Alexander L. George Book Award Fund, for an annual award presented by the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP), or to the Camphill Communities California, where Lee L. George is a resident. Contributions to the book fund should be addressed to the Alexander George Fund, c/o ISPP at the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, 346 Eggers Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244. Contributions to Camphill Communities California may be sent to P.O. Box 221, Soquel, CA 95073.