In memoriam: Juan Linz, authority on political institutions

Juan J. Linz, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Political and Social Science — who has been described as a “towering figure in 20th-century social sciences” — passed away on Oct. 1.

“Linz’s books and teaching have had a profound influence in shaping discussions in the academy and in public life,” wrote longtime Linz colleague and collaborator Alfred Stepan, the Wallace Sayre Professor of Government at Columbia University in a tribute in the Washington Post.

“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,” wrote Stepan.  

In another tribute to Linz in Slate, business and economics correspondent Matthew Yglesias wrote, “He was a great man whose death happens to have coincided with a series of news events that nearly perfectly illustrate some of the main themes of his work. Linz, you see, was a student of comparative government, of political institutions, and of democratic breakdown.” 

In addition to his research and scholarship, Linz trained generations of graduate students from all over the world and continued to work closely with graduate students throughout his retirement. “His warmth, humor and vibrant intellectual will be remembered by all whose lives he touched,” said a tribute by Yale’s Departments of Sociology and Political Science.

Born in Germany in 1926 but raised in Spain by his Spanish mother, Linz became a Spanish citizen. He taught at the University of Madrid and Columbia University, among other institutions, before coming to Yale in 1968 as professor of sociology and political science. He was named the Pelatiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science in 1977 and Sterling Professor in 1989. He retired in 1998, but remained active in the intellectual life of the sociology and political science departments.

His publications include “Crisis, Breakdown and Reequilibration,” an introductory volume to “The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes”; “Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes”; and “Problems of a Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America and Post-Communist Europe,” with Alfred Stepan. He was also co-editor and co-author, with Arturo Valenzuela, of “The Failure of Presidential Democracy.” His writings have been translated into Spanish, Italian, German, French, Japanse, Chinese, Korean, and Turkish.

Linz was former chair of the Committee on Political Sociology of the International Sociological Association and the International Political Science Association. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study and at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the British Academy.

In 1987 he was awarded the Premio Principe de Asturias in the social sciences and in 1996 the Johan Skyte Prize in Political Sciences. He received the Skytte Prize for his "global investigation of the fragility of democracy in the face of authoritarian threat characterized by methodological versatility and historical and sociological breadth."

He received honorary degrees for his contributions to sociology and political science from the universities of Granada and Madrid in Spain, Marburg in Germany, Georgetown, and Oslo, which called Linz “one of the scholars who has most systematically studied the conditions for stability and restoration of democracies."