The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Robert Jervis

December 10, 2021

As many of our readers have likely already heard, Robert Jervis died yesterday. The field has lost a gentle intellectual giant. Unlike many of my friends from Columbia, Bob wasn’t on my dissertation committee; I only took one course from him. But I’ll remember him as both brilliant and very generous.

Indeed, back in November I received an email from a student in my “International Order” class. He was very excited because the Robert Jervis had agreed to a 45-minute interview over Zoom. The student had no idea, of course, that Bob was sick – and yet still took the time to speak to a college sophomore at Georgetown who had cold emailed him.

Here is the obituary that’s been circulated by the Columbia Political Science Department:

Robert Jervis, born April 30, 1940, in New York City to Herman Jervis, a lawyer, and Dorothy Jervis, a potter, died of lung cancer on December 9, 2021. He was at home, in the presence of Kathe, his wife of 54 years, and his daughters, Alexa and Lisa. He was a husband, father, and grandfather extraordinaire, a giant in his field of International Relations, a mentor to legions of younger scholars, an enthusiastic provider of feedback to university administrators, a museum goer and opera lover, a skilled napper, and a pioneer of the capsule wardrobe.

Bob had his early education at the Ethical Culture Fieldston school, where teachers consistently noted his fine mind and terrible handwriting. In 1958, he departed for the wilds of Oberlin, Ohio, where he fell in with the wrong crowd – a group of future political science professors (and one geneticist). In 1962, he entered the PhD program for Political Science at University of California at Berkeley, where he distinguished himself by sleeping on a closet shelf and “almost getting arrested” for his activities in the Free Speech Movement.

By then he had set his life on its most fateful turn when he went on a 1961 student trip to the Soviet Union, where he met Kathe Weil of Denver – they struck up a conversation while refusing to dance at an orientation event, then struck a bargain in which he carried her suitcase, and she carried his typewriter. They married in 1967, and began to raise their family in Cambridge, Mass.

They moved to Los Angeles in 1974 to follow Bob’s beloved Dodgers, and incidentally for him to join the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles. There he wrote seminal books and articles, and won a Halloween costume party by wearing a Brooks Brothers suit. In 1980, he and his family moved back to New York and he taught at Columbia University for the rest of his life.

Bob’s productivity was legendary, as was his support of younger scholars and colleagues. His professional accomplishments and his scholarly influence are too vast to summarize. Among the highlights: the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, election to the American Philosophical Society, and election to the National Academy of Sciences. His doctoral dissertation is still in print.

He is survived by his wife, daughters Alexa (Greg Racz) and Lisa (Jay Schwartz), grandsons Daniel and Joshua Racz, step-grandson Ezra Schwartz, brother Steven (Susan Weltman), sister-in-law Zarine Weil, nephews Aaron Weil (Linda Perry), Darius Weil, and niece Delna Weil.

Here’s a link to Bob’s rather incomplete branch of the PoliSci Academic Family Tree. Perhaps some enterprising international-relations scholars could take time to build it out.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.