Arnold Kling  

Merle Kling

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His obituary is in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Merle Kling, retired provost, dean and professor of political science at Washington University, died Tuesday (April 8, 2008) at Barnes Extended Care in Clayton...

Mr. Kling's tenure as dean covered the Vietnam War era, making his job a difficult balancing act, his son, Arnold Kling of Silver Spring, Md., recalled.

"If you picture Washington U. at that time, it was radical students, a fairly radical faculty, the Vietnam War going on, and the students and faculty blaming the military-industrial complex for everything," Arnold Kling said Wednesday. "On the other hand, you've got the Washington U. board ā€” the head of Monsanto, McDonnell Douglas ā€” a very establishment group.

"He had to come up with some really creative ways to keep those two extreme factions away from each other's throat."

Over the years, many people told me that he was the most intelligent man they had ever met. However, he deprecated his own skills, because he was not mathematical. Although he published a number of scholarly works, he was most proud of The Intellectual: Will He Wither Away?, which predicted the continued decline of the literary intellectual and the increased importance of scientists and engineers.

His views on politics shaped mine, and perhaps should have shaped them more. He skewered my essay on politics and cults (the last essay on which he was able to give me comments) in an email with a one-sentence question.

Do you think that the Democratic and Republican Parties are cults?

I realized immediately the nature of his criticism. He believed that politics has a highly rational core, namely, interest-group politics. As collections of interest groups, the two parties are the opposite of cults.

Recently, many editorial-writers and others have been outraged at the special interests manifested in the Senate housing bill or the controversies over the Colombia free trade agreement. He viewed human conflict as normal, and he saw interest-group politics as a relatively peaceful and benign way of working out this natural propensity for conflict. He would have viewed as naively idealistic either the contemporary liberal's view that we can find righteous leaders who will rise above special interests or the libertarian's view that we can somehow invigorate the Constitution to quell interest groups.

He viewed libertarianism as a form of "outsider politics" (my term), suited to people who are intrinsically unhappy and inclined to project their personal problems and neuroses onto the larger sphere. He felt the same way about socialists or other radical reformers. In contrast, well-balanced and contented people, to the extent that they play politics at all, focus on their own interests. They accept the game for what it is, and they just go ahead and play it.

I think that my diagnosis of interest-group politics has much in common with his. It would be my libertarian prescriptions that he would not have shared. Nonetheless, in his eyes I could do no wrong.

He was endearing and unforgettable to many people. One of my high school friends put it very well: "my memory of him is primarily his low-key, sharp, and wickedly funny sense of humor."

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (21 to date)
sa writes:

Amen. Esp the aprt about well balanced people just playing the game. Some play it better than others.

dearieme writes:

"Do you think that the Democratic and Republican Parties are cults?" Yes, sinny cults.

Ironman writes:

My condolences - your father will very much be missed, especially with the Washington University community.

Josh writes:

My condolences. One thing I've always liked about your blog posts is that you seem to have a rare ability to disagree with someone "peacefully" (that is, without judgement). After reading your account of your interaction with your father, I see that the apple does not fall far from the tree. The world is surely worse for his passing.

Lucas writes:
One thing I've always liked about your blog posts is that you seem to have a rare ability to disagree with someone "peacefully"...

Precisely. That is as enviable as it is rare. I try, unsuccessfully, to emulate it.

pogopundit writes:

i rarely come out post comments here, but this was a very thoughtful blogituary. May he rest in peace.

Rob Oxoby writes:

My condolences.

Marc A Cohen writes:

I have read your blog here every day for years, as well as your essays, and your books. We have never met, and to my recollection I may have only posted a comment once or twice.

Your daily efforts have helped to make me a better, more informed, and more economically literate citizen. And I have followed your writings about your experiences of the health care system through your father's difficulties.

I offer you and your family my most sincere and heartfelt condolences.

David N. Welton writes:

My sincere condolences.

Justin R writes:

Sorry for your loss, best wishes for you and your family.

Babinich writes:

My prayers are with you and your family.

My condolences.

Snark writes:

The self-deprecating Merle Kling obviously fooled no one but himself. He was a man of great intellectual capacity and keen insight, traits he has apparently passed on in full measure.

Iā€™m sorry for your loss.

artocrat writes:

RIP Mr. Kling

Thanks for sharing Mr. Kling

poetryman69 writes:


shayne writes:

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Thank you for telling us a bit about him.

Randy Yniguez writes:

Sorry for your loss. My condolences to you and your family.

Mark Kaufman writes:

Merle Kling was my teacher and advisor in the early 1970s at Washington University. It would be impossible to overstate the high regard in which Prof. Kling was held by faculty and students. Many of them considerd Prof. Kling to be at one and the same time: the wisest faculty member; the most intelligent faculty member; the best teacher; the most respected faculty member; and most well-liked teacher at the university. Never in my life have I subsequently come across this combination of traits and virtues.

Tom McKendree writes:

My condolences. Blessed you are that you knew him.

caveat bettor writes:

I am so sorry for your loss. I suspect that your dad, essay comments notwithstanding, is proud of his son.

Bill Drissel writes:

Sorry to hear of you Dad's death ... I note he deprecated his lack of mathematics ... Would you comment on why obviously bright, thoughtful people couldn't self-educate at least thru calculus ... like your father, I have to make a determined effort to respect the intellect of an inumerate person. I've offerred to help many. They have all turned me down.

My condolences,
Bill Drissel
Grand Prairie, TX

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