Chalmers Johnson, influential scholar and critic of US foreign policy, dies at 79

Some 20 years ago, I was a visitor at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies on the U.C. San Diego campus. My office was across the hall from that of Chalmers Johnson. This was just before he did something that all too rarely happens in academia – he walked away from the field of political science because he saw the malicious influence of narrow rational choice theory.

A decade before 9/11 he lamented the deterioration in qualitative analysis and area studies that “rat choice” had caused in the field. In part this was linked to a wider problem: an obsession with quantitative and empirical analysis in the social sciences generally.

His perspective influenced my approach to human rights theory expressed in this review essay on the impact of realism on human rights.

More well known is Johnson’s transition from a fairly conservative figure – one who was known for an occasional crude and politically incorrect joke when he was on the Berkeley faculty and served as an advisor to the CIA – to a bold and provocative theorist of the left, strongly critical of global U.S. military power.

Chalmers Johnson obituary: Chalmers Johnson, influential scholar, dies at 79.