Serge Hurtig: Keeper of the Flame

Max KaaseSpeaking about Serge Hurtig and IPSA is not possible without looking back at the early days of the organization. After World War II enormous efforts had to be undertaken worldwide to overcome the physical, cultural  and political consequences of this disastrous event, with more than sixty millions people dead. This entailed also the question what the social sciences could have done to prevent this catastrophy and what they could do in the future. Among the disciplines which came into focus then was also political science although initially this was not the unitary term under which different strands of pertinent thinking, like political philosophy, studies of government, law  and administration, political history and the encompassing German term of Staatswissenschaften, were to be subsumed at the time.

Probably, the International Political Science Association would not have come into being without the constant, also financial support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which had been established  after the war and  made it one of its goals to foster the development of the social sciences around the world.  In this context the  groundwork for the establishment of an IPSA was done in a UNESCO conference having taken place in the fall of 1948, and resulting, after a lot of effort and discussions, finally in the founding of IPSA as an international scholarly association in the realm of political science  in the fall of 1949 in Paris.

There is neither the time nor the need to go more into detail regarding the historical development of IPSA. But it must be emphasized that only the American Political Science Association was an organization existing since the early 20th century and assembling a large number of scholars under this heading, while such national organizations in Europe only came slowly into being from the late 1940s on in Europe, very much triggered by UNESCO and becoming early on one of the backbones of IPSA. To give you a sense of the dynamics of this development, the first IPSA World Congress taking place in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1950, hosted 81 participants from 23 countries, compared to the 2119 participants from 76 countries in the Santiago World Congress in 2009.

Paris had been chosen as the judicial seat of IPSA for a variety of reasons, among them the option to establish its institutional home under French Law at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques (FNSP) and also the availability of  Francois Goguel to fill the post of Secretary General from 1949 to 1950, an enormous task in the context of then still a small, but  growing organization. One of the goals set early on by IPSA was to produce, at regular intervals, a documentation of summaries of political science articles from journals or yearbooks, an effort that even today impresses with its long-term vision of helping to create an international community of political science scholars.

The International Political Science Abstracts were first published already in 1951, and its first editor was  Jean Meyriat, head of the documentation department at FNSP. Given the fact that at that time Jean Meynaud, also from FNSP, was IPSA Secretary General (from 1950 to 1955), gives a clue to the important role that FNSP has played over the years for the development of IPSA. And here Serge Hurtig comes into the picture. He had become IPSA Secretary General  in 1960 and continued in that role until 1967, but followed Jean Meyriat as editor of the Abstracts already in 1963, a position he has held  until 2001, to be joined by  Paul Godt in 2001 as editor and Serge Hurtig remaining, as Co-editor, to this very day.

Undoubtedly, and this especially in the context of the international role IPSA plays for worldwide political science, the Abstracts continue to be  a flagship publication of IPSA, and this even in the time of the internet and electronic publishing (the IPSA database with almost 300.000 entries can now be addressed through EBSCO and Ovid technologies), but a printed version with new article abstracts published six times per year by Sage Publications is also available. In order to produce the regular updated overview, the Abstracts staff looks at about 1.000 journals and produces about 8.000 abstracts annually in English from articles in these journals stemming either form the summaries in the journals, from the authors or from the Paris staff.

Serge HurtigFor me as former IPSA President who had to deal with the Abstracts in many ways it is difficult to imagine what and whether IPSA would be without this publication and without Serge Hurtig  as the spiritus rector behind the Abstracts. I will speak in a moment, about his intellectual contribution to IPSA and his function as the living history of the organization. But what must also be emphasized is the important financial contribution of the Abstracts to the annual IPSA budget ever since UNESCO’s and IPSA’s financial involvement in producing the Abstracts had come to an end in 1987.

First, it needs to be spelled out that IPSA. despite its constantly growing organisational and individual membership as well as participation in the World Congresses (participation fees), is still an institutionally underfinanced  entity. This continues to be true since UNESO has stopped supporting IPSA financially a long time ago, and despite the successful efforts by the present Secretary General in Montréal to obtain co-funding from his home institution, from – temporarily – Montréal International (an organization bringing international units to Montréal) and from other, usually small contributions from foundations, or the like. So what is so special about the Abstracts?

First, the Abstracts with its infrastructure and its operational staff in Paris, are still  hosted and co-funded by the FNSP (and this is de facto the French Government) despite the fact that in France finding funding for scholarly institutions is a continuous struggle (it is fair to also mention the financial support by the American University in Paris for Paul Godt). The ongoing involvement of FNSP is  a wonder in its own right, and at least I find it difficult to think that this engagement is not very much connected to Serge Hurtig as a person, a scholar, a networker and an organizer. But what is also – and probably even more so – relevant for the IPSA budget is the substantial amount of money that derives from selling the Abstracts to libraries and other interested users and in particular the success by the two editors to sell this publication effort to the above-mentioned electronic databases. 

All this sounds very rational and, in a way, instrumental. But for me this is only the smaller  part of the story when I think about Serge Hurtig. Before I was elected to IPSA’s Executive Committee in 1997 in Seoul, I may have met Serge occasionally at the various IPSA World Congresses I attended, but this never was the result of any institutional or personal involvement with IPSA from my side (which at that time was small, I admit) and did not leave any noticeable mark with me and probably also not with him. However, this situation changed dramatically after 1997. Those of you who have been elected to any kind of administrative or advisory body in the context of a national or international scholarly organisation will know what I am talking about when I say that one has to learn one’s ways in a new role and position in order to help and – even better – make an imprint during one`s membership. And the IPSA Executive Committee was certainly not different from my previous experiences in similar functions.

It is just like love at first sight : you meet somebody for the first time, and somehow you know that this person is going to be a friend and to be dear to your heart from now on. This is what happened with me when I first met Mauro Calise. But there was also Serge Hurtig, who was not an elected EC member, but had the right to attend EC meetings according to the IPSA statutes in Article 20 which says that “editors of the Association’s official publications will normally attend the meetings of the Executive Committee without voting rights”.

Usually, you start with your new role by observing what is going on, what the general logic of argumentation in meetings is, and who are the keepers of the flame, before you begin to more actively participate in the group’s discussions and decision-making. There are old members, new members, and there are formal functionaries who already represent a longer part of the history of the organisation than most others. But from my early IPSA days on there was nobody like Serge Hurtig, who in a way, historically speaking, was  IPSA and could guide the EC with his wisdom and in his quiet ways when it came to important decisions.

During my EC membership years and also during my Presidency IPSA has had to take important decisions, like: who should the Secretary General be, should  the IPSA Secretariat move to a permanent location, what should the World Congress general themes should be, who should become Program Chair, what should the IPSA leadership look like, what about publication strategies, does the IPSA annual income support the diverse activities the EC proposes, how can the complex relationship between the EC and the Research Committees be put on a more solid and cooperative footing, how can World Congresses be organized in more  professional ways, to name just the most important ones that come to my mind. In all of those decisions, the EC has been able to rely on Serge’s expertise and wisdom which he has brought to bear, in his  prudent  argumentation, to the discussion and decisions in the EC.

I strongly believe that without Serge Hurtig IPSA would be – in the double sense of the word – a poorer organisation. I have profited from his advice and his friendship in so many ways I just cannot name. What can I say other than that I wish him and his wife happiness and excellent health, and IPSA that it can continue to dwell on his work for the Abstracts” and his advice in all important IPSA matters.


Max Kaase
Jacobs University Bremen
IPSA President 2003-2006