CAMBRIDGE, MA— Carl Kaysen, MIT’s David W. Skinner Professor of Political Economy (Emeritus), passed away on February 8. His contributions to intellectual life were immense, as was his influence on national policy. He will be sorely missed.
Kaysen was an active and respected member of the MIT Security Studies Program (SSP) and the Center for International Studies (CIS) since his retirement from MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS) in 1987. During that time he also chaired the Committee on International Security Studies (CISS) of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He had a distinguished and fruitful career as a scholar, academic leader, and government official. He was a professor of economics at Harvard University, deputy special assistant for National Security Affairs to President John F. Kennedy, director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, vice chairman and director of research for the Sloan commission on higher education, and director of MIT’s STS Program. A long list of fellowships and awards is testament to the high standards of excellence and creativity of his individual contributions. During the Second World War, he served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) doing intelligence analysis in support of air operations.
“Carl was an enormously knowledgeable individual whose interests spanned economics and politics. He had a matchless intelligence that could penetrate to the heart of the matter, even if he had only just heard the briefing. And he could readily bring a vast store of accumulated wisdom to the assessment of new problems,” said Barry Posen, director of the Center’s Security Studies Program and Ford International Professor of Political Science.
Since joining SSP, Kaysen devoted much of his scholarly energy to international security, in particular to questions of international order, including how to improve the United Nations, and how to strengthen international law. He co-authored with George Rathjens, Peace Operations by the United Nations: The Case for a Volunteer Military Force (1996) and co-edited The United States and the International Criminal Court: National Security and International Law (2000). As chair and more recently co-chair (with John Steinbruner) of the CISS, he served as godfather to several other important studies of how to manage the security challenges of the post Cold-War world. CISS has a particular interest in nuclear arms control, a matter of long-standing concern to Kaysen. He played a central role in nuclear weapons issues during his service in the Kennedy Administration.
Kaysen was always willing to advise students who were working on issues in which he had policy experience or special knowledge, particularly on matters related to nuclear weapons. He spent much time speaking with scholars and journalists about these issues as well and helped shaped the historical record of the Cold War.
“Carl was a regular participant at the Security Studies Program Wednesday seminars, which feature a guest speaker. In recent years I have been privileged to direct this program and to lead these seminars. Though I kept a list during the question and answer session that followed, Carl was on his own list. Because Carl could be counted upon to ask the crucial question that would move the conversation forward, I would call on him whenever the room needed new energy, or a speaker seemed too comfortable. Even the most incisive critique was delivered with gentle charm and a smile,” said Posen.
A native of Philadelphia, Kaysen received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940. Kaysen resumed his studies after serving in World War II with the OSS, earning an MA from Harvard in 1947, and then a PhD from Harvard in economics, in 1955. Harvard named him a professor of economics in 1957.
Kaysen is survived by his wife, Ruth Butler; his two daughters: Susanna Kaysen of Cambridge, Jesse Kaysen of Madison, Wisconsin; and his sister, Flora Penaranda, of Bogota, Colombia.
A memorial service at MIT will be announced.