Marion Levy Jr., Princeton scholar of modernization, dies at age 83

Princeton NJ -- Marion Levy Jr., the Musgrave Professor of Sociology and International Affairs Emeritus, died May 26 of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 83.


Marion Levy Jr.

A larger-than-life figure on the Princeton campus, Levy was known for his scholarly contributions, his passionate involvement in academic issues and some unusual non-academic activities. He often was seen in the company of the Komondor dogs he loved and bred, and a self-published book, "Levy's Laws of the Disillusionment of the True Liberal," became a classic often quoted far beyond Princeton.

"Whether drawing a trail of onlookers when he was walking about with his dogs or standing to raise an objection at a faculty meeting, he left a memorable impression," said Princeton sociologist Gilbert Rozman, a colleague who also had been Levy's student. As a scholar, Rozman noted, Levy was a strong advocate for the three departments in which he served: the sociology department, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the East Asian studies department, in which he served as chair.

Levy earned his bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard University and his master's degree in economics from the University of Texas. He received his master's and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from Harvard, working with renowned sociologist Talcott Parsons. Levy became a leading advocate of structural-functionalism and a critic of Parsons' methodology.

Levy was a U.S. Navy officer during World War II. While serving in China, he did field work on the Chinese family, which informed his work as a comparative sociologist throughout his career. In his doctoral dissertation on the Chinese family and in later writings on China and Japan, Levy was fascinated with how historic patterns change. He produced a far-reaching analysis of China's traditional family structure and pioneering investigations of why Japan, instead of China, led the way to modernization in Asia. Later he would extend his interest in family patterns to generalize about the role of mothers in diverse societies.

Levy joined the Princeton faculty in 1947. In the 1950s, he became a central figure in efforts to make sociology scientific, emphasizing what all societies have in common. His emphasis on rigorous thinking is exemplified by his 1951 book, "The Structure of Societies."

During the 1960s, Levy was best known for his writing on modernization theory, which produced a two-volume study "Modernization and the Structure of Societies." In total, Levy wrote or contributed to 15 books and published more than 100 articles and reviews. His last book, "Our Mother-Tempers," was published in 1989; it was later republished as "Maternal Influence: The Search for Social Universals."

From 1976 through 1983, Levy served as director of the National Resource Center for East Asian Studies in the U.S. Department of Education. Among his honors, he received grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

To some, Levy was best known for his collections of laws of human behavior, which in different editions grew from six to 11 short, telling sayings. "To know thyself is the ultimate form of aggression," Levy wrote as the seventh law. "No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail" is number eight. And number 11: "Nothing is so suspect as altruism."

Throughout his career at Princeton, and especially during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, he engaged in often-vehement discussions about the role of the University and higher education. "Marion Levy was very concerned about the integrity of educational processes, so that Princeton itself would be preserved in good order whatever the political sympathies might have been," recalled emeritus professor Stanley Kelley Jr., a close friend. "He was an unusual combination of someone who was both highly analytical and highly passionate. He was passionate about scholarship." Levy became an emeritus professor in 1989.

Survivors include his wife, Joy Levy; and three children, daughter Dore Levy of Providence, R.I., and sons Noah Levy of Atlanta, Ga. and Amos Levy of New York City.

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