R.B. Angus Professor of Political Science, Emeritus
Specialization: International Relations
Areas of Interest: Theory of Crisis, Conflict and War; Protracted Conflicts and Enduring Rivalries; Foreign Policy Theory and Decision-Making; International Systems
It is with great sadness that we announce that Michael Brecher, BA class of 1946, R.B. Angus Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, passed away peacefully in his sleep on January 16, 2022, at his home in Montreal, at 96 years of age. He had retired from McGill and taken emeritus status only in 2021, after an astonishing 69 years on the University’s faculty, which is apparently the longest such service in the University’s history.
As a scholar of international relations, Michael Brecher was a unique intellectual force. He began his doctoral study on India’s foreign policy and Kashmir in 1951, just three years after India’s independence and a decade before most of North American political science began to make serious efforts toward the study of India or indeed most of the newly independent states of the world. Both his book on Kashmir and his subsequent political biography of Nehru were among the earliest and most influential such works in political science. And he went on to help found the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute in 1968, promoting scholarly exchange between the two countries.
Later in his career he turned to the study of Israel and international relations of the Middle East, and to the general problem of international crises and conflicts. Through this extraordinary decades-long career, he combined intellectual virtues in a distinctive way, becoming a specialist in two very different regions, and remaining committed to studying individual decisionmakers, discrete historical moments of crisis, and particular countries as well as the broader theories of war and conflict. In 1975 he founded the International Crisis Behaviour Project, which continues today to promote the study of international crises in part by collecting and providing the most comprehensive data about them.
He authored, coauthored, and edited 30 books throughout his career, including a three-volume retrospective of his "Intellectual Odyssey" and reflections on the state of his fields of greatest interest published by Palgrave Macmillan 2016-18. His many scholarly contributions were widely honored, including with Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and Killam Fellowships, McGill’s Fieldhouse Prize for Excellence in Research and Award for High Distinction in Research, the Lifetime Achievement Award, American Political Science Association’s section on Conflict Processes, the presidency of the International Studies Association, and Quebec’s Leon-Gerin Prize for the Human Sciences.
Michael was a native Montrealer who graduated from and then, after receiving his Ph.D. from Yale, returned as faculty to McGill’s then-unified Department of Economics and Political Science. When he came back the department as a professor he joined his brother Irving as a colleague and indeed for some years as an officemate. When the department split into two, Michael became a founding member of Political Science and Irving of Economics, and they remained avid conversation partners in the decades to come. In the new Department of Political Science, Michael was a critical figure in the crisis of 1968, and a fierce defender of academic freedom when it was under threat.
Michael was a committed teacher, mentor, and advisor to students, many of whom went on to distinguished academic careers themselves, and many of whom collaborated with him on work in one or another of the research agendas he did so much to define.
Early in his early work in Israel he met Eva Danon. They were to be married for 54 years until her passing in 2004. He is survived by his three daughters: Leora Brecher, Diana Brecher and Seegla Brecher, and their husbands Steven Finestone, Eric Robbins and Yossi Dayan. He is also survived by his two grandsons, Adam Finestone and Kobi Finestone, and Kobi’s fiancée Emily Millar. We convey our profound condolences to his family and our deep gratitude for his decades of contributions and service to the discipline, to the department, and to McGill.
The McGill flag will be lowered to half-mast in his memory on February 16, 2022.
In Memoriam: Michael Brecher l Jonathan Wilkenfeld, Patrick James, Hemda Ben-Yehuda, and Kyle Beardsley l Political Science Today 2(2) 16-17, 2022