Russell Hardin Obituary

William Russell Hardin, prolific scholar, admired teacher, beloved husband and father, died peacefully in hospice at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, February 24, 2017. Professor Hardin was well-known for his path-breaking work in political science, moral and social theory, and public policy, as he fluidly integrated insights from diverse fields to shed light on the limitations of morality, politics and knowledge, in order to more powerfully make use of their potential without illusions.  Russell_Hardin.jpeg

In May 2016, Professor Hardin had retired from his position as Professor of Politics and Helen Gould Shepard Professor in the Social Sciences at New York University. His two decades at NYU, where he came in 1993 to rebuild the Department of Politics, followed a nearly fifteen-year career at the University of Chicago, where he played the key role in establishing and heading the School of Public Policy. At Chicago, he also served as editor of Ethics, guiding the journal with a passionate commitment to rigorous interdisciplinary work and his cultivation of free debate among diverse views. In addition to institutional achievements at the University of Chicago and NYU, he spent time at Stanford, University of Virginia School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, University of Maryland, and University of Pennsylvania, nurturing students in every location through his intellectual challenge, joy of learning and teaching, and openness. As one of his former students has remarked: “He was immensely generous in his support and encouragement of his students.  He was devoted to their development even when they differed from him.”  Another noted: “He had that calm way about him, that made you feel valuable.”

Russell Hardin was born December 11, 1940, in Bristol, Tennessee, one of six children. He attended the University of Texas, where he studied mathematics and physics. In 1964, he traveled to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, where he continued to pursue mathematics, and in 1971 received his Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Asked in an interview how he moved from science to politics, he explained: “The thing that was really important at that time was the Vietnam War … and I thought I was doing the wrong thing, studying math and physics. ... I shifted into political science. And at first I thought that there would be no use for all that background. … But in fact, immediately I was in a course that did game theory, and game theory could be conceived as a kind of minor topological set theory.”   

Professor Hardin was the author of more than fifteen books, including Collective Action (1982), Morality Within the Limits of Reason (1988), and One for All: The Logic of Group Conflict (1995), as well as hundreds of articles on topics including nuclear deterrence, constitutionalism, moral reasoning, trust, and “street-level epistemology” – the everyday knowledge humans construct and rely upon to make sense of political, social and cultural worlds. He repeatedly returned to a set of questions concerning social order: the relationship between self-interest and group identification, the nature of strategic action, the dynamics of conflict and coordination. His academic work provided an entrée to real-world engagement: he was Coordinator for Soviet-American exchange on ethics and the nuclear confrontation, sponsored by the USSR Academy of Science and the American Philosophical Association from 1988-1990, and a member and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists from 1984-1993.  He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and a Guggenheim Fellow in the mid-nineties, among numerous other honors and awards. His fascination with the study of psychology and the complexity of human relationships extended itself to fiction: he also published three works, What We Go By, Perhaps It Was Never the Same, and Dmitri Esterhaats, all with Wings Press.

In 2004, Professor Hardin was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, which impaired his ability to read, speak and walk, and caused enormous pain and debilitating side-effects. His indomitable spirit overcame these hurdles and he continued to engage in scholarly life, teaching and traveling to conferences and making light of the brutal impediments. He brought to bear a capacious interest in the world and bracing demotion of illusions, and throughout retained his passion for classical beauty in opera and art.  His brilliant mind, unmitigated humor, and warm heart in the face of difficulty at the end cap off a life supremely well-lived.
He is survived by his wife, Andrea Belag; his son from a prior marriage, Joshua R. Hardin; sisters Linda Langston, Pat Sporn, and Joni Hardin-Teague; brothers Ronald Hardin and Stephen Hardin; nieces Angela Weddle and Jalynn Moody; nephew Trevor McClain, and many other nieces and nephews, and one great-niece.

Contributions can be made to the American Civil Liberties Union. A memorial will be held later in the spring.