Pioneer in the study of German and comparative European politics
Gordon Smith was a pioneer in the study of German politics and European comparative politics who spent most of his academic career at the London School of Economics. He was unusual in that he was a late arrival at the LSE, being appointed to a lectureship at the age of 45 in 1972. His book, Politics in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis, published that year by Heineman Educational, was a key factor. His disregard for the relatively modest salary was another.
Smith's book, a cross-national comparison of institutions of 19 western European states, broke new ground in that it moved the study of politics of European countries away from the description of major countries on a one-by-one basis to a comparative one. He chose a political-sociology approach with political and social forces having priority over constitutional and institutional provisions. A second edition appeared in 1976, and a third in 1980.
By that time it was a standard text, and eventually had five editions and was translated into Italian and, in 1992, Polish. Meanwhile, Smith's list of publications grew year by year with major articles appearing in such respected journals as Government And Opposition, Political Studies, The Political Quarterly, and the journal he co-founded, in 1978, with Vincent Wright, West European Politics.
Smith also co-founded the journal German Politics and helped establish the European Political Science Research Consortium and the Association for the Study of German Politics, whose chairman he was from 1986 to 1988. He was later elected an honorary Vice-Chairman.
Despite all this collaboration Gordon was not an easy man to know. Perhaps this had something to do with his early life. Born in 1927 in London, he was evacuated during the Blitz and left school in 1944. Military service followed, during which time he encountered at first hand a devastated Germany. On his return to London he decided to study politics rather …