Many decades member of the ISCSC, our dear friend George Von der Muhll passed on this February 8, 2016, of natural causes. He was beloved by many because of his phenomenal knowledge of civilizations past, present and debatable, and because of his relentlessly positive and erudite advocacy of civilizational perspectives on global problems.
This marks the departure of another Titan of our small and ever aging crew. The decline of national support for humanities, much less classical studies of civilizations, has dried up the stream of junior faculty who used to replace our Titans when they retired or moved on.
George studied at Oberlin College, the London School of Economics, and Harvard before teaching at Swarthmore College, PA, the University of Chicago, briefly in Ethiopia, in New Zealand (1977-78) and in Uganda from 1965-66 and 1972-73 (before he had to flee with his young family due to dangers posed by then-ruler Idi Amin). George was a remarkably fearless man for a tiny professor of governments and governance. But his main academic home became the University of California at Santa Cruz where he taught politics, and rose to become provost of Merrill College at UCSC. After retirement, he also taught and administered programs at Utrecht, Leiden and Maastricht Universities in the Netherlands from 2000-2002.
George was different from many scholars in that he actually walked on the ground of most of the modern, ancient, large and small civilizations he studied. He had fairly pronounced scoliosis, so in his later years we would expect him to limp up, bent over with ever new and fascinating stories of his latest adventures in far off places. To the end he was still planning excursions to near war zones like Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
George was a remarkable example of an ancient, and I fear vanishing kind of scholar. He was a person filled with wonder at the world and a never ending curiosity about the human condition and how we got there. And he did not just read books, of which he had thousands, but walked on the ground that books attempt to represent.
George was survived by two sons and his second wife, Lydia Blanchard Von der Muhll, who he had met at a military high school in Germany shortly after WW II. His dad had been in the OSS and the CIA and her dad was a diplomat in Brussels. A story fit for a Hollywood movie follows because they did not marry right away, rather decades later and in fact, she ‘stole’ him from another woman, who had been Mayor of Santa Cruz. That is a private adventure. But they ended up together in Santa Cruz for most of their latter years. Lydia first joined our conference in Dublin, Ireland in 1994, came occasionally thereafter, and remains a scholar in her own right.
George and Lydia Von der Muhll in Santa Cruz Forever 17 and 18 in their Hearts
I was very fond of George Von der Muhll. I will remember him and Lydia forever, so I greatly regret the passing of one of our truly world-class civilizational scholars. Life is too short to capture all the dimensions of that which George shared with us for at least 30 years. May our remaining Titans stay as healthy and as filled with wonder as they can be. The young can still be inspired, even though colleges don’t help them as much as once we did.
University of St. Thomas and
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA