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Professor Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca

Laudatio Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca

Margaret Levi belongs to a generation of women scholars who pioneered in Political Science.  Her academic and intellectual accomplishments place her up next to such noteworthy figures as Ellinor Ostrom and Theda Skocpol. They paved the way and made deep and last contributions, brilliantly overcoming obstacles and resistance from an academic world that had been much too masculine for too long a time.  
When we review the academic life of Professor Levi, it is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the number of her accumulated achievements.  Some academics are like hermits, they shut themselves off for years, doing their research, and only coming out of their cave to present their papers.  Others employ intellectual leadership in their profession and dedicate their best efforts to developing a school of thought and creating institutions. And then there are those very few professors who are like a force of nature and are able to do both things.  Professor Levi undoubtedly belongs the “force of nature” genre.  She is able to do so because of her endless vitality and energy, and because she is a person brimming with enthusiasm and generosity.  
Margaret Levi currently directs the prestigious Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University). As in everything she touches, she is relaunching it, just as she did as editor of the Annual Review of Political Science, a journal which under her direction has today become one of the scholarly reviews with highest impact in the field, or with Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics, Cambridge University Press, which she turned into a point of reference for monographic series in comparative politics. She has also been president of the American Political Science Association and is a member of numerous academic and extra-academic advisory boards.  During her ceaseless endeavors, she has developed enduring ties with Spain through the Instituto Carlos III-Juan March de Ciencias Sociales and has managed to learn enough Spanish to be adept at choosing the best wines in restaurants. Finally, if these activities were not enough, she has been able to find time, along with her husband, Bob Kaplan, to gather one of the most complete private collections of Australian Aboriginal Art, which has even been on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. 
If I had to highlight one sole trait of Margaret Levi’s work, I would say that it is its originality.  Her work continues to be influential and inspiring because she has always thought freely, challenging academic boundaries and never falling prey to the intellectual and methodological fashions that appear with annoying regularity in the Social Sciences.  
She began studying the processes of construction of state, particularly in relation to its fiscal capacity.  Accordingly, she adopted an economic perspective or of rational choice in the analysis of questions arising from Marxist debates on state.  And she did so employing comparative historical analysis with tremendous rigor and elegance.  In a truly important book, Of Rule and Revenue (1988), she introduced a key concept for all of her work, quasi-voluntary compliance: she sought to demonstrate that citizens were willing to cooperate in the payment of taxes if they perceived that state authorities behaved in a just and impartial way.  She went beyond what economic explanations of collective action then permitted, incorporating legitimacy and trust in the behavior of self-interested agents. 
This approach bore one of its finest fruits in what is my favorite of her books, Consent, Dissent, and Patriotism (1998),  which analyzes the conditions in which citizens accept the obligations placed upon them by the state in military conscription, and on occasions, having to go to war.   Again, it dealt with studying forms of cooperating where the personal interests of citizens lose out from a purely selfish perspective.  Levi’s chief finding is that the impartial functioning of institutions greatly affects the decision of individuals to cooperate with the state and with society.  
On a somewhat different note, there is also the question that arises in the fascinating book that she published along with John Ahlquist in 2013, In the name of others: now the question is how some unions are able to develop “organizational cultures”   by virtue of which workers are willing to fight for causes that go beyond their material interests.   The unions appear as small “states” in relation to their workers. In this book, old Marxist concerns meet up again with a detailed study on political and economic motivations at the individual level.  
The work of Professor Levi goes well beyond these hurried comments: if we had more time, we would speak of her studies on social trust, of her participation in the project on analytical narratives, her ideas on how to promote good government…  Alas, there is not time to review them all. 
Allow me to end with a more general comment reflecting not so much on the achievements compiled by Professor Levi throughout such a prolific career as on the immediate future.  The best demonstration of her intellectual capacity consists in the fact that her colleagues are all now keenly and eagerly hoping that Margaret will surprise us with new contributions regarding a perennial problem in Social Sciences as is the interaction between institutions, preferences and collective action.