The Providential Scholar
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Sociology Professor Michael Mann
studies the power structure of old empires and the behavior of nation-states.
So why is his influential new book about U.S. policy today?
By Matt Welch
Photography by Joel Lipton
"Life," John Lennon wrote, "is what happens
while you're busy making other plans."
For Lennon's Northern England contemporary Michael Mann, this
quip's no joke; it's a way of life. Mann wouldn't be teaching at
UCLA at all (and probably wouldn't be an American citizen) if he
hadn't been busy making other plans in 1986 to promote his groundbreaking
study of empires, The Sources of Social Power; and he was
in the middle of not one but two book-series projects when life
happened in a very big way on September 11, 2001, unleashing events
that have dragged this globally recognized practitioner of "comparative
sociology" from the relative gentility of historical analysis
to the crossfire of Fox News.
In his early 60s, an age when other professors
might be busy making plans to retire or at least slow down, Mann
is working at a frenetic rate. This spring alone, the sociologist
was busy talking up his October 2003 critique of current U.S. foreign
policy, Incoherent Empire (which won him Germany's prestigious Friedrich
Ebert Foundation award in May), overseeing the July publication
of the six-country study Fascists, and preparing yet a third book
for release in September, called The Dark Side of Democracy:
Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. It is no wonder that the slim,
bright-eyed and mustachioed Brit is currently — and finally
— on sabbatical from teaching.
"I've never worked as hard in my life," he says with
a weary smile. "This came up all of a sudden; I certainly didn't
plan it this way."