The passing of Professor Vincent Starzinger

Vincent Evans Starzinger, a Dartmouth College government professor who shaped the careers of over a generation of graduates by inviting them to think critically, died on Wednesday, September 6, 2017 at Wheelock Terrace, Hanover, NH. He was age 88.

Nicknamed “The Zinger” by students and colleagues, Starzinger retired in 1994, after 34 years at Dartmouth, but his influence extended far beyond that time.

In 2008, government professor Richard F. Winters wrote in the Valley News: “The legendary Zinger....His monumental reputation...derived from his brilliance in challenging students to think and in employing the broad base of scholarship. He directed his intellectual vitality at a range of heterogeneous students, not just government majors. It is that kind of mind, operating with that kind of passion, that Dartmouth should be seeking and rewarding.”

Starzinger credited his ability for writing concisely and powerfully to spending two years in the Army press corps, stationed in Kansas City, KS. Starzinger also credits these years for giving him the time to reconsider his career, deciding to return to school for a PhD rather than become a lawyer.

Starzinger’s book Middlingness was published in 1965 long before it became popular to speak to a politics of the center. A revised edition, The Politics of the Center, was released in 1991. Most recently, social media posts are referencing the book as accurately describing the current political landscape with populists dominating the political debate from the right and the left, and the consequences for those caught at the center.

Starzinger noted in his book that the politics of moderation “is least realistic where it is most relevant, and most realistic where it is least relevant.” In societies torn by extreme political divisions, “the center will very likely be pulverized from both sides and driven to futile negativism. On the other hand, commitment to the center is likely to be a fairly realistic enterprise where the political left and right both stand within the same value consensus.”

“In a work of remarkable concision and argumentative vigor,” wrote Stephen J Tonsor (1924-2014), professor of history at the University of Michigan. “Starzinger moves from past political reality and theory to enduring concerns and contemporary debate. The thirty years of French and English history he traces were dominated by a quest for a middle way.

Starzinger not only uses the historiographical evidence to great effect, but at a time when Trollope’s novels had not yet been popularized by TV he employs the evidence of French and English novels impressively and to great historical purpose.”

Starzinger attended Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa and graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1950 in a class that included Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger. Starzinger was awarded a Frederick Sheldon Fellowship to support research, study and travel abroad for one year. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1954 and received his PhD in political philosophy from Harvard in 1959.

Starzinger climbed over 200 high peaks in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the European Alps (including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn). He specialized in the Upper Engadine, spending almost every summer there. Starzinger bought a second-hand single shell whose Greek name meant “came from no one” and rowed 58,606 miles on the Connecticut River from 1960-2007.

Starzinger met his future wife, Mildred Hippee Hill, in 6th grade at a dance class in their hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. They married in 1953. For 53 years they lived on Elm Street in Norwich, VT before moving in 2013 to Wheelock Terrace, Hanover, NH.

Starzinger is survived by his sister, Harriet Locke Macomber of Des Moines, Iowa; two children, Evans Starzinger of Alexandria, VA and Page Hill Starzinger of NYC; and his wife, Mildred Hill Starzinger, of Wheelock Terrace, Hanover, NH.

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