Professor Christian Soe, a member of the Department of Political Science at California State University, Long Beach since 1967, passed away peacefully on March 12, 2021. Christian was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1999. He fought the advance of PD by exercising his body and his brain until just before his death with Parkinson’s but not from Parkinson’s on March 12, 2021, just before his 85th birthday. He lived a long, fulfilling life, was an excellent husband and father, had a great career in research, was a gifted teacher, and got to work at what he loved.
He was an extraordinarily well-loved colleague, friend, teacher, and researcher, and his loss is mourned by his wide-ranging community of friends and family. An expert on German politics, particularly on German political parties and the special role of the German Free Democratic Party (FDP), he taught courses on Western European politics, comparative politics, political theory, and American politics until his retirement as professor emeritus in 2006.
Soe was born in Denmark in 1936. Following the second world war, Soe’s widowed mother moved the family to British Columbia, where he completed high school. He completed his B.A. degree in political science at the University of British Columbia, after specialized studies at the University of Michigan, McGill University (advanced French), and Middlebury College (advanced Russian). Deciding to pursue an academic career, he attended the Free University of Berlin for his graduate studies, receiving his Ph.D. summa cum laude in 1972.
Apart from his research specialization on German liberalism, Soe published works on a number of other topics, including Danish-German relations, Denmark during the second world war, the practice of direct democracy in California, neoliberalism in Canada and the U.S., and more. In the wider discipline, he was perhaps best known for editing twenty-five consecutive annually revised editions of Comparative Politics (McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, Inc., 1983-2007), the most widely used anthology for introductory courses on comparative politics in the American academy.
But it was in his specialization of German politics that Søe made his deepest and most important mark as a political scientist and scholar. After publishing his doctoral dissertation on the Der Spiegel Affair, he authored eleven book chapters and journal articles on German politics, most of them on German liberalism and the FDP. He co-authored several more book chapters in edited volumes. He also published nine entries on German liberalism and German liberal political leaders in the two-volume Modern Germany (Garland Publishing, 1998). In addition, Søe co-edited six influential books on German politics, German political parties, and German foreign policy. As an internationally known leading scholar on the special role of the FDP in German politics, Søe’s work on Germany’s political party system and the FDP both preceded and followed the stunningly rapid transformation of German politics via the country’s reunification in 1989. He also presented more than fifty scholarly papers and/or scholarly lectures at professional conferences and similar venues in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.
Soe’s distinguished scholarship was enhanced by his wide-ranging and frequent travels to observe German politics in action. In recognition of his expertise, he was an invited observer of eight consecutive Bundestag elections in Germany, from 1980 to 2005. The first seven of these were organized and sponsored by the German government’s Information and Press Office. The eighth (2005) was organized and sponsored by the U.K.-based Association for the Study of German Politics and the U.S.-based German Studies Association. Soe was also an invited observer of the first free election to the Volkskammer in East Germany in March 1990. As an invited member of these election observer teams, Soe met with and came to know multiple political leaders, scholars, and influential journalists from all shades of German politics.
Through these wide-ranging friendships and professional contacts, he was able to organize a very influential series of six bi-annual Pacific Workshops on German Affairs that were held on the campus of California State University, Long Beach. These were three-day events, beginning in 1983 and until 2001 (a period during which Germany went through some of the most consequential changes in the last half of the twentieth century), bringing together scholars on German affairs from throughout the world, including some of Germany’s leading scholars of politics. Søe organized and hosted the workshops virtually on his own, and did the fund-raising as well, garnering enough funds to bring all the scholars on the program to the event at no cost to themselves. The Soe family often opened their home to traveling scholars, journalists, and political leaders from Germany and other European locales who were spending time in southern California. He was a consummate host: gregarious, generous, and thoughtful, and enjoyed nothing more than talking about politics and ideas until late in the night. In addition to his scholarship, Soe contributed to a broad range of professional associations and organizations.
Soe also provided an extraordinary amount of service to the Department of Political Science at California State University, as well as to the college and university as a whole. He was an immensely hard-working and gifted teacher, and students from the first year to graduate levels appreciated his talent for wrapping political knowledge into stories seen from a human and humane perspective. Unusually available for office hour consultations, he would work tirelessly with students, trying to help them improve their academic skills, as well as their life coping skills. His colleagues also benefitted consistently from Christian’s generous spirit and expertise as a teacher and scholar, and he provided mentorship to a number of junior colleagues throughout his career on the campus.
Christian Soe is survived by his wife of fifty years, Dr. Louise Soe, three adult children, and two grandchildren. He will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him.
Remembering Christian Soe
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