Peter H. Merkl was born January 29, 1932, in Munich, Germany, and grew up in that city. Having attended the University of Munich on a state scholarship (Hundhammer/Maximilianeum), he came to the US at the age of 20 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota where, in 1953, he obtained an MA in international relations. Five years later, he was granted a PhD in political science by the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1954, he has been happily married to Elisa Cruz. They have two children, Jacqueline and John. He taught European and comparative politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) from 1958 until his final retirement, after some years of part-time teaching, in 200l. He also served as Acting Chair of his department there (1972-1973) and, among several visiting professorships, he held the Shepard Stone chair at the Free University of Berlin in 1991. He received much encouragement and generous support at UCSB where the Academic Senate in 1986 awarded him the Faculty Research Lectureship, an honor bestowed annually on one of their own.
Merkl’s research and teaching interests have ranged over a wide area. His first book, The Origin of the West German Republic (1963), established him as an expert on German politics, a specialty he has continued through his academic career, ending with a book on German unification and with editing a series of five-year collections named The Federal Republic at 40, at 45, and at 50 (1989, 1995, and 1999). Another focus of his research has been the radical right, especially a computerized study of attitudes of pre-1933 members of the German Nazi party as revealed in the Abel Collection of nearly 600 autobiographical statements, and published as Political Violence Under the Swastika: 583 Early Nazis and The Making of a Stormtrooper (Princeton University Press, 1975 and 1980). Comparative studies of interwar fascist movements followed in collaboration with European scholars. In the 1980s he turned to the analysis of political violence and European terrorism in the 1970s. His work with Leonard Weinberg on postwar and contemporary neo-fascists and skinhead movements rounded out his interest in this field.
A third area of Merkl’s studies has dealt with the comparative sociology of political parties and democracies and produced the collections Western European Party Systems (1980) and, with co-editor Kay Lawson, When Parties Fail: Emerging Alternative Organizations (Princeton University Press, 1988) and When Parties Prosper: The Uses of Electoral Success (Lynne Rienner, 2007), the product of a 2002 conference in Paris. Merkl has also written on other comparative topics, such as local government reform and a comparison of German and Japanese economic policies (with co-editor Haruhiro Fukui and others, 1993), as well as on transatlantic relations, and on the rightwing “conservative” upheaval in American politics. He has authored many articles in American and foreign professional journals, as well as chapters in books by other scholars.
His interest in comparative politics further led him to become series editor of several book series in that field, first with Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1970-1987), then Clio Press (1973-1983), and finally Westview Press (1986-1994). Many younger scholars published their monographs in these series. He has also been involved in organizing conferences on subjects of his interest, especially at conventions of the American Political Science Association, the International Political Science Association, and the German Studies Association; and as an officer of the International Sociological Association, the Council of European Studies, and as president of the Conference Group on German Politics at one time or another. His research has been supported by a number of foundations, both American and foreign, and he enjoys fruitful connections with a far-flung network of scholars, both here and abroad.
With all this interest in the politics of societies from Germany to Japan and India, it is hardly surprising that Merkl has also been passionately engaged in American politics, both domestic and foreign policy. He has never had any ambition to hold office outside of academe but has taken a lively interest in the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, the follow-up rebellion on college campuses here and abroad and, most recently, the triumph of radical conservatism in the American Congress and executive branch, the subject of two of his recent books.
Here is a chronological list of his book publications:
- Origin of the West German Republic, Oxford University Press, 1963 (reprinted Greenwood Press, 1982)
- Germany: Yesterday and Tomorrow, Oxford University Press, 1965
- Die Entstehung der Bundesrepublik (tr. of first item), Kohlhammer-Verlag, Stuttgart, 1965
- Rassenfrage und Rechtsradikalismus in den USA (with Otey Scruggs), Colloquium Verlag, Berlin 1966
- Political Continuity and Change, Harper & Row, 1967 (rev. ed., 1972)
- Modern Comparative Politics, Holt, Rinehart (Dryden), 1970 (rev. ed., 1977)
- Teorias Politicas Comparadas (tr. of above), Editorial Roble, Mexico, 1973
- German Foreign Policies, West and East, Clio Press, Santa Barbara 1974
- Political Violence Under the Swastika: 581 Early Nazis, Princeton University Press, 1975
- Politische Soziologie der USA: Die konservative Demokratie (with Dieter Raabe), Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, Wiesbaden 1977
- The Making of a Stormtrooper, Princeton University Press, 1980 (reprinted Westview Encore, 1987)
- Western European Party Systems: Trends and Prospects (ed.), Free Press/Macmillan, 1980
- Who Were the Fascists: Social Roots of European Fascism (co-ed. with Stein U. Larsen, Bernt Hagtvet and Jan Petter Myklebust), Norwegian University Press, Oslo 1980
- American Democracy in World Perspective (with Herman Pritchett, William Ebenstein, Henry Turner, Dean Mann), 5th ed., Harper & Row, 1980
- Religion and Politics in the Modern World (co-ed. with Ninian Smart), New York University Press, 1983
- West German Foreign Policy: Dilemmas and Directions (ed.), Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 1982
- New Local Centers in Centralized States (ed.), University Press of America, 1985
- Political Violence and Terror: Motifs and Motivations (ed.), University of California Press, 1986
- When Parties Fail: Emerging Alternative Organizations (co-ed. with Kay Lawson), Princeton University Press, 1988
- The Federal Republic of Germany at Forty (ed.), New York Univ. Press, 1989
- Developments in West German Politics (co-ed. with Gordon Smith and W. E. Paterson), London: Macmillan, 1989
- The Politics of Economic Change in Postwar Japan and West Germany (co-ed. with H. Fukui et al.), London: Macmillan, 1993
- Developments in German Politics (co-ed. with Gordon Smith et al.), London: Macmillan, 1992
- German Unification in the European Context, Penn State Press, 1993
- Encounters with the Contemporary Radical Right (co-ed. with Leonard Weinberg), Boulder, Colorado.: Westview. 1993
-The Federal Republic of Germany at Forty-five (ed.), London: Macmillan and New York Univ. Press, 1995
-The Revival of Rightwing Extremism in the Nineties (co-ed. with Leonard Weinberg), London: Frank Cass. 1997
- The Federal Republic of Germany at Fifty (ed.), London: Macmillan and New York University Press, 1999
- A Coup Attempt in Washington? A European Mirror on the 1998-1999 Constitutional Crisis, New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2001
- Rightwing Extremism in the 21st Century (co-ed. with Leonard Weinberg), Frank Cass, London and Portland, Ore., 2003
- The Rift Between America and Old Europe: The Distracted Eagle, Routledge, London and New York, 2005
- When Parties Prosper: The Uses of Electoral Success (co-ed. with Kay Lawson), Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007