George Edward Gordon Catlin was born in Liverpool, England in 1896, the son of an Anglican clergyman. He had no formal schooling until the age of thirteen when he began attendance at St. Paul's school, London, and later obtained a scholarship to study history at New College, Oxford. An early volunteer during the First World War, his services were rejected until 1918. During the interim period he served in the liquor traffic department of the Central Control Board, beginning research upon the liquor question to which he was to return a decade later.
After a brief period with the army in Belgium he returned to Oxford where, during only a year and a half of study, he obtained his M.A. and won three major prizes, for one of which he wrote an essay on the political thought of Thomas Hobbes. The essay was subsequently published and it shifted Catlin's focus of study from the more traditional paths of history to a field as yet almost unexplored in Britain, that of political science. In America, however, the science of politics had already won recognition as a respectable object of academic study and it was to Cornell University in New York state that Catlin went to teach and to complete his ambitious doctoral thesis, published in 1926 as The Science and Method of Politics, to be followed in 1929 by A Study of the Principles of Politics. An Assistant Professor of Politics at Cornell by the age of 28 and subsequently twice Acting Chairman, in 1926 he was appointed Director of the National Commission (Social Research Council) to study the impact of prohibition in the United States. His conclusions were subsequently published in book form.
In 1925 Catlin wrote the first of many articles advocating the closest Anglo-American cooperation on every level, in fact organic union. Catlin's close connections with the United States did not end with his return to Britain in 1929, for he maintained a half time appointment at Cornell until 1935. The decision to finally leave the university where he had been happy and which had recognized the value of his work was precipitated by two concerns, one personal and the other professional. In the summer of 1925 Catlin had married the writer, Vera Brittain, who refused to move to Cornell on a permanent basis.
Catlin also had ambitions in the area of practical politics. Between 1928 and 1931 Catlin was attached to the personal staff of Sir Oswald Mosley, a period before Mosley had made his final break with the Labour Party. From 1929 onward Catlin attempted to win a suitable Labour Party nomination and he unsuccessfully stood for Brentford in 1931 and for Sunderland in 1935. In 1929 he assisted H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett and other literati in establishing The Realist magazine and between 1935 and 1937 he served on the executive of the Fabian Society. During the 1930s Catlin travelled abroad extensively, journeying to Germany where he witnessed the Dimitrov trial, with its sinister foreshadowing of what Nazism was to become, to Russia for a prolonged examination of the newly established Communist regime and to Spain during the depths of the Civil War. Throughout this period Catlin wrote a large number of journalistic pieces, principally for the Yorkshire Post.
He served on the campaign team of Presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie during 1940 and his book, One Anglo-American Nation appeared in 1941. In 1931 Catlin met Gandhi for the first time in London and he became an early advocate of Indian independence, visiting the sub-continent in 1946 and again in 1947 and publishing his tribute to the assassinated leader, In the Path of Mahatma Gandhi, during 1948. He lectured in Peking in 1947, served as Provost of Mar Ivanios College in Indiana in 1953-54 and a Chairman and Bronfman Professor in the Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University between 1956 and 1960. His autobiography, on which he had worked sporadically since the end of the First World War, was finally published in 1972 as For God's Sake, Go. George Catlin and Vera Brittain had two children: Shirley Williams, the prominent British politician, and a son, John who died in 1987. Catlin remarried in 1971, a year after Vera's death. He died in 1979 at the age of 88.