This essay reflects on Stanley Hoffmann’s contributions as a scholar and public intellectual. We focus on Stanley Hoffmann’s scholarly, intellectual and ethical legacy by highlighting two sets of contributions, where his work challenged much international relations scholarship in the second half of the 20th century. First, we identify the ways in which his research speaks to important policy concerns, whilst maintaining a certain detachment from the corridors of power. This is a distinctive approach to policy relevance that allowed Hoffmann to contribute to public debate and raise important challenges to prevailing policies at crucial moments. Second, we stress the importance of Hoffmann’s arguments for a humanistic approach to the social sciences and international relations, a plea that remains relevant in an age of heightened scientific ambitions.