Harvard University and Boston College held a conference in honor of the late James Q. Wilson in April 2013. The participants and their papers can be seen at http://jqwilson.org/multimedia/thinking-about-politics/
One of the attendees was Peter B. Clark, who authored this article with Wilson: “Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organizations” (Administrative Science Quarterly, 1961). Clark knew both Banfield and Wilson, and was friends with both. In his conference remarks, Clark declared,
“I would like to touch upon one aspect of Jim’s intellectual development; specifically the importance of Edward C. Banfield, and mention a few other persons.I have said on another occasion that my contribution to academic political science was stimulating Jim to work with Ed Banfield.”
Clark’s conference remarks elaborate further on the Banfield-Wilson connection. Click here to view them.
(For this website’s earlier post on the Banfield-Wilson relationship, click here.)
Full citation: Peter B. Clark, “Regarding James Q. Wilson,” remarks for Thinking About Politics: A Conference Dedicated to Explaining and Perpetuating the Political Insights of James Q. Wilson, Harvard University and Boston College, April 4-5, 2013.
Patricia McLaughlin, “Is the Author of ‘The Unheavenly City’ Really Diabolical?” Pennsylvania Gazette, November 1973
Edward C. Banfield went from the University of Chicago to Harvard, and then was lured to the University of Pennsylvania for a short time. Thomas E. Lanctot, a former Banfield student there, graciously provided a paper photocopy of this article. (Presently, the Pennsylvania Gazette’s online archive does not go back to 1973.)
At UPenn, Banfield was harassed by Bonnie Blustein, who trashed him in the school newspaper as a neo-Nazi. She and others also disrupted his lectures.
This article provides some biographical material on Banfield and includes a photograph of him in Rittenhouse Square. It also pokes some fun at the often ludicrous criticisms of Banfield’s The Unheavenly City (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970). You can read this article in its entirety above. The scroll bar on the right-side of the frame allows you to move through the pages. Click the Scribd button on the frame around it to view a larger copy in a new window.
The Democratic Muse (New York: Century Fund) annoyed many cultural elites when it was published in 1984. Even the late Hilton Kramer, who usually is considered a conservative, was outraged. The Democratic Muse is Banfield’s most Socratic book—it unleashed reason upon federal arts policies.
Banfield examined the various arguments for government funding for arts and found them nonsensical and contradictory. So, for example, if looking at great painting is good for the public, then would it not make sense to cease funding museums (which few Americans can access), sell off the masterpieces, and use the proceeds to send high quality copies of paintings to public schools nationwide? Ultimately, Banfield exposed much of arts policy as subsidies for the upper class in major metropolitan areas.
Above is a print advertisement that Banfield sent to one of his former University of Pennsylvania students, Thomas Lanctot, who provided a copy of it to this website. Clicking on the image above will expand it to full size. On the right, one sees the photographer was Bruce Kovner. This is amusing, as Kovner was a Banfield student at Harvard, and Kovner went on to start Caxton Associates and become a billionaire. (Kovner, it should be added, remained a dear friend of Ed and Laura Banfield to the end.)
Banfield’s Here the People Rule (1985/1991) is a collection of his best essays on government and politics in the United States.
Perhaps his most famous student, James Q. Wilson, reviewed the book in the Public Interest,which is freely accessible here. (By the way, the archives of which are available at http://www.nationalaffairs.com/archive/public_interest/default.asp.)
Full citation: “Edward Banfield, American Skeptic,” Public Interest, issue 107, Spring 1992, at
Before going to graduate school, Banfield got an undergraduate degree in English and worked for the federal government as a public information officer.
Professor Mordecai Lee and I (Kevin R. Kosar) have published an article in the January 2013 issue of Federal History journal on this period of Banfield’s life. We had toyed with the idea of titling it, “Edward C. Banfield: The Liberal Who Got Mugged On the Way to the Academy.”
Instead, the article is the less cheeky, “Defending a Controversial Agency: Edward C. Banfield As Farm Security Agency Public Relations Officer, 1941–1946.”
We drew heavily upon mid-1940s memoranda and other materials authored by Banfield himself for the progressive Farm Security Administration.
You may read it free of charge at: http://shfg.org/shfg/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Kosar-Lee.pdf
Skerry earned his Ph.D, in government from Harvard. He was as student of Banfield’s, and James Q. Wilson, a Banfield student, co-author, and friend, was one of Skerry’s dissertation advisers.
Two photographs of a copy of a Skerry-inscribed copy of Mexican Americans are below. The inscription reads, “December 1993 To Ed and Laura Banfield, with great fondness and respect, Peter.”
Robert J. Samuelson, the provocative columnist for the Washington Post, was a student of Banfield. He wrote a touching tribute to Banfield upon his death: “The Gift of a Great Teacher,” Washington Post, October 14, 1999.
Below are shots of a copy of Samuelson’s impishly titled The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement, 1945-1995 (Times Books, 1997) that he gave to Banfield. The inscription reads, “To Ed, a great teacher, with thanks, from one of his not-so-great students. Sam”
The answer is, “Just about everything.”
Banfield himself wrote broadly, his books and articles covering topics such as agricultural policy, the U.S. Constitution, foreign aid policy, poverty, urban governance… Banfield even penned a few short didactic, short stories. It is not for nothing that the late James Q. Wilson referred to his former teacher as “the man who knew too much.”
Ed and his wife Laura were bibliophiles—one cannot even venture to guess at how many books they acquired. Their collections held titles on nearly every topic matter: gardening (including mushroom identification), astronomy, history, philosophy, technology, fiction current and century or more old, and, not surprisingly, the classics (e.g., Plutarch). Below are two photographs of a tiny slice of Ed’s politics and history collection.
A little over a year ago, the Economist magazine invoked”amoral familism” in the course of explaining the flight of competent, educated Italians from their homeland. These young people, the magazine suggested, were frustrated by the “system of raccomandazioni, or connections (often through families), that rules the [Italian] labour market.” This system is the outgrowth of “amoral familism,” a term Banfield coined in The Moral Basis of a Backward Society to refer to the “the inability [of a community] to act together for their common good or, indeed, for any end transcending the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family.”
In the July 1, 2012 Washington Post newspaper, Steve Pearsltein cites amoral familism in explaining Italy’s productivity crisis:
More than in any other of the advanced economies, business in Italy remains family businesses, from the smallest farms and trattoria to some of the largest supermarket chains, industrial groups and fashion houses. Starting companies comes naturally — Italy remains one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. But relatively few grow to be very large, and even those that do tend to remain private, relying on family members to fill all key positions and on retained earnings for capital, supplemented by loans from friendly local bankers. Closely related to the distaste for meritocracy and the obsession with family is the weak sense of a civic culture or virtue in Italy….The all-too-common Italian attitude is that while taking responsibility for family is fundamental, beyond that, “What can you do?” This concept of the “amoral family,” first articulated by American political scientist Edward Banfield, may not be surprising for a country that, for 1,500 years after the fall of the Roman empire, was constantly being taken over by one foreign power or feudal state after another. It was perhaps only natural that Italians are inclined to view government as hostile, taxes more like tribute and the court system more an instrument of social control than a source of justice. The problem, however, is that if people don’t expect each other to be fair and honest, if they don’t trust the government or can’t rely on the courts, if they don’t see that their willingness to wait their turn or throw out their trash will be reciprocated by others — then it’s hard to create an economic environment where highly competitive businesses can grow and prosper….(read more)
Banfield’s Moral Basis of a Backward Society was published in 1958; that it still is being cited is indicative of its high quality, and its intuitive appeal as an explanatory hypothesis.
Edward C. Banfield’s “Ends and Means In Planning” was published in 1959. A decade earlier, Banfield—then a graduate student—was much enamored of government planning. His 1949 “Congress and the Budget: A Planner’s Criticism,” sharply criticized how Congress appropriated funds. Banfield thought it was irrational and parochial, and he thought Congress should spend the nation’s wealth according to “a method of allocating funds among competing interests in a manner calculated to achieve the optimum result.”
In the intervening time, Banfield’s analysis of how government and politics work changed greatly. In “Ends and Means In Planning,” Banfield lays out the stark difference between how planning ought to be conducted and how it actually occurs. “In general organizations engage in opportunistic decision-making rather than in planning…. Moreover, such plans as are made are not the outcome of a careful consideration of alternative courses of action and their probable consequences.” Continue reading →