James Q. Wilson On Edward C. Banfield

Source: National Affairs

James Q. Wilson died on March 2, 2012 much to the sadness of so many.  He was a giant in the field of political science, and a nice fellow.

Wilson also was a student of Edward C. Banfield’s at the University of Chicago, and joined him at Harvard.  He likely knew how Ed thought better than anyone.  Wilson and Banfield were collaborators—City Politics (1963) is one fine example of what they achieved together.

Wilson penned the short biography of Banfield, “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court.”

Commentary magazine has posted all of Wilson’s articles for it online at: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/james-wilson-archive/. National Affairs (NA), the successor the the Public Interest (PI), has done the same at: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/page/james-q-wilson-1931-2012.  Among them are two PI pieces on Banfield:

(1) “Edward Banfield, American Skeptic,” Public Interest, issue 107, Spring 1992, which reviews Banfield’s Here the People Rule: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20090102_JamesQ.WilsonEdwardBanfieldAmericanSkeptic.pdf; and

(2) “The Independent Mind of Edward C. Banfield,” Public Interest, issue 150, Winter 2003, which provides a broader take on Banfield: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20080710_20031504theindependentmindofedwardbanfieldjamesqwilson.pdf.

Both Wilson and Banfield were anything but doctrinaire conservatives. Facts and evidence often led them to conclusions appealing to conservatives, but they did not begin their analyses from conservative ideology. Wilson wrote in the Wall Street on September 21, 2009

The view that we know less than we thought we knew about how to change the human condition came, in time, to be called neoconservatism. Many of the writers [for The Public Interest], myself included, disliked the term because we did not think we were conservative, neo or paleo. (I voted for John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and worked in the latter’s presidential campaign.) It would have been better if we had been called policy skeptics; that is, people who thought it was hard, though not impossible, to make useful and important changes in public policy.

James Q. Wilson, R.I.P.

3/10/2012 Update: Christopher DeMuth, former head of the American Enterprise Institute and student of Banfield, wrote a lovely piece on Wilson in the March 19, 2012 copy of The Weekly Standard: http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/gentleman-and-scholar_633415.html.

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