CRB: Thinking about Wilson

Here we conclude our Christmas extravaganza previewing the Fall issue of the Claremont Review of Books. From Aristotle to affirmative action and the painful election of 2012, we have covered a lot of ground with a few highlights from a characteristically excellent and indispensable issue. Among its other highlights are our own Steve Hayward’s review of CRB editor Charles Kesler’s I Am The Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, perhaps the book of 2012. Subscriptions are available here for $19.95 (including immediate online access).

We lost one of America’s most remarkable social scientists and academic minds in 2012 with the passing of James Q. Wilson. Wilson’s distinguished career spanned the country, from Harvard to Pepperdine, and the breadth of his studies was just as capacious. He is remembered in the Fall issue of the Claremont Review of Books by his student, friend, and co-author, the University of Pennsylvania’s John J. DiIulio, Jr.

To take just one example of Wilson’s contributions, consider Wilson’s 1982 essay (with George Kelling), “Broken windows.” The essay has been widely credited with giving rise to the style of policing that operates under the name of the essay. It is the style of policing that has demonstrably saved lives and bettered communities wherever it has been adopted around the United States, most prominently in New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani and NYPD Chief William Bratton. Even Wilson’s New York Times obituary offers credit where credit is due.

Has any other social scientist ever had such a positive real-world impact on his fellow citizens? I can’t think of one. Nevertheless, DiIulio notes: “Still, to his last days, if you asked Wilson whether police behavior could be predictably and reliably altered in ways that affected crime rates, he would express skepticism.”

DiIulio divides Wilson’s copious output into four categories: books on bureaucracy and organization theory; on crime and criminal justice; on American politics and government policy; and on the scientific study of morality. In each of these areas Wilson made contributions of the highest quality to the field, compelling future scholars to take account of his work. Above all, writes DiIulio, Wilson was the consummate teacher: “Wilson wanted each book not to teach readers what to think about a particular problem, but how to think about it.” He was, as DiIulio concludes, a grown-up for all seasons. Please check out Professor DiIulio’s retrospective on an awe-inspiring career: “Moral sense and social science.”


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