Nathan Glazer, RIP

Sad news today of the passing of the sociologist Nathan Glazer at the age of 95. Glazer was among those liberal social scientists who, starting in the late 1960s, began having serious second thoughts about the liberal policy paradigm. As the New York Times puts it in its obituary notice:

Mr. Glazer’s turn to neoconservatism followed an almost paradigmatic path. Throughout the 1950s, and even after he went to work for the Kennedy administration’s Housing and Home Finance Agency in 1962-63, he continued to consider himself a radical. But if, as his longtime friend Irving Kristol put it, a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, then Mr. Glazer got hit over the head.

I never knew Glazer personally though I did see him lecture on a couple of occasions. But by coincidence I am assigning one of his classic essays, “The Limits of Social Policy,” for a seminar I am teaching next week. In that essay, he argues two propositions:

In our social policies were are trying to deal with the breakdown of traditional ways of handling distress. These traditional ways are located in the family primarily, but also in the ethnic group, the neighborhood, the church.

In our efforts to deal with the breakdown of these traditional structures, our social policies are weakening them further and making matters in some respects worse. We are making no steady headway against a sea of misery. Our efforts to deal with distress are themselves increasing distress.

We could do with a revival of this kind of wisdom just now, as what I am calling “the socialist revival” gains momentum in Washington under the newly confident but always ignorant left that is gaining strength.

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