James Q. Wilson's Practical HumanityClick through for the rest.
James Q. Wilson made me a cop, even though I never met the man. I think I heard him give a conference talk once. Many say that Wilson, who died Friday after a battle with leukemia, was a kind and nurturing soul. Indeed, I hope he was. But to me his compassionate nature was exemplified by his commitment to broader society. More so than any other academic, and over the course of many decades, Wilson influenced intelligent American public discourse inside and outside academia.
I cannot be the only one who finds it difficult to comprehend the intellectual world as I know it without Wilson's ideas. I knew him primarily through his contributions to policing, but his legacy spans political science, criminology, sociology, philosophy, and economics. Most impressively, that intellectual breadth did not limit his contributions to each field. Quite the contrary. Wilson was able to use the methods and nomenclature of various fields without succumbing to the intellectual blinders that so compartmentalize academic research. Compared to you and me, Wilson, who taught at Harvard, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Pepperdine University, simply had more tools in his toolbox. And boy did he know how to use them.
While many, myself included, may disagree with some of Wilson's more politically conservative leanings, one cannot question the intellectually honesty from which they came. Undoubtedly a few will be quick, too quick, to dismiss or embrace Wilson as some conservative warrior in the Great American Culture Wars. The label doesn't stick.
Here's the NYT obit. And a better obit in the LA Times, in which George Kelling says, "[Jim and I] gave police a rationale to pay attention to the problems bothering citizens."