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by Peter Moskos

March 3, 2012

James Q. Wilson

James Q. Wilson passed away yesterday. From The Chronicle of Higher Education:
James Q. Wilson's Practical Humanity

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.
Click through for the rest.

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."


EOJPG said...

A nice review. What a mind the man possessed! I have to confess that the only piece I read by him was "Bureaucracy." But what a book! I absolutely adore academics who somehow do not seem as they though they really live in an Ivory Tower. With his pedigree and positions, Wilson could have come off that way, but didn't. The best example of what I mean in the prior sentence is the brilliant use of McDonald's and Department of Motor Vehicle offices in a comparison to illustrate points made bureaucracy. Yes, Wilson taught, and yes, he too ate at (or at least knew of) McDonald's, and (presumably) visited the DMV like everyone else. I read a comment on The Monkey Cage blog in which a political scientist gossiping with another about the topic of "smart" political scientists, and three were proclaimed: Aaron Wildavsky, Theodore Lowi, and Wilson. Each, to me, has his humanity as well as his brilliance integrated into - and more likely, quite probably informing - his scholarship, and perhaps providing that scholarship with some of its dazzling power. (Each is a superb writer and essayist, and, at the risk of repetition, I think there is a sense each imparts of understanding *people,* which, lest we forget, is probably a defensible concise description of what social science aims to accomplish.) Wilson won the respect and admiration of those who disagreed with him, and that is too a rare a thing, and speak well of both those who disagreed with him, as well the power of Wilson's mind, idea and arguments. RIP, JQW.

Enigma of Japanese Power Guy

IrishPirate said...

JQW lived a good life.

He was CALLED. He SERVED. He is COUNTED. That's a reference to "The Wire" by the way.

I was a mere student when Broken Windows came out. Like all great recent economic or social theories a connection can be found to the University of Chicago.

If you want to impress people go to Harvard. If you want to make a difference go to the University of Chicago.

Bratton summed it up well. Wilson and Kelling added an "essential medicine" to the medicine kit of reducing crime.

I also liked the Moskosian reference to Jane Jacobs. That was very astute for an Evanstonian.

Put Jane Jacobs to my left, JQW to my right and a Guinness in my hand and I'd happily face down the barbarians and four horsemen of urban decay. An M-16 and some body armor might help to.

Wilson put the lie to the adage of our age: "Shit Happens".

His reply: "Not necessarily".

PCM said...

Do you really think of Jacob's ideas as "left." I mean, *she* certainly was. But I don't really remember any left/right ideology in "Death and Life." I just like to think of her as pro-city. She certainly didn't support of lot of "liberal" ideas of her era (high-rise public housing comes to mind). And she called the bad guys "barbarians."

You know, when I was in George Kelling and David Kennedy's wonderful small class at Harvard's Kennedy School (no, no not named after David), I went up to Prof Kelling after class and said, "You know, this whole Broken Windows theory goes really well with Jane Jacobs's idea in in Death and Life of Great American Cities. Are you familiar with her?"

Of course he was. His eyes lit up and he went on about how her ideas are the foundation of Broken Windows. I still think I got an A in the class because I mentioned Jane Jacobs to him before he mentioned her to us.

PCM said...

And we Evanstonians are well known for our astuteness. Or at least we were. Or at least that's how I'd deciding to remember it.

IrishPirate said...

I don't think I'd generally call Jacobs a leftie, but compared to Wilson she was. In any case I had to put her to my left since like roadkill I am almost always in the middle of the road.

Jacobs moved to Canada because of Vietnam and not wanting her sons to be drafted. Of course Mel Gibson's dad moved his family to OZ for the same reason so that might not say much about political orientation. For the record Papa Gibson is somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan.

In some ways I don't think of either Jacobs or Wilson as being of the left or right. They both wanted a civil "civil" society and I suspect both were more utilitarian or pragmatic than anything else.

PCM said...

I was in Toronto shortly before she died. Only after she died did I learn she was very nice to fawning strangers who rang her doorbell. I really wish I had tracked her down and said hi.

Have you read any of Jacob's later books? They're all pretty good. She was quite eclectic.

I've found that Genghis Khan is hard to pin down, at least based on his writings.

PCM said...

And like I said, Jacobs was undoubted a lefty. But Wilson's writing reflect his political beliefs much more than Jacobs's writing. At least sez me.

IrishPirate said...

No I haven't read Jacobs later stuff. I'll have to pick some up.

I haven't even read your flogging book yet. It's been sitting next to my couch for months now.

Next time I go to a greasy diner I'll order the fried chicken and start reading it. At the Greek run Lincoln Restaurant on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago's Lincoln Square hood the chicken takes a good 30 minutes to prepare. I figure 2-3 meals and I should be able to finish it.

Speaking of Lincoln if you enjoy Civil War history watch David Blight's lectures.


Then pick up some of the Teaching Company's Great Courses. Hell, maybe you can do a DVD for them. If you watch their sales you can get them for 80 percent off retail and then sell them on EBAY for a small profit.

I read somewhere that some of their top selling Professors pull down six figures a year just from the DVD sales. It ain't Mitt Romney money, but then again you don't have to prostitute yourself or wear sacred underwear.

Hell, if you suggested birth control might have a positive effect on the crime rate I bet Rush Limbaugh would call you a slut. That would certainly help your book sales!

EOJPG said...


Have you read James Scott, "Seeing Like a State?" It (too) goes well with Jane Jacobs (or perhaps more accurately, draws from and upon her work), I may recall, and is a career-making book. Even though he's nominally a political scientist and/or an anthropologist, Scott also develops some ideas about the concept of criminality and related ideas like theft (in "Weapons of the Weak," at least, and I suspect in "The Moral Economy of the Peasant," too), so I don't know if it'd be too cruel to throw the sociologist label on him as well.

And, for what it's worth, as much I've tried, I can't draw a single connection between Scott and the University of Chicago, even though I like Harvard-bashing as much, if not more than the next person.

(I did like when I visited what has now been officially branded "HKS" as an undergraduate, inquiring about its MPA/MPP programs, and the admissions person there said something like, "The University of Chicago - you have a really good, um, uh, engineering, no, uh, um, wait..." Me: "Economics department?" Him: "Yeah! That's it!" Was it wrong to feel a bit that he rather than I should have felt a tad embarrassed?)

Enigma of Japanese Power Guy ("Enigma of Japanese Power" was read in the Japanese Politics class of the wonderful Bernard Silberman, teacher of such courses as "To Hell with the Enlightenment" and "Springtime for Hitler," among others, and probably discussed after sprinting across the Midway 10-15 minutes late for class on average, before kindly and playfully being made fun of by Silberman, in his wonderful Socratic lectures, for looking disheveled and tired), University of Chicago alum

PCM said...

You go and bash Harvard all you want... I've got nothing against U of C. Except I didn't want to go there for grad school. All I'm saying is, you've been to Cambridge. And I've been to Hyde Park. And I was very happy to call Cambridge home for a good many years!

As to James Scott... I've never heard of him I'll check him out. I could use some Jane-Jacobs-based theory, right about now, as I meditate on my next book.

As to the Kennedy school. There is some good stuff going on there. But it's more a policy powerhouse than an intellectual center, if you catch my drift.

EOJPG said...


I wasn't sure who the "you've been to Cambridge, I've been Hyde Park" was directed at, but it could have (or could not have) been directed me. For what it's worth, I'd take Cambridge over Hyde Park any day - for one thing, the Cambridge T stops provide *much* better access to what Boston has to offer than, say, taking the CTA 6 bus. I never was much of a fan, even if it's where my father's family spent most of its initial years when it came to this country in the late 30s. (As it so happened, the very first place they lived was Lincoln Park, which was apparently affordable and appropriate for immigrants who had absolutely no money and shared beds and recycled the papers bags they used to bring their lunches, rather than the yuppie bastion it is today.) I do think it (HP) provides plenty of grist for those who wish to study policing - e.g., the interface between "private" and public "security" (you know you're in HP because the U of C Police are so visible). But no knocks against Cambridge - my cousin seemed to like it when she lived there while going to Harvard!

As for HKS versus FAS, policy versus scholarship, etc., I think I've heard similar things said or written by others.

Regarding Scott's book, give it an hour or so, and I wouldn't be surprised if you're hooked - it's really, really good. Nor would I be surprised if it provides you with some useful fodder for thought for whatever you're working on - it's remarkably fertile intellectual ground, some of which bears (I think, not really knowing your work) fairly directly on your research interests (e.g., urban design in Paris and Brazil, and the effects of urban planning versus "organic" growth). Sometimes with a place like Yale (or Harvard) you wonder, "How did so-and-so get tenure there?" With Scott, you don't wonder that. And I'll conclude that, as I wrote with regard to Wilson as well as Wildavsky and Lowi, with Scott too you receive a great sense of humanity, rather than Ivy League or Ivory Tower remoteness. This is a guy who lived for two years in a remote Malaysian village. I'm not sure what causes him to evince that humanity - I met a student once who told me he's incredibly charismatic, etc. - but whatever does, he seems - and once more, I think this may be a necessary condition for a great social scientist - to understand *people* on a very basic level, which I mean in the best possible way (of course).


PCM said...

Scott's book is whisked to me by Amazon and their underpaid workers at this very moment. I can't help but assume about Scott... older generation. Yale. Charismatic. Anthropology. Put that all together and you get CIA.

I just happened to live at the one square of Cambridge that didn't have a T stop (Inman Square). On the plus side, the number 69 bus (snicker) only cost 60 cents back then. And the Boston T shuts down, which makes it useless if you work or play past midnight, as I did. I just rode my bike everywhere. It was a good city to bike in, because it's so small.

As to Lincoln Park, what amazes me is how it's spread like a rich cancer to Irving Park and beyond! I spent a lot of time around Belmont St. in the 1980s, which was then very distinct from Lincoln Park (ie: Fullerton)! Who would have thought I'd ever appreciate Hellen Schiller's efforts to keep Uptown a slum!

EOJPG said...

Was the CIA still so HYP when you went there? Or, for that matter, is it still HYP today? I've actually had some formal affiliation with the defense industry (including the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System, or DCIPS, as it so happens) in terms of work, and have known a few HKS/WWS/SAIS-types who work in development in war zones (e.g., Kabul) very casually, but don't have as good a sense for who comprises the IC today. Even if the IC is disproportionately HYP/Ivy today, I suspect they're located more in the Directorate of Intelligence than in the National Clandestine Service. Heck, if no less a light than Tom Clancy could conceive of recruiting inner-city police officers for their potential as case officers, I have little reason to doubt the thought has occurred to others. (Actually, I respect Clancy as a writer, at least through "Sum of All Fears," but now I'm just using the low marginal cost - spot the UChicago graduate in the room! - of internet access to foist my preferences upon unwilling others who could not conceivably care less.) For what it's worth, I think the idea of turns cops into case officers is a good one, and would be curious if you're so inclined to get your take on it. In any event, actually, Robin Winks wrote a whole book ("Cloak and Gown," which I think I may have actually purchased while visiting Yale) on the connection between that university alone and the CIA, but I doubt Scott was connected to it at all. Then again, I've been wrong before...

I get back to Chicago pretty infrequently (once or twice a year for extremely short periods of time), and really haven't lived there in a decade. The amount of gentrification is astounding. On my most recent visit, due to remarkable carelessness on my part, I got directed by 911 to go to the police station in what remains of Cabrini Green (where, it may interest a scholar of policing and bureaucracy to know, what the desk officer told me was completely contrary to what the 911 operator had told me, and the trip ended up having been an unnecessary waste of time).



EOJPG said...


As a faculty brat, you may appreciate I remember being in no less august a place than the locker room of SPAC (Northwestern's gym*) and hearing a patron describing the Belmont-Clark area in terms most un-PC and unflattering to its residents. (Actually, I probably shouldn't be so cavalier or attempt to be funny or witty. Simply put, the person was bigoted and obnoxious.)
*As my father was an alum, we got discounted admission to use the facilities, which is where my father became friends with, among others, your father's colleague Allan S, may he RIP. I went to day camp there one summer and thus felt fairly comfortable there relatively early on, occasionally going with friends, etc., and think I actually felt pretty cool using it for some time, as well as the Northwestern student union opposite the library, because, you know, real college kids hung out there. (The Northwestern student union had a room with foozball and video games and pool tables - where better to demonstrate one's badass-ness?) That may have lasted all through junior high.
I do recall the edginess of Uptown, which I imagine has subsided considerably - when I chose to take the Wilson El stop one day, my parents chose to chastise me fairly severely, and I vowed to them never to do so again. Even the Sheridan El stop - on Sheffield just south of Irving Park - was considered a bit questionable then, I think, although I very much doubt that's the case today. (Someone did point out a crossdresser on the platform with us to me; I was really perturbed.) And I recall seeing real-life prostitutes on a sidestreet or in an alley while going through Edgewater with a friend around the turn of the millennium. Once more, I doubt they patronize the area as vigorously now - the spread of prosperity has swept through the North Side with considerable abandon. East Rogers Park still seems to evade "development," though. Diversey, to me, used to be the dividing line between Lincoln Park and Lakeview - Fullerton was distinctly the former and Lakeview distinctly the latter, and somewhere between the two, presumably approximately at Diversey, the two merged, maybe where Broadway split off from Clark.


EOJPG said...


As a nearly-complete aside, I do wonder (or rather, my brother wondered, and I merely echo him to attempt to sound pensive or profound or merely clever) whether Chicago will retain its Stalin-esque mayoral naming conventions in the absence of a presiding Daley. ("Rahm Welcomes You to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport."
What resonates with me in the macro scheme of things is an accesible essay George Packer wrote in an issue of Foreign Affairs (based on a lecture given at CUNY, I think, but not at John Jay) a few issues back. He argues that the top 20% have benefited and whoever comprises the mean or median has fallen or stagnated (probably fallen). I can't prove what he's saying, and wouldn't really want take the time out to try, but it's a smart essay and persuasive and it "seems" right, at least a lot of it. I suspect the gentrification of the North Side and encroachment of yuppiedom on formerly less genteel neighborhoods constitutes the agglomeration and development of that 20%. I'm a not-very-knowledgeable fan of Saskia Sassen and world cities theory and all that, and imagine Chicago, with the CBOT, CBOE and Mercantile Exchange and all the accompanying high-end service industries, as well as its economic hinterland (reference William Cronon's magisterial "Nature's Metropolis" for the concept, although it's not a light read), gets a disproportionate share of the national or international 20%.

Now I have to Google "Helen Schillinger!" (And also, see if "The Admiral" still resides on Lawrence Avenue - rumor has it at least two University of Chicago students worked there, and not as wait staff or maintenance, either. But that's just a rumor. You'd probably need some really smart Ivy League CIA super-sneaky spook in order to verify it.)
I'm glad you've utilized the Amazon supply chain, enabling some peripheral nation-state (in the Immanuel Wallerstein sense) to utilize its comparative advantage of cheap labor (spot the UChicago grad in the room!) and allow Jeff Bezos to further propagate his bizarre and extreme libertarian views. Happy reading, and good night.


IrishPirate said...

First, now that I've woken up from my drunken slumber it's spelled S H I L L E R and Uptown, while somewhat gentrified, is not a version of Lincoln Park. I've lived in Uptown for nigh over 20 years so I'm an expert.

The number of drunken frat boys dry humping one another on the sidewalk at 2am is mercifully small and I haven't seen a transvestite prostitute in Uptown in years. The new tranny hangout seems to be around Belmont and Sheffield where one of the clubs caters to them and the GOP pundits who love them.

Uptown was also in the midst of a gang war last year, but that seems to have subsided as the smaller gang was decimated by the police and gunshots from the larger gang. We also have a new alderman who is gay and a former Catholic monk. "Schiller" was literally chased from office and had the good sense not to run again.

Hell, I was tangentially a subject of a subpoena as I was involved in the now defunct "What the Helen" blog. I love the smell of Freedom of Speech in the morning. That smell. That rights of man smell. Nothing else is like it. Smells like.... victory.



A few years ago my real identity was probably worth a few grand to the Shilleristas and possibly even a free ride with some tranny hookers. Alas, I am still unknown and unknowable and the Shilleristas dream of a counter counter revolution and the trannies dream in another neighborhood.

The Sheridan EL stop is decrepit, but safe and the Wilson EL stop is going to be rebuilt.

Check out the "hot topics" links on the middle right of this page.


Hell, Rahm even got the President to hold his birthday party fundraiser in Uptown.

The thing that is killing Chicago right now is not the gentrification, but the emptying out of the non gentrified south and west sides. The black middle class is moving out to the burbs and the southern states at a "ginormous" rate. 180,000 minus in the last census.

As for the Admiral Theater that is three miles west of Uptown on Lawrence and still exists. I have little doubt some U of Chicago students probably danced there or at other local strip joints.

Back in the early 80's a U of C undergraduate posed nekked for OUI magazine. It was quite the scandal. Even made the Tribune as I recall. OUI was a sleazier version of Hustler. Said student is now a full professor at a top university. Her subject area: sociology.

Not surprisingly I suspect she would not have approved of JQW's opinions. The titles on her lists of publications reads like a 1969 socialist reading list.

The headline of this piece on JQW would probably drive her batty or battier.


EOJPG said...


I shall refrain from my verbosity of last night, and simply say, "Thanks for the links."


PCM said...

They should keep the Sheridan EL stop as a landmark, if it still has it's metal work and boardwalk style wooden platform. There was always a nice cheap Mexican bar with juke box and pool table, just south on the east side of Sheffield. I think the bar is still there, but needless to say it's not what it used to be.

Wilson stop is more of a real old landmark gem. I hope they keep the old, but they probably won't.

I remember once, in high school, late at night, literally having to step over body after passed-out body in the station's "lobby." (I by literally I mean literally.) It was unreal.

I work my way to the booth to pay my money to the CTA worker (back when they paid people to punch "transfer received" and steal your fare) and ask, "Is it always like this here?" He shrugged and said, "yes."

And thanks for the links! Fascinating.

EOJPG, I too played at the gameroom at Northwestern's Norris Center. Perhaps we once played fusbol in the early 1980s. I also loved to ride my bike down those five ramps across the entrance, part of the library complex. You probably wouldn't remember them unless you rode your bike down them. Amazing, I never cracked my 12-year-old head on concrete.

But the best game room was on Belmont just west of the L (across from the now trannie club, which has been a club of sorts for decades). I played a lot of pinball there. It was open late. The Greeks who ran it always seemed to like my brother and me, simply because we seemed like good kids, unlike most of the clientele.

But mostly that area was known for the stinkiest, most pissiest alley in the world, behind the Dunkin Donuts, on the east side of the tracks.

IrishPirate said...

The Sheridan El stop is still the same. The changes to the Wilson El stop are undecided or at least unannounced at the moment.

The Mexican bar across from the Sheridan El is not long for this world. Sign up from owners thanking folks for their patronage.

The hispanic population of Uptown was 40 percent in 1990. 20 percent in 2000. 12 percent in 2010. Lakeview has seen an even more rapid decline. Just a few taquerias and a bakery left.

While the neighborhood around Belmont and Sheffield has gentrified, at night the punkin donuts crowd and the hookers come out. At night it very much appears to be 1988.

IrishPirate said...

As for "Schiller" Chicago Magazine did a number on her after she left office.