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. . . . Wilson’s writings had a massive effect. . . .When I consider the impact of his ideas, I can’t help but think about the millions of folks being hassled even as we speak by coercive state agents who are acting on some Wilsonian theory recommending stop-and-frisk policing
Source: Boston Review
The esteemed political scientist and criminologist James Q. Wilson died in March. He wrote many important works, including a leading textbook on American government currently in its twelfth edition. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.
His most significant legacy, however, lies in the impact of his scholarship and journalism on the contemporary structures of social control in the United States. His 1975 book Thinking About Crime provides academic justification for a massive increase in imprisonment in the United States that began in the late 1970s and has yet fully to run its course. (The United States incarcerates at five times the rate of Britain, the leading jailer in Europe.) It is therefore entirely fitting—indeed, imperative—that there be extensive, critical public discussion about the intellectual impact of this towering figure of the study of American government.
While I came to disagree sharply with him on criminal justice policy, I must acknowledge that I liked Jim Wilson, the man. He was urbane, witty, and generous with his time. He was unfailingly open to hearing both sides of any argument. I knew him to be loyal to a fault, even-tempered, and often a wise observer of American politics. I admired his modesty and his prodigious work ethic. Indeed, my appreciation of “Gentleman Jim” dates back nearly three decades, to 1983, when he came to my humble Afro-American Studies office at Harvard, practically hat in hand, with a draft chapter on “race and crime” for an as-yet-unpublished book, Crime and Human Nature. He was writing it with Richard Herrnstein, who would go on to write The Bell Curve (1994) with Charles Murray. Wilson asked for my unsparing critique, which I provided. It impressed me that, when the book appeared two years later, he and Herrnstein had taken my criticisms seriously.
I went on to work closely with Wilson on a number of projects. In 1987 we co-edited a volume on families, schools, and delinquency prevention. We served together for a decade on the editorial board of the influential neoconservative magazine The Public Interest. And in the early 1990s we were colleagues on the Council of Academic Advisors at the American Enterprise Institute. READ MORE