Commentary Magazine


Topic: James Q. Wilson

The “Good Vibrations” Continue

In today’s Washington Post, George Will wrote an interesting appreciation of The Beach Boys, who are still touring the country to applause 50 years after they topped the charts with “Good Vibrations.” As Will notes, the sweet sound of that pop band epitomized a moment in our cultural history as the ethos of Southern California provided a soundtrack for a new surge in individualism.

To back up his assertion, Will quotes at length from a classic COMMENTARY article by James Q. Wilson, “A Guide to Reagan Country: The Political Culture of Southern California,” that explored the way trends in that region exemplified a new way of thinking about politics and culture. As Will noted, given its “dystopian present,” it’s hard to recall the way America felt about “California Dreamin” in those days, but for those who like to revisit it, we have made Wilson’s timeless piece available here.

In today’s Washington Post, George Will wrote an interesting appreciation of The Beach Boys, who are still touring the country to applause 50 years after they topped the charts with “Good Vibrations.” As Will notes, the sweet sound of that pop band epitomized a moment in our cultural history as the ethos of Southern California provided a soundtrack for a new surge in individualism.

To back up his assertion, Will quotes at length from a classic COMMENTARY article by James Q. Wilson, “A Guide to Reagan Country: The Political Culture of Southern California,” that explored the way trends in that region exemplified a new way of thinking about politics and culture. As Will noted, given its “dystopian present,” it’s hard to recall the way America felt about “California Dreamin” in those days, but for those who like to revisit it, we have made Wilson’s timeless piece available here.

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James Q. Wilson’s Legacy

The Weekly Standard has a cover story, written by Chris DeMuth, on the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. DeMuth does a wonderful job summarizing a half-century’s worth of Jim Wilson’s scholarship and writing. He says, among other things, that Wilson’s book Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It, must be read in full to appreciate its power and depth. In addition, Jeremy Rabkin has an article in which Rabkin says its lesson for would-be reformers, from the left or the right, is: Don’t expect too much.

With those words in mind, I recently came across a 1991 article in Public Administration Review in which five of Wilson’s former students offered their insights on their mentor’s book (the publication was based on remarks made at an American Political Science Association symposium). They considered Bureaucracy to be a milestone in the public administration literature. Steven Kelman pointed to the characteristic modesty of Wilson, who in his preface wrote that “though what follows is not very theoretical, neither is it very practical.” The reader, we’re told, “will not learn very much – if anything – about how to run a government agency.” But there was also modesty in Wilson’s confidence in our capacity to pull the just the right policy levers and remake the world. At the end of Bureaucracy, Kelman (and Rabkin) point out, Wilson put forward what he called “A Few Modest Suggestions That May Make a Small Difference.”

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The Weekly Standard has a cover story, written by Chris DeMuth, on the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. DeMuth does a wonderful job summarizing a half-century’s worth of Jim Wilson’s scholarship and writing. He says, among other things, that Wilson’s book Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It, must be read in full to appreciate its power and depth. In addition, Jeremy Rabkin has an article in which Rabkin says its lesson for would-be reformers, from the left or the right, is: Don’t expect too much.

With those words in mind, I recently came across a 1991 article in Public Administration Review in which five of Wilson’s former students offered their insights on their mentor’s book (the publication was based on remarks made at an American Political Science Association symposium). They considered Bureaucracy to be a milestone in the public administration literature. Steven Kelman pointed to the characteristic modesty of Wilson, who in his preface wrote that “though what follows is not very theoretical, neither is it very practical.” The reader, we’re told, “will not learn very much – if anything – about how to run a government agency.” But there was also modesty in Wilson’s confidence in our capacity to pull the just the right policy levers and remake the world. At the end of Bureaucracy, Kelman (and Rabkin) point out, Wilson put forward what he called “A Few Modest Suggestions That May Make a Small Difference.”

John J. DiIulio, Jr. said his mentor and friend was “motivated by the intrinsic joys of intellectual puzzles, a strong contrarian strain, and impatience with oversimplifications, and a cautionary, even pessimistic outlook on the practical payoffs (if any) of general knowledge about complex human affairs.”

These observations are terrifically important, and deeply conservative ones. Human society is endlessly complicated. And having worked in three administrations (Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43), I can testify first hand that the ability to predict with precision the effects of public policy on human behavior is often different than we anticipate. In some instances, policy reforms can catalyze change quicker than we anticipate (see welfare and crime); other times problems remain frustratingly durable and immune to the effects of policy (see everything from marriage and family life to spreading democracy to the Arab world). The point is not that we shouldn’t try to alter things; it is that we should do so with our eyes wide open, ever respectful of the Law of Unintended Consequences, and always open to new evidence, to readjustments, and to refinement.

That is, I think, what Professor Wilson would want us to keep in mind. So sayeth, at least, those students who knew him best.

 

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The James Q. Wilson Archive

As I promised earlier in my post about the death of the great James Q. Wilson, Commentary is making available the entirety of his 45 years of contributions to our magazine. You can find the James Q. Wilson Archive here.  There is so much wonderful stuff it’s hard even to know where to begin, so let me start with the last words he published here, in our symposium called “Are You Optimistic or Pessimistic About America’s Future?” It will give you a flavor of the man’s unmatchable perspective:

“Many years ago, I confidently published an essay in which I made a prediction. It was hopelessly, embarrassingly wrong. Since then I have embraced the view that social scientists should never predict; leave that job to pundits. If you doubt me, make a list of the economists who predicted the 2008 recession, political scientists who predicted the Arab Spring, or criminologists who said that this recession would be accompanied by falling crime rates. A few names may make the list, but very few.

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As I promised earlier in my post about the death of the great James Q. Wilson, Commentary is making available the entirety of his 45 years of contributions to our magazine. You can find the James Q. Wilson Archive here.  There is so much wonderful stuff it’s hard even to know where to begin, so let me start with the last words he published here, in our symposium called “Are You Optimistic or Pessimistic About America’s Future?” It will give you a flavor of the man’s unmatchable perspective:

“Many years ago, I confidently published an essay in which I made a prediction. It was hopelessly, embarrassingly wrong. Since then I have embraced the view that social scientists should never predict; leave that job to pundits. If you doubt me, make a list of the economists who predicted the 2008 recession, political scientists who predicted the Arab Spring, or criminologists who said that this recession would be accompanied by falling crime rates. A few names may make the list, but very few.

“Historians may do a better job than other scholars in making generalizations, but that is because the good ones never predict, they generalize from past experiences. Those experiences suggest that this country has been extraordinarily lucky, and they hint at some reasons for that good fortune: an adaptable government, an optimistic national character—and extraordinary good fortune (we won the Revolutionary War against a superior enemy, defeated the Confederacy despite a series of terrible northern generals, overcame the Great Depression because the Second World War increased the demand for goods and services, sent transports to confront Germany just at the time when the Nazi code had been broken, confronted an armed Japan that made every conceivable tactical mistake, and defeated Saddam Hussein by discovering that he was an incompetent military leader). We had some bad luck as well (racism and Vietnam, for example), but the good outweighed it.

“It is easy to understand why Commentary would ask whether one is optimistic or pessimistic. We remain in the depths of a major recession, the nation’s deficit grew by more than $4 trillion in the first three years of the current administration, our military faces unjustified cuts in its budget, many people who want to vote against President Obama feel they lack a suitable Republican alternative, the federal government (except for the military) lacks any public confidence, and most Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

“It would be easy to be grumpy, but it also would not be hard to be optimistic. We face serious problems, but this recession like all before it will end, something will probably be done to reduce the growth in the deficit, international reality will require the maintenance of a serious military force, and somebody will run against Obama and may well defeat him. Dislike of government institutions will no doubt persist (but without any reduction in American patriotism), and the meaning of answers to the poll question about whether the country is on the right track will remain, as it is now, obscure. Take your pick.”

It would be easy to be grumpy, but it also would not be hard to be optimistic. To read those words is to see Jim’s face, which always seemed to have a smile on it even when there was no smile. He had an extraordinary disposition. He was a man who loved his work, loved his life, loved his wife, loved his family, loved his country, and loved humankind—probably because, despite his belief in reason and his dedication to the empirical…well, why shouldn’t he!

 

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James Q. Wilson, 1931-2012

James Q. Wilson—who was this nation’s foremost political scientist, literally the author of the definitive textbook on the workings of American government, a writer of uncommon grace and clarity, and a man who believed more than anyone I’ve ever known in the power of the human capacity to reason to change things for the better—died this morning at the age of 80.

To my mind, his greatest and most enduring book in his oeuvre is The Moral Sense, in which this very practically-minded man carefully lays out the case for the existence of the title condition as an innate condition of humankind. But his signal contribution to American life over the past 30 years lies in his work as a criminologist, and his delineation (with George Kelling) of the theory of “broken windows,” about how social disorder and crime are in large measure the result of little transgressions in behavior and against the common weal, that, ignored and unchallenged, grow into ever larger ones. The expostulation of the broken windows theory literally inaugurated the revolution in consciousness in American policing and criminal justice that led to the astounding crime drop of the 1990s—a drop that continues to this day.

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James Q. Wilson—who was this nation’s foremost political scientist, literally the author of the definitive textbook on the workings of American government, a writer of uncommon grace and clarity, and a man who believed more than anyone I’ve ever known in the power of the human capacity to reason to change things for the better—died this morning at the age of 80.

To my mind, his greatest and most enduring book in his oeuvre is The Moral Sense, in which this very practically-minded man carefully lays out the case for the existence of the title condition as an innate condition of humankind. But his signal contribution to American life over the past 30 years lies in his work as a criminologist, and his delineation (with George Kelling) of the theory of “broken windows,” about how social disorder and crime are in large measure the result of little transgressions in behavior and against the common weal, that, ignored and unchallenged, grow into ever larger ones. The expostulation of the broken windows theory literally inaugurated the revolution in consciousness in American policing and criminal justice that led to the astounding crime drop of the 1990s—a drop that continues to this day.

Jim Wilson was also the author of nearly 60 articles for COMMENTARY, the first in 1966, the last in 2007. Here is a sample of the limpidity of his prose, from a 1993 piece called “What Is Moral, and How Do We Know It?”:

I am inclined to think that most people most of the time live lives of ordinary decency as they struggle to raise children, earn a living, and retain the respect of their friends. But we cannot dismiss the possibility that what many intellectuals have come to discredit some people will come to ignore. If morality is thought to be nothing but convention or artifice, then it will occur to those persons who are weakly attached to society and its rules that they are free to act as they wish provided they can get away with it. And if they would have broken the rules anyway, the relativism of our age makes it easier for them to justify their action by the claim that the rules are arbitrary enactments.

I wish to argue for an older view of human nature, one that assumes that people are naturally endowed with certain moral sentiments. We have a peculiar, fragile, but persistent disposition to make moral judgments, and we generally regard people who lack this disposition to be less than human. Despite our wars, crimes, envies, snobberies, fanaticisms, and persecutions, there is to be found a desire not only for praise but for praiseworthiness, for fair dealings as well as for good deals, for honor as well as for advantage. These desires become evident when we think disinterestedly about ourselves or others.

This article, along with every other article written by James Q. Wilson for COMMENTARY, is now free to everyone as a tribute to his decency, his soundness of mind, and his contribution to American thought at its best. His loss is irreplaceable, but his writing will live on.

 

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Thinking Deeply About Government’s Purpose, Not Just Its Size

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high. Read More

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high.

This line of reasoning inevitably leads us to law-enforcement policies ranging from incarceration to policing strategies to the “broken windows” theory. (In the 1980s, Professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling argued that public disorder — as evidenced by unrepaired broken windows — is evidence of a permissive moral environment, a signal that no one cares, and therefore acts as a magnet to criminals.) And in looking at some of the great success stories in lowering crime, such as New York City in the 1990s, one finds that the key to success wasn’t the size or cost of government, but its efficacy. The question Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, asked wasn’t “How big should the police department be?” but rather “What should the police department be doing?”

The answer to that question led to a policy revolution in law enforcement.

The point is that fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the state aren’t academic ones; a public philosophy needs to be at the center of our debates about public policy, and we need public figures who themselves are able to think clearly and deeply about these matters.

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A Billion-Dollar Blunder

James Q. Wilson (a COMMENTARY contributor) reminds us of what the New York trial of KSM entails:

To protect the courthouse, the New York Police Department will establish a rigid inner circle bounded by Worth, Madison, Pearl and Centre streets. Vehicles entering the perimeter will be thoroughly screened and searched.

This secure perimeter will encompass several city blocks. Inside it will be a federal courthouse, the city’s police headquarters, a New York State Supreme Court building, other governmental buildings and St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. Also inside the cordon will be Chatham Towers, two 25-story residential buildings with hundreds of residents and a public parking garage.

This means that everyone who wants to get to the city’s police headquarters, a court building or their homes in Chatham Towers will face road blocks, car searches, radiation monitors and pedestrian checks.

The cost of added personnel deployed year after year as the trial plays out is daunting. We’re talking over $200M per year. Wilson adds: “If the five defendants are found guilty, there will probably be an appeal that will be heard in a courthouse inside the secure area, which would require more months of stepped up security. And these figures do not count what the U.S. marshals, the FBI and other agencies will spend on activities related to the trial.”

You can understand that New York taxpayers might not want to get stuck with the tab. But neither should any American taxpayer. The solution, as Wilson points out, is simple: send KSM and his cohorts back to the military tribunal, where they can plead guilty or not and be dealt with in the safe confines of a military facility.

Cost is not the primary reason to oppose a civilian KSM trial, but neither is it insignificant. We’re talking about a tab approaching a billion dollars if a multiyear trial and subsequent appeal unfolds. It is yet another instance in which liberal elites, with an ideological bent toward expanding constitutional protections beyond any historical or legal necessity, seek to impose burdens on ordinary Americans. In this case, the burdens involve both their safety and their wallets.

James Q. Wilson (a COMMENTARY contributor) reminds us of what the New York trial of KSM entails:

To protect the courthouse, the New York Police Department will establish a rigid inner circle bounded by Worth, Madison, Pearl and Centre streets. Vehicles entering the perimeter will be thoroughly screened and searched.

This secure perimeter will encompass several city blocks. Inside it will be a federal courthouse, the city’s police headquarters, a New York State Supreme Court building, other governmental buildings and St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. Also inside the cordon will be Chatham Towers, two 25-story residential buildings with hundreds of residents and a public parking garage.

This means that everyone who wants to get to the city’s police headquarters, a court building or their homes in Chatham Towers will face road blocks, car searches, radiation monitors and pedestrian checks.

The cost of added personnel deployed year after year as the trial plays out is daunting. We’re talking over $200M per year. Wilson adds: “If the five defendants are found guilty, there will probably be an appeal that will be heard in a courthouse inside the secure area, which would require more months of stepped up security. And these figures do not count what the U.S. marshals, the FBI and other agencies will spend on activities related to the trial.”

You can understand that New York taxpayers might not want to get stuck with the tab. But neither should any American taxpayer. The solution, as Wilson points out, is simple: send KSM and his cohorts back to the military tribunal, where they can plead guilty or not and be dealt with in the safe confines of a military facility.

Cost is not the primary reason to oppose a civilian KSM trial, but neither is it insignificant. We’re talking about a tab approaching a billion dollars if a multiyear trial and subsequent appeal unfolds. It is yet another instance in which liberal elites, with an ideological bent toward expanding constitutional protections beyond any historical or legal necessity, seek to impose burdens on ordinary Americans. In this case, the burdens involve both their safety and their wallets.

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I Got My Job Through COMMENTARY

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

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Weekend Reading

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

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Weekend Reading

Reflections on the high promise and assorted problems of American nationhood have always been a regular feature of COMMENTARY. Since the magazine’s inception in 1945, we have published many of the country’s leading thinkers on the great questions of American purpose and practice, whether in our own culture and politics or in our relations with the rest of the world. This weekend we offer a few prime selections.

America the Beautiful
Mary McCarthy – September 1947

The Continuing American Ideal
Robert Gorham Davis – May 1958

A Fever of Ethnicity
Robert Alter – June 1972

The United States in Opposition
Daniel Patrick Moynihan – March 1975

American Values & American Foreign Policy
Nathan Glazer – July 1976

American Politics, Then & Now
James Q. Wilson – February 1979

Two Nations or Two Cultures?
Gertrude Himmelfarb – January 2001

Our Creed and Our Culture
Terry Teachout – July/August 2007

Reflections on the high promise and assorted problems of American nationhood have always been a regular feature of COMMENTARY. Since the magazine’s inception in 1945, we have published many of the country’s leading thinkers on the great questions of American purpose and practice, whether in our own culture and politics or in our relations with the rest of the world. This weekend we offer a few prime selections.

America the Beautiful
Mary McCarthy – September 1947

The Continuing American Ideal
Robert Gorham Davis – May 1958

A Fever of Ethnicity
Robert Alter – June 1972

The United States in Opposition
Daniel Patrick Moynihan – March 1975

American Values & American Foreign Policy
Nathan Glazer – July 1976

American Politics, Then & Now
James Q. Wilson – February 1979

Two Nations or Two Cultures?
Gertrude Himmelfarb – January 2001

Our Creed and Our Culture
Terry Teachout – July/August 2007

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Weekend Reading

One of COMMENTARY’s signature forms is the written symposium: a convocation of intellectuals drawn from all realms of human knowledge—critics, scholars, artists, philosophers, political scientists—and asked to comment on questions of great public import. The magazine has played host to a number of these throughout its history; today we want to offer you one of the most valuable—and one of those lying closest to COMMENTARY’s philosophical purpose. What Is a Liberal, Who Is a Conservative? was published in September 1976. Today, it remains one of the most intensive and illuminating examinations of a question that has beset American politics for the better part of a century—a question that has only regained significance in recent months. The list of participants includes Robert L. Bartley, Midge Decter, Eugene Genovese, Sidney Hook, Alfred Kazin, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, Richard John Neuhaus, Edward Shils, Thomas Sowell, James Q. Wilson, Tom Wolfe, and many, many more. Enjoy.

One of COMMENTARY’s signature forms is the written symposium: a convocation of intellectuals drawn from all realms of human knowledge—critics, scholars, artists, philosophers, political scientists—and asked to comment on questions of great public import. The magazine has played host to a number of these throughout its history; today we want to offer you one of the most valuable—and one of those lying closest to COMMENTARY’s philosophical purpose. What Is a Liberal, Who Is a Conservative? was published in September 1976. Today, it remains one of the most intensive and illuminating examinations of a question that has beset American politics for the better part of a century—a question that has only regained significance in recent months. The list of participants includes Robert L. Bartley, Midge Decter, Eugene Genovese, Sidney Hook, Alfred Kazin, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, Richard John Neuhaus, Edward Shils, Thomas Sowell, James Q. Wilson, Tom Wolfe, and many, many more. Enjoy.

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