One of the giants of contemporary political science, James Q. Wilson, has passed away. His writing displayed insightful commentary on areas of public policy--crime ("broken windows"), poverty, bureaucracy (the classic book), bioethics, marriage, and ethnic politics, plus a book on snorkeling,co-authored with his wife. I happened to use his Bureaucracy book last spring, originally published in 1989. Wilson taught us what questions to raise in examining political institutions. Some of his writings for the Claremont Institute can be found here. An appreciation of his work by Shep Melnick is here.
It is not to damn him with faint praise to say that Wilson was likely the nicest and the wisest President of the American Political Science Association. I can still recall the headshaking and denunciations of his presidential address, on "The Moral Sense."
Addendum: A conversation from 1987 with Wilson, conducted by Steve Hayward mostly.
In Liberty Fund's new blog Michael Greve points out how powerful and efficient bureaucracies can be when they have determined leaders. The issue here is HHS rules requiring religious organizations to provide contraception coverage in their employee health plans. In sum:
Follow the progression: first comes a statutory text of sufficient ambiguity ["Obamacare"] to keep the Catholic Health Association, representing Catholic hospitals, on board in support of the ACA. (Now that it's been had, one hopes the association has learned its lesson.) Then comes an administrative creep forward and a de facto delegation to a private organization of known disposition, whose perceived authority and expertise provide cover for the bureaucracy. Then comes the wholesale, underhanded adoption of the interim rule.
Men and Women
It doesn't make sense to berate the captain of the Costa Concodria to be one of the first on the beach in an egalitarian age that decries the notion of hierarchy, difference, and duty. Taking off from Mark Steyn, The Sage of Mt. Airy emphasizes that point, taking off on "women and children first:"
What [Steyn] leaves out is that it's become instead, and sadly so, an increasingly accurate descriptive phrase that captures perfectly a class of people who do go first, whether they should or not. (If, that is, it's even possible to use words like should or ought in a properly multicultural society.) "Women and children" is now descriptive of, well, descriptive of almost everyone, male and female, young and old, able and infirm, etc.. We're all equal after all and that's exactly as it should be. (Here's one place where should is not only allowed, but demanded.)
Steyn on the origins of "women and children first:"
In fact, "women and children first" can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship's cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. As Kipling wrote:
We're most of us liars, we're 'arf of us thieves, an' the rest of us rank as can be, But once in a while we can finish in style (which I 'ope it won't 'appen to me).
I think of all the couples with advanced degrees who have remarkably successful children, and I wonder how other kids can enjoy such success. Charles Murray has long made this a theme of his. The full account can be found in The New Criterion. "Many [in the new elite] have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn't have a college degree, never hunted or fished." Here is the excerpt from today's WSJ:
The members of America's new upper class tend not to watch the same movies and television shows that the rest of America watches, don't go to kinds of restaurants the rest of America frequents, tend to buy different kinds of automobiles, and have passions for being green, maintaining the proper degree of body fat, and supporting gay marriage that most Americans don't share. Their child-raising practices are distinctive, and they typically take care to enroll their children in schools dominated by the offspring of the upper middle class--or, better yet, of the new upper class. They take their vacations in different kinds of places than other Americans go and are often indifferent to the professional sports that are so popular among other Americans. Few have served in the military, and few of their children either.
Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn't have a college degree, never hunted or fished. They are likely to know that Garrison Keillor's monologue on Prairie Home Companion is the source of the phrase "all of the children are above average," but they have never walked on a prairie and never known someone well whose IQ actually was below average.
From the full article, his conclusion:
The upper middle class in general, and the new upper class in particular, will continue to do well. But they will no longer be living any resemblance of what used to be called the American Way of Life. They will be the class on top in the same way that all complex societies have had a class on top, with nothing exceptional about it. We are perilously close to being in that world already....
One should not miss the comparison over the last week of youth descending on the cities of two European nations. In England, hundreds of young thugs spent the week rioting with aimless violence and general impunity in cities across the nation. Meanwhile, in Spain, over a million young pilgrims arrived in Madrid to celebrate the Catholic Church's World Youth Day. Two more stark profiles of today's youth would be difficult to produce. I would just as readily entrust our future prosperity to the latter group as I would commit the former to prison sentences excluding them from any participation whatsoever in the future of planet Earth.
A social scientist somewhere should observe a representative share of both communities over the next several decades and report on their respective contributions to civil society. A subsequent report on the comparative methods of rearing employed during the tender years of these sample populations, including values instilled and disciple-enforcement, would provide a interesting - though predictable - social commentary.
The way to avoid scenes like those in London is rather simple. Madrid is presently full of one million examples. When the parenting methods which produce this latter sort are rejected, it's no great mystery why they turn out as little more than prison fodder. Simply because a publisher will print the latest breakthrough in child developmental theory, it does not follow that human nature will respond favorably to such progressive nonsense.
In light of the London violence, Kevin Kosar (a frequent Weekly Standard contributor) reminds us of the late political scientist Edward Banfield's sly--and revealing--comment on urban riots. It's not a lack of government spending, discrimination, poverty, etc. Often young men riot because it's fun to do:
Often, though, people riot "mainly for fun and profit," as Banfield put it in The Unheavenly City. Riots, as he reminded us, have been around as long as there have been cities. "In Pittsburgh in 1809 an editor proposed satirically that the city establish a 'conflagration fund' from which to buy twelve houses, one to be burned each month in civil celebration."
Kosar concludes, "[O]ne sure accelerant to riots present and future, Banfield explained, is the widespread belief that one can get away with it." RTWT for clear thinking and illuminating links. Kosar's website, covering higher education, reviews, Banfieldiana, and whiskey, can be found here.
As Groucho would say.
Ann Althouse points us to a lawsuit in Utah challenging the state's ban on polygamy. The suit is not asking to legalize polygamy, per say, but only saying that the state has no right to prosecute someone who is legally married to only one person, but, in fact, considers himself married to several women, "Mr. Brown has a civil marriage with only one of his wives; the rest are "sister wives," not formally wedded."
Professor Althouse comments:
I think the Lawrence-based argument for decriminalizing polygamy is much stronger than the Lawrence-based argument for requiring the government to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage. One is an argument demanding only that the government leave them alone as they pursue their "own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." The other is a demand that the government alter its treatment of its citizens, giving them access to to the benefits of having the official status as a married couple.
If each of us has the right to purshue his "own concept of existence," then we are free to choose to be slaves, no? On what grounds, other than an underlying idea of what it is to be human, can one justify the right of an individual to choose how he will live?
I am also reminded of the bit in Natural Right and History were Strauss discusses Max Weber: "Weber's own formulation of his categoric imperative was 'Follow thy demon' or 'Follow thy god or demon.' It would be unfair to complain that Weber forgot the possibility of evil demons." Basically the same idea as Bill Cosby's comments on cocaine. (at 3:50 or so).