American politics, then and now and other essays by James Q. Wilson

By James Q. Wilson

James Q. Wilson is one in every of America's preeminent public coverage students. for many years, he has analyzed the altering political and cultural panorama with readability and honesty, bringing his knowledge to endure on all aspects of yankee govt and society. this can be a number of fifteen of Wilson's such a lot insightful essays-drawing on thirty years of his observations on faith, crime, the media, terrorism and extremism, and the old fashioned idea of "character." Readers of each political persuasion will come clear of this quantity with a brand new knowing of the way American politics and tradition have advanced over the past half-century. those essays usually are not "the grumpy phrases of a conservative who cannot be reconciled to the realities of latest American life," Wilson writes. particularly, they're immediately speak from a painstaking empiricist and consummate social scientist who believes in American exceptionalism. American Politics, Then & now could be a compelling portrait of a loved state.

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Sample text

The case for analogical reasoning is stronger where there are more similarities between two situations, but it can rarely, if ever, be conclusive. Two situations may be different in some important but unsuspected feature. The closest we may come to making a conclusive argument is when the research involves the evaluation of a controlled experiment; the next closest involves the evaluation of a quasi-experiment supplied by historical circumstance. The best studies of criminal rehabilitation were based “POLICY INTELLECTUALS” AND PUBLIC POLICY 31 on controlled experiments; the best case against airline regulation was based on the quasi-experiment created by the existence of unregulated intrastate airlines in California.

If scholars have not done this, then it must be their fault, and they should be ignored. But the study of human affairs can rarely proceed in this manner. Good intellectual work is typically retrospective rather than prospective, and even then its findings are ordinarily highly dependent on the particular circumstances of time, place, and culture. Moreover, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to predict in advance which scholarly proposal will produce truly interesting results. None of these difficulties can be overcome by demands from Congress that research be more “applied” or that greater external control be exerted over the research that is done.

Knowledge may or may not accumulate, but the standards of evidence are clarified and bad ideas are (usually) detected. Moreover, out of this sifting, new ways of thinking sometimes arise. This last may be the most important result of all. “POLICY INTELLECTUALS” AND PUBLIC POLICY 33 Intellectuals do not simply test, evaluate, or (where bold) predict. They supply, as I remarked at the outset, the concepts by which we define important parts of reality. They lead us to see old relationships in new ways.

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