I’ve been dreading the inevitable Bobo/Chunky Bobo/Charles Lane eulogies of social scientist James Q. Wilson (an avowed conservative), who died last week. Wilson is the father of the “broken window” of law enforcement, which has been very influential in the development of community policing and the like.
By all accounts, Wilson was — and wanted to be thought of as — a researcher who happened to have right-wing political beliefs, not a right-wing researcher. So to my mind, Douthat’s eulogy today was a bit offensive. To summarize, Douthat paints Wilson and Breitbart as two sides of the conservative coin, Wilson the contemplative Burkean side and Breitbart the brash populist side. He then goes on to claim that Wilson’s theories are single-handedly responsible for the nationwide drop in crime in American cities.
I don’t expect Lane and Bobo to make the comparison with Breitbart, but we will hear a lot about how Wilson’s tough-minded Hayekian modesty showed the wooly-headed liberals the right way to fight crime, about how Giuliani made New York safe all by himself by adopting Wilson’s strategies (even though DC experienced similar drops under Marion Barry), and so on.
I’m not quite sure why this annoys me so much — I think Wilson’s ideas were very good, even if their effect is wildly exaggerated — but it does.