Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Rediscovery of Character

Here's an interesting David Brooks column which comes at the notion of virtue and character from a different angle: the work of James Q. Wilson, who just passed away. Best known for his "broken windows" theory of crime, a more important part of Wilson's work was essays like the The Rediscovery of Character, says Brooks.


“At root,” Wilson wrote in 1985 in The Public Interest, “in almost every area of important concern, we are seeking to induce persons to act virtuously, whether as schoolchildren, applicants for public assistance, would-be lawbreakers or voters and public officials.”

When Wilson wrote about character and virtue, he didn’t mean anything high flown or theocratic. It was just the basics, befitting a man who grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1940s: Behave in a balanced way. Think about the long-term consequences of your actions. Cooperate. Be decent.

For this, says Brooks, Wilson was surprised to find himself derided as an arch-conservative by many in the academy.