March 5th, 2012

Harvey Mansfield Remembers James Q. Wilson


Jim Wilson himself had a character that was inspiring yet persuasive. He was a fearless man who never needed to be fearless because he never took a false step. He had a strong heart, aided and somewhat concealed by his sovereign prudence and remarkable sang-froid. He never said a word that he later had to regret. No one was more conservative, but no conservative was ever more presentable than Wilson. In the late sixties, he saved Harvard from a time of turbulence and outrage, not all by himself but at the lead and from the top. In return, Harvard should have made him its president but did eventually reward him with an honorary degree.

His students and friends are legion. Above them all was his friend and mentor, the great Edward Banfield, a party of one that Jim joined—the kind of party he always preferred. From the day I met him, he was a friend for life, as useful with invaluable advice as he was company to be enjoyed. His wife Roberta was his high school sweetheart, a woman of verve and beauty, and his lifelong companion. They went deep-sea diving together and wrote a book, Watching Fishes.

This man was a professor and never really wanted to be more, but one always had the feeling that a little more love of the limelight would have made him president of anything, including the United States.


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