Sociology Index

James Quinn Wilson

James Quinn Wilson (1931 – 2012) was a conservative academic, political scientist, and an authority on public administration. His career was spent as a professor at UCLA and Harvard University. James Quinn Wilson was the chairman of the Council of Academic Advisors of the American Enterprise Institute, member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1985–1990), and the President's Council on Bioethics. Wilson was Director of Joint Center for Urban Studies at Harvard-MIT. He was the former president of the American Political Science Association and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society and Human Rights Foundation.

Wilson also was a co-author of a leading university textbook, American Government, and wrote many scholarly books and articles, and op-ed essays. He gained national attention for a 1982 article introducing the broken windows theory in The Atlantic. In 2003, James Quinn Wilson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President George W. Bush. From 1961 to 1987, he was the Shattuck Professor of Government at Harvard University.

James Quinn Wilson's 1975 book Thinking About Crime put forward a novel theory of incapacitation as the most effective explanation for the reduction in crime rates observed where longer prison sentences were the norm. Criminals might not be deterred by the threat of longer sentences, but repeat offenders would be prevented from further offending, simply because they would be in jail rather than out on the street.

James Quinn Wilson and George L. Kelling introduced the broken windows theory in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. In an article titled "Broken Windows", they argued that the symptoms of low-level crime and disorder (broken window) create an environment that encourages more crimes, including serious ones.

From 1987 to 1997, he was the James Collins Professor of Management and Public Policy at the UCLA Anderson School of Management at UCLA. From 1998 to 2009, he was the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy. James Quinn Wilson authored the university text American Government, and coauthored later editions with John J. DiIulio, Jr.. Though widely sold, its use became controversial in later years after universities alleged it to have inaccuracies and right-wing bias.

James Quinn Wilson was a former chairman of the White House Task Force on Crime (1966), of the National Advisory Commission on Drug Abuse Prevention (1972–1973) and a member of the Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime (1981), the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1985–1990), and the President's Council on Bioethics.

James Quinn Wilson was a former president of the American Political Science Association. He served on the board of directors for the New England Electric System (now National Grid USA), Protection One, RAND, and State Farm Mutual Insurance. He was the chairman of the Council of Academic Advisors of the American Enterprise Institute. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the International Council of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

Although as a young professor he "voted for John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and worked in the last's presidential campaign," Wilson was later recognized as a leading conservative scholar, as indicated by his advisory position to the American Enterprise Institute. Wilson also pioneered the idea that public administration was increasingly replete with political calculations and concerns.

Wilson studied conflict between "amateur" and "professional" participants in politics, especially in the Democratic Party in the 1960s. He argued that professional politicians, parties, political machines and informal power structures were essential to the functioning of the government and its formal power structures. In 1962, he wrote that "If legal power is badly fragmented among many independent elective officials and widely decentralized among many levels of government, the need for informal methods of assembling power becomes great."