Sheldon S. Wolin, the political scientist who put history back into political science, dies at 93

Historians in the News
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Sheldon S. Wolin, a political theorist whose landmark 1960 book “Politics and Vision” shifted the center of gravity back to politics, rather than economics or sociology, in the field of political science, and who went on to analyze the possibilities and limits of popular democracy in a series of influential studies, died on Oct. 21 at his home in Salem, Ore. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Deborah Olmon.

“Politics and Vision,” subtitled “Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought,” appeared at a time when American political science was under the sway of the behavioralist revolution, which emphasized the quantitative analysis of data rather than political ideas as a way to explain political behavior.

Professor Wolin, then teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, galvanized the profession by gathering key political philosophers, beginning with the Greeks, in a grand debate on democracy and examining their ideas not as historical artifacts, but as a way to criticize current political structures.

“The book revitalized political theory by making its history relevant to an analysis of the present,” Nicholas Xenos, a student of Professor Wolin’s and a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, wrote in an email. “It challenged the behavioralists, for whom history was increasingly irrelevant. It also provided a way to criticize the present using the concepts and vocabulary that since antiquity had sustained concern for what he called ‘the possibilities of collectivity, common action and shared purposes.’ ” ...

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