The WSJ has an annoying tendency to cuddle up to the far right on its editorial page, so it was refreshing to read in the paper’s obituary of Dr. James Q. Wilson a contemplation of a brand of conservatism it has previously ignored or belittled.
Noting that Wilson was best known for the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement that has helped New York and other cities turn the tide against crime, the Journal’s editors postulate:
One reason Wilson’s ideas were successful—welfare reform is among his other policy contributions—is that they were grounded in data, hard facts and the evidence of experience. But his empiricism was special because it always respected the complexity and contingency that prevails in the real world. Few phrases in the English language are responsible for as much bad thinking as “studies show” or “research suggests.” If Wilson was guided by good evidence, not ideology, he also understood its limits.
That’s an important distinction: policy guided by good evidence, not ideology, and an understanding of the limits of empirical studies. His approach to policy leaves us a foundation on which to build a 21st century progressive conservatism.