Sheldon Wolin

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Sheldon S. Wolin
Born (1922-08-04) August 4, 1922 (age 93)
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Political philosophy
Main interests
Democracy, political philosophy
Notable ideas
Inverted totalitarianism

Sheldon S. Wolin (/ˈwlɪn/; born August 4, 1922) is an American political philosopher and writer on contemporary politics. Wolin is currently Professor of Politics, Emeritus, at Princeton University, where he taught from 1973 to 1987.[1]

During a teaching career which spanned over forty years Wolin also taught at University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Santa Cruz, Oberlin College, Oxford University, Cornell University, and University of California, Los Angeles. [2] He was a world-class teacher of undergraduate and graduate students, serving as a mentor to many students who themselves became prominent scholars and teachers of political theory (see below).

Early life[edit]

Wolin attended Oberlin College, and during World War II he was a US Army Air Force bombardier/navigator serving in the Pacific.[3] He was married to Emily Purvis Wolin for over sixty years.

Academic career[edit]

After graduating from Oberlin College, Wolin received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1950, for a dissertation entitled Conservatism and Constitutionalism: A Study in English Constitutional Ideas, 1760–1785. After teaching briefly at Oberlin, Wolin taught political theory at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1954 to 1970 and built a theory program by bringing Norman Jacobson, John H. Schaar, Hanna Fenichal Pitkin, and Michael Rogin into the department. He was a major supporter and interpreter to the rest of the world of the theory behind the Free Speech Movement. He also published frequently for The New York Review of Books during the 1970s.[4] He left Berkeley in the fall of 1971 with John H. Schaar to teach at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he taught until 1972.

From 1973 through 1987, Wolin was a professor of politics at Princeton University. During his academic career, he mentored a large number of students who have subsequently become prominent scholars and teachers of political theory, including at Berkeley: Hanna Pitkin (Emerita, Berkeley), J. Peter Euben (Emeritus, UCSC and Duke University), the late Wilson Carey McWilliams (Rutgers), Harlan Wilson (Oberlin), and at Princeton, Uday Mehta (CUNY Graduate Center), Wendy Brown (Berkeley), Frederick M. Dolan (Emeritus, Berkeley and California College of the Arts), Dana Villa (Notre Dame), Nicholas Xenos (Massachusetts), Joshua Miller (Lafayette College), the late Saguiv Hadari (Stanford), John R. Wallach (Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY), Ingrid Creppell (George Washington University), Brian Weiner (University of San Francisco), Larry George (California State, Long Beach), and Kirstie McClure (UCLA). His undergraduate students included, among many others, Governor Jerry Brown, Margot Adler, and Greil Marcus. At Princeton, Wolin led a successful faculty effort to pass a resolution urging university trustees to divest from endowment investment in firms that supported South African apartheid.

Political theorist[edit]

Wolin made his name with the 1960 publication of Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (Princeton 1960, 2nd Ed. 2004). He published a seminal article, "Political Theory as a Vocation" (1969) that challenged positivist political science and enlivened the field of political theory. In addition to the usual canon of Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Machiavelli, and Rousseau, Wolin wrote penetrating essays on Augustine of Hippo, Richard Hooker, David Hume, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Max Weber, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and John Dewey as well as books on the American Constitution and Alexis de Tocqueville.

Wolin defended a radical account of democracy. He took it not as a form of government, but as a form of political activity which needs to be wrested away from its close association with the mega-state.

As political theorist William E. Connolly notes,

Politics and Vision did not simply tell us how important it is to address the "tradition" of Western political thought, it engaged comparatively a series of exemplary political thinkers in pre-Christian thought, Christendom, and the modern world in a way that revivified the energy, confidence, and vision of an entire generation of political theorists.

— Democracy and Vision, Princeton 2001.

Wolin's work addresses participatory democracy with primary focus on the United States. He makes a distinction between democracy as system of governance and any of the formal political institutions of the state. In other words, he decouples democracy from governance and towards a political system based on democratic principles.





Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism won a 2008 Lannan Award for an "Especially Notable" Book

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glenn H. Utter; Charles Lockhart (2002). American Political Scientists: A Dictionary (2nd ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 442. ISBN 031331957X. 
  2. ^ "Sheldon S Wolin", Bios, Lannan .
  3. ^ "Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Part 5, interviewed by Chris Hedges". Dandelion Salad. Retrieved 2014-11-04. 
  4. ^ "Sheldon S. Wolin". Contributors. The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 


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