Sheldon Wolin

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Sheldon S. Wolin
Born August 4, 1922
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Political philosophy
Main interests
Democracy, political philosophy
Notable ideas
Inverted totalitarianism

Sheldon S. Wolin (/ˈwlɪn/; born 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.

During a teaching career which spanned over forty years Wolin also taught at Oxford University, Oberlin College, Cornell University, UCLA, University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, Santa Cruz.[1] During this time he mentored many graduate students who would become leading political theorists, such as Wendy Brown and Hanna Fenichel Pitkin. He was also a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books.[2] A critic of contemporary American politics,[3][4] Wolin is known for coining the term inverted totalitarianism. His most famous work is Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought.

Early life[edit]

Wolin attended Oberlin College as an undergraduate. During World War II, he was a US Army Air Force bombardier/navigator serving in the Pacific.[5] He was married to Emily Purvis Wolin for over sixty years.

Academic career[edit]

In 1950, Wolin received his Harvard University doctorate for a dissertation titled Conservatism and Constitutionalism: A Study in English Constitutional Ideas, 1760–1785. After teaching briefly at Oberlin College, Wolin taught at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1954 to 1970. In a political science department that was largely composed of empirical studies of micro-political issues, Wolin was a political theorist who managed to build that component of the program by bringing Norman Jacobson, John Schaar, and Hanna Pitkin into the department. He was a major supporter and interpreter to the rest of the world of the theory behind the Free Speech Movement (FSM), and he became a mentor to one of the FSM's more prominent activists, Michael Lerner on whose PhD committee he served. He also published frequently for The New York Review of Books during the 1970s.[6] 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 early-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 leading figures in contemporary political theory, including most notably, at Berkeley: Hanna Pitkin (Emerita, Berkeley), J. Peter Euben (Emeritus, Duke University), the late Wilson Carey McWilliams (Rutgers), 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), and Kirstie McClure (UCLA). 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.

Aside from Oberlin, UC Berkeley and Princeton, Wolin has also taught at UC Santa Cruz, UC Los Angeles, International Christian University (Tokyo, Japan), Cornell University, and Oxford University.

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. ^ "Sheldon S Wolin", Bios, Lannan .
  2. ^ "Swolin", Politics, Princeton .
  3. ^ Press, Princeton .
  4. ^ Common dreams .
  5. ^ "Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Part 5, interviewed by Chris Hedges". Dandelion Salad. Retrieved 2014-11-04. 
  6. ^ "Sheldon S. Wolin". Contributors. The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 


External links[edit]