Harold Wilensky Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Comparing Rich Democracies: Conversation with Harold L. Wilensky, Professor Emeritus of Political Science; October 29, 2002, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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We're about out of our time, and I think that we've left people with a notion that they want to read this book and focus on the policies that are of interest to them. They will get a very comprehensive insight into the dynamics on how these societies compare.

I hope so.

One final question. Looking back at your life, I'm curious what lessons you think an audience might draw from your life and your work? I have the sense that you came to the social sciences with a set of social values, concerns about social justice, equity, and so on. That discipline has given you the opportunity to pursue these problems in a very scientific and rigorous way. Is that fair?

Yes, it's certainly given me that opportunity. But I wouldn't say that's a lesson for everybody. Not everybody has to go into social sciences.

I think that the lesson is, there is nothing like being a researcher/teacher at a major university. It is a wonderful life. I encourage all bright students in the undergraduate years to get on with their graduate work and become a student of the social and physical universe. It is a wonderful life. There's nothing like it.

My parents were entrepreneurs and fiercely independent, and that is something you can do in a university when you teach. Nobody tells you what to put in your courses. Obviously, there are some constraints. A great university is a center of independent thought, not a political party or advocacy group. You shouldn't shoot your mouth off just for propaganda purposes, which I'm afraid that, occasionally, professors do. But most of them are scholarly. They are committed to pursuit of the truth.

I think that it's a great life. It has variety. It has stimulation. You remain young forever. You're in touch with youthful folks all the time. I have found my students to be a great stimulus to me.

On that very positive note, I want to thank you very much, Hal, for taking the time. Well, thank you for producing this work, and thank you for taking the time to come here and talk with us about it.

My pleasure.

Thank you very much. And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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