"Among American conservatives, there has long been a division between those who take their bearings from Edmund Burke and those who take them from Alexis de Tocqueville. Burkeans are concerned with the preservation of ranks and establishments against the modern tides of democracy and revolution, Tocquevillians with the means by which democracies can preserve themselves against inbred tendencies to self-destruction. For Burke, the great question was how to resist the tide of democratic revolution in order to maintain what is valuable in civilization; for Tocqueville, it was how to render democracy compatible with civilization as a means of saving them both.
"James Q. Wilson, who died on March 2 at the age of 80, was a Tocquevillian through and through. The great questions he addressed during his distinguished career in academe were related in one way or another to the preservation of the institutions of religion, family, and community that he judged to be fundamental to a democratic way of life. For the average man or woman on the street, his views expressed their basic common sense. But this was not so in the academic world he inhabited. For most of his career, Wilson worked against the grain of the academic consensus that said that these institutions were oppressive to individuals, women, and minority groups and thus needed either to be reformed or suppressed. Wilson, never one to follow the crowd, was skeptical of the foundations upon which this consensus was based. His great achievement as a scholar and a social scientist was patiently and methodically to array the evidence to demonstrate that his colleagues were mostly wrong and the 'man on the street' was mostly right.
"Wilson’s general outlook was shaped by his contrasting experiences in Southern California, where he was born and attended high school and college, and Harvard University, where he spent the first half of his academic career and established his scholarly reputation. Having spent his formative years in Long Beach and Los Angeles during the Thirties and Forties, Wilson was instinctively sympathetic to the restless and dynamic elements of American life and appreciative of their effects upon the American character."
Whole wonderful piece here.