Aaron Wildavsky was a fiercely clever, combative kid from Brooklyn who became a professor of political science. He had little small talk but a great interest in ideas, and a willingness to listen and debate. He was firm, expected a firm response and responded in a broad accent with a taste for paradox. Raise a problem and Wildavsky would lean forward, stroke a carefully clipped beard and engage with unnerving ferocity. Conversation with Wildavksy could be exhausting – more interrogation than discussion.
Though born and educated in the east, Wildavsky headed for California in 1962. An exuberant teacher, he joined the University of California, Berkeley and eventually became founding dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy. By the time I met him, Wildavksy had left behind academic leadership to become a full-time research professor and a truly prodigious writer. His top-floor office in Berkeley's Survey Research Center near People's Park contained shelves of books to the ceiling, crammed filing cabinets, and piles of paper and correspondence on most available surfaces. Nearby was a full-time secretary to transcribe the stream of articles and books dictated into a voice recorder, along with short, sharp letters exchanged with scholars round the globe.
Wildavsky was famous amongst colleagues for his work ethic – early to the office every day – and the ever-expanding array of subjects tackled. He began writing on presidential politics, planning, coordination and budgeting, and eventually covered everything from policy implementation to cultural studies. There was even a foray into biblical scholarship, with a study of Moses as political leader. A tribute website quotes an Old Testament scholar remarking: "There is more Wildavksy than Moses in the book; but then, of course, Wildavsky was more interesting than Moses." Here was a man not afraid to ask – or answer – the big questions.
As a young Australian academic in the San Francisco winter of 1987, I was astonished by Wildavsky's hospitality. We had exchanged articles before my arrival from Griffith University in far-off Brisbane, but I had few claims on his attention. Despite Wildavsky's gruff manner, I found myself assigned to the office next door, collected regularly for lunch (invariably a burger and diet coke), and invited with my partner Margaret for dinner at the rambling Oakland Hills Wildavsky household. Perhaps he just liked Australians – on leaving the army after the Korean War, Wildavsky accepted a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland in 1954-65. He retained fond memories, counting the Australian scholars he met then as among the best he ever encountered. Indeed, Wildavsky remained convinced that, despite its British heritage, Australian federalism could be better understood through American-style policy analysis. The restless energy found in Washington, he believed, lurked also just below the apparent civility and slowness of Australian political life.
SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK, WILDAVSKY WALKED ACROSS the Berkeley campus to teach a doctoral class or attend a Graduate School staff seminar. These lunchtime discussions drew together the formidable political scientists assembled like collectors' items by UCB, but scattered in centres and departments across the campus. For seminars, Wildavksy would form a hunting pack with his Yale graduate school colleague, American politics expert Nelson Polsby. Together they would lure the poor invited speaker – usually an out-of-state academic – into fatal logical traps. Never did I see anyone complete their short opening presentation without interruption, or win the argument that followed.
The differences in style between Wildavsky and Polsby made them a frightening combination – Wildavsky direct in attack, Polsby learned and chatty but no less cutting. Wildavsky worked quietly alone most days, while Polsby – in the great tradition of American academic entrepreneurs – ran a doctoral factory. His large office housed a production line of graduate students generating data and publications, with the supervisor at the centre of the room. Polsby liked sparring partners close to hand, an immediate audience. When my first book arrived from Australia, Polsby scooped it from my desk and immediately searched, without shame or hesitation, for his own name in the bibliography. Finding himself sufficiently referenced, he smiled and put the book back. "A fine volume," he pronounced.
At graduate school in Yale, Wildavksy and Polsby encountered the work of economist Charles Lindblom. Against those who advocated detailed planning by government, Lindblom argued that public policy proceeds in increments – governments "muddle through", making small adjustments to existing programs as they seek approaches that work. Big visions fail because the world is more complex than we can imagine or capture in plans. Yet, by starting modest and experimenting constantly, successful policy is possible.
This incrementalism sits firmly within the American tradition of pragmatism. It is a kind of Darwinism applied to public policy, government as an arena in which policies must adapt to their environment or vanish. Politics has no ultimate purpose, society no meaningful destination. Rather, government is a fallible human enterprise best approached with humility and a sense of humour.
Government by experiment, scepticism about big claims to shape reality – these proved the hallmarks of Wildavksy's intellectual trajectory. This led Wildavsky to view any attempts at planning through doubting eyes. His critique began where Americans were most likely to take planning seriously: the budget process. When the Johnson administration and its successors adopted elaborate program and zero-based budgeting approaches, with a new technical language of planning, Wildavsky explored the reality of how choices were made.
He showed that trade-offs between guns and butter, the choice between building more hospitals or commissioning nuclear warheads, could not be settled by technical means. Politics is unavoidable, because budget choices involve values. Planning provides the illusion, but not the substance, of rational behaviour. To contain conflict, budget-makers do not make fresh decisions each year based on the merits of circumstances. Instead, they modify last year's allocation by an increment (up or down, depending on finances and fashion).
GOVERNMENTS PRETEND TO BE LOGICAL but muddle through. For Wildavsky, this was both inevitable and no bad thing.
These themes were expounded during long afternoon walks. Wildavsky suffered from a bad back and needed to move around. Since time was precious, he made it clear walks were working sessions – Socratic dialogues at a brisk pace. As we set out from Channing Way, Wildavsky would posit his thesis for the walk and we'd work it through. At such times, Wildavsky avoided the campus and the crowded cafes, bookshops and convenience stores of Telegraph Avenue. Instead, our path would skirt People's Park, past the frat houses, and head toward the leafy suburbs stretching to the Claremont Hotel. It was hard to take in much along these streets of multiple-storey, brown-shingled houses – keeping up with the conversation required effort enough.
Yet often one building found its way into our conversation. On Dwight Way stood a small but striking church, built in 1910. Every time we walked by it was closed – the congregation of the First Church of Christ the Scientist having dissipated with the passing years – but the building, with its Japanese-style wooden beams and wisteria-draped entrance, commanded attention. Wildavsky explained that the architect had been a familiar figure around Berkeley for decades, a man who pioneered the distinctive domestic architecture of the nearby Berkeley Hills and contributed a master plan and several buildings to the campus, including the Faculty Club.
What Wildavsky did not mention – and probably did not know – was a curious doubling: an architect born more than sixty years before Wildavksy, and who died in 1957, shared Wildavksy's belief in incremental experiment as the heart of good design.
Early one cold Sunday morning, Margaret and I made our way to the First Church of Christ the Scientist for a rare public opening. With a small group of Berkeley locals in parkas and gloves, we shuffled through the concrete interior, admiring the intricate, if eclectic, mix of Romaneseque, Gothic and arts and craft style successfully fused by its designer, the first professor of architecture at the University of California Berkeley, Bernard Maybeck.
Later, flicking through a book on Maybeck's work, I learned his papers were stored in the Environmental Design Archives at Berkeley. And there, one lunchtime, I found a folio with an unexpected Australian connection. Maybeck had been one of 137 architects from around the world who entered the competition to design a new capital city for Australia. True to his Berkeley setting, Maybeck proposed an incremental capital for Australia, a city that would emerge through argument and exchange rather than close planning.
THE EXTENDED BARGAINING SESSION TO ESTABLISH an Australian federation included an agreement for a new capital city, somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne. The site was chosen in the first decade of the twentieth century, and by 1911 the Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, announced an architectural competition for a city to be called Canberra. As Donald Johnson noted in his 1977 study, The Architecture of Walter Burley Griffin (Macmillan), the new capital would be ‘a symbolic city, a concept that would rise above state rivalries, spiritually unite the populace, and announce Australia's newly acquired status in the world'.
The Canberra competition attracted much international interest, despite a boycott by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Interested architects could obtain topographical, climate and geological information about the proposed site, and a long list of buildings required by the federal government. A model of the Canberra site circulated through the Empire, Europe and the United States. Then, as now, such competitions are rare, so interest was strong.
The Royal Institute had been concerned by a competition rule allowing Minister O'Malley, rather than a jury of architects, to choose the winning entry. As events transpired, ministerial fiat indeed settled the issue. After a committee of experts laboured for four months without reaching agreement on a winner, King O'Malley declared Griffin triumphant. Griffin had offered a design modern and intricate, a city beautiful, rich in geometry and symbolism, a vision rendered in stunning drawings by his fellow architect and wife, Marion Mahoney. The design for Canberra embodied contemporary best practice in town planning, yet proved sufficiently grand for national aspirations. Minister O'Malley declared himself well satisfied. "What we wanted was the best the best can give us," he announced, "and we got it."
But even in the moment of victory, there were portents of trouble ahead.
Despite naming a winning design, the competition rules left the government free to draw on any plan submitted. Minister O'Malley announced that he might raid any of the three finalists for ideas: "we will not be actually restricted to the winning design – we may use all the three designs if necessary to produce the working design on which the Capital will be built ... A park might be taken from one, a boulevard from another, and a public square from another ... Australia wants her Federal Capital and we are going to begin right now."
Still, Walter Burley Griffin was invited to supervise the project and, on August 19, 1913, aged thirty-six, he arrived at Circular Quay. Griffin visited the site, met officials, gave speeches about the design, and accepted appointment as the Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction. Indeed, Griffin saw himself as indispensable in realising the vision: "There is nobody in the world," he said, "who can work out my ideas like myself." After settling his affairs in America, Griffin returned with Marion Mahoney to begin the exciting work of building a new capital for a new nation. He would last less than six years, and depart with little of his plan realised on the ground.
The elements informing Griffin's design for Canberra have been the subject of subtle and fascinating analysis. Griffin called himself a landscape architect with a strong interest in design and town planning. Trained at the University of Illinois in Urbana, he worked in the Chicago offices of Frank Lloyd Wright. He was familiar with recent experiments in wide-scale urban planning promoted by the City Beautiful and Garden City movements, along with L'Enfant's design for Washington. His design showed a grasp of the scale possible across the Canberra site, finding space both for geometric patterns and use of the natural landscape.
In designing a national capital, Griffin reflected on the role of architecture in sustaining and promoting democracy. He wanted a city which would, in the words of James Weirick, "give physical form, tangible reality to what he believed was an ideal democracy".
To realise this vision, Griffin laid out key public buildings according to his understanding of their constitutional significance. In moving through the landscape, a citizen would appreciate the interaction of the executive, the legislature and the courts. Other parts of the city would be set out in appropriate relation to political power, a civics lesson frozen into architecture.
The garden layout of the city might have provided ample spaces for public gatherings, and softened the edges of power, but it is still a sterile vision of parliamentary democracy. Geometry is asked to perform as symbolism and organising principle, as though neat paths and sight lines will somehow lift the standard of political discourse and encourage neat and straight thinking among political leaders. This is democracy understood through spatial relations, rather than democracy as the untidy, imprecise and often messy overlap of people, interests and ideas.
The unpleasant reality of politics was soon brought home to Griffin. As Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction, he struggled to cope with the intrigue and internal politics of departmental rivalries. Griffin found himself in disputes over his administration and unable to secure necessary resources as the country went to war. Delays prompted a Royal Commission in 1917 and, though Griffin was exonerated, those keen to take over the project pushed for his dismissal. In 1920 Cabinet handed the project to a new supervising committee. Shortly after, the position of Federal Capital Director was abolished. Griffin protested to the Prime Minister, expressing "regret that the Government has chosen, practically at a few hours' notice, to dispense with my services". But his involvement with the new capital was at an end.
Surveying the sorry story of Griffin's brief career as project supervisor, Donald Johnson finds the architect no match for his bureaucratic critics. Griffin, he concludes, "was naïve in politics and with politicians, had a faith in the honesty of his fellow man, a lack of punctuality, a belief in the supremacy of the gifted designer over the material rationalists; he had a gentle, humane attitude toward people that was easily misconstrued as lackadaisical. In short, he was not a forceful or able administrator and, to the consternation of many, he was a little Bohemian. For anyone who wished to criticise he was an easy target but he was not easy to provoke: he never held a grudge or wished ill-will. His architecture, since it was of the advance guard, or just different in the eyes of many, was also a susceptible target."
There is something ironic in Griffin praising Australian democracy and yet expecting to complete the capital by himself, in the mould of architect-builder instead of committee player. After all, the motivation for creating Canberra was not democratic ideals but a petty argument between two colonial capitals. Only slowly did Griffin see beyond lofty language to the underlying reality of Australian political life. He had applied a modernist aesthetic to a traditional conception of a national capital shaped as a place of wide streets and striking public buildings reflected in picturesque grounds. His design reflected the ambitions of Minister King O'Malley, yet could not win the commitment of successive ministers or their advisers. In the tough if tiny world of Australian parliamentary politics and departmental intrigue, Griffin proved unable to persuade. As a result, the Canberra that emerged has some of the form, but little of the substance, proposed by Griffin.
Not surprisingly, Griffin's writing reveals a growing disillusionment with political practice. By 1924, he titled an address to the Henry George Club as "The Menace of Governments", and claimed that – far from caring about the welfare of the people – politicians were dictatorial, the "agents of the actual privileged classes whom governments serve. Knowing politicians and officials and their habits, character and means of place-holding should be sufficient to preclude anything but grave suspicion as to any real human welfare from such a source ..." Griffin, it seems, had designed a beautiful city for an ugly profession.
WHILE WALTER BURLEY GRIFFIN DESIGNED and Marion Mahoney sketched in Chicago, an older architect on the other side of America was also intrigued by the rare opportunity to design a whole city. In 1911, Bernard Maybeck was a respected local architect in Berkeley, California. Though he grew up in New York and trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, once Maybeck settled in Berkeley he designed few buildings beyond the Bay area. About to turn fifty in the year of the Canberra competition, Maybeck would stay in Berkeley until his death at ninety-five, a regional influence rather than international figure. He never visited Australia.
If Griffin harboured great hopes for his new capital, Maybeck preferred small victories – modest buildings and landscapes that were intimate rather than stages for symbolism. Unfortunately, we possess just glimpses of Maybeck's entry in the design competition. Only those entries to make the shortlist are preserved in the National Archives of Australia. Sadly for posterity, unsuccessful entries were carefully collated and returned to participating architects. This made good bureaucratic sense and should be applauded in these days of intellectual property protection. But since Bernard Maybeck lived in the Berkeley Hills, famous for fierce bushfires, no complete copy of his Canberra design survives. The plans appear to have been lost, along with Maybeck's house and many personal papers, in the conflagration of 1923.
Fortunately, the Environmental Design Archive preserves some material from the Maybeck Canberra entry, including a draft submission outlining the architect's philosophy for the new Australian capital and an overview drawing suggesting the crowded boulevards and arcades of Paris. This contrasted with the formal monumental avenues favoured by Griffin. Maybeck wanted to preserve options. The challenge, he argued, is to "fire the imagination of those who come hereafter, not to curb it". He believed only the principal streets of the winning plan would survive time, flood and earthquake – understandable preoccupations for someone who survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and lived still near the San Andreas Fault.
Maybeck argued that cities need to grow organically around their typology and desire lines, and these cannot be dictated in advance. In a crossed-out section of his Canberra competition entry draft, Maybeck observes that "we feel impatient to see things finished right away. Accordingly some of us would like to see a cut and dried plan of everything to begin with ... This is not necessary or wise. Oxford is probably the most beautiful place in the world, and it took years to grow."
Maybeck did not make King O'Malley's shortlist, and there his connection with Australia might have ended. Yet the Canberra competition stayed in Maybeck's imagination. He drew on design principles outlined in his competition entry for a new commission: the Palace of Fine Arts, designed for the Panama Pacific International Exhibition of 1915, held in San Francisco. Maybeck created a structure appropriately ornamental, but constructed of temporary material for quick dismantling (which never happened – the Palace of Fine Arts stands to this day, while the other buildings from the San Francisco Exhibition are long lost to redevelopment of the site).
The Panama Pacific International Exhibition included an Australian presence, with former Prime Minister Alfred Deakin representing the young Commonwealth. Over lunch one day, Deakin and Maybeck talked over Griffin's plan for Canberra, then making slow progress amid the exigencies of World War I. Maybeck urged a reconsideration of the approach to a new capital city and Deakin, perhaps just to deflect the eager architect, suggested he contact William Morris Hughes. "If you can win over Mr Hughes," Maybeck recalled Deakin saying, "you will have the ablest man in Australia on your side."
The Berkeley Archive captures some of the seven years of correspondence that followed. First Maybeck wrote to Hughes, by then Prime Minister, forwarding a copy of a book on the Palace of Fine Arts. The Prime Minister replied in November 1915, thanking the architect. This was all the encouragement Maybeck required. He wrote again in 1916 suggesting Hughes build a "temporary city by 1920 or thereabouts". This theme was developed in two memoranda sent to the Prime Minister in January 1917. Here Maybeck urged incremental experiment – build a first draft, a city like the International Exposition site that can be dismantled and rearranged, unencumbered by permanent structures. Above all, urged Maybeck, do not build the Parliament House first. Let the city develop amid the interaction of human beings, observe and learn.
MAYBECK EXPANDED HIS IDEAS IN A SEPTEMBER 1918 letter to Commonwealth Treasurer W.M. Watt. It is hard enough to design a single building without flaw, let alone a national capital. So Australia should build an experimental city of Canberra, to last from ten to fifteen years. All the required federal buildings could be constructed in cement plaster, with gardens and trees transplanted to provide the appearance of a city long established. To build permanently too soon, said Maybeck, would be a tragedy. It would "perpetuate every blunder and multiply its annual cost by every succeeding year". Rather, let the new city of Canberra be a "dream city, to be inhabited, tried out, tested by actual occupancy ... and then gradually replaced on sure and solid lines to stand and do its work".
Maybeck's campaign continued for several years. Alongside Prime Minister Hughes and Treasurer Watt, the architect appears to have written to Senator Grant, New South Wales Premier Holman, former Prime Ministers Deakin and Fisher, and a Mr Andrew Paterson of Brisbane, brother of a dead Member of Parliament. Maybeck even sent a New Year's card to various Australian political leaders with a printed message:
Canberra is on the horizon
Canberra should inherit all the past
International expositions have been used for commercial developments alone.
They have taught us what is possible in a short time, and have proved a stimulus.
Build a temporary city of cement – staff and wood and not to cost more than
3,000,000 pounds sterling.
Build it in two years fully equipped and ready to use in 1920.
Subjected to the test of use as a model city, its mistakes will soon be found out.
Call it a sketch of a city, any part of which can be replaced by something permanent.
Use it a while.
Traffic lines will define themselves, political and commercial needs will appear in their practical forms. To these the permanent can afterwards be made to minister in the most convenient way.
Knowing that the artists and architects will be needed, the coming generations will produce masters equal to the problem.
The City of Canberra will thus develop rationally and beautifully.
Future generations will not have to pay the penalty of haste and lack of foresight.
Maybeck's letters were usually acknowledged, and at least one was referred to Walter Burley Griffin during 1920. Griffin proved understandably distracted – he was about to lose the bureaucratic power play that marked his unhappy time as Director of the Canberra project. Yet Griffin still found time to scribble thanks and some comments in the margins and post the original back to Maybeck.
By 1922, Maybeck was writing to the Federal Capital Advisory Committee, the body that assumed responsibility for Canberra when Griffin departed. The Federal Capital Advisory Committee noted Maybeck's ideas for a temporary Canberra but, in an internal memo to the Department of Works and Railways on May 5, 1922, the Committee rejected the advice proffered from Berkeley. While the architect's points are "significant with regard to the establishment of a very ephemeral nature, such as an Exhibition," concluded the Committee, "they are hardly applicable to the building of the federal Capital City." So closed the Berkeley connection to Australian architectural history.
IN THOSE ALL-TOO-BRIEF MONTHS OF WALKING AROUND with Aaron Wildavsky, the local architecture blurred past, one subject among countless others. Later Margaret and I would drive around the Berkeley Hills seeking those few Maybeck buildings to survive the savage fires that rip through the red eucalypts found everywhere in the Bay area. Sadly, only a handful of distinctive Maybeck houses endure, with their huge stone fireplaces, exposed wooden beams and careful site choice.
Fortunately, like Wildavsky, Bernard Maybeck proved a great mentor. Protégées such as Julia Morgan adopted and developed Maybeck's ideas, carrying his vocabulary across the Hills and beyond. Indeed, Maybeck seemed to embody the Berkeley culture – politically progressive, markedly eccentric and always experimental. The "Athens of the West" was only a slightly ironic description of Berkeley in Maybeck's time, with its community enthusiasm for nature, arts and crafts, outdoor sleeping and theatre.
Maybeck's brilliance was recognised only late in life. At the age of eighty-nine, he received the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects. The half-century since his death has seen a steady growth in academic studies and coffee table books devoted to Maybeck's body of work. The First Church of Christ the Scientist was the first building in Berkeley designated a national landmark.
Wildavsky, on the other hand, became one of the most feted and cited American political scientists in his prime – national president of his professional association, awarded an honorary doctorate to mark the nine hundredth birthday of the University of Bologna, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, invited to address committees selecting candidates for the Nobel Prize. Yet he could not follow Maybeck into influential old age. Throat cancer claimed Aaron Wildavsky in 1993 at the age of sixty-three, probably the result of smoking a pipe. Wildavsky continued teaching and writing until the last days of his life, facing death with characteristic clarity.
Bernard Maybeck and Aaron Wildavsky embodied much of the Berkeley intellectual tradition – independence of thought, self-reliance in action, enthusiasm about people, but scepticism toward government. "Innovative, exciting, and fun" is the preferred description on the Berkeley City website. Local pride certainly, but the Berkeley spirit mirrors a pragmatic American temper.
Maybeck and Wildavsky both absorbed and reflected this. Each argued for an incremental approach as more realistic than detailed local preference planning, since it is through trial and error that ideas are tested. Maybeck's suggestion of a temporary Canberra gave practical expression to his taste for approximation, while Wildavsky's formidable academic output stressed that, in an uncertain world, negotiation is better than design. He would have shared Maybeck's concern about the formalism and inflexibility of the plan for Canberra embraced by King O'Malley.
And yet, I mused years later walking once more down Dwight Way, these two local thinkers drew different conclusions from the same philosophical currents. Aaron Wildavsky started out as an optimist. Government could ameliorate social ills if officials were smart and nimble. Wildavsky created a graduate school to train the best and brightest in public policy to encourage better decisions. He sought case studies in which government succeeded, studied presidents to understand their achievements. Over time, though, the tone darkened. Government programs failed because complexity and poor design overwhelmed public aspirations. It was only a short step to concluding that policies could make worse those problems they tried to solve. The later Wildavsky became an advocate of small government, a critic of policies such as affirmative action that seek to solve collective action problems through regulation.
Great teachers live on in the work of their students, and Wildavsky remains an inspiration to many. Yet his writing is now celebrated only on the websites of conservative think tanks, as though the final pessimistic articles were the sum of a lifetime's contribution rather than a turning away from earlier hope.
It is more difficult to read Bernard Maybeck from this distance, but the available evidence suggests an optimism that did not fade. To spend seven years advocating a temporary Canberra of plaster cement and instant landscaping indicates an underlying belief that citizens can and should speak truth to power. Maybeck had little obvious to gain, just the conviction that distant Australia might do better through experimentation than the implementation of Walter Burley Griffin's attractive but rigid schema for a new national capital. Maybeck expressed this view to anyone who might listen, including Griffin.
Maybeck had reasons to be sceptical about government: successive Australian ministers acknowledged his correspondence but showed little interest in its substance. And yet, just perhaps, there was a small victory. Maybeck long argued against the folly of first building a permanent Parliament House. Whether influenced by Maybeck's letters or just reaching the same conclusion for its own reasons, the Federal Capital Advisory Committee eventually adopted the idea of a temporary Parliament House. Work started in 1923; the building opened four years later and served until 1988 when Griffin's vision of a House on the hill was finally realised.
If Commonwealth ministers and their committees had carried through this approach more boldly, as Maybeck urged, Australia today would have a very different federal city, an incremental capital shaped by those who live and work there. Maybeck offered an approach of small expectations, of building through argument and exchange. Like Aaron Wildavsky, Bernard Maybeck preferred to proceed by small steps. His proposal for an incremental capital shaped by its inhabitants offered an embodiment of democracy in spirit and form, very different to the utopia planned by Walter Burley Griffin. As, year by year, Canberra erases the traces of the original plan and finds its own character, so Maybeck's vision may yet prevail. ♦
'Tale of Two Cities' was published by Griffith REVIEW in 2007. It suggested continuities between two extraordinary Berkeley intellectuals several generations apart – architect Bernard Maybeck and political scientist Aaron Wildavsky. Writing the article provided a welcome opportunity to acknowledge a debt to Aaron Wildavsky and his generous hospitality. One of the great minds of the profession, Aaron Wildavsky died in 1993.
Some years after publication, at a round-table discussion organised by the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, I met Ben Wildavsky, Aaron's son. Ben works in the world of Washington think tanks, and is the author of The Great Brain Drain: how global universities are reshaping the world (Princeton University Press, 2010).
After lunch Ben was kind enough to say he enjoyed the portrait of his father, and presented me he with a small book of memories and photos, compiled some months after Aaron's death. Then, with gentle but tough-minded words, he pointed to two errors in the article.
The first is technical – though it is true Aaron smoked a pipe, he died of lung not throat cancer, and this was not related to his smoking.
The second relates to interpretation. Ben argued my article overstates the pessimism of the late Wildavsky. Though his father had drifted politically to the right, as the article notes, Ben believes the later Wildavsky was not so nihilist as I suggested. Despite his misgivings about government action, Aaron Wildavsky did not seek to dismantle social security or other key programs, noted Ben; instead, he remained an incrementalist to the end, seeking improvement through testing and modification.
I am indebted to Ben for these corrections.