ShareThis

Sociologist Edward Shills was the model of a life devoted to vigorous intellectual inquiry. Besides writing hundreds of essays, he translated classic works by the great German sociologists Karl Mannheim and Max Weber and wrote many books. While accumulating a bibliography of writings that runs to nearly 25 printed pages over his long career at the University of Chicago and Peterhouse, Cambridge, Shils was as comfortable writing about the intricacies of Indian society (of which he was an expert) as he was explaining the theories of Max Weber or exploring the lessons of McCarthyism.

Tradition (1981), considered by some to be his masterpiece, explores "what difference tradition makes in human life" (as Shils describes it in his preface). In 1962, he founded Minerva, a quarterly journal of science, policy and higher education, which he edited and contributed to until his death in 1995 at the age of 85. In Dreams of Plenitude, Nightmares of Scarcity, written in 1969 at the apex of student unrest, Shils compares the radicalism of the 1930s with that of the 1960s. He notes with Rousseauvian utopianism that "the great innovation" of the 1960s radicals was "a moral mood" that consisted of "a demand for a total transformation . . . from a totality of undifferentiated perfection . . . It is the transformation of sentiment and desire into reality in a community in which all realize their wills simultaneously. Anything less is repressive."

 

Source: The Wall Street Journal Bookshelf, July 21, 1997 pg. A20