Senator Daniel Moynihan, Congressional Record, October 18, 1999.
Mr. President, Edward C. Banfield has died. This had to come. He was 83. Yet little were those who loved him prepared. Or ready, you might say.
He held, of course, Henry Lee Shattuck Chair in Government at Harvard and, as Richard Bernstein notes in his fine obituary in The Times, was most active in the Joint Center for Urban Studies of M.I.T. and Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s. For part of that time I was chairman of the Joint Center and so came to know him at the peak of his long, comparably brilliant and yet understated career. In 1970, he published The Unheavenly City, which stands to this day as the most salient and, well, heart-wrenching exposition of the intractable nature of so many urban problems. He had been there before. As early as 1955 he wrote, with Martin Meyerson, Politics, Planning and the Public Interest which argued that the near religious zeal for high-rise public housing then current in Chicago, and across the land, would be a disaster. One notes it has taken Chicago the better part of thirty-five years to realize this, and start dynamiting the projects, as they came to be known. Just so was the seminal, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, a study of a small village in Southern Italy, which he wrote with Laura Fasano-Banfield, his radiantly intelligent wife and companion of sixty-odd years.
Now of course, none of this work was welcome, especially in academe. Not least because it made too much sense to be rejected. James Q. Wilson, once his student, now his heir, got this just right in a memorial that appeared in last week’s Weekly Standard entitled “The Man Who Knew Too Much, Edward C. Banfield, 1916-1999.” He was onto The Mob, inside The Agency, privy to The Plan. And yet they never got him. He was, as he would say, a “swamp Yankee,” a tough breed.