Rogers M. Smith


In the mid-1970s, Judith Shklar began teaching an undergraduate course entitled "American Political Thought" at Harvard. I was the second "grader" she chose for it. (The first was William Kristol, later Vice President Dan Quayle's Chief of Staff.) Shklar's interest in teaching the subject surprised many, including me. She had been raised, after all, largely in the Baltics and Canada, with several European locations in between, as her family sought distance from Stalin and Hitler. She was best known for her writings on European political thinkers, especially Rousseau and Hegel. And the field of American political thought was then largely disdained in political science, as empiricists focused on behavior while theorists regularly declared that worthwhile American political philosophy had begun and ended with the Federalist Papers. That perception was so widespread that I somewhat resisted her encouragement of my own interests in the field, suspecting it reflected her silent judgment that more profound European thinkers were best left to others.

But in fact, it was Shklar's belief in the importance of American political thought that was profound. The subject would be increasingly featured in her publications, including portions of her 1990 book, The Faces of Injustice; her 1990 presidential address as the first female head of the American Political Science Association; and her final works, American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion and The Bill of Rights and the Liberal Tradition. American thought, including a study of Jefferson, was also central to the typically ambitious writing agenda she had planned when a heart attack ended her distinguished career prematurely in September, 1992. Her abiding fascination with the American revolutionaries, in particular, is vividly apparent in her eloquent draft review of Gordon Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution, which follows. In it, she cheerfully employs Wood's book as a vehicle to make some of her favorite points from her undergraduate lectures.