Norton E. Long: Public Intellectual Extraordinaire

By Steven P. Erie (adapted from a presentation to the Scholia Club of San Diego on May 10, 2022)1

“An intellectual’s mission is to advance human freedom and knowledge. This mission often means standing outside of society and its institutions and actively disturbing the status quo. The intellectual is part of society and should address his/her concerns to as wide a public as possible.”

(Edward Said, 1993 Reith Lecture)

Norton E. Long (1910-1993), through his writings, teaching, mentoring, and extensive public service, was an extraordinary public intellectual. He was committed to understanding and improving governance and the functioning of public bureaucracy in a democratic society; making the public interest and improving the human condition the core missions for civic participation and leadership; and warned of the perils of a racially-segregated metropolis and society.

I first encountered Long’s seminal urban affairs and public administration essays in coursework at UCLA. In 1983 I met Norton at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting. He asked the most penetrating questions as I presented my research. Afterward, he continued the interrogation at the elevator and the rest, as they say, is history. We became close friends and Norton served as a memorable mentor (and occasional tormentor). In 1988 I invited him to teach an urban politics course at UCSD, which I attended as a rapt student. His was a calling, not a career. Norton became the role model of a public intellectual for myself and many others, integrating the vita contemplativa and vita activa.

Early Life

Norton Enneking Long was born in 1910 in Cambridge Massachusetts. His father, Percy Waldron Long, was an English professor at Harvard, an authority on Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. His mother Florence (neé Enneking) apparently was an actress. At Harvard, Norton was known as “Red,” rowed crew, and was arrested for causing a disturbance on a shuttle train. He married Jane Heap, a former teacher and “smart, independent woman who went to Smith.”2 They home schooled their four children on a colonial-era farm in the Berkshires. An avid gardener, Jane protected the farm with a gun when Norton was away.

A Peripatetic Professor

Norton was educated at the Boston Latin School and Harvard University. He completed his Ph.D. in 1937, with the dissertation, “Public Relations Policies of the Bell System: A Case Study in the Politics of Modern Industry.” His major fields of interest were urban affairs, public administration, and political theory. Norton was indeed peripatetic.  A follower of Aristotle’s philosophy3, he taught at 16 different universities, 1935-19934.In the same way that Aristotle advocated the realism of his physician-father over Plato’s idealism, Norton sought a more empirical political science. Like Aristotle and unlike modern political science, he remained committed to the normative premise that science’s purpose is to aid humanity in attaining “the good life.”

Intellectual Gadfly/Agent Provocateur

“It seems as though he had taught at every major university, and it is impossible to avoid the thought that he kept moving because academic departments simply found him too unsettling to tolerate. For Norton was happiest when he thought his ideas were unsettling and disturbing people. Like all of us, he wanted to be liked. But even more so, he relished the role that he developed and nurtured so well—that of intellectual gadfly or agent provocateur.” 5

(Gary Wamsley, 1994)

Scholarly Achievements

Norton was the first recipient of APSA’s Urban and Local Politics Section Career Achievement Award in 1988, “presented to a scholar who has made distinguished contributions to the study of urban politics over the course of a career through scholarly publication, the mentoring of students, and public service.” The award was later named in honor of him.

Long received the 1991 APSA John Gaus Award “honoring a lifetime of exemplary scholarship in the joint tradition of political science and, more generally, to recognize achievement and encourage scholarship in public administration.” His 1991 John Gaus Lecture, “Politics, Political Science and the Public Interest,”6 distilled his Aristotelean view of the vital role of politics and political institutions in improving the human condition; the need to empirically study history to understand and direct political change; and his savage critique of contemporary political science’s worship of economics, methodology as “science”, power, and the “bitch goddess” success. Here are Norton’s views on the discipline’s need for a more normative inquiry:

“In the postwar period political science was desperately seeking scientific respectability. It sought to achieve this by seeking to imitate the preeminent success model of hard science, physics….This source led to the mistaken confusion of science with methodology.”

“The discipline would have been in better care had it used agriculture or medicine as models rather than physics or economics. In the case of agriculture and medicine there is no question that the purpose of the disciplines is to maintain and improve human life and that their capacity to do so is the test of their success or failure…. Without a normative structure to direct it, inquiry is driven by fads, funding, and caprice.”

As a scholar, Norton is best known for seminal, provocative essays in leading journals in political science, public administration, urban affairs, public policy, planning, sociology, and social research. Interestingly, his essays contain no citations or references whatsoever. Yet, they are based on extensive empirical field research, e.g., participant observation and in-depth interviews. Below are summaries of his most famous and widely-cited articles.    

Norton’s First Intellectual Love—Public Administration

His Public Administration essays of the 1940s and 1950s draw heavily upon his experience as a practicing public administrator. Norton believed that a healthy democracy required a competent administrative state and an understanding of bureaucratic power. 

“Power and Administration”7 (1949) Long argues that, going back to writings of Woodrow Wilson, there has been an erroneous separation of politics and administration. He offers a trenchant critique of the so-called “science” of administration: “The lifeblood of administration is power. Its attainment, maintenance, increase, dissipation, and loss are subjects the practitioner and student can ill afford to neglect.”

“Bureaucracy and Constitutionalism”8 (1952) Long offers a spirited defense of the administrative state and a critique of the “political metaphysics of John Locke” and his devotees, who seek to turn bureaucracy into a “neutral instrument” of whomever is in power: “[B]y appropriate recruitment, structure, and processes, the bureaucracy can be made a vital part of a functioning constitutional democracy, filling out the deficiencies of the Congress and political executive.” 

Norton’s Iconic Urban Essays

“Aristotle and the Study of Local Government”9 (1957) This is based on his lifelong study of classical philosophy.  Per Aristotle, Long saw the city-state and civic engagement as the chosen vehicles for man’s ethical self-realization and “the good life.”  Norton observes that because Aristotle did not valorize democratic over aristocratic forms of governance, he empirically compared and assessed the ethical benefits and costs of different regimes. In contrast, Long argues that the modern study of urban politics is largely restricted to superficial comparisons of different governance structures (e.g., city manager versus mayoral systems) rather than considering what regimes best achieve “the good life”.

“The City as Reservation”10  (1971) A scathing critique of how public bureaucracies and unions have turned older cities into “an Indian reservation for the poor, the deviants, the unwanted, and for those who make a business or career of managing them for the rest of society.” He argued that many inner-city schools, backed by teachers unions, did not adequately prepare students for employability.

“The Local Community as an Ecology of Games”11 (1958) Regarding community power, Long argues that debates over pluralist democracy versus a ruling power elite are a futile academic exercise. “In truth, there are multiple social, political, economic, and other games that interact and produce unplanned but largely functional results….  A final game that does in a significant way integrate all the games in a territorial system is the social game. Success in each of the games can in varying degrees be cashed in for social acceptance. A major motivation for seeking membership in and playing the top-leadership game is the value of the status it confers as a counter to the social game. Neither the civic leadership game nor the social game makes the territorial ecology over into a structured government. They do, however, provide important ways of linking the individual games and make possible cooperative action on projects.  Finally, the social game … in a general way patterns the culture of the territorial ecology and gives all the players a set of vaguely shared aspirations and common goals.”     

Methodologically, he modestly notes that “[t]his paper is largely based on a year of field study in the Boston Metropolitan Area …”12  In reality, he conducted 73 in-depth interviews with civic and community leaders, mayors, public administrators, business executives, labor officials, university presidents, the clergy, etc.  

Public Service

Public Service/Consulting: Assistant to the Administrator, Office of Price Administration; Assistant Administrator of the National Housing Administration; consultant to the Defense Production Administration; community development consultant to the Republic of the Philippines; staff consultant to Governors G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams of Michigan and Otto Kerner Jr. of Illinois; advisor to Chicago Mayor Harold Washington; consultant to the Chancellor of the New York City Schools.

Illinois Governor Kerner’s “Chief Idea Man”, 1961-63

Staff consultant to the governor in the fields of finance, highways, unemployment, foreign trade, economics, relief, education, and water resources.  Also responsible for “general work on program development”.

Member, Illinois Revenue Study Commission; Great Lakes Commission; Water Resources Program; Committee on Vocational Education and Rehabilitation of Relief Population.  Governor’s representative at meetings such as the Illinois Budgetary Commission.

Other duties included media spokesperson for governor; ghost-writer of Kerner’s speeches and op/ed articles; giving speeches to civil rights organizations, clergy groups, mental health professionals, state planners, etc. 

Public Lectures and Presentations: Hundreds of presentations on topics such as urban revitalization, racial segregation, education, employment, etc., to civil rights groups, business and labor organizations, church groups, civic organizations, educators, planners, etc. Public forum panelist on national social policy and urban problems with U.S. Senators (Estes Kefauver, “Scoop” Jackson, James Buckley) and Congressmen (Charles Rangel, Donald Rumsfeld). 

Norton in the News: Long was extensively quoted in leading newspapers such as The New York Times on topics such as Presidential housing and fiscal policies, central city/suburban relations, and inner-city educational deficiencies. The ProQuest Historical Newspapers database lists 635 articles under “Norton Long” and 233 articles under “Norton E. Long”.

Norton’s Legacy

Norton swam against the tide of Political Science and Public Administration. His concerns were normative and applied in an era of disengaged “pure” research. As Robert Waste observed, “Long was, by choice, a generalist rather than a specialist. He also was more ancient than modern, a determined classicist in training and approach. Long strove all his life to create not a narrow academic specialty or field of urban politics so much as he strove to create a vocation of urbanists in the sense that Max Weber spoke of politics or administration as a vocation and a calling to public service.”13

Soothsayer: Foresaw bureaucracy as guardrail of democracy (1952); anticipated the “new regionalism” (interdependence of central city and suburbs and need for regional cooperation) (1958); warned of the problematic future of race relations (1967, 1970).

Influential Scholarship: In the ProQuest Database, 237 Ph.D. dissertations cite “Norton E. Long,” 447 “Norton Long”, and 879 his “ecology of games” framework. His “Power and Administration” essay produces 446,000 results, while his “Ecology of Games” article comes up with 367,000 hits.

Role Model and Mentor: “Norton’s greatest contribution is as a role model for others… [H]e took a great interest in the work of younger scholars … and he went to considerable lengths to promote the careers of younger persons whose work he found useful and interesting…” (Eugene Meehan and Dennis Judd, 1994)14

Tributes to Norton E. Long

“Those he left behind have lost a moral anchor, an invaluable constructive critic, and a much-beloved colleague….  I thought I needed his criticism … and referred to him as my ‘intellectual hairshirt’.”15 Gary Wamsley, Virginia Tech

“There is no risk of overstatement in characterizing Norton Long as a giant in the urban politics and public administration fields….  [I]ndeed, it may be said that he helped “father” the urban politics field…”16 Eugene Meehan and Dennis Judd, University of Missouri-St. Louis

“Norton Long enriched our lives in many ways, not the least of which was his demonstration that genuine scholarship is about engagement with the world, not detachment from it. He cared passionately about political life and many of his essays sought to enlarge our understanding of what it could mean to live in political community.”17 Clarence Stone, University of Maryland 


  1. The research for this essay consisted of (a) a review of Long’s written work; (b) Norton’s Northwestern University research, interview, correspondence files, and daily diaries saved by Northwestern colleague and collaborator Aaron Cicourel, and given to me upon Aaron’s retirement as a UCSD Professor; (c) hundreds of newspaper articles featuring Norton; (d) photos and family recollections provided by Norton’s granddaughters Vanessa and Sam Stalling; and (e) scholarly tributes upon his death.
  2. Quote from Norton’s granddaughter, Vanessa Stalling.
  3. See, for example, Norton E. Long, “Aristotle and the Study of Local Government” Social Research 24:3(Autumn, 1957), 287-310.  Todd Swanstrom argues that “Long’s work can be viewed as a sustained argument for the continued relevance of Aristotle’s concept of politics in the Greek polis  to the modern city.” Swanstrom, “Philosopher in the City: The New Regionalism Debate,” Journal of Urban Affairs 17:3 (1995), 309.
  4. Long taught at Harvard, Mount Holyoke, Queens College, Western Reserve, Michigan State, Northwestern, Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, Brandeis, University of Illinois, University of Missouri-St. Louis, City University of New York, SUNY Albany, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, San Diego State, and Virginia Tech.
  5. “Farewell to Norton,” Administration and Society 26:2 (August, 1994), 131-32.
  6. PS: Political Science & Politics 24:4 (December 1991), 670-75.
  7. Public Administration Review 9:4 (1949), 257-64.
  8. American Political Science Review 46 (September, 1952), 808-18.
  9. Ibid.
  10. The Public Interest 25 (1971), 22-38.
  11. American Journal of Sociology 64:3 (November, 1958), 251-61.
  12. Op. cit., 251.
  13. “Urban Poverty and the City as Reservation,”  Journal of Urban Affairs 17:3 (1995), 315.
  14. “In Memoriam: Norton E. Long,” PS: Political Science & Politics 27:2 (June, 1994), 284-85.
  15. Op. cit., 131.
  16. Ibid.
  17. “Social Reform and the Ecology of Games Metaphor,” Journal of Urban Affairs 17:3 (1995), 303.

Author Biography

Steven P. Erie is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Director Emeritus of the Urban Studies and Planning Program, University of California, San Diego. He can be reached at He gratefully acknowledges the invaluable research assistance of James W. Ingram III in the preparation of the Scholia Club presentation, from which this essay is drawn.