Seyla Benhabib and Jim Sleeper, 2007
Jim Sleeper, a writer and teacher on American civic culture and politics, was a lecturer in political science at Yale from 1999-2020. His reportage and commentary have appeared in most major American newspapers and magazines. In the 1990s he appeared occasionally on The PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the Charlie Rose show, and National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” and was an occasional commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Sleeper writes frequently about national identities and American history, electoral politics, foreign policy, higher education, and freedom of speech. (See “Recent Work” on this site.)
He was a political columnist for the New York Daily News for three years during and after Rudolph Giuliani’s successful 1993 mayoral campaign against the city’s first African-American mayor, David Dinkins. Sleeper anticipated and interpreted Giuliani’s victory in a series of columns on the city’s changing political culture. In 2007, as Giuliani was preparing his presidential campaign, Sleeper posted, in The Philadelphia Inquirer and other venues, a column explaining Why Giuliani Shouldn’t Be President. An updated version was published by Foreign Policy in 2016, when Giuliani was mentioned as a possible Secretary of State or Attorney General for Donald Trump. See also, “I Once Backed Rudy Giuliani, and I Know What’s Happened to Him,” The New Republic, June 16, 2022.
His columns on the failures of American “grand strategic” thinking abroad in Foreign Policy and other venues have prompted intense debate. He has been a scourge of neo-conservative foreign-policymakers and commentators, including Norman Podheretz, Charles Hill, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Leon Wieseltier.
He has written many columns on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and first years in the White House including a prescient essay in Salon, during Trump’s rise through the Republican primaries, on how both parties had betrayed America. Here is an NPR interview on that essay. He has also written tellingly about Trump for The Washington Monthly, and Moyers & Co.
His essays for The New York Times, the Carnegie Council’s Journal of Ethics & International Affairs, and other venues, opposing Yale’s joint venture with Singapore to establish a liberal arts college there, were extensive and much-remarked. He has written extensively about real and fabricated crises in liberal education, for The New York Times, Salon, and other venues. He also writes frequently about controversies over freedom of speech, sometimes challenging ACLU positions, as in this essay on free speech’s two slippery slopes in Salon and more recently for The Baffler and The Los Angeles Review of Books.
His “Obama Chronicles,” a series of columns covering the 2008 presidential campaign, were widely read. You can watch Sleeper on a PBS documentary about New York Mayor John Lindsay that was broadcast in the spring and summer of 2010, and you can listen to him in a 20-minute NPR interview on the 20th anniversary of the publication of his The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York.
Sleeper was a member of the editorial board of the quarterly Dissent from 1982 to 2021. He wrote for it frequently and edited a special edition of the magazine, In Search of New York (1987), re-published by Transaction Books, containing essays by the quarterly’s founding editor, Irving Howe, as well as by Ada Louise Huxtable, Michael Harrington, Alfred Kazin, Jim Chapin, Paul Berman, and many other contributors.
A Longmeadow, Massachusetts native and Yale College graduate (1969), Sleeper has written about Puritanism’s influence on American civic and political culture for DEMOCRACY journal, The Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He holds a doctorate in education from Harvard (1977). In the 1970s and ’80s, he taught urban studies and writing at Harvard and Queens Colleges and at New York University. In 1982-83 he was a Charles Revson Fellow at Columbia University, studying urban housing development. In 1998 he was a fellow at the Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy.
From 1977 through 1980 Sleeper immersed himself in inner-city Brooklyn, New York as a reporter and publisher of a community weekly and a writer for The Village Voice. Those experiences figured strongly in his authorship of The Closest of Strangers and in an essay, “Orwell’s ‘Smelly Little Orthodoxies’ — and Ours”
As a lecturer in political science at Yale from 1999 to 2020, Sleeper taught seminars on new conceptions of American national identity and on journalism, liberalism, and democracy.
Two decades ago, Luke Ford conducted this long, rambling, but still instructive interview with Sleeper about some of the twists and turns in his pilgrimage as an American, civic-republican writer.
Liberal Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) (First edition published by
Viking/Penguin, 1997 and 1998).
The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York (W. W. Norton & Co.), 1990; paperback (Norton), 1991.
In Search of New York (Transaction Books), 1988. Editor. An anthology of
reportage, essays, reminiscences, and photography.
The New Jews (Vintage paperback), 1971. Co-editor, with Alan Mintz, of essays by young religious radicals of the time.
Chapters in Anthologies
Normative Tensions: Academic Freedom in International Education, Kevin W. Gray, editor. (Rowman & Littlefield/Lexington Books, 2022). Chapter: “Innocents Abroad? Liberal Educators in Illiberal Societies”
Orwell Into the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Cushman and John Rodden, eds. (Paradigm Press, 2005). Chapter: “Orwell’s Smelly Little Orthodoxies – and Ours”
A Way Out, Owen Fiss, Joshua Cohen eds. (Princeton U. Press, 2003); Essay: “Against Social Engineering,” a response to an “urban removal” manifesto by Yale Law Professor. Owen Fiss.
One America?, Stanley Renshon, ed. (Georgetown U. Press, published July, 2001). Essay: “American National Identity in a Post-national Age.”
Empire City: New York Through the Centuries, Kenneth Jackson and David Dunbar, eds. (Columbia U. Press, October, 2002). Chapter: “Boodling, Bigotry, and Cosmopolitanism,” about New York City in the late 1980s.
Post-Mortem: The O.J. Verdict. Jeffrey Abramson, editor (Basic Books, 1996). Essay, “Racial Theater,” about the public staging of the O.J. trial.
The New Republic Guide to the Candidates, 1996. Andrew Sullivan, editor (Basic Books, 1996). Essay on Bill Bradley, the non-candidate, and his concerns about civil society.
Blacks and Jews: Alliances and Arguments, Paul Berman, editor (Delacorte, 1995). Chapter: “The Battle for Enlightenment at City College,” on CUNY Prof. Leonard Jeffries and identity politics.
Debating Affirmative Action. Nicolaus Mills, editor. (Dell, 1994). Essay, “Affirmative Action’s Outer Limits.”
Tikkun Anthology, Michael Lerner, editor, 1992. Essay, “Demagoguery in America: Wrong Turns in the Politics of Race.” (One of the early, classic critiques of identity politics in the American left.)
Teaching (Adjunct and Lecturer only)
Harvard College, Expository Writing, 1975-76 (three one-semester courses)
Northeastern University, Sociology of American Literature, 1976 (one semester)
Queens College, Expository Writing, 1977-78 (two one-semester courses)
New York University, Metropolitan Studies Program, “Cities in Transition,” fall, 1985, and “Urban Housing,” spring, 1986
The Cooper Union, Humanities Department, “Race and Civil Society,” 1993
Yale College, Residential College Seminar, “New Conceptions of American National Identity,” 1999 – 2006.
Yale College, lecturer, Political Science Department, “Journalism, Liberalism, and Democracy,” 2006 -2019
Essayist, book reviewer, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post
National Public Radio, 1997-2002, Occasional commentator, “All Things Considered.”
New York Daily News, 1993-96. Political columnist, op-ed page, twice a week; covered city government and politics, race relations.
WCBS-TV “Sunday Edition”, New York “Reporters’
Roundtable,” regular panelist, 1994-1995
New York Newsday, 1988-93. Editorial board member; deputy editor of Viewpoints section, op-ed page.
New York Observer, 1987-88. Columnist, op-ed page, city affairs.
Dissent, editorial board, 1982 – 2021
Village Voice, Prospect Press, City Limits, 1982-87. Freelance writer, columnist.
North Brooklyn Mercury, 1978-79. Editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper serving predominantly non-white neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Fort Greene.