Cars and Their Enemies

By: James Q. Wilson Presented By: Lasya Anand, Shawnia Klug

Who is James Q Wilson?

  • An American Academic
  • Political Scientist
  • An Authority on Public Administration


Appeals to authority





  • " In her recent book, Asphalt Nation: How the automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back, Jane Holtz Kay, the architecture critic for the Nation, assails the car unmercifully. It has, she writes strangled our lives and landscape imposing on us the costs of sprawl, of pollution, of congestion, of commuting. According to kay, if we cut highway spending by a mere $10 million, we could buy bicycles for all 93,000 residents of Eugene, Oregon, over the age of 11." Para 8
  • "The same theme has been taken up by Mark Gauvreau Judge in the Weekly Standard . Emerging from .............. the suburbs. He repeats ........ caused, hurried life, the disappearance of family time, the weakening of generational links, .........., the tyrannical dominance of TV and pop culture over leisure time" Para 10
  • "Charles Lave, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, has pointed out that most of Western Europe has long had just these sorts of anti-auto policies in effect. The result? Between 1965 and 1987, the growth in the number of autos in capita has been three times faster in Western Europe Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that the American auto market is approaching saturation: we now have roughly one car in existence for every person of driving age" Para 15


  • "Of course, one rarely meets these critics in groups. They seem to be too busy rushing about being critics" Para 43
  • "Wow. These people must live in or near very odd suburbs." Para 12
  • "Unlike the critics, I find it hard to convert peronal beliefs into cosmic generalizations." Para 12


  • " It is unstoppable" Para 18
  • " They could visit the beach, but only (of necessity) crowded parts of it. They could go to a national park, but only the built-up section of it. They could see the countryside, but (mostly) through a train window " Para 20
  • ".... the debate between those who value private benefits and those who insist on their social costs in no real debate at all, since people select modes of travel based on individual, not social, preferences." Para 23


  • "Hurried life, the disappearance of family time, the weakening of generational links, our ignorance of history, our lack of local ties, an exaggerated focus on money, the anonymity of community life, the rise of radical feminism, the decline of civic action, the tyrannical dominance of TV and pop culture over leisure time." Para 11
  • "It can be found in countless books complaining of dreary suburban architecture, endless trips to and from work, the social isolation produced by solo auto trips, and the harmful effects of the car on air quality, noise levels, petroleum consumption, and road congestion." Para 7
  • "Living in close quarters would mean life as it is now lived in Manhattan. There would be few freestanding homes, many row houses, and lots of apartment buildings. There would be few private gardens except for flowerpots on balconies. The streets would be congested by pedestrians, trucks, and buses," Para 19


  1. Evaluate the affect this essay had on the audience of its time.
  2. Predict the reason for the publication of this essay.
  3. Identify the speakers Wilson posits in paragraphs 2-6. What is his strategy here?
  4. Imagine what life would be like without cars.
  5. Compare your life with what the critics of cars predicted life to be like with cars.
  6. Analyze the author's use of sarcasm and how it contributes to the purpose of the essay. (Refer to paragraphs 43, 12)
  7. Evaluate how this essay reflects how different viewpoints change what side a person argues for.
  8. Read paragraphs 22-25 of "Cars and Their Enemies" and consider Wilson's claims regarding automobile transportation. Do you support or challenge Wilson's views?
  9. In paragraph 25, Wilson uses the words "typically" and "usually" to characterize views of those he opposes. Then to refute those views he writes, "According to one study ...." Is his argument consistent? Is it cogent?
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