Robert Wokler is dead

by Chris Bertram on August 4, 2006

I’m really very sorry to hear the news of the death of Robbie Wokler. Wokler may well have known as much about the life and work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as anyone of the past half century. Sadly, much of that knowledge never made it into print, as Wokler was often reluctant to hand over final versions of his work to editors. Maybe there is material that will emerge. His essays, though, on Rousseau — and on the Enlightenment more generally — were often brilliant, insightful, iconoclastic and scholarly, all at the same time. He was a lively character, who often asked questions at conferences in a pretty robust manner, and was often willing to share a few drinks afterwards. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to learn from him a little. There’s “an obituary in the Times”:,,60-2296552,00.html , I’ll add more as an when I hear of them. UPDATE: Josh Cherniss has “a fine appreciation”:,,1856123,00.html in the Guardian.



josh 08.04.06 at 1:40 pm

It is very sad. And thanks for the nice reminiscences, Chris; it does capture something of the man, and a great deal of his work.
And there is quite a bit of material that Robbie left, though much of it is, alas, in a very unfinished state — stuff not just about Rousseau, but also Plamenatz, Berlin, Hobbes, the idea of the invisible hand before Adam Smith, Ancient and Medieval political thought … We’ll have to see how much of it turns out to be publishable.


jayann 08.04.06 at 1:41 pm

I am sorry to hear this.

It is an indictment of the university system that a scholar of his calibre never held a chair

you know, that’s right.


Ben 08.04.06 at 3:21 pm

[he studied] the MSc in the history of political thought at the LSE run by Michael Oakeshott and Maurice Cranston, before moving to Oxford, where his DPhil supervisor was Isaiah Berlin, and his college adviser John Plamenatz.

Wow, that’s some pedigree.

A sad loss at a not very old age. I hope more of his work can be published posthumously. In particular, I’m interested to learn his was turning his attention to ancient thought.


josh 08.04.06 at 4:14 pm

‘Wow, that’s some pedigree.’
And that’s not even mentioning that as an undergraduate he studied with Leo Strauss at Chicago This didn’t seem to leave much of a trace on his work, but did redirect him from the violin to the history of political thought — so that’s at least one good thing Strauss did!


MM 08.06.06 at 9:57 am

… I was able to visit Robert the day before he went into hospice, and was given a brief tour of his life’s book collection, which was already being sorted into boxes for donations to various libraries. It was an odd feeling. The dear man will be so very missed. I hope that we might all adequately brag about him to our children or future students.


lee tabin 08.08.06 at 7:31 pm

I was Robbie’s college roomie for our first two years at the U of Chicago and I will never forget one incident. We were first year students and I was reading in one of the study rooms in the basement of the dorm.

Robbie came down, and with eyes shining with delight told me he had read The Social Contract.

He was a sincere and honest and great scholar who was always respectful of other views (at least mine) and who valued the canon immensely unlike many contemporary academics.

Lee Tabin

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