Will Lissner Calls It A Day

Richard Noyes

[Reprinted from GroundSwell, December 1988]

A monumental Georgist milestone drifts quietly past as this year ends.

The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, without question the most effective voice through which the movement has ever been heard in the community of scholars, changes hands.

There are no plans in any of the world's harbors, so far as this publication has been able to determine, for the firing and the booming of big guns, although a case can be made there ought to be.

The Journal's patron - the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation - has instead prepared and released the following account. It is to be hoped you will already have found, and read it elsewhere.

Will Lissner, who founded the American Journal of Economics and Sociology 47 years ago, October 1941, and has served as editor-in-chief ever since, will retire at the end of this year, as will assistant editor Dorothy Burnham Lissner, who has filled that post for more than 25 years. Their succcessors will be announced at that time. (ED NOTE: And this publication will carry word of the Journal's new custodians' in the February issue.)

The quarterly, recently ranked among the world's 24 best in the social sciences, was the pioneer of the interdisciplinary approach in its fields, as evidenced by the first editorial advisor, the philosopher and educator John Dewey, Francis Neilson, the English essayist and a former Member of Parliament, was also on the editorial advisory board. The original board of editors included the philosopher Mortimer Adler: the economists Harry Gunnison Brown and John Ise; the human geographer Raymond E. Crist; the social philosopher George Raymond Geiger; the economist-sociologists Glenn E. Hoover and Franz Oppenheimer; and the mathematical economist-statistician Harold Hotelling.

The Journal promotes synthesis among the social sciences to study economic, social and political problems of democratic society. Articles based on empirical research and the scientific method are edited to meet high literary, as well as scholarly, standards. Lissner, Dewey, and , others on the board believed that social science is informed by philosophy and ethics, much as natural science, especially physics, acknowledges that subjective as well as objective perspectives effect observations.

Lissner chose an interdisciplinary, rather than multidisciplinary, approach because, "I was convinced by the research I had done that while the division of knowledge into the sciences and their subspecialties was a necessary heuristic (teaching) device and one that has repeatedly demonstrated its value, nevertheless reality does not respect the sciences' boundaries. The policy goals of the sciences - applied science, if you will - can only be achieved with realism if we study problems as they exist in the real world, usually calling for the expertise of several of the sciences and of philosophy for their understanding."

Not only did Lissner create a prestigious publication, he did so while working full time on The New York Times, retiring after 53 years in 1976. He had learned to set type when he was 11 years old, and was a reporter on the Yorkville Spirit and the Harlem Press at the age of 13. A protege of John Dewey. he came to the attention of Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of the Times, who hired the then-15-year-old as a copy boy with feature writing privileges. Lissner became a reporter at 17, staff writer at 22, and economics specialist at 24. Among his major assignments were New Deal test cases, technology (including the first stories on early computers), annual financial reviews, and the United Nations. As a fleet correspondent during World War II, he covered the Italian anti-fascist guerrillas.

Lissner also edited a revival of the Freeman (whose previous editors had been Albert Jay Nock and Francis Neilson) for a year; advised the formative issues of The American Statistician; and was consultant to several organizations including the National Bureau for Economic Research.

A student in New York City's public school accelerated learning project, Lissner later studied at the Rand School, the New School for Social Research and its graduate faculty, and a theological seminary. He has taught at the New School and is an associate of Columbia University's seminar on population and social change. He is a member of many professional organizations; is listed in American Men of Science, Who's Who in the East, and others; and has been on the board of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation for nearly half a century.

Dorothy Burnham Lissner is a writer and editor who has also had a career in public relations in major NewYork firms. She studied at the University of Massachusetts, Tusculum College, Munich and Leipzig universities, and the New School : for Social Research and its graduate facility.