James Chapin, 1941-2002

James Chapin, 1941-2002

THE NAME James Chapin may not be familiar to many Dissent readers. He didn’t write a great deal for the magazine. Until the last year or so of his life—when he turned out superb political analysis for an unlikely outlet, United Press International—he didn’t publish much anywhere. No matter. For the many who knew him at Dissent—and at every level of political life in Washington and New York—James was one of the most brilliant and provocative thinkers we have ever met. And he was also one of the kindest and most decent of men. Most people knew him as “Jim.” Since I was lucky to have known him all my life, he was and will forever be “James.” Jim Chapin is his father, a well-known drummer, who from time to time concertizes with James’s brothers, Tom and Steve, performing songs written by the best known Chapin of all, the late Harry Chapin. James, the eldest boy, was always James, and he was different. For one thing, he was deaf in one ear, something that he would joke about: the son of a great American musical family who couldn’t quite hear right! They were all lanky; he was stout. And he was the family reader, scholar, and historian. Amid an extraordinary clan of writers and musicians, it was as if one person had been blessed with a clan’s worth of brains in thinking about politics, government, and history.

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