Moynihan, Daniel Patrick

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick moiˈnĭhănˌ [key], 1927–2003, American sociologist and politician, b. Tulsa, Okla., grad. Tufts (B.A., 1948; M.A., 1949; Ph.D., 1961). Raised in a poor neighborhood of New York City, he became active in Democratic party politics in the 1950s. With Nathan Glazer he wrote Beyond the Melting Pot (1963), an influential study of American ethnicity. Under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he worked in the Dept. of Labor (1961–65), where he rose to the post of assistant secretary. In 1965 his office issued The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, commonly known as the Moynihan Report. Its conclusion that African-American urban poverty could be traced in part to a breakdown of family structure was at the time much criticized by civil-rights activists but is now generally regarded as an unusually prescient analysis.

After teaching for several years at Harvard, Moynihan returned to government as a special adviser to President Nixon. He later served as ambassador to India (1973–75) and to the United Nations (1975–76). He was first elected to the U.S. Senate from New York as a Democrat in 1976 and was reelected three times. Although Moynihan's policy declarations in the 1960s and early 70s were among the most significant formulations of what was called “neoliberalism” or “neoconservatism,” in the Senate he was a consistent critic of the Reagan and Bush administrations, which enjoyed the support of many neoconservatives, and a strong supporter of Democratic presidents Carter and Clinton. He chaired the Senate finance committee from 1993 to 1995. He also had a lifelong interest in architecture and did much to retain, restore, and build important structures in New York City and Washington. Moynihan retired from the Senate in 2001; subsequently, he served on the faculty of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse Univ. His many books include Family and Nation (1986), Came the Revolution (1988), On the Law of Nations (1990), and Secrecy (1998).

See S. R. Weisman, ed., Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (2010); biographies by D. Schoen (1979) and G. Hodgson (2000); documentary dir. by J. Dorman and T. P. Freilich (2018).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. History: Biographies