Kenneth Minogue, one of the great political thinkers of the past 50 years, died unexpectedly on Friday following a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in the Galapagos Islands. He was 82.
Minogue’s books, beginning with The Liberal Mind (1963), challenged the pretenses of the liberal world view. In The Liberal Mind, he described liberalism this way:
The story of liberalism, as liberals tell it, is rather like the legend of St. George and the dragon. After many centuries of hopelessness and superstition, St. George, in the guise of Rationality, appeared in the world somewhere about the sixteenth century. The first dragons upon whom he turned his lance were those of despotic kingship and religious intolerance. These battles won, he rested for a time, until such questions as slavery, or prison conditions, or the state of the poor, began to command his attention. During the nineteenth century, his lance was never still, prodding this way and that against the inert scaliness of privilege, vested interest, or patrician insolence. But, unlike St. George, he did not know when to retire. The more he succeeded, the more he became bewitched with the thought of a world free of dragons, and the less capable he became of ever returning to private life. He needed his dragons. He could only live by fighting for causes—the people, the poor, the exploited, the colonially oppressed, the underprivileged and the underdeveloped. As an ageing warrior, he grew breathless in his pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons—for the big dragons were now harder to come by.
In his last book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life (2010), he observed that “while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them.”He continued:
Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much, and these are merely the surface disapprovals, the ones that provoke legislation or public campaigns. We also borrow too much money for our personal pleasures, and many of us are very bad parents. Ministers of state have been known to instruct us in elementary matters, such as the importance of reading stories to our children. Again, many of us have unsound views about people of other races, cultures, or religions, and the distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.
Conservatives are remembering Minogue this week for his many contributions to the cause of a free society. Ed Feulner, Founder and longtime President of The Heritage Foundation, was tutored by Minogue at the London School of Economics in 1965. Feulner, who was with Minogue in the Galapagos Islands shortly before he died, writes:
Born in New Zealand, reared in Australia, educated in Britain, a teacher there and in the United States, and an international lecturer, Ken Minogue brought political thought home to generation after generation of students. Those who assumed liberalism’s benevolence were challenged, and those skeptical of liberalism were given the intellectual armor for combat.
Yet Ken was much more than a lecturer and teacher. He lent his name and considerable talents to organizations around the world promoting freedom. From 2010 to 2012, he served as the president of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international group of advocates for the free society, of which I am a member. As a frequent attendee at the society’s gatherings, Ken could always be counted on to remind us of the past’s connection to contemporary issues. [Wall Street Journal, June 30]