Vale Kenneth Minogue

Kenneth Minogue

The conservative movement is the poorer for the death of Kenneth Minogue, the New Zealand-born, Sydney-educated writer and Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics from 1984 to 1995. A champion of the individual, through five decades of  the state’s presumption to oversee ever more aspects of daily life and human conduct, his was the voice of a Jeremiah with a taste for irony and a talent for the well-turned point. From his first and most influential book, The Liberal Mind, published in 1961:

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.

The obituarist at Britain’s Telegraph has laid out the bare bones of Minogue’s  life and achievements, but the man’s own words will always say more of him. In its November, 2010, edition, Quadrant published an excerpt from his last book, The Servile Mind:

The mistake of identifying freedom with liberation is evidently a mark of pretty unsophisticated peoples, and it has been a happy distinction of Anglophones that they have usually managed to avoid its nastier consequences. They did not however entirely escape this confusion in universities during the 1960s, which were a textbook example of the destruction of real institutional independence by liberation movements. Suddenly becoming available to unsophisticated and uneducated people, universities succumbed to democratic and liberatory slogans and lost the academic authority that made them distinctive. In succumbing to such servility of mind, they were unprotected against governments bidding to take power over them.

See also Keith Windschuttle and Claudio Veliz on a great mind who will be much missed.

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