The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) mourns the passing on June 28 of Academic Advisor Kenneth Minogue, one of the leading political thinkers of his generation. Ken, as most of friends referred to him, was Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Honorary Fellow at the London School of Economics.
Born September 11, 1930 in New Zealand, he spent most of his young adult life in Australia, graduating from Sydney Boys High School and then the University of Sydney. He made his way to England to figure out, as he put it, what to do with his life and eventually decided to embark on graduate study in political philosophy. After teaching at the University of Exeter, he joined in 1959 the political science department at the London School of Economics, which included such luminaries as Michael Oakeshott and Elie Kedourie. Ken’s books include The Liberal Mind (1963), Nationalism (1967), The Concept of a University (1973), Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology (1985), Politics: A Very Short Introduction (1995), and, most recently, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life (2010). He also served for more than twenty years on the board of the Centre for Policy Studies and as chairman of the Bruges Group (1991-1993). He suffered a fatal stroke in Ecuador after addressing a meeting in the Galapagos Islands of the legendary Mont Pelerin Society, of which he served as president from 2010 to 2012.
The AHI sponsored Ken in April of this year at two events: at Hamilton College to speak on “Is Social Justice Compatible with Freedom” and at the Turning Stone Resort to participate as a conferee in the Sixth Annual Carl B. Menges Colloquium “What Is a Civilizational Struggle? The Work of Samuel Huntington.” In a communication after the colloquium to AHI Charter Fellow Robert Paquette, Minogue expressed admiration for the work of the AHI “in cultivating a little higher learning in obviously very good students who might otherwise turn to sterile political activism.” The AHI was deeply honored by his subsequent request to join our board of academic advisors.
AHI Undergraduate Fellow Thomas Cheeseman played a crucial role in organizing Minogue’s visit to the AHI and, along the way, developed a friendship with him. “In reviewing Jesse Norman’s recent monograph on Edmund Burke,” Cheeseman observed, “Professor Minogue commented, “It is perhaps one of the oddities of the British political tradition that it is often best revealed by foreigners. Voltaire and Montesquieu in the eighteenth century had a large part in England’s reputation as a notably free society, but there is a sense in which the Irishman Edmund Burke should be recognized as the major ‘foreign’ contributor to our political self-understanding. He could express what the English were about better than any native.’ Without much of a stretch, one could easily add Ken Minogue to the list of foreigners who made substantive contributions to the English political tradition. While never devolving into ideology, the work of this remarkable man can be seen as both a formidable defense of the English institutions that he recognized as fundamental to British freedom and a powerful criticism of the strains in modern thought which threatened that very freedom. In Concept of a University, Professor Minogue sought to vindicate the traditional concept of a university as it developed in the West against the Marxist ideologues looking to politicize education. In Alien Powers, regarded as one of the very best books on ideology, he sought to explain the paradoxical growth and development within the free institutions of the West of ideological thought, which conceives of society as having one right order. When I asked Ken about Alien Powers, rather than making some self-important comment, he quipped with that trademark twinkle in his eye, ‘Oh, I enjoyed writing the book, but honestly, I rambled on for too long at the end.’ For all of Ken’s impressive scholarly accomplishments, he carried himself unostentatiously, with genuine grace, civility, and humor. The AHI had the fortune of providing the forum for one of Ken’s final public appearances. He began his stay at the AHI’s headquarters by delivering a talk on the incompatibility of social justice and a free society; he concluded his visit by participating in the AHI’s annual colloquium, keeping the other participants on their toes with sharp criticism and intelligent insights.”
When informed of Ken’s passing, Undergraduate Fellow Dean Woodley Ball responded that “The AHI had the great honor of receiving Dr. Minogue for a lecture in the last months of his life. I was immediately struck not only by the power of his intellect but by the quality of his character. He was a pre-eminent scholar, but also a dignified, gracious, witty, playful, and, above all, a kind man. The world will be a lesser place without him.”
“Perhaps the best way to describe Ken,” added Cheeseman, “is to use his own words— ‘a rather hopeless free-spirit.’ Here’s to a life well lived. May we keep the example of that hopeless free spirit and defender of the West close to our minds and to our hearts.”