Kenneth Minogue, 1930-2013

Some sad news has been received that the political theorist, Kenneth Minogue, had passed away following a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in the South Pacific.

Born in New Zealand, and raised and educated in Australia, he taught and resided in the United Kingdom since the mid‑1950s. He received a Centenary Medal from the Australian government in 2003. Minogue was organisationally involved in numerous think tanks, and served as President of the Mont Pelerin Society with distinction from 2010 to 2012 (an interesting reflection by Minogue on the role of the MPS in the evolution of liberal ideas is provided in this piece).

Minogue’s greatest intellectual achievements were forged in the northern hemisphere, but nonetheless he maintained a connection, at the very least through the dissemination of ideas, with the region of his birth and childhood. He was a long‑serving member of the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) Council of Academic Advisors, as well as the CIS Policy magazine’s Editorial Advisory Council. Minogue wrote numerous pieces for the CIS, and for the Institute of Public Affairs.

I only met Minogue once, in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2012. Nonetheless, anybody who appreciates classical liberal and conservative theories would very well be aware of his unique and important insights and eloquent writing style, as I had over a number of years. For example, compare and contrast two favourite Minogue quotes of mine, drawn from his first book, The Liberal Mind, and his last, The Servile Mind:

For if we are seeking the conditions of freedom, we must look not to those circumstances which happen to accompany it, but to the manner in which it has been attained. And we will find that it has always been attained because of a spontaneous growth of interest in truth, science, or inventiveness; a spontaneous growth of moral principles appropriate to freedom; a spontaneous construction of the political arrangements which permit of free constitutional government. Spontaneity indicates that free behaviour has arisen directly out of the character of the people concerned, and that it is neither a mechanical process, nor a ‘natural’ reaction to an environment, nor a means to the attainment of some end. Free behaviour, in other words, is its own end. (Source: The Liberal Mind, Liberty Fund Edition, p. 158).

and

The essence of the servile mind is the readiness to accept external direction in exchange for being relieved of the burden of a set of virtues such as thrift, self‑control, prudence, and indeed civility itself. A national health service trades off thrift and the freedom to spend one’s own money in exchange for a guarantee that medical help will always be ‘costlessly’ available. Accepting this trade‑off, then, comes to be understood as a virtue in itself, to be contrasted with those selfish people prepared to spend their own wealth on better treatment. Obedience here as in other places is wrongly identified with the rule of law. One measure of the moral decline involved in this advance of servility is that corrupt people, ranging from businessmen to legislators, justify a greedy lack of integrity by claiming that they did not break any rules. A casuistical use of the idea that morality is nothing more than abiding by rules comes to be a license for a self‑serving misuse of office and responsibility. (Source: The Servile Mind, p. 337).

Thoughts and impressions of the life and times of Kenneth Minogue are welcome in the comments feed.

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15 Responses to Kenneth Minogue, 1930-2013

  1. one old bruce

    A sad loss but a successful life, leaving a solid body of work.

    Reviewing a few of his writings now Julie, I am left puzzled, because I always took Professor Minogue to be arguing for the type of Decline of the West which I see he is lampooning here:

    http://www.cis.org.au/images/stories/policy-magazine/1997-spring/1997-13-3-kenneth-minogue.pdf

    The statement ‘How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life’ seems very plainly ‘declinist’. His references to spontaneity in the ‘Liberal Mind’ quote above could even have come from the type of ‘organicist’ German analysis he decries in the CIS review. Oswald Spengler said much the same thing about particular societies having particular traits. Max Weber said it much better. So why did Professor Minogue dismiss these, who seemed to be on his side? Especially as he is arguing for the primacy of Christian Individualism, the contribution to which of Germans starting with Martin Luther cannot be ignored.

    Anyway, a great and rare Antipodean was Professor Minogue to take on these issues amd get us thinking about them. Vale!

  2. stackja

    Julie another person unknown to me. I will have to do more reading.

  3. one old bruce

    Compare what Prof Minogue says here at the conclusion to ‘The Liberal Mind’:
    http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/672/165266

    with what Richard Rorty says here:
    http://pages.uoregon.edu/koopman/siap/readings/rorty_priority_dmcy_phil.pdf

  4. Carpe Jugulum

    I have read some of his work via the IPA, he impresses me as a person who valued the individual effort, but also the effort of individuals to improve the lives of others.

    I think that made sense.

    Either way it is the loss of a great thinker, writer and scholar.

  5. Alan Moran

    Lovely early obit Julie. A man of great empathy, an understated intellect always keen to explore others’ perspectives.

  6. blogstrop

    The essence of the servile mind is the readiness to accept external direction in exchange for being relieved of the burden of a set of virtues such as thrift, self‑control, prudence, and indeed civility itself. A national health service trades off thrift and the freedom to spend one’s own money in exchange for a guarantee that medical help will always be ‘costlessly’ available.

    Hmmm. There seems to be quite a bit of this “servility” about, these days.

    As to spending one’s own money on health: I recently changed our health fund cover to a higher level, but suspect that this means they now do not honour the lower level cover we had prior to that. 30+ years in the fund count for nothing, possibly. Discussions this coming week will be interesting. A change of health fund may be indicated.

  7. C.L.

    The second quote from The Servile Mind is a brilliant summary of just what has happened in Western polities. You see it every time Jenny Macklin stands up in Parliament and starts one of her left-wing sermons about the superior virtue of those who spend billions of other people’s money on the latest ‘progressively’ discerned ‘entitlement.’ (And of course the evil of those who are critical of reckless largesse in all things).

    On a more micro level, you see it in the complete corruption by government of sporting associations and administrations. Once upon a time, if you wanted a new grandstand at your club grounds, local people had fetes and fundraisers and people donated their time, skills and resources to make it happen. Now the local politician (Labor or Liberal) sticks his loathsome beak into the matter and ‘allocates’ funds to make it all happen courtesy of Daddy Gubbermint.

    The result is a people with less creative, less committed, less connected, less virtuous.

  8. Andrew Norton

    Thanks for this obituary Julie. I have also written something about Minogue on my blog.

  9. dover_beach

    Minogue was a great Oakeshottian which is unsurprising as he taught at the LSE at the same time Oakeshott did and was a good friend. You can’t help reading the above quotes, particularly the second, and not help recalling Oakeshott’s essay on ‘The masses in representative democracy’ in Rationalism in Politics or his third essay in On Human Conduct. It is a great shame I hadn’t had a chance to meet him.

    RIP.

  10. Julie,

    When I first began to recognize that I was dealing with Marxism but without the M word I recognized that the US had done a sales job misrepresenting the toxic essence of what Marx really sought. I needed to understand what to look for and turned to both Minogue’s work from what he saw in the UK and Revel’s from France. Through their eyes I learned what the tenets were and consequences whatever a theory or practice called itself.

    What a great scholar and tremendous writer he was. I will go looking for a great inspirational quote as well.

  11. Ok this quote is from p 205 of Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology. Minogue is criticizing the theory of mind adopted by Marx and Michel Foucault and then the critical theorists.

    Vampiric environmentalism has to be up there in the hall of fame for pithy phrases that nails the essence.

    “The ideological account of the mind thus exhibits a kind of vampiric environmentalism which sucks the substance out of the individual and discovers nothing there except materials to be treated in terms of laws, usually having a sociological form. Will, desire, and individual consciousness are shown to be tumors growing upon the all-sustaining body of society. Whatever has normally been counted as an individual achievement: the writing of books, the thinking up of ideas, the composition of works of art, is discovered to be merely part of the texture of a changing society. The modish way of making this point (which currently often takes a structuralist form) is to deny any element of ‘privilege’ to individuals, or to texts. Authors merely mirror their world, subject to distortions which may be mapped with the help of the ideological revelation. For men are the ‘bearers of pre-existing structural relations,’ and intellectual and mental activities ‘are abstractions from material practices.’ Individuals dissolve into the abstraction to be nominated: sex, class, race, etc.”

    Few better understood why the individual and the mind have been under such concentrated attack.

    You should see the margins of my copy of his book. Epiphany after epiphany. Fine prescient writer.

  12. I love that Minogue nailed the idea that “pejorative redescription” was a primary tool used “as a way of persuading relatively simple people to embrace one or more perfectionist adventure.” I would amend that to add supporting politicians for high office when we know very little about them.

    This is from page 302 of The Servile Mind and it is true all over the world now as gifted and honors classes get taken away. And levelling is considered to go hand in hand with real democracy in the future.

    “What are we to say, for example, of that family involvement, those ‘hooks’ of responsibility so many of us feel for our nearest and dearest? The answer is that they are deplorable partialities that may lead some of us to become ‘pushy parents’ seeking to send our children to better schools in order to give them a significant ‘social advantage’ 9as it is called) in life. This is bad because, especially if our children are rather bookish, we have a politico-moral duty to send them to the local school so that they may diffuse their ‘social capital’ over the less accomplished or perhaps merely less fortunate children. Our duty is to be happy volunteers supporting the state’s program of raising standards among the poor and immigrants.”

    2010 publication date. Boy did he nail it.

  13. Tintarella di Luna

    Reading your tribute Julie, and the comments thereafter it is a reminder of how little I know about the work of modern thinkers and scholars of classical liberal theory.

    It also shows the paucity of my own curiosity in these things. It’s not enough to know about the historical struggles to gain liberty and enlightenment however I do wonder given the most cursory allusion I had in my education back in the day whether there is in the school curriculum any time at all devoted to the struggles for liberty of the individual along the 13 years of schooling? I s”ppose that’s not on ejakayshun agenda.

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