David McDonagh – RIP


David McDonagh "The role of 'The Wealth of Nations' as a pristine ...It is with great sadness that I must report the death of David McDonagh. Details are as yet scarce, but I am told that he suffered a heart attack on the 12th June.

I first met David in 1980, back in the days when there was just one Libertarian Alliance. We would attend LA meetings at the Conway Hall in London – I as an earnest student, sat in the audience, he as one of the luminaries of the Movement, sat behind one of those trestle tables that shook every time someone breathed.

When the Libertarian Alliance suffered its Great Schism, I found myself in the Chris Tame Faction. However, though David was part of the other Faction, we remained on friendly terms. We became significantly more friendly after Chris died in 2006, when I became a semi-regular speaker at events organised by his part of the Libertarian Alliance.

In all the time I knew him, David never seemed to change. Except he grew more battered over the years, he wore much the same clothes, and he never changed the style of his hair or moustache. He also never changed his opinions. From first to last, he was a Cobdenite Liberal. There was always something about him of the early twentieth century, when Cobdenism was last a viable movement. He could be irritating in debate – pedantic, repetitive, very much in love with the sound of his own voice. These were traits he carried into his written correspondence. At the same time, he possessed a large fund of simple goodness, and I am not aware of anyone who disliked him. I certainly never did.

Because he had been for so long a fixture of the British libertarian movement, predating even my own involvement, I had retained a young man’s belief that his elders would live forever. His death is a shock to me and a cause of much sadness. I will pay tribute to all that he did to keep libertarianism alive – let us face it, a thankless task given the circumstances of at least the past thirty years. He lived and died a man of immoveable principle and personal decency. We must lament his death, but also celebrate his life.

He will not be forgotten.

7 comments

  • I sat opposite David on the train back from an LA meeting in London in the ’80’s. We had a long and interesting conversation about selfishness; he thought there was only one possible completely selfish act which we needn’t go into here. R.I.P.

    Nick Russell, Hereford

  • Having debated with this man online, I know what you are getting it: he was very fixed in his views, maybe overly fixed and dogmatic, but he wasn’t unpleasant about it. He once told me that I was in thrall to the state, which I thought was a bit much at the time, but looking back at it I find it quite funny. I thought he was all right.

  • This is sad news. And you’re right, Sean; David did much to keep the liberty movement in the UK alive. Myself, I didn’t find him quite as fixed and dogmatic as some others seem to. He was a good man.

  • Sad news indeed Sean. I well remember those Conway Hall meetings – and the trestle tables! Before that we used to sit on the floors of the flats of the few members that we had. When we got to around ten converts Chris told me that “I think there may be two more up in Manchester!” One was probably the now Professor Steve Davies. Incidentally, the last Kilmarnock vote for the Scottish Libertarian Party would, if extrapolated, imply that there are now 250,000 libertarians in the UK!

    David was always around in those early days. I would be hard pressed to explain the cause of LA split and I too was in the Chris faction. My then boss told me to concentrate more on my professional exams and less on the exciting battles in the LA. At one post-split meeting when Chris was still with us – possibly at the Red Lion in Westminster – David McDonagh turned up and he came straight up to me an we started chatting. No strong reaction from Chris. He may well have said “hello” to David. At least a nod I think.

    I’m glad that Sean and David worked together for the cause. No doubt we’ll have to get government approval to talk in the future… But victory can be achieved. Just a couple of hundred yards from my flat here in Edinburgh are Cobden Terrace and Bright Terrace – both constructed co-operatively by members of the working class who appreciated what liberty had done for them.

    • I’ve been several times through the archive you gave me in 2011, and through the further mass I got from Chris. What it was all about and who was to blame both remain obscure. I’m glad I got on so well with David.

    • David Ransay Steele writes:

      “I am shocked and saddened to hear of the death of my dear friend David McDonagh. He has probably had a greater impact on my life and thinking than anyone else I have personally known. He was born and raised in tragically dysfunctional circumstances and spent much of his childhood in institutions, from which he emerged with nothing in the way of a respectable education. He became a general laborer, then a painter-decorator. Because of being a painter-decorator, he immediately reacted to the TV adaptation, and then to the book, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, that remarkable socialist story in which painter-decorators in their work breaks sit around talking about what is wrong with society. A little later than me, he joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and thus did acquire something of an education. By the early 1970s, we both had severe doubts about socialism/communism, me primarily because of Mises, McDonagh primarily because of Michels. And so by the mid-1970s we both arrived at libertarianism. We each got our Form Fs (Form A is when you join the SPGB, Form F is when you cease to be a member). Owing to a traffic accident, he lost the use of his right arm. He used to say “Circumstances are the victims of people”; after his accident he would add, “but sometimes the circumstances hit back.” He then went to Warwick University and got a degree in philosophy. He was the most perfectly honest person I have known. He said “Honesty is an achievement,” meaning that honesty does not come naturally or spontaneously but requires work. He challenged and changed the ideas of thousands of people. Human civilization is a bit more fragile because of his passing.”

  • Pingback: Torsdag 25 juni 2020 – radio bubb.la

Leave a Reply to Neil Lock Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s