Remembering Brian Micklethwait
The man who made libertarianism fun
Sean Gabb, The Critic Magazine, 20th October 2021
Brian Hugh Micklethwait was born on the 26th September 1947, the youngest son of Sir Robert Micklethwait, a lawyer of some distinction who rose eventually to the post of Chief National Insurance Commissioner. His mother, Philippa, née Bosanquet, came from a legal family, and was related to the Bosanquets who were important in the Liberal Party at the end of the nineteenth century. Brian attended Marlborough public school in the early 1960s as a boarder, and went up to Cambridge in 1965 to study Architecture. After this, he studied Sociology at Essex University.
He voted Labour in the 1970 General Election. By 1980, he was a libertarian. The economic troubles of the intervening decade had seen a revival of interest in free market economics and the liberal tradition. The Institute of Economic Affairs now came out of the shadow in which the media had mostly placed it. Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman became household names. The Freedom Association and the Adam Smith Institute were founded. Margaret Thatcher became first the leader of the Conservative Party and then Prime Minister.
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.
(Translated from the Dutch by Neil Lock. See the original by Michael van der Galien)
Hubert Jongen, who for literally decades was one of the most important and influential libertarians in the Netherlands, died on Wednesday (15th June 2016) at the age of 88.
Occasionally, something happens in public life that leaves you stroking your head. How can you be the only one not to share in the general emotion? The death of Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has had that reaction on me. I wonder, if I died, would people crawl out of the woodwork to praise me, people who did not have a good word for me in my lifetime? Is it wrong to “defame” the dead? Or is it wrong to engage in this horrible mawkish pretence that anyone who dies was an asset to the country? Continue reading
Farewell @CaptainRantyI was just heading out last night when the very sad news appeared on Twitter that fellow blogger and friend Captain Ranty has passed away.
I’d known him for a couple of years when he started his blog in April 2009 and was in no doubt it would be a success due to the quality of his writing, as I described during his early days. Continue reading
Farewell to Dennis O’Keeffe
Yesterday, which was Monday the 29th December 2014, about sixty of those who knew him came together in Ealing Abbey to say farewell to Dennis O’Keeffe.
Life and death are mysteries that no scientific hypothesis can explain in other than functional terms. We were not. We are. We shall not be. While we are, the atoms that comprise our bodies maintain an apparently stable form. At last, through mechanical damage or the passing of time, the form is degraded, until its atoms go their separate ways. We can speak, with increasing sophistication, of this process in terms of cells and their division. We can, with increasing success, intervene in the process, to repair damage and hold off the effects of time. When confronted with the inevitable end of things, though, we are left by all our science with no greater understanding of where the person has gone than our earliest rational ancestors had. Continue reading
With deepest regret, I must report that Dennis O’Keeffe died early in the morning of Tuesday the 16th December 2014. He died peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones, and after a long illness. There will, in due course, be newspaper obituaries. These will supply full details of his life and his notable achievements. All I will do here is publish an old diary entry, to serve as a personal appreciation of one of the most remarkable men I have known. SIG
Monday 29th July 2002
Last Wednesday, we went off to the University of Buckingham, where Dennis O’Keeffe has been appointed Professor of Sociology. That evening, he was to give his inaugural lecture. I drove into the centre to give my lecture on Economics. This done, I collected Merrie Cave, Editor of The Salisbury Review and Michael Connolly, whom I knew from about twelve years ago, when he was a colleague of Dennis at the North London Polytechnic. Then I collected Mrs Gabb from Finsbury Park Underground Station. The journey to Buckingham was uneventful but long. Dennis has suggested I should go there and teach. Getting there from London is a bind—from Deal will never do. Continue reading