The recent death of Norman Barry is a great loss to the cause of classical liberalism. For Norman was one of its most effective advocates. He was a rare example of a person who was a master of the underlying social and political theory but who could then engage with the practical issues of his time. He wrote papers in the top journals – such as ‘Agreement, Unanimity and Liberalism’ in Political Theory – where he deconstructed the philosophical foundations of James Buchanan’s work (work that he nevertheless greatly admired). At the same time he could write in pamphlets and newspapers on issues ranging from the pensions problem, through marriage and divorce to insider dealing and business ethics. His textbook, An Introduction to Modern Political Theory went to four editions. He was a sturdy defender of Anglo-American capitalism against its critics and the supporters of the ‘social market economy’ or ‘the third way’. He had a great interest in the post-war history of the German Ordo-liberals, such as Walter Eucken, and those who laid the foundations of the great post-war recovery – such as Ludwig Erhard.
More than is usual amongst political theorists, Norman had a profound grasp of economics. No doubt this derived from his early immersion in the work of Friedrich von Hayek and the publication of Hayek’s Social and Economic Philosophy (1979). His very unfashionable view that liberty depended ultimately on the defence of property led him naturally to ‘public choice’ theory and the study of whether constitutional limits to the domain of democratic collective decision making could ever be sustained in the long run. As a scholar who had taken a course against the orthodoxy of the age, his Chair at the University of Buckingham provided a congenial academic environment, while his long association with The Institute of Economic Affairs (as an author and as a member of the Advisory Council) helped to provide him with a network of contacts throughout the world.
A conference to mark Norman’s life and work will be held at the University of Buckingham next year.