Blogs > Liberty and Power > Lord Harris of High Cross (1924-2006)

Oct 24, 2006 9:04 pm

Lord Harris of High Cross (1924-2006)

Ralph Harris, the first general director of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, has died suddenly aged 81 of a heart attack. For the last photograph of Harris alive, go here.

The Daily Telegraph describes Harris as"perhaps the most successful polemicist of the second half of the 20th century, retrieving and advancing free-market ideas which were initially deeply out of favour and providing the intellectual basis for Margaret Thatcher's reforms of the 1980s." The Telegraph also carries a nice appreciation of Harris which concludes thus:"[A]t the heart of Harris's creed was the idea that the state was an evil to be kept at bay, and that nothing should take precedence over the freedom of the individual to be left alone within the law. His contribution to public discourse, economic thought and the idea of liberty was immense. His was, in its way, a heroic life."

The Times also provides a detailed account of his character, his work at the IEA, and his relationship with politicians, including Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher."As far as the IEA was concerned, he was opposed to orthodox political involvement. Think-tanks should aim to change opinion, but remain uncontaminated by baser activity. He argued the point with inimitable style: 'Keep clear of politics. Politics is bad for you. It leads to compromise and deals and confusion and vote-getting and lying and cheating and all these, in the end.'"

In a less than sympathetic obituary, Andrew Roth describes him as"the high priest of the libertarian right". Roth's account of his life is still worth reading for stories that are not mentioned in the other obituaries."He had his greatest dilemma in April 1998, when Lord Denham called for public funds to save the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. 'Should an honest market man,' Harris said in the Lords, 'get mixed up in what looks suspiciously like an appeal for subsidies, even for so good a cause? To me, public money has always been tainted money.' But as a D'Oyly Carte enthusiast, he was torn. So he turned to the Arts Council, urging it to favour Gilbert and Sullivan as a good investment." Note to American readers: the Arts Council is funded by taxation.

Over at the Adam Smith Institute blog Eamonn Butler acknowledges that"those of us who created the Adam Smith Institute were among those who benefited from his early support and encouragement."

I shall conclude on a personal note. I first met Ralph Harris when I was a college student and I was immediately captivated by his charismatic evangelism on behalf of the free market. Subsequently I met him a number of times. He was an eloquent advocate of individual liberty and the free market. But above all I remember him as a generous, kind, and thoughtful person.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

cristian voicu - 10/30/2006

Lord Harris of High Cross will remain in the hearts of those fighting for liberty as a noble, gentile and kind person, and always an opened-mind friend.