Kenneth Minogue, who was one of the most brilliant yet also most approachable philosophers of liberty, died suddenly on Friday when returning from a conference of the Mont Pelerin Society, whose retiring president he was, on the Galapagos Islands. This is not a formal obituary and so it will not list Ken’s academic achievements and honors. All one need say for the moment is that he was at the center of an extraordinary group of political philosophers, economists, and journalists — other members included Michael Oakeshott, Bill and Shirley Letwin, F.A. Hayek, Roger Scruton, Perry Worsthorne, Noel Malcolm, Colin Welch, Frank Johnson — who between them instilled intellectual rigor, political imagination, a deep appreciation of liberty, and a sharp (occasionally derisive) wit into the all-too-inert body of English conservatism.
Ken, a New Zealander by birth, an Australian by upbringing, and British by affection and long habit, established a solid academic reputation at the London School of Economics and gradually expanded it into an international one through his books and lecture tours. He was well-known throughout Europe and the English-speaking world for the freshness and originality of his thought and expression. He was a contributor to National Review under all of its three editors, and an occasional guest of Bill Buckley’s on Firing Line.
Two substantial tributes to Ken have already been published on the internet: one by Roger Kimball, on the depth of Ken’s truth-seeking, at PJ Media; another by Steve Hayward, on Power Line, on the breadth of Ken’s appeal. The warm and admiring responses from their readers confirm Steve’s both the breadth and depth of Ken’s influence.
Ken, though he was 83, died at the height of his powers. He had just published a powerful analysis of the state of modern democracy, The Servile Mind, and enjoyed a very successful MPS conference on Galapagos. Ed Feulner, who broke the news to me, described the day before:
Last night Ken and I shared the duties of the chair. I did the thanks, and Ken the introduction of Allan Meltzer, who spoke to us via teleconference. Over dinner, Ken was in great humour, telling us about the next book he was working on, etc. Earlier in the week he had given a fine paper, and yesterday afternoon he chaired a session with that fine, delicate and yet steady hand that made him so beloved to all.
Chris de Muth confirms this picture and adds some details of his own:
Ken was quite brilliant and gave one of the best lectures of the week, and was energetically engaged in all of formal and informal discussions. He seemed to be happy and in high spirits although, in retrospect, was a bit subdued the final day. After dinner together on Monday evening, the taxi — a truck with an open cargo area in back — got filled up, so the two of us clamored up and into the back together and had a fine time chattering away as we rumbled back to the hotel in the cool evening air. My little MPS traveling party has already spent the morning remembering this great man together and sharing stories and the things we have learned from him.
Ken was always a cheerful and invigorating presence. His interests included Gene Kelly quite as much as Kierkegaard (more than, actually.) My last meeting with him was two weeks ago in London when we took in the Alan Ayckbourn hit comedy, Relatively Speaking, which Ken enjoyed enormously and which inspired an uproarious dinner afterwards. But he had been quietly grieving since the death three years ago of his wife, Beverly, as his friends knew. Both work and fun took more effort now that he was deprived of her warmly invigorating company. As Chris noticed in his account above, Ken was more prey to occasional melancholy. So it is comforting for his friends that his last day on this earth was seemingly such a happy one and his end quick and merciful. Ed again:
This morning 8 of us were on a bus tour looking at iguanas, sea lions, birds, etc, and enjoying ourselves immensely. Then we went back to the town of San Cristobal, had sandwiches . . . After our lunch, we went to the Galapagos airport, where the group was split between two flights to Guayaquil, an easy hour-long flight back to the mainland (on an Airbus, not a small plane). Ken and many of the others were on the other flight.
Our flight landed first at Guayaquil. The other plane ten minutes later. We were collecting our luggage when we heard the horrible news that Ken had been stricken on the plane. There were four MD’s on the plane, including two from the MPS meeting. They tried everything, but to no avail . . . Fr. Sirico administered the Last Rites.
Ken was a great believer in the virtue of friendship. He was a loyal friend himself and he attracted the friendship of others. So he leaves many people behind who will always think of him gratefully as someone who, as well as being a serious philosopher of liberty, was a reliable guarantee against boredom and dullness whether at a seminar or a dinner-party.
As Clarissa Pryce-Jones writes:
He always gave me such a grin and would wink across a crowded room conspiratorially at many a London gathering of the so-called Great and Good. I will miss him more than very much.
So will we all.