Anthony Arblaster – ThB 48-56
Submitted by Richard Arblaster
In his book The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism (1984) Anthony Arb laster, who died on April 12, sought to bring out some of the ‘darker and harsher aspects of liberalism’ but added: ‘the best of liberalism is too good to be left to the liberals.’ Socialism would fulfil liberalism’s promises. Given the ‘fragility of liberalism’s achievements,’ he wrote, ‘even in its traditional heartlands,’ a ‘firm commitment to the best of liberal values and institutions’ is ‘more necessary than ever.’ An early sense of dangers ever more apparent.
He kept to that commitment throughout his life. A socialist from an early age and educated at Christ’s Hospital school, he chose to do his National Service in the Army as a private, refusing to carry a weapon, and then studied history at Balliol College, Oxford. As his undergraduate friend, I found his political but also his wide literary and musical passions incandescently inspiring. We would later co-edit an anthology of visions of a better world in The Good Society (1971). Eager to pursue political theory, he studied philosophy at University College, London but then became a journalist at Tribune from 1961-68, with one foray into parliamentary politics as Labour candidate in an ultra-safe Tory constituency. He then moved into university life, first at Manchester, then for 34 years at Sheffield.
This was no retreat. His book Democracy (1987) focused on creating, not just defending it. He campaigned against attempts to stifle dissent within academia, publishing Academic Freedom (1974). He denounced the Labour Party’s
‘conventional chauvinistic attitudes’ and obsessive ‘need to prove its loyalty’ in his pamphlet ‘Thatcher’s War; Labour’s Guilt.’ He wrote articles for many radical publications. The Labour politician Tam Dalyell called him a ‘brilliant polemicist.’ He founded the Socialist Society with Ralph Miliband and Raymond Williams in 1981. And he was always active locally, writing for the Sheffield Free Press and campaigning against racism. For two years before the pandemic he volunteered every week in a local food bank.
His life-long love of the opera issued in his ambitious book Viva la Liberto!: Politics in Opera, which ranges widely across operas since Mozart, exploring their engagement with ‘the great issues of politics’ that ‘stir us all at one time or another.’
He was gentle, decent, a joy to be with and politically nonsectarian. He is mourned by his wife, Lynda Snowden, his two sons and three grandchildren.