Location: Washington, DC

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lord Harris of High Cross,
Eccentric Classical Liberal Icon,

It's not your fault. No fully informed jury would convict you. You are reading another libertarian 'blog, after all. So bracing yourself for the painful, inevitable, obligatory "ganja" yucks can't be considered poor form, espcecially when the post marks the passing of an outspoken exponent of "smoker's rights," who became, when elevated to a peerage by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself, Lord Harris of High Cross, no? ("Get it: 'smoker's' rights, dude? And they dubbed him Lord High Cross!" Yadda yadda. You know the drill, Freedom Fighter.)

No, sir, not in the initial posting at JVLaB(log). This ain't the "Man Show," Flip Flop Fatty.

Rather, we will note that Lord Harris was instrumental in reviving classical liberal and free market thought during the lonely days of post-war Britain. He championed F.A. Hayek, when the academic elite dismissed the future Nobel Laureate for his then-unfashionable skepticism of central planning. He helped to found the Institute for Economic Affairs, the incubator of Thatcher's privatization policy.

Lord Harris' passing is even more unfortunate because, it seems, he was a marvelous eccentric, a sort facing extinction in contemporary libertarian circles. Lord Harris was born a commoner who grew partial to pipe smoking and donning "a fancy waistcoat," which a certain Russell Lewis (this Russell Lewis?), in his personal remembrance in The Independent, excuses as "his one sartorial extravagance." The Daily Telegraph's obit notes that Lord Harris traveled with his own portable pepper grinder and reports that he was an "accomplished amateur conjuror and was fond of bathing in the sea (he took regular dips off Eastbourne)." Eastbourne? Good God! (Sounds like something a combat-addled RAF vet might exclaim...)

Despite his legacy as one who was instrumental in fueling Thatcher's radical departure from the Social Democratic consensus of the beginning of her day, Lord Harris refused to cozy up to the Conservative Party. He took his seat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher, rather than take the Tory Whip, and, in his first of two early forays into electioneering, Lord Harris stood for parliament as a Liberal (and Unionist) in Kirkcaldy, a Scottish seat now held by the technocratic Prime Minister-in-waiting, Gordon Brown.
And, this was when the Liberals were little more than a parliamentary rump; an electoral remnant.

That affiliation was attributable, no doubt, as The Guardian noted with an unnecessarily elaborate disdain, to the fact Lord Harris was really, at root, more of a libertarian than a Conservative. Indeed, his IEA colleague Arthur Seldon had been even more keen a Liberal, when it was almost as unfashionable as being a free marketeer. As I, JVLaB, noted on Reason's website last year, the more visionary of today's Liberal Democrats see the future viability of their party in resuscitating that venerable heritage.

Lord Harris' libertarianism was most pronounced in the non-economic sphere by his tireless campaigning against smoking bans. Though he, like Lady Thatcher, was reared in working class Methodism - a much more socially conservative milieu than the often-dissolute, aristocratic, C of E background enjoyed by many, if not most, Tories of that era - it seems Lord Harris was indeed guided by a decidedly “un-stiff upper lipped” "live and let live ethos." To wit: the BBC's obit dug up an obscure quote in which Lord Harris excoriates the self-righteous rhetoric of the busybodies' "public health" crusade: "A lot of people fulfill themselves through sucking at their pipes or smoking their fags. It's part of their personality."

Though a certain "foppishness" has not-undeservedly haunted the Conservative image for centuries, here Lord Harris spoke like a true libertarian, one tolerant of "alternative lifestyles."

So, you see, no puerile "pot" shots here. But, tell me, Old Boy, you snickered at the "sucking at their pipes or smoking their fags" bit, didn't you?

Laughing and learning. - JVLaB