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He was a kind guest…

… at our house on Capitol Hill many years ago.  I recall a calm, unpretentious man with whom it was instantly easy to chat.  I think I recall correctly his disappointment with our pathetic liquor cabinet.

Mr UD , who studied with him at the University of Chicago, admired his independence, his strong sense of individuality.  He did his own work, utterly unreliant on any form of received wisdom.

Brian Barry, who has died at 73, had a political philosophy “best … described as egalitarian liberalism – the view that, along with protecting traditional liberal freedoms, the ‘just’ state must promote economic redistribution from rich to poor and provide equality of access to public services.”

Barry was famously pugnacious in argument and uninhibited in his criticisms of those with whom he did not see eye to eye. Colleagues who bought his books would quickly pass over prefatory tributes to Gertie the cat and go to the index to discover the identities of his latest victims. Terms such as “astonishingly crass”, “obscurantist”, “cavalier” or “complete rubbish” were characteristic put-downs.


UPDATE: Excerpts from an exclusive interview this evening with Mr UD, who worked closely with Brian Barry at the University of Chicago.

“What did he look like? Big teddy bear…

I had just finished studying John Rawls with John Rawls, at Harvard. His big book on justice had recently come out, and the course there was basically Rawls responding to his critics. It wasn’t until I took a two-semester seminar in justice with Brian at Chicago – a course that featured Brian’s critique of Rawls – that I began to understand Rawls. In other words, I didn’t get Rawls as well, studying with Rawls, as I got Rawls studying Rawls with Barry. If that makes sense…

I went to his office to introduce myself before the semester started. I was already an admirer of his work. Finding him was a little difficult, because there was a geography professor on campus also named Brian Barry, and it was Barry’s first semester, and it wasn’t entirely clear where his office was… I found him, and he was really welcoming; we had a long chat, and he ended by saying “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of you!” I remember his office was very dark; he kept all the lights off…

The seminar was great. After it was over he organized an informal weekly gathering at his apartment so we could continue talking about justice. Various faculty gave papers; Brian served beer.

You know that book we have, The Incomplete Book of Failures? He introduced me to that book. He used to read out of it during class. He especially liked to read from the famous phrasebook, English As She Is Spoke.

I once bumped into him coming out of Regenstein Library. His arms were full of books — twenty of them, say. I said something like I see you’re finally reading a book or two. And he said I just finished writing a book on utilitarianism and now I have to read up on the subject to put in some footnotes.”

Margaret Soltan, April 5, 2009 12:17PM
Posted in: professors

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One Response to “He was a kind guest…”

  1. Bonzo Says:

    Sounds like a man after my own heart.

    We know where to lay the blame for the pathetic liquor cabinet.


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