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From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] GREENLEAF: William Howard Greenleaf 2008
Date: Sun, 22 Jun 2008 18:22:50 +0100
Professor WH Greenleaf
Last Updated: 12:16AM BST 12/06/2008
Critic of collectivism in British government
Professor WH Greenleaf, who has died aged 80, was a leading figure in
political studies and analysed the rise of collectivism in British
An acolyte of the historian and political philosopher Michael Oakeshott,
Jack Greenleaf (as he was known to all) was Professor of Political Theory
and Government at University College, Swansea, from 1967 to 1982.
Following Oakeshott, Greenleaf firmly believed that the very idea of
political science was nonsense and that the study of politics was primarily
a historical and philosophical discipline. This informed the appointments he
made, producing a department largely (and unusually) staffed by historians
of political thought.
William Howard Greenleaf was born on April 14 1927 at Thornton Heath,
Surrey, and attended Whitgift Grammar School in Croydon. After a period of
National Service in the Navy, where he served with the Occupation Forces in
Japan, he gained a First from the London School of Economics in 1951,
followed by a PhD in 1954.
At the LSE Greenleaf was taught by Harold Laski but soon abandoned the
latter's socialism for the more congenial intellectual climate provided by
the conservative Michael Oakeshott (upon whom he was later to publish
Oakeshott's Philosophical Politics).
After a short period at the University of Manchester, Greenleaf took up an
appointment at the University of Hull, rising to the position of Reader,
before moving to Swansea in 1967.
He subsequently held visiting professorships at the University of Texas at
Austin, Bryn Mawr College, the University of Baroda, the University of
Tennessee at Knoxville, Tbingen University and the Australian National
University at Canberra.
Greenleaf's first major publication was Order, Empiricism and Politics
(1964), an exploration of methods of political reasoning in the 16th and
Specifically, Greenleaf examined two different traditions of English
political thinking: "the political theory of order", which had given rise to
the divine right of kings, and "the political theory of empiricism", which
came to favour limited monarchy.
In Greenleaf's view, they embodied the growing antagonism between the
traditional and the new in politics.
Greenleaf's text was also intended to demonstrate the methodology
appropriate to the history of political thought, since reading the past
through what he termed "modern prepossessions" would, he considered, lead to
misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
Throughout the 1960s Greenleaf continued to publish on the history of
political thought, producing a series of essays on Hobbes, Filmer, Locke,
Hume and others, but during this period the project that was to define his
career - a monumental study entitled The British Political Tradition -
started to emerge.
At his death, the first three volumes had appeared; the fourth volume, on
British foreign policy, remained incomplete.
Greenleaf's subject was the rise of collectivism in British politics. In
meticulous detail, he charted the growth of government in the UK, leading to
his description of Britain as "a much governed nation". The role of
government, Greenleaf concluded, had extended at all levels.
The whole argument was framed in terms of a tension between the demands of
collectivism and the traditions of libertarianism, the latter emphasising
the importance of the rights of the individual and his freedom from both
social supervision and arbitrary political control.
It was with the libertarian tradition that Greenleaf's sympathies lay; with
the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 the contemporary relevance of his
argument became all too obvious.
Tiring of modern academe, Greenleaf retired in 1982, but continued to work.
A private man, he took pleasure in the company of his family and close
friends. He enjoyed the theatre and the cinema (especially the films of John
Wayne) and travelled widely.
Jack Greenleaf married, in 1956, Yvonne Short. She survives him with a son
and a daughter.
|[W-OBITS] GREENLEAF: William Howard Greenleaf 2008 by "Peter McCrae" <>|