Paul Hirst: remembering for the future

David Hayes
18 June 2003

We share with Paul’s closest family our deep shock and sadness at this event. We all have lost not just a precious human being but an extraordinary life-force and a great, fertile human intelligence. As an organisation we feel bereft at the loss of a colleague whose ideas and energy were crucial to our formation and development.

Back to ‘The challenge of Paul Hirst’ by Anthony Barnett.

In the coming weeks, Paul’s life and works will be remembered on our site – beginning with a tribute from openDemocracy’s editor, Anthony Barnett.

A man in full

For many years, Paul taught politics and social theory at Birkbeck College in London. He chaired the editorial board of the respected Political Quarterly journal. He was also academic director of the multi-disciplinary London Consortium, taught at the Architectural Association and was chairman of the campaign group working for a written constitution in Britain, Charter 88.

In its own moving tribute, Charter 88 described Paul as “one of the most active and inspirational figures at the heart of our campaign”, who “was a champion of democracy and a tireless campaigner for political reform. He will be remembered for his brilliance, insight, great humour and passion for the real issues affecting democracy and people’s rights. He also will be remembered for his absolute dedication as a campaigner and for his wit, charm, warmth and originality. He was a great motivator, and an original spirit. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him and all those fortunate to have worked with him.”

A life in ideas

At the time of his death, Paul was working on a book called Governing Space: Architecture, Politics and War. In its very title it reflects a range of reference and ambition that was characteristic of Paul’s provocative, always forward-looking intelligence.

Among his early books were important elaborations of political theory which showed a profoundly analytical intelligence and a penetrating grasp of logic. These included Durkheim, Bernard and Epistemology (1975), Social Evolution and Sociological Categories (1976), and (in collaboration with Barry Hindess) the astringent works of Althusserian-influenced Marxist theory, Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production (1975) and Mode of Production and Social Formation (1977).

The attempt to excavate the philosophical sources for a contemporary political theory continued with On Law and Ideology (1979) and the important essay-collection Marxism and Historical Writing (1985). The development of Thatcherism in Britain impelled his work into a new, creative phase with Law, Socialism and Democracy (1986) and After Thatcher (1989).

As the wrenching economic and social changes of the 1980s unfolded across the world, and the end of the cold war impacted on political orders and political ideas alike, Paul’s writing became increasingly preoccupied with questions of democracy: its conditions, forms and possibilities. This was reflected in his works Representative Democracy and its Limits (1990), Associative Democracy (1994), and From Statism to Pluralism - Democracy, Civil Society and Global Governance (1997).

What was the character of the modern international economic order which constrained or facilitated different political possibilities at the end of the 20th century? Does globalisation exist? Is it genuinely new? These were the questions that shaped Paul’s pathbreaking work (with Grahame Thompson) Globalisation in Question (1996), so timely and influential that it demanded a swift second edition (1999).

The intersection of technology, geopolitics and environmental crisis shaped Paul’s concise, synoptic study War and Power in the Twenty-First Century (2001). Like his other works, this was accompanied by a host of research papers, journal articles and reviews for a wide variety of international publications. Along with his constant and supportive teaching and supervision to generations of students, Paul Hirst’s work and example leave a rich legacy for years to come.

Paul Hirst’s funeral will take place in London on 30 June 2003. His wife Penny has asked that there be no flowers, instead people are asked to send a donation to Charter 88, the movement for a modern democracy and written constitution in Britain. To donate online, go to http://www.charter88.org.uk/press/0306hirst.html; or send your donation to Charter88 , 18A Victoria Park Square, London E2 9PB, England, UK / +44 (0) 208 880 6088

Please feel free to send us your thoughts and commemorations of Paul Hirst to [email protected].


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