The great polymath and humanitarian Hugh Stretton died this weekend. I can do no better than to reproduce another great Australian’s tribute to him.
The following is from Geoff Harcourt.
Hugh died last Saturday at the age of 91 after a long illness. I had known him since 1958 when I first came to Adelaide where he was the much-admired Professor of History. In later years we became firm friends, though I continued to regard him with awe and admiration. He was a giant intellect, easily Australia’s most deep and progressive thinker, and a remarkably kind and humane man who lived up to his ideals in many practical ways.
Having established an excellent History department, he resigned from his chair so that he could write. The first product of this new phase was The Political Sciences, published by Routledge in 1969, and named in the Times Literary Supplement as a work of ‘near genius’. It contains a most profound analysis of the inseparability of analysis and ideology in the social sciences. He published privately his ground-breaking book, Ideas for Australian Cities in 1970, which then became a bestseller. Housing and Government, his Boyer Lectures, were published in 1974. His Cambridge University Press book, Capitalism, Socialism and the Environment, (1976), was so far ahead of its time that it has not received the attention it should have. His volumes of essays analyse vital social, political and economic issues in Australian society. His ‘anti-Samuelson’ economics textbook, Economics: A New Introduction (1999), presents to students a viable alternative to mainstream economics.
Most of all, he was a loving and lovable person, always extraordinarily generous and supportive to his many friends and admirers (overlapping sets), and lovingly supportive and proud of his children. He and Pat had many years of deep love and support for one another. I doubt that we shall see his like again.
Geoff Harcourt Professor Emeritus G C Harcourt School of Economics, UNSW Business School
I didn’t know Hugh personally, but he generously wrote a cover blurb for the first edition of Debunking Economics, and we corresponded briefly at the time. I felt privileged at the time, and saddened now that he is gone.
Hugh had a wisdom that is lacking on both ends of the political spectrum today. My favourite Strettonism (which I’m sure I heard via Geoff Harcourt) was his gentle retort to a particularly left-wing employee of the South Australian Housing Trust, who asserted that there should be no private housing at all–just public housing.
Hugh replied “No, we need them to keep us efficient, and they need us to keep them honest”.
Would that we had such perspective in today’s polarized and trivialized political debate.