In the year of the 30th anniversary of the David Hume Institute, it is a deep disappointment to be celebrating without the company of its founder, Sir Alan Peacock, who died last year at the age of 92. On the evidence of the friends and former colleagues who have contributed essays in his memory to new book about his life and work, he would have added culture and humour as well as intellectual stimulation to the occasion.
In the paper he wrote in 1983 proposing the foundation of a new institute he acknowledged that there was no shortage of such bodies already – both inside and outside universities. The gap in the market, he believed, was for an institute which would be independent of government funding, located outside London so that it could take a distinctively non-metropolitan view and unafraid to challenge established thinking.
In proposing that the new institute have ‘a firm intellectual foundation in the study of the links between economics and the law,’ he was not seeking to limit its scope. Indeed, as this book makes clear, his own interests were extraordinarily wide. He was a difficult man to categorise. He started his adult life as a Liberal, but quickly lost sympathy with the Liberal Party. He was an adviser to Labour ministers, but scathing about those who were unwilling to modify their views in the light of the evidence.
He was chosen by Mrs Margaret Thatcher to chair a committee looking at the financing of the BBC, but came back with an answer she neither expected nor wanted. Coming up with the ‘wrong answer’ was something of a Peacock specialism. He characterised the criticism of the cost of one study he undertook as ‘the survey would have been cheap at the price if it had come to the right conclusion.’ He refused to be a ‘gun for hire.’
He chose to name the institute after David Hume because he hoped it would live up to the principles of the great Enlightenment philosopher in ‘proportioning its beliefs to the evidence.’ Thirty years later we aspire still to live up to that principle and also to the standards of Alan Peacock.
The book, Alan Peacock dissenting… contains essays on Alan Peacock’s life and his work as an economist in government, on the constitution, civil justice, the arts, heritage and broadcasting and his role as an academic leader and mentor. A paperback edition is available to members of the David Hume Institute for the special low price of £4 (inc. p&p).
An electronic version can be downloaded free of charge here.
A Kindle version is available from Amazon.