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Max Beloff Centre for the Study of Liberty

A painting of Professor Max BeloffThe University of Buckingham was created in 1973 by Max Beloff and his colleagues as a university free of Government regulation. The best universities in the world are the independent Ivy League universities in America, and their quality flows directly from their independence. The University of Buckingham has used its independence in so many ways which we hope Max would have approved and we have, for example, the best student:staff ratio in British higher education. But, proud as we are of our teaching, we feel that Max would also have liked us to have further developed our scholarship as defenders of freedom.

In January 2005 we created in “Max’s memory” a Centre for the Study of Liberty. There was no academic centre for the study of liberty anywhere in the UK nor, we believe, in the EU or Asia. Only in America do academic departments such as the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, Bowling Green, Ohio (of which our vice-chancellor, our professor of politics and others of our academics are alumni) flourish, where philosophers, lawyers, economists and others study freedom as a learned activity. There are libertarian think tanks on both sides of the Atlantic, but no scholarship on this side.

Liberty has underpinned the Judeo-Christian ideal for millennia, and it was the idea of liberty that moulded Europe. Britain, too, was forged by liberty, and British leadership in commerce and politics flowed out of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which established the Bill of Rights and the rule of law.

But liberty is constantly under threat from governments and their apologists who seek to over-tax and over-regulate. We have thus sought to create a countervailing institution that will reinforce the value of liberty. Such an institution must be academic and focused on the long-term for, as AV Dicey explained in his 1905 Lectures on the Relation between Law and Public Opinion in England during the Nineteenth Century:

The beneficial effect of state intervention, especially in the form of legislation, is direct, immediate and so to speak visible, while its evil effects are gradual and indirect and lying out of sight. Hence the majority of mankind must almost of necessity look with undue favour upon governmental intervention.

As Dicey explained, “governmental intervention might, in the short-term, appear attractive but in the long-term, by uprooting institutions from the civil society that spawned them, it degrades them”. We need only, as an example, compare the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in the UK (which escaped nationalisation) with its Continental counterparts to appreciate the value of independence in public services. But these arguments are complex and need to be made after judicious and deep study. It thus falls to academics, not politicians or members of think tanks, to make them, and we at Buckingham are the best placed institution in Europe to foster them.

We envisage the Centre as being interdisciplinary, home to professors of philosophy, law and economics. These professors are being joined by scholars of social policy to explore non-state solutions to problems in health, welfare and education. We see the academics of the Centre as primarily focusing on scholarship, so their teaching is likely to be largely at the PhD and research fellow level, but we also see the Centre’s scholars as enriching the undergraduate students’ experience of Buckingham by undertaking some teaching in law, business, the social sciences and the humanities.

The Centre will be a forum where distinguished academic defenders of freedom can work and think together to create a critical but interdisciplinary mass in the study of liberty.

To contact the Director of the Max Beloff Centre for the Study of Liberty please email beloffcentre@buckingham.ac.uk