Tribute to Anthony Arblaster
We were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Anthony Arblaster. He was a part of the Department of Politics and International Relations for over thirty years, and has had a lasting impact on those who he taught and worked with in that time. Staff from the department have shared their fond memories of Anthony and the commitment he had to the department and to the study of politics.
Anthony Arblaster was appointed by Bernard Crick to the recently established Department of Political Theory and Institutions in 1971. He taught political theory, and was one of the main lecturers on the history of political ideas which was a key component of the first year course. He also taught a very popular and wide-ranging third year special subject on Coercion, Consent and Ideology. His students were devoted to him and that was because he was devoted to them. He had very broad intellectual interests which made conversation with him always very stimulating because he brought such insight and enthusiasm to the discussion of political theory and contemporary politics. He co-edited a book of readings with Steven Lukes The Good Society and in 1984 published his major work, The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism. He also published influential books on Academic Freedom and Democracy, as well as a path-breaking study of politics in opera, Viva La Liberta. Opera, and music in general, was one of Anthony’s life-long passions. He will be remembered for his commitment to the study of politics as a pluralist and humanist discipline, and for his long and dedicated service to the Department and to his students.
Anthony Arblaster taught me throughout my BA in Politics here at Sheffield, and was quite simply an inspirational teacher. In his ‘Ethics of Journalism’ course, he taught us how real world political controversies (freedom of speech, control of the media, etc.) are underpinned by deep philosophical disagreements. In his classes on Rousseau, he not only taught us the value of close textual analysis, but also how to utilise historical texts for radical political transformation in the here and now. And in his trail-blazing ‘Coercion, Consent and Ideology’ module (which essentially invented the subdiscipline of Critical Terrorism Studies) he opened our eyes to issues that most of us had never considered political before. And he did all this while being funny, kind, approachable, and genuinely interested in his students’ ideas. He was a fantastic teacher and a wonderful man who will be missed and fondly remembered by all of his students.
I was lucky enough to be an undergraduate in the department when Anthony Arblaster was still teaching. He definitely had ‘legend’ status, and it was a real coup to end up in one of his seminar groups or attend his lectures. Anthony had an inimitable, conversational and seemingly tangential way of bringing political theory to life. Who else could breeze into a seminar lamenting about Sheffield’s traffic management system before seamlessly segueing into a discussion about Rousseau’s thoughts on the social contract? He made a huge impression on so many of his students (many of whom later followed his career as an opera critic), and will be remembered with immense fondness and respect.
I have two overriding memories of Anthony Arblaster. One, as a first-year undergraduate where he taught political theory with the kind of verve that left students dazed and awestruck in equal measure: on the one hand, we were not entirely sure if we understood everything he was saying; but on the other, tantalised by the idea that, in fact, he was helping us to understand these really complex ideas that we were not sure if we could (or should) be understanding. In that sense, he was an incredible teacher and communicator, able to raise the prosaic and mundane to high levels of abstraction, while also bringing the complex and intractable down to everyday reality. The other memory is as a PhD student, teaching undergraduates, when he was a retired Emeritus Professor: he happily shared the dingy cave-like office that we all shared for meetings with students, and was totally unaffected by status or superiority. You could tell that he absolutely loved teaching them long after he had earned the right for a rest from them. He was a wonderful, unassuming, human being.
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