The Cato Institute regrets to announce the passing of Ronald Hamowy, distinguished intellectual historian, Cato Fellow in Social Thought, and editor of The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Ronald died Saturday at the age of 75, after a long series of health problems. His friend Steve Cox, editor of Liberty magazine, has an informative and touching remembrance:
He was one of the libertarian movement’s most important and vital scholars. An historian of the 18th century, he was known for his impeccable standards of research and writing. To discerning researchers of the Enlightenment — left, right, or center — his word was law. If there was a scholarly myth or illusion, he was the one who was trusted to puncture it. He was the person who meticulously set things straight. Many times, when I have mentioned his name in an academic conversation, the reply has been, “Ronald Hamowy! You know him?!”
For libertarians, Ronald will always be recognized as a bright star of the post-World War II generation — but unlike many other grand old men of this or that era, he never became a Grand Old Man. He retained to the end his youthful joy and sense of first discovery. To him, any new fact — or any old movie, viewed on his constant friend, Turner Classics — was a pleasure to be greeted as if it were the first one in the universe. Even when ensconced as chairman of an august intellectual conference, Ronald let his eyes sparkle and his mouth crinkle with laughter, and with some little Count Basie-like verbal gesture he set the whole house laughing with his infectious wit.
Ronald managed to meet and study with many of the great liberal and libertarian thinkers of the 20th century. As Brian Doherty notes in Radicals for Capitalism, he went to grade school with economist George Reisman, who introduced him to high school friends Ralph Raico and Robert Hessen, both future historians. He attended Ludwig von Mises’s New York University colloquium in the 1950s and became a lifelong friend of Murray Rothbard. He went to the University of Chicago for graduate school and studied under F. A. Hayek and then did post-graduate work at Oxford under Isaiah Berlin.
At Chicago he co-edited the legendary New Individualist Review, one of the earliest libertarian journals. Ronald’s works include The Scottish Enlightenment and the Theory of Spontaneous Order (University of Southern Illinois Press, 1987), Canadian Medicine: A Study in Restricted Entry (Fraser Institute, 1984), Dealing with Drugs: Consequences of Government Control (edited, Lexington Books, 1987), The Political Sociology of Freedom: Adam Ferguson and F. A. Hayek (Edward Elgar, 2005), and Government and Public Health in America (Edward Elgar, 2007). His last project was editing the definitive edition of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (University of Chicago Press, 2011). When that book was published, he presented it at a Cato Institute panel featuring Bruce Caldwell, Richard Epstein, and George Soros.
He also edited a scholarly edition of Cato’s Letters, for which the Cato Institute is named, for Liberty Fund. His magnificent achievement, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, belongs on the bookshelf of every libertarian and everyone with an interest in political philosophies.