William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

12
SOCIAL SCIENCE AND ACADEMIC FREEDOM

I

JESSY MAIR'S influence was frequently blamed for the disputes that occurred at the LSE particularly during the latter years of Beveridge's directorship, and undoubtedly her powerful and assertive personality helped to fan the flames of academic discontent. Nevertheless, it is difficult to avoid the impression that she was often the catalyst rather than the cause of academic dissension. On each major issue she was one among many dimensions of controversy and it seems certain that serious disagreements would have arisen without her presence. One must therefore look for other and less personal explanations for the series of internal conflicts that, after the halcyon years of the 1920s, divided the LSE for much of the 1930s. The most revealing of these conflicts concerned the nature and method of the social sciences, the issue of academic freedom, the internal government of the LSE, and the balance of power between director and professors.


II

The debate on the nature of the social sciences was the most prolonged and all-pervasive of the subjects in dispute. As we have seen, Beveridge as a young man had firmly attached himself to the 'empirical' tradition in social science, represented by Llewellyn Smith and the Labour Department of the Board of Trade. When he came to the LSE he was convinced that the social sciences were still 'too theoretical, deductive, metaphysical' and that 'the way ahead' lay in empirical studies of social phenomena rather than in deductions based on analytical postulates about the nature of human behaviour.1 This was made clear in his lecture on 'Economics as a Liberal Education', which he delivered at the LSE in October 1920. In this lecture he reaffirmed his discipleship of the biologist, Thomas Huxley, and called for social inquiries based on 'observation and experiment, comparison and classification'. Only

____________________
1
BP, IIb, WHB to J. Chandler Cobb, 3 June 1925.

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