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Issue 478, 4 March 2002


Professor David Beetham

David Beetham came to Leeds from the University of Manchester in April 1980, taking up the Professorship of Politics in succession to Ralph Miliband. Professor Beetham had already established himself as the leading British authority on the thought of Max Weber through the publication in 1974 of his book Max Weber and the Theory of Modern Politics. This was rapidly followed by seminal studies of élite theory, focusing on the work of Robert Michels, which together with his work on Weber gained him an international reputation as a scholar of European social and political theory. Once at Leeds, he consolidated his position as a leading political theorist with studies of Marxist theories and analyses of fascism, and some years later by his book on The Legitimation of Power.

In the course of his time at Leeds, David Beetham has become one of the best-known and most distinguished experts in the field of democratic theory and practice. He has acted as consultant on democracy to Unesco, the Council of Europe, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. His study Introducing Democracy, 80 Questions and Answers (jointly authored with Professor Kevin Boyle of Essex University) was commissioned by Unesco and published world-wide in many languages. Closer to home, he is the initiator of the 'democratic audit', described in his own words as 'the simple but ambitious project of assessing the state of democracy in a single country'. This 'democratic audit' has been applied to assess the extent, and limits, of democracy in the United Kingdom, and gave rise to the massive study Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain, jointly written with Stuart Weir and published in 1999. David Beetham's innovative work on democratic audit and democracy assessment gained international recognition with his appointment as Director of Research for the Stockholm-based IDEA (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assessment). In that capacity, he has travelled throughout the world extending the application of the democratic audit to a wide range of countries, and acting as consultant on questions of good governance and democracy assessment. There are very few political scientists whose theoretical work has achieved such immediate practical implementation and global recognition. In addition he is recognised as a leading scholar of human rights, with a focus on economic and social rights, editing and contributing to an important collection of papers on politics and human rights.

David Beetham has not hesitated to show his commitment to democracy and egalitarianism in spheres outside the University. He has been a political activist, a parliamentary candidate, and an involved member of peace movements and protests against nuclear weapons. Within the University, he served for several years as head of department, accessible and open to all his colleagues, and unfailingly supportive and encouraging. He was a founder member and Director of the Leeds University Centre for Democratisation Studies. He has also served the wider University community by his membership of numerous chair and readership committees. There is no doubt that his scholarly work will continue in his retirement, along with his love of vigorous mountain walking and scrambling in areas as diverse as the Italian Dolomites and the Scottish 'Monroes'. We wish him a speedy recovery from his recent ill-health and express appreciation of a truly distinguished and outstanding career.

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