Obituary: Harry Redner, Teacher

I came to Monash Politics in 1976, aged 22. Supported actively by Alastair Davidson and Herb Feith in this crossover, I had successfully completed a BA and Dip Ed across the road at Rusden College. This was before Dawkins: there was a great divide between colleges and universities. My four years were considered to be the equal of one by the higher ups at Monash. I was insulted, of course, young and precocious. But I took up the offer of a Masters Preliminary with eight units, two more years undergraduate work before fourth year, honours and its thesis, and all that followed.

This is now a long time ago. Why did I take this on? Plainly Monash had something I wanted and needed. I knew Alastair’s work, and something of Zawar Hanfi’s, little of Harry’s; for his writing exploded later, especially with In the Beginning Was the Deed in 1982. So I got the three kings.

Harry’s was a sort of continental smorgasbord. He was a kind of old European intellectual, perhaps an aristocratic radical like H Stuart Hughes at Harvard. He taught me methods, thinking about thinking and writing with Denis White and Ray Nichols, and later Theories of the Modern State: the towering presence, his hero in the figure of Max Weber. Richest of all, perhaps, was his unit on The Politics of Nihilism. Wow. The more demanding material was there: Adorno, Spengler, Gasset, Arendt. The more popular as well, but here taken as a deep reading: Huxley and Orwell, those key icons of the twentieth century. And the undercurrents: the modern classics, Goethe, the ancients, the Greeks, and the moderns, Dostoyevski and Nietzsche, Beckett, the sober majesty of Weber himself.

Then there was the honours seminar taught by Harry and Alastair – Structuralism, For and Against. This was a truly formative, and transformative exercise. Tough, and truly demanding, sometimes even to the point of tears. Luckily for me, I was ready, or as ready as I could be. The world continued to open for me, with the arrival of Johann Arnason and the Budapest School. It never really occurred to me to leave Australia to study. I found my own private utopia at Monash. All this came to me at Clayton, adding in the sparks of the German Department, and then Bundoora.

Old style, old school – this is now a lost world, in terms of university life. But there was also something youthful and energetic, something of the life force to Harry and his teaching, a combination of passion and even mission with intellect and precision, breadth and depth. He had a kind of elegance of style and content, another view, and brought a kind of engaged dignity to everything he did. Although Harry would always be ready to argue about the distinction between culture and civilisation, he himself was truly both: cultured and civilized, a democrat among aristocrats, ever willing to share. He was an intellectual giant, a worldly philosopher. Later in life he became a good friend. I am proud to say he was my teacher.

2 thoughts on “Obituary: Harry Redner, Teacher

  1. I did not have the good fortune to meet Harry Redner, but Peter Beilharz’s Obituary makes me wish that I had. What a truly beautiful Tribute! Thank you.

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  2. Very moving account Peter. Harry and the Monash Politics Dept are clearly a figure and a chapter in Australian social thought that needs airing. My transformative moment was been taught by Alastair in my first failed attempt at completing Honours at USYD in 1991. Unlike you, I wasn’t quite ready for it. And, unlike Redner, there was less Weber on offer. But interesting how these intellectual threads connect backwards and forwards through time.

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