A. D. Lindsay

A. D. Lindsay

Alexander Dunlop (Sandy) Lindsay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 14th May, 1879. Educated at Glasgow University he obtained his first degree in classics in 1899. He then won a scholarship to University College, and as well as getting a double first was president of the student union.

Lindsay taught philosophy at Glasgow University (1902-1904), Edinburgh University (1904-09) and at Balliol, Oxford. Along with his friend, William Temple, he became a tutor at the Workers' Educational Association.

During the First World War Lindsay served in the British Army and in 1917 was promoted to deputy controller of labour in France. After the war Lindsay was professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University before returning to Oxford University. A socialist, Lindsay became a national figure in 1926 when he joined with William Temple in urging the government to seek a negotiated agreement to the General Strike. One of his students, Christopher Hill, later argued: "His influence on students between the two world war wars was incalculable, and time and time again he gave a lead where few others in university circles did - in attempting reconciliation during the general strike."

Edward Heath was one of the students deeply influenced by Lindsay: "Although Lindsay's own principles were strongly social democratic, he was completely non-dogmatic and non-doctrinaire both in argument and in deed. He believed that democracy alone, and the freedom of expression it underpinned, could give each individual the chance to live his or her own full life. Lindsay had more influence on me at Oxford than anyone else. Ironically, by hastening my intellectual development, this great socialist probably strengthened my innate Conservatism: and the more I exposed my instinctive political views to intellectual questioning, the more solid and rigorous their foundations became."

An educational adviser to the Labour Party, Lindsay was chairman of the National Council of Social Service. He was also involved in setting up several unemployment clubs and was vice-chancellor of Oxford University (1935-38). Denis Healey knew him during this period: "He was a tall, shambling, bear of a man. Wisps of white hair floated round a large innocent pink head. He lectured in a light, sing-song voice, twisting the ends of his gown in front of him. As the first confessed socialist to head a college in Oxford, he was regarded as a dangerous revolutionary by many of his colleagues, particularly when he stood as the Popular Front candidate in the 1938 by-election. Nowadays he would be regarded as a left-wing liberal."

Lindsay, a strong opponent of appeasement, he stood as the anti-Munich candidate in the by-election that took place in Oxford in October, 1938. Although defeated by the Conservative Party candidate, Quintin Hogg, he reduced the majority from 6,645 to 3,434.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Lindsay became chairman of the Joint Recruiting Board, with the task of allocating conscientious objectors to work of national importance other than military service. He also played an important role in organizing education for the armed forces.

As well as being a regular contributor to the Manchester Guardian he wrote several books including The Philosophy of Bergson (1911), The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1913), The Essentials of Democracy (1929), Kant (1934), The Modern Democratic State (1943) and Religion, Science and Society in the Modern World(1943). He was created 1st Baron of Lindsay of Birker of Low Ground by Clement Attlee on 13 November 1945.

Alexander Dunlop Lindsay died on 18th March, 1952. His son, Michael Lindsay, a specialist in Chinese economics, succeeded to the title and became the 2nd Baron of Lindsay of Birker.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) A. D. Lindsay, speech at Cardiff (1928)

The great democratic commonwealth of learning, which transcends division of class, religion, and nationality, which takes the co-operation of all for granted, and which has worked out a wonderful technique of co-operative thinking.

(2) A.D. Lindsay, speech (18th October, 1938)

Along with men and women of all parties I deplored the irresolution and tardiness of a Government which never made clear to Germany where this country was prepared to take a stand look with the deepest misgiving at the prospect before us ... all of us passionately desire a lasting peace, but we want a sense of security, a life worth living for ourselves and our children: not a breathing space to prepare for the next war.

(3) Edward Heath, The Course of My Life (1988)

At the time I went up, Balliol's already formidable reputation was being further enhanced by the then Master, A. D. Lindsay. "Sandy" Lindsay had previously been Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University, a chair once held by Adam Smith. There the comparison ended, for Lindsay was a socialist whose Christian faith was an integral part of his political philosophy. In 1926, two years after he became Master, he had caused an uproar, both among the College parents and more widely in the University, by supporting the General Strike; and, in 1931, he had entertained Mahatma Gandhi for a fortnight in the Master's Lodge during the Indian leader's visit to Britain.

Although Lindsay's own principles were strongly social democratic, he was completely non-dogmatic and non-doctrinaire both in argument and in deed. He believed that democracy alone, and the freedom of expression it underpinned, could give each individual the chance to live his or her own full life. Lindsay had more influence on me at Oxford than anyone else. Ironically, by hastening my intellectual development, this great socialist probably strengthened my innate Conservatism: and the more I exposed my instinctive political views to intellectual questioning, the more solid and rigorous their foundations became.

(4) Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (1989)

Lindsay was not an outstanding thinker. His books display a decent Christian socialism but generate no excitement. But, besides running Balliol well, he had a genius for understanding the intellectual needs of his students. In that sense he was a worthy successor to Jowett.

He was a tall, shambling, bear of a man. Wisps of white hair floated round a large innocent pink head. He lectured in a light, sing-song voice, twisting the ends of his gown in front of him. As the first confessed socialist to head a college in Oxford, he was regarded as a dangerous revolutionary by many of his colleagues, particularly when he stood as the Popular Front candidate in the 1938 by-election. Nowadays he would be regarded as a left-wing liberal. Many years working for the WEA had given him a devotion to the working class. John Betjeman puts it well:

While Sandy Lindsay from his lodge looks down

Dreaming of Adult Education where

The pottery chimneys flare

On lost potential firsts in some less favoured town.

It was this desire to help the under-privileged which determined his socialism. He did not want the proletariat to win the class war - on the contrary, as he told us at his farewell dinner after the war, he wanted to spread aristocratic values through the whole of the British people. Exceptionally kind to anyone in need, he managed to find a place in the Senior Common Room for several refugees, including the great Central European sociologist, Karl Mannheim, the Russian psychologist of adolescence, lovetz-Tereschenko, and the Hungarian economist. Tommy Balogh, who had been working under Schacht in the Reichsbank and warned us not to imagine that the Nazis' economic policies would fail in their objectives.

By introducing me to the Christian mystics, and through his own social commitment, Lindsay had an influence on me more profound and lasting than I imagined at the time.

(5) The Picture Post (5th November, 1938)

Then there was the confusion of policy. Both candidates were for: the League of Nations; re-armament; peace; democracy; unity against war. At least, they said so. Underlying everything was a simple unpolitical moral issue, whether or no we had gained peace with honour. But barrister Hogg scored one of the big laughs when he said :

"The issue in this election is going to be very clear. I am standing for a definite policy. Peace by negotiation. Mr. Lindsay is standing for no definite policy that he can name. He stands for national division against national unity. His policy is a policy of two left feet walking backward!"

But Lindsay, lemonade-loving Presbyterian son of a Theology Professor, had a unique line of approach, remote from the usual thumping. In his very first speech, he read part of the lesson for the previous Sunday, to illustrate his argument. It went across - for he was sincere. He got headlines when a man asked him : "Now that our prayers have succeeded in bringing peace from the Munich agreement, is it not ungrateful to doubt and to question that peace?"

Lindsay answered like this: "Suppose you had a child desperately ill. All night long you pray without ceasing, and in the morning she seems better. You thank God that your prayers have been answered. Then, later on it is discovered that owing to some error in the doctor's treatment, she is going to be disabled for the rest of her life. Would your gratitude to God for saving your daughter's life prevent you from calling in a better doctor who might restore your daughter to health? That is how I feel about our present very precarious peace. I am sure that Mr. Chamberlain did his best, but I know that it was also he who brought us very near to war. I am sure that it is owing to his policy that we are now in such a very dangerous situation. That is why I oppose him"

(6) Christopher Hill, A. D. Lindsay (1952)

His influence on students between the two world war wars was incalculable, and time and time again he gave a lead where few others in university circles did - in attempting reconciliation during the general strike, in doing something for the unemployed during the depression, in opposing Nazism earlier than was fashionable, helping German refugees and taking a public stand against Munich, in modernizing and democratizing Oxford, in the Keele experiment. In all these ways his influence prepared for the Welfare State, if not the classless society.