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Ward, Barbara (1914–1981)

Ward, Barbara (1914–1981)

British economist, intellectual journalist, and advocate of Third World development who was an influential figure in academia and politics throughout the mid-20th century . Name variations: Barbara Ward (1914–50, and thereafter in publications); Barbara Jackson (1950–73); Dame Barbara Ward (1974–76); Baroness Jackson of Lodsworth (1976–81). Born Barbara Ward on May 23, 1914, in York, England; died at home in Sussex, southern England, shortly after her 67th birthday, on May 31, 1981; daughter of Walter Ward and Teresa Mary (Burge) Ward; attended Catholic schools, England; the Lycee Molière and Sorbonne, Paris; and Somerville College, Oxford University; married Sir Robert Gillman Jackson, in 1950 (separated 1973); children: one son, Robert (b. 1956).

Worked as foreign editor of The Economist (1939–50); served as governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC, 1946–50); was Harvard Professor of International Development (1958–67); was economic advisor to President Lyndon Johnson (1964–67), and Schweitzer Professor of International Economic Development, Columbia University (1968–73); served as president of International Institute for Environment and Development (1973–81).

Selected writings:

The International Share-Out (1938); Hitler's Route to Baghdad (1939); Turkey (1941); The West at Bay (1948); Policy for the West (1951); Faith and Freedom (1954); The Interplay of East and West (1957); Five Ideas that Change the World (1959); India and the West (1961); The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations (1962); Spaceship Earth (1966); Nationalism and Ideology (1966); The Lopsided World (1968); The Widening Gap (1971); Only One Earth (with Rene Dubos, 1972); The Home of Man (1976). Contributor to many others.

Barbara Ward was an outstanding intellectual journalist on political and economic affairs who became influential in British and American liberal circles. A fluent stylist with what she called "a fatal facility for words," she assimilated vast quantities of difficult information quickly and was able to summarize and explain it lucidly and persuasively. These gifts, coupled with an unflagging capacity for hard work, made her an influential figure in journalism, academia, and political life throughout the middle decades of the 20th century. Rarely ahead of her time, she embodied the wisdom of the moment raised to its highest power. Fiercely anti-fascist in the 1930s, anti-Communist in the late 1940s, anti-colonialist in the 1950s, a "global villager" in the 1960s, and an environmentalist in the 1970s, she lent her powerful pen and persuasive rhetoric to each of these causes in turn. She was, besides, a consistent advocate of the rights of the individual, the needs of poor nations, and the sovereignty of the Roman Catholic Church.

Ward grew up in East Anglia, mainly in the seaside and port town of Felixstowe, daughter of a provincial lawyer. Her mother was a devout Roman Catholic and sent her to convent schools, but her father was a Quaker, and pointed out to her the class injustices of English society. Ward surprised her school friends by defending the British trade unions when they launched the General Strike of 1926 in support of coal miners facing pay cuts. After two years of "finishing" education in Paris and Germany, during which she became fluent in both French and German, she went to Somerville College, Oxford, one of the elite women's colleges, where her initial plan to become an operatic soprano gave way to the study of politics and economics. She gained a first class honors degree in 1935 and won a three-year postgraduate award to study economic and political conditions in Central Europe. There she witnessed at firsthand the Fascist transformation of Austria and Italy and studied the dilemma of the Austrian Roman Catholic Church. She lectured on politics and economics in Cambridge University's extension program between 1936 and 1939.

Ward's first book, The International Share-Out (1938), criticized the economic injustices of British imperialism. She was an enthusiastic

member of the Labour Party and her lucid, persuasive writing on Labour and colonial issues led to an invitation from editor Geoffrey Crowther to write for The Economist, Britain's leading left-wing journal on political and economic affairs. She became a member of The Economist's permanent staff in 1939 and was its foreign editor throughout the Second World War and the late 1940s, a period which one writer described as the journal's "twentieth century zenith of dignity and influence." She also gave radio talks on the BBC during the war, becoming part of the "Brains Trust" (a cluster of professional broadcasting geniuses), and lectured in America, Sweden, and on British army bases, becoming one of the distinctive broadcasting voices of the war and a national celebrity before the age of 30. Ward served on the BBC's board of governors between 1946 and 1950, and was a governor of the Old Vic Theater and the Sadler's Wells opera company in London.

She was a devout Roman Catholic and tried to energize her Church towards more radical social reform. On good terms with the English Catholic primate, Cardinal Hinsley, Ward belonged to the Sword of the Spirit Movement, a Catholic activist group during the 1940s, and contributed to A Christian Basis for the Post-War World (1941). In the 1960s, in the pontificate of Paul VI, she was to become an advisor to the papacy and a member of the Pontifical Commission for Studies of Justice and Peace, making her one of the first women to enter the ancient male preserve of the papal curia.

Like many members of the Labour Party, Ward was a democratic Socialist, fervently opposed to the undemocratic character of Soviet Communism. Catholicism intensified her anti-Communist fervor. Her 1951 book Policy for the West blamed the Soviet leaders for throwing away the chance for peace in 1945. "Those who mold Russian policy," she wrote, "have been trained in an atmosphere precisely calculated to produce in them a deadly mixture of arrogance and suspicion" and a "profound scorn for all who do not accept the absolute and eternal truths of Marxist doctrine." At the same time, she recognized that theoretical Marxism "has the magnificent sweep of a great epic," making it all the more a temptation to be resisted. Ward was herself strongly attracted to wide-ranging intellectual systems, praising in particular those of Arnold Toynbee and her fellow Catholic Christopher Dawson.

In the Cold War era, she urged a resolute anti-Communist foreign policy, based on the economic strength of a broad free-trade area in Western Europe, and she praised the statesmanlike generosity of President Harry Truman for his support of the Marshall Plan in rebuilding a shattered Europe at the end of the war. It was the kind of selfless international scheme she most favored, and in later works she often referred back to the Marshall Plan as a model for bold international incentives led by the wealthy nations of the West. In her 1954 book Faith and Freedom, Ward argued that the Christian West's tradition of individual dignity and spiritual freedom ought to attract Third World peoples emerging from colonialism but that, as a sign of good faith, these benefits must be accompanied by economic aid and effective mechanisms for redistributing the world's wealth. Central to Ward's thinking about economics was the fact that the world no longer lived with scarcity. "I often wonder whether this fact has really reached the profounder levels of our imagination, or whether we do not still live in an imagined age of scarcity, still reacting as though the difficulty of securing enough materials to accomplish even basic needs ought to dominate public thinking." Too often, by the mid-20th century, the advanced nations suffered from over-production so that redistribution abroad could be commensurate with self-interest.

Faith and Freedom, her most philosophical book, also demonstrated how acutely Ward could read—and share—the mood of a generation. It coincided with the Western vogue of existentialism in the early 1950s, arguing that humanity is condemned to freedom and that the challenge of life is to accept freedom, and use it wisely. Combining it with her religious faith in a manner strongly reminiscent of the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, she ended her plea for the world with an assertion that the existence of a good God could still be demonstrated: "The firmest proofs of religion are rooted in the nature of reality—in the necessities of reason, in the underivative character of such concepts as truth and goodness." And she did not hesitate to assert the superiority of Christianity over the other world religions because it most fully recognized the centrality of time, change, and history. "It is … the unique character of Christianity, among all the world religions, to have grasped not only the infinitude of the Creator but also the dynamism of His creation. For all its evil and suffering and sin, the world is rescued from the last horror—the horror of meaninglessness."

Ward was married in 1950 to Robert Gillman Jackson, an Australian civil servant and later assistant secretary of the United Nations. With him, she moved first to Australia and then in 1953 to Ghana, where he worked as an economic advisor to the post-colonial government of Kwame Nkrumah, as it planned and built the Volta Dam. Although Ghana remained her home base for the next 15 years, she was often away, teaching on economic development at Harvard every winter semester between 1957 and 1968, touring other newly independent British colonies including India and Pakistan, and giving lectures throughout the English-speaking world. Her experience of de-colonization and her visits to these lands forced on her, in the most vivid way, the terrible disparities between the rich and poor nations, and she became convinced that world political stability depended on transforming this unequal relationship. She argued persuasively that, so long as the developing nations were primarily exporters of raw materials, they would be at a permanent disadvantage beside the exporters of manufactured goods. Asia, she noted in a 1960 lecture, "became primarily an exporter of raw materials and an importer of manufactures" in the colonial era. "This is the least profitable of commercial relationships; yet Western trade policy is still in some measure designed to hinder rapid industrialization in the emergent lands." Her lecture series were regularly published and caught the attention of important figures. Lyndon Johnson said of her book The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations (1962), "I read it like I do the Bible," and he frequently invited her to the White House for unofficial advice on economic affairs between 1963 and 1967. But unlike President Johnson, Ward had no experience of actual government or administration. Her writings—confident, decisive, sweeping, and theoretical—never addressed the practical complications involved in changing the direction of the entire world's economic conduct. And at crucial points her deep learning and analysis shaded off into utopian pleas for moral, political, and economic transformations.

Ward, like many liberal intellectuals during the 1960s, became convinced that technology had led to an acceleration of history itself, that the world was becoming a "global village," and that the application of good will and technical expertise could solve its residual problems, ushering in an age of peace and plenty. Her lectures at Carleton University, Ottowa, reprinted as Nationalism and Ideology (1966), were devoted to this theme, and to lamenting the continuing grip of nationalist ideas, even among groups like the Americans who ought to know better. She was correspondingly dismayed to see her friend President Johnson becoming ever more heavily involved in the Vietnam War, which seemed to give the lie to these optimistic ideas.

A few years later, Ward became one of the first liberal intellectuals to pay systematic attention to environmental deterioration, another of the drawbacks of advanced industrial societies, and as she came to understand it better, she abandoned the boundless technological optimism which had colored her speeches and writings in the early 1960s. She argued now against the relentless urbanization of America, and the imbalance created in poor countries like Ghana by the rapid growth of cities and depopulation of the countryside.

The great paradox of this century is that we have reached an extreme pitch of national feeling all around the world just at the moment when, from every rational point of view, we have to find ways of progressing beyond nationalism. This point needs great emphasis because, in this field, our reason and our emotion probably do not work in the same direction.

—Barbara Ward

Environmentalists in the 1960s believed that overpopulation was one source of the crisis. Most favored birth-control programs for the Third World and were strong supporters of reducing population growth rates. That view made the Catholic Church, which banned artificial contraception, seem like an obstacle to progress. Ward was one of many liberal Catholics who hoped that the Vatican would change its teaching on the birth-control question, as it seemed ready to do in 1966, after the upheavals of the Second Vatican Council. At a Catholic congress of the laity, she wrote a petition advocating such a change. But when Paul VI issued his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (1968), upholding the old prohibition, she swallowed her doubts and defended the pope's decision. Redistribution of wealth was more important than population restraint, she argued, formulating the point at a Vatican press conference where she declared: "If a man asks you for bread and you give him a pill he'll spit in your eye!"

In 1967, Ward was named Albert Schweitzer Professor of International Economic Development at Columbia University. The university's economics department challenged her appointment on the grounds that she was a talented economic journalist rather than an original scholar, but the administration overruled it and installed her. Her prestige and influence enabled her to summon world leaders to conferences there, emphasizing the theme of wealth inequalities between the first and third worlds.

Ward's concern for environmental affairs intensified in the 1970s. With Rene Dubos, she co-wrote Only One Earth, a preparatory study for a United Nations' environmental conference in Stockholm in 1973. It summarized the environmental issues then coming under political scrutiny and, as usual for Ward, argued that fuller knowledge and more intensive study, coupled to vigorous co-operative political action, were essential. "The first step to devising a strategy for planet Earth" she wrote in her chapter on "strategies for survival," "is for the nations to accept a collective responsibility for discovering more—much more—about the natural system and how it is affected by man's activities and vice versa." And in the chapter on population, Ward pointed out that rising living standards rather than government support for birth-control plans had led to shrinking family size and population stability in the advanced nations—a point which enabled her to reconcile her environmental concerns with her orthodox Catholicism.

That same year, 1973, Ward resigned from her Columbia chair to accept the presidency of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. She spent the later years of her life back in England but continued to travel widely, working for more generous aid to the developing world and becoming engrossed in the anti-nuclear movement. Her last work was a pamphlet commissioned by Catholic bishops on the duties of the rich, both individuals and nations, and she ended with words which could summarize the mission of her adult life: "Could it be the vocation of this generation to give the planet the institutions of unity and cooperation that can express this mystery [of Christ's incarnation]? Is the need not all the greater since, just as we have discovered the fragilities of our natural systems, we have invented, in nuclear weapons, a possible means of destroying ourselves and them together?" Barbara Ward died shortly after her 67th birthday, at home in Sussex, southern England in 1981.


"Barbara Ward," in Current Biography 1977. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1977, pp. 424–427.

"Outstanding Contribution to Economic Thought," in The Times (London). June 1, 1981, p. 16.

Nowell, Robert. "Barbara Ward's Last Cry for World Justice," in The Times (London). July 27, 1981, p. 12.

Ward, Barbara. Faith and Freedom. NY: Norton, 1954.

——. Five Ideas that Change the World. NY: Norton, 1959.

——. The Legacy of Imperialism. Chatham College, 1960.

——. Nationalism and Ideology. NY: Norton, 1966.

——. Policy for the West. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1951.

——. The Spirit of '76: Why Not Now? Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Press, 1963.

——, and Rene Dubos. Only One Earth: the Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet. NY: Norton, 1973.

Patrick Allitt , Professor of History, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

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