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Joan Kennedy Taylor, RIP

A cherished friend, wise adviser and writer/activist of formidable gifts, Joan Kennedy Taylor died on Sunday at age 78 after a long illness. Joan was a key figure in the early history of the Manhattan Institute; her supremely thoughtful work helping Charles Murray to shape and present the argument of Losing Ground, the book that demonstrated the failure of the War on Poverty and revolutionized the welfare debate, rightly became a legend in the policy world. Much of Joan's own writing sought to advance the themes with which she was above all else associated, namely those of an individualist feminism grounded in Enlightenment values and committed to liberty and specifically to free expression. Her unique book for the Cato Institute and NYU Press, What to Do When You Don't Want to Call the Cops: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Sexual Harassment, was discussed on Overlawyered Nov. 12 and Nov. 13-14, 1999 and Feb. 19-21, 2000.

Joan made an enormous impression on me when I first met her in 1976, having already been a fan of her radio commentaries (she was one of the contributors to CBS radio's rotating "Spectrum" lineup). When I landed in New York City ten years later it was inevitable that I would seek out her renewed acquaintance. Only much later did I learn about the fascinating life she had led, born to a family of much cultivation (her father was the prominent music critic and composer Deems Taylor), and later close for many years to Ayn Rand. Joan's preferred methods of persuasion, however, could hardly have stood in more contrast from those of Rand, as may be evident from this profile:

While her views put her at odds with many "mainstream" feminists, Taylor says she prefers to work to build alliances rather than accentuate differences. "New Deal feminists may put more faith in government solutions than would libertarians or classical liberals," she said in an online discussion (May 7, 1999). "But I think it makes sense to keep the bridges to what is good about the liberal tradition, so that one can call upon our common heritage in the Enlightenment and the American constitutional tradition of individual rights."

Always reluctant to turn political disagreements into occasions for acrimony and denunciation, Joan raised to a virtual art the search for common ground with others of good will. Other comments: Jesse Walker, Cathy Young, Ed Hudgins (and more) and Wendy McElroy (cross-posted from Overlawyered).

P.S. There is now a tribute blog whose first post offers a more detailed account of her life.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.