Harold Joseph Laski, (born June 30, 1893, Manchester, England—died March 24, 1950, London), British political scientist, educator, and prominent member of the British Labour Party who turned to Marxism in his effort to interpret the “crisis in democracy” in Britain during the economic depression of the 1930s.
Born into a liberal Jewish middle-class family in Manchester, Laski was the son of a cotton-shipping merchant. Without his parents’ consent, he married Frida Kerrey, a Christian woman, in 1911. Laski briefly studied eugenics at University College, London, before entering New College, Oxford, in 1911. After graduating from Oxford and working for the Daily Herald, Laski left England to teach political science at McGill University in Montreal (1914–16). Later he obtained a post at Harvard University, where he taught from 1916 to 1920 and established friendships with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Louis Brandeis, both justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Felix Frankfurter, who was later appointed to the court. During this period he wrote Authority in the Modern State (1919) and The Foundations of Sovereignty, and Other Essays (1921). In both works he attacked the notion of an all-powerful sovereign state, arguing instead for political pluralism. In his Grammar of Politics (1925), however, he defended the opposite position, viewing the state as “the fundamental instrument of society.”