June 18, 2009 / 5:14 PM / 8 years ago

Philosopher and "great European" Dahrendorf dies

LONDON (Reuters) - Philosopher and politician Ralf Dahrendorf, who claimed class was defined by power not wealth, has died of cancer, aged 80.

Dahrendorf, born in the German city of Hamburg, took British citizenship in 1988, and served as a politician in both countries and as a European Commissioner.

"Europe has lost one of its most important thinkers and intellectuals," Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Brussels on Thursday while attending a European Union summit.

"We've lost a great European. He made great contributions to European integration both from a theoretical and practical point of view."

Dahrendorf, who died in Cologne, Germany, on Wednesday, was also a renowned academic, with his most famous work "Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society" challenging Marx's theory that class was based on property. Rather it was rooted in how much power somebody could yield, he said.

Dahrendorf worked as a researcher under the philosopher Karl Popper at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the early 1950s before forging close ties with the university.

He became a director between 1974 and 1984 and later a governor in 1986.

Howard Davies, director of LSE, said the university was "deeply saddened" by Dahrendorf's death. "His contribution to the school, as our director, our historian and a governor, has been unrivalled," he said in a statement.

At school, Dahrendorf was imprisoned between 1944 and 1945 because of his involvement in an anti-Nazi group.

His early academic career was spent in Germany, where he was a student at Hamburg University, before becoming a professor of sociology, followed by teaching posts at Tubingen and Konstanz.

He then went into German politics, entering the West German parliament, the lower house, for the Free Democrats in 1969-70.

Dahrendorf settled in Britain in 1986, and was warden at St Antony's College at the University of Oxford between 1987 and 1997.

He was made a British peer in 1993 and sat in the upper chamber of the House of Lords.

Additional reporting by Jacob Comenetz in Berlin and Ilona Wissenbach in Brussels

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