Born on 25 June 1944, he was educated at Northampton Grammar School and then the University of Exeter, where he read politics, before embarking on an academic career at Queen's University Belfast and what was then Birmingham Polytechnic.
By then, however, Professor Barry's youthful left-wing views had given way to a deep distrust of state power - including government funding for higher education. He therefore found a natural permanent home at the University of Buckingham, Britain's only private university, as reader in politics in 1982. He was promoted to professor of social and political theory in 1984.
Greatly influenced by the Austrian School of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, Professor Barry was also an early British enthusiast for public choice theory, sometimes known as "the economics of politics", which sees politicians competing for voters as businesses compete for customers. Much of his wide-ranging published work was on the borderline between politics and economics.
His books include Hayek's Social and Economic Philosophy (1979), An Introduction to Modern Political Theory (1981) and Classical Liberalism in an Age of Post-Communism (1996), but he also produced trenchant - and provocative - popular writings on his free-market ideals. A pamphlet for the Adam Smith Institute, Respectable Trade (2002), provided a robust defence of "Anglo-American corporate capitalism" against the "dangerous delusions" of "business ethics", "corporate social responsibility", "the stakeholder society" and "the third way".
He set out the rationale for his academic home in a pamphlet, The Case for Independent Universities (1994). In a 2001 paper to celebrate Buckingham's 25th anniversary, he offered a further blast against "antediluvian and atavistic ways of thinking about education", arguing that "large swaths of public services in the United Kingdom remain organised under general principles more redolent of Stalinist central planning than of a modern free economy".
Martin Ricketts, dean of the School of Humanities at Buckingham, remembers him as "a great scholar, a close colleague and a staunch personal friend ... I would not like to calculate how many hours we must have sat in pubs, offices and seminar rooms discussing questions of common interest. To be able to spar with Norman over such an extended period with the utmost good humour was one of the most formative experiences of my life."
Although multiple sclerosis made walking difficult for him from 1997, he remained highly productive, contributing to The Legal Foundations of Free Markets (Institute of Economic Affairs) in August. He died on 21 October.