Pierre F. Goodrich's Goals and Strategy for the Liberty Fund: A Reconstruction.

By David M. Hart

Date: 18 February, 2018
Revised: 1 July, 2021

Pierre F. Goodrich (1894-1973)


“It is intended to use this Fund to the end that some hopeful contribution may be made to the preservation, restoration, and development of individual liberty through investigation, research, and educational activity." (BM, p. 13.)

Liberty Fund’s Founding Documents

This paper is an attempt to reconstruct PFG's strategic thinking as outlined in several documents which were written over a period of about 15 years from the early or mid-1950s to 1969. This period was important because it shows what he was thinking in the years leading up to the formation of LF in 1960 and the first 10 years of its existence when it was still finding its feet as an institution. Wherever possible I have tried to let PFG speak in his own words. Elsewhere I have closely paraphrased what he wrote.

The documents include the following (abbreviation in brackets):

  1. “Advice on Wabash Curriculum" (no date, possibly mid-1950s) - (AWC). In WL, pp. 57-60.
  2. "Why Liberty" (A Paper read at the Meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society, Princeton University, Sept. 1958) - (WL). In WL, pp. 12-19.
  3. Liberty Fund Basic Memorandum (1961, copyright Pierre F. Goodrich) - (BM)
  4. “Introduction to the Goodrich Seminar Room" (1961), in The Goodrich Seminar Room at Wabash College. An Explanation (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), pp. xiii-xxv. - (IGSR and GSRWC)
  5. Education Memorandum (began 1951, revised 1958, 1961, 1963; c. 1969) - (EM). In WL, pp. 20-56.

Three of these documents were republished in WHY LIBERTY? A Collection of Liberty Fund Essays. Compiled January 1997 it contains WL, pp. 12-19; EM, pp. 20-56; AWC, pp. 57-60.

It should also be noted that PFG drew up various lists of what he considered to be the "Great Books about Liberty." These can be found in:

  1. BM, Part VI. Liberty Fund Book List, pp. 112-115
  2. EM, Book List, pp. 53-56
  3. List in AWC, pp. 58-60
  4. List of names in GSRWC, pp. v-vii

They are also listed on the Online Library of Liberty website.

Introduction and Summary

This essay is an attempt to “reconstruct” in a more coherent form PFG’s views which he expressed in several documents. It covers the following aspects of his thought:

  1. The Ultimate Goal
  2. The Means to achieve this Goal
  3. The Long Tradition of Thinking about Liberty
  4. Supporting Scholars (and other Authors) of Liberty
  5. Educating People about Liberty
  6. The Great Books about Liberty
  7. Making Preparations for a new “Dark Age” of Liberty
  8. My Conclusion and Further Thoughts

In reading these foundational documents I believe the following five themes recur repeatedly:

  1. To identify and preserve the long tradition of Liberty, especially the “Great Books of Liberty”
  2. To support scholars (and other authors) in their research and writing about the tradition of Liberty
  3. To promote the understanding and dissemination of the tradition of Liberty by means of publishing books and holding conversations about Liberty
  4. To provide an alternative to the traditional university lecture and textbook method for teaching and learning about Liberty
  5. To seriously consider what to do if there is a "dangerous decline of liberty" and society enters a new “Dark Age”

The Ultimate Goal

PFG’s ultimate goal in founding LF was to help create or encourage the development of a society which has “maximum liberty” and which is based upon “decentralized free and competitive" institutions in the economy, education, religion, and politics (WL, p. 16).

PFG wants to reassert the importance of and to promote an understanding of what he calls "the traditional liberal”, i.e. the classical liberal tradition, not the modern American form of liberalism (BM, p. 6).

He thought the opposite of a society with maximum liberty and “traditional liberalism” was “statism” (WL, p. 19, BM, p. 14) the implications of which he also wanted to understand. He wants to show how power corrupts and to answer the question "what is the nature of that corruption, and does it have any bearing on our thinking about the role in society of government and of the role of force which is the essence of government?" (WL, p. 14.).

The Means to Achieve this Goal

In order to promote liberty and to reduce the damage caused by statism he thought there would have to be a “revolution” (“beneficial revolution”, EM, p. 21) or “reformation” (“the practical activity of reformation” BM, p. 92) in the way people thought about politics, individual liberty, and the economy; as well as the way they behaved. They would have forego the use of force or coercion against each other and only deal with other by voluntary and cooperative means.

Before this “revolution” or “reformation” in thinking and behaviour could be achieved the ideal of liberty would have to be “preserved”, “restored,” and “developed” further. The means to do this he believed was to establish the Liberty Fund:

“It is intended to use this Fund to the end that some hopeful contribution may be made to the preservation, restoration, and development of individual liberty through investigation, research, and educational activity." (BM, p. 13.)

The Long Tradition of Thinking about Liberty

PFG thought people today needed to appreciate how long people have been discussing the issue of liberty and power, going back at least to the Ancient Sumerians in present day Iraq, which he believes is a "humbling experience" (IGSR, p. xvi). He wants us to have "the sense of humility and awareness of the nature of the choice of imperfections by which decisions may be made in favor of liberty" over the centuries (BM, p. 112).

We once were and should still be part of a long conversation about liberty that includes not only those who sit around the table in the Goodrich Seminar Room but also all those whose works are on the shelves and whose names are etched into the surrounding walls of the seminar room.

PFG thinks it is very important to get some sense of the chronology of the historical events and the people who have thought about liberty over the millennia.

He wanted to support the tradition of thinking of what he called "the traditional Liberal" who "wants to minimize the damage that can be done by the apparently imperfect man, such as we are certain to have in power, by limiting this power” (IGSR, p. xvii).

Supporting Scholars (and other Authors) of Liberty

PFG wants to assist scholars researching and writing books and articles about liberty. The Fund should be "assisting individuals to do scholarly and practical work in developing and pursuing the ideal of this Fund” (BM, p. 38).

This can be done by providing funds to free up scholars' time in order to research and write, especially to complete some unfinished project. This includes "valuable manuscripts and research material ... in a partial state of completion which, if given the time and resources, he (the scholar) could complete” (BM p. 39); these scholars would "be subsidized during the production of the book” (BM, p. 40).

He also wants to encourage communication between and cooperation among scholars who are engaged in research about liberty by "providing the means for people to come together to discuss their ideas both in an ordered meeting with a presiding individual, and in the casual discussion of smaller voluntary groups in connection with any such meeting” (BM, p. 40).

The Fund could also assist post-graduate students working towards a Masters or PhD degree with scholarships and loans (BM, p. 41).

Outside of academia the Fund could also assist other authors in the writing of creative works in other areas such as the arts such as drama and music (BM, p. 42) which "may adhere to the ideal (of the Fund) completely and perform a high service” (BM, p. 42).

Educating People about Liberty

The Fund should help students understand the history and meaning of individual liberty. The study of liberty should be interdisciplinary. Although PFG did not use this term he does list a large range of topics which he thought was necessary for "a liberal arts education" (BM, p. 128.) "The Liberty Fund must direct its activity in the whole breadth and depth of such education as necessary to achieve its ends (individual liberty)” (BM, p. 131).

He thought of the Goodrich Seminar Room at Wabash College as a working tool for exploring the meaning of liberty and the nature of a free society. He listed three "hopes" or "concepts" for the GSR. "The first hope of the wall" (IGSR, p. xvi) was to feel "the humbling presence of the centuries of written communication portrayed by the walls” (IGSR, p. xiii). He wanted the visitor to get a sense of the chronology of people and ideas, what he called "a sense of motion" (IGSR, p. xiii), and that there was a connection between ideas, the walls, the physical space between the walls, and that there was "an artistic sensibility" (IGSR, p. xiv) to be got from the juxtaposition of the key names across space and time, both figuratively and literally across the large space of the Seminar Room.

He wanted to show that there had been and still was an ongoing debate about the meaning of liberty which perhaps will never finish. Beneath the names inscribed on the wall are shelves holding copies of their published works which can easily be consulted by the people sitting around the table. This was "the second hope of the walls" (IGSR, p. xvi), namely to create "the desire to use the books on the shelves plus one's own experience in life to better understand it” (IGSR, p. xvi).

Concerning the list of names, he thought that “No certain idol is being presented. You can go on with the exploration on your own” (IGSR, p. xxiv). He wanted to show that the presentation of ideas was essentially connected by a dialogue through time, not only with themselves, but also with all those who have gone before them.

PFG thought there was a need for fundamental educational reform and called for a "clean out (of) the "Aegean stables" of the existing education system (EM, p. 21). The reforms needed to be not just what was taught but how it was taught. He believed that "Without a society of free and responsible men, genuine education is not possible; without genuine education, a society of free and responsible men is not possible” (EM, p. 26).

Concerning how people were taught and how individuals learned, he wanted to avoid "the textbook method" and "the method of formal courses” (IGSR, p. xviii). He called this traditional system of teaching and learning an educational "dictatorship" with "the professor as the dictator and the student as the slave of the dictator” (IGSR, p. xx), and that “The lecture-textbook system creates a dictator-subject situation” (EM, p. 3). He also called this "schooling" in contrast to true "education".

He thought "present-type textbooks should be eliminated" and that as an alternative "manuals and treatises of broad scope should be available for use” (EM, p. 38). This would require "a fundamental change ... in the entire concept of education” (EM, p. 20). He wanted to "discard all of the formalized concepts of education, such as courses and departments in this and that" (IGSR, p. xix) and replace it with a new system based upon the socratic method and "continuous learning" (not his phrase) through one's entire life, in most cases by reading the texts for oneself (if possible in their original language) and discussing them with one's peers.

PFG placed a great deal of emphasis on "the group discussion in the socratic concept" (IGSR, p. xviii) for teaching and learning. He called this "the third concept of this room (GSR) which would provide a suitable arrangement for a good socratic discussion” (IGSR, p. xviii). To achieve this he believed there had to be an appropriate physical space for socratic discussions to take place, where there was "an opportunity (for the individual) to read and think, check, explore, observe, and discuss” (IGSR, p. xix). He envisaged there being at the table "two socratic examiners" (IGSR, p. xx) and many "socratic peers or participants" who would discuss for two hours a common text which had been read beforehand. He also believed that "Sometimes debates can be carried on by correspondence” (ISR, p. xxiii), as he did, for example, with Friedrich Hayek when he writing The Constitution of Liberty (1960).

The Great Books about Liberty

The content of what was taught also needed to be changed radically. PFG became interested in the "Great Books" movement at the University of Chicago during the 1950s and after a split with Mortimer Adler he developed his own list of "Great Books of Liberty." His aim was "to make available books for this revival of an educational concept which has apparently been declining for something close to a hundred years” (IGSR, p. xviii); and "to establish the group discussion (of these great books) in the socratic concept” (IGSR, p. xviii). He drew up lists of key texts several times in his life (listed above).

PFG wanted to encourage people to read the original texts for themselves, not just read about them or be told by "dictatorial" professors and academics what is in them. As he said about the GSR, "In this room you can check for yourself whether or not this is so" by consulting the books in the shelves under the great names inscribed on the walls (IGSR, p. xvi). He wanted those interested in learning about liberty to have "the capacity to get a perspective and vicarious experience out of reading past writings of all kinds produced at the time historical facts occurred, while (this is) more difficult, (it) seems to be superior, provided the individual working with them has some capacity to relate them to the current events” (BM, p. 129). He thought that "if the foregoing books (the classic texts on his list) are not read and understood, at least the great part of them, it would be somewhat difficult to read critically and enjoy the best modern books” (AWC, p. 60).

In addition, he wanted to encourage "contact with the inspiring things of this cultural heritage” (EM, p. 37); including art, literature, music - "the practice and experience of spiritually stimulating art and music” (WL, p. 37); also that things like music were a "means of communication and thought” (IGSR, p. xxiv).

He stressed the importance of seeing the books arranged in chronological order: "The books are arranged in chronological order on the theory that man at any given point of time is influenced by the conversation which he is able to find in the written records of the past and in current discussion if he wishes to better understand” (IGSR, p. xvi).

In order to read these great books about liberty PFG wanted to provide "honest and good translations" of the texts (IGSR, p. xvi) and to encourage people to read the texts in their original language: "Where practical, the original language is also available for those who have the capacity to exercise a truly scientific desire to verify by looking at the original” (IGSR, p. xvi). He gave the example of the fallible Lord Acton misstating what John Locke said and the duty of the reader to check what is said against the original. His conclusion was:

"(T)hat anyone reading a serious modern book will find that book much more enjoyable, much easier to read and much more critically read by himself if the foregoing books (his list of Great Books about Liberty) have been read and understood. I would almost go so far as to say that if the foregoing books are not read and understood, at least the great part of them, it would be somewhat difficult to read critically and enjoy the best modern books." (AWC, p.60)

Making Preparations for a new “Dark Age” of Liberty

Not surprisingly, given the events of the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s when these Basic Documents which established LF were written, PFG gave serious attention to the possibility that a "dangerous decline of liberty" would take place if society entered a new “Dark Age” while the LF was in operation and he wanted to make some contingency plans in case this might occur. The events which probably concerned him at the time were the following:

  1. the possibility of the Soviet Union and the U.S.A. mutually annihilating each other in a nuclear confrontation (Cuban Missile Crisis)
  2. the creation of a full-blown “welfare state” under Johnson (the “Great Society” program)
  3. the expansion of the “warfare state” during the Vietnam War and the introduction of conscription
  4. the domination of Keynesian economic ideas in the academy during the 1960s with the explosion of government debt and Nixon’s decision to go off the “gold exchange standard” (a technical default by the U.S.)

I would also add something which PFG made no reference to, but which can see in hindsight was occurring as he wrote, which was the rise of the environmental movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968), which would introduce a whole new raft of reasons to tax and regulate society and which would come to dominate society over the next 40 years.

There are some quite dark and pessimistic passages in the Basic Memorandum which we should take note of. The first one occurs quite early in the Basic Memorandum (1961) when he warns that society might enter a new "dark age" of liberty which may take several generations to occur, and by implication, take take even more generations to reverse. This would require on the part of LF "the discernment and vigilance needed to preserve liberty.” This is very Nockian in its recognition of the need of preserving "the Remnant" to continue the memory of liberty during the new “Dark Age”. To me it suggests that PFG was thinking in a multi-generational time frame when he was setting up LF - perhaps one of 50 to 100 years:

History indicates the possibility that the society in which this Fund is created could so lose its concept of freedom and the state could become so omnipotent and so deified that it would be hazardous or difficult for individuals who hold to the ideal of the Liberty Fund.

History further discloses that when the power of the state, and of the individual who holds that power, reaches a certain point, the state and the society it governs will disintegrate. This happens over a period of time which does not usually run in the span of a single man's life. This time element increases the discernment and vigilance needed to preserve liberty. Sometimes that which follows is called a Dark Ages. It is impossible to tell when or how rapidly this may occur to a society. (BM, p. 20.)

Perhaps the most pessimistic passage in the Basic Memorandum occurs towards the end when PFG contemplates the possibility of the LF having to go underground or relocate its activities to a freer country in order to continue the struggle for liberty. This seems to suggest that PFG was even contemplating a kind of “intellectual guerrilla warfare” (not PFG’s term) by dissidents living in a society that had fundamentally turned against individual liberty:

It is hoped that the directors of this Fund will be sufficiently aware of the imminence of a dangerous decline of liberty to consider at least what steps might be taken to survive in spite thereof. This Fund may be inactive and accumulate during any such period. If history did not indicate such survival were possible, it, of course, would not be commented on herein.

It should be the privilege of the directors after full and honest deliberation to attempt to remove as much as possible of these assets to whatever place such freedom continues; at least to the extent that there is a possibility they could operate as individuals and continue to exercise their humble and most intelligent judgment without interference from the state. (BM, 126.)

One possibility PFG contemplated was LF using its endowment to run a parallel, non-state university to train sympathetic students in the “long tradition of Liberty” and its “Great Books” and issue “degrees” of some kind. Given his previous references to a “new dark age” of liberty one can’t help making the comparison of the LF and its activities to the monasteries of the Middle Ages in which the scribes in the scriptoria laboriously copied out by hand the sacred texts (which we can now do electronically at minimal cost) in order to preserve and pass on this knowledge to some unknown future generation.

If it occurs that for causes such as described above or elsewhere in the Liberty Fund Basic Memorandum the assets of the Fund ought to be changed basically as to content or location, it is suggested that, if finally and absolutely no other means can be found consistent with the entire Liberty Fund Basic Memorandum, serious consideration should be given to providing for the special use of the Fund in a college providing the kind of education described in Exhibit VIII-a.

Such a college must be a college free of any governmental control affecting the content of its education and operated by a board of trustees independent thereof.

It should be a college that is able and willing to establish, as a part of the required study for the purpose of a degree, teaching which will enable the funds to be used consistent with the ideal hereof. Such arrangement should exclude tenure and academic freedom so they may not be permitted to interfere with or defeat the ideal hereof. (BM, p. 127.)

My interpretation of these remarks is that PFG might have had in mind something like the Great Books Program at St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD) or Hillsdale College, MI for undergraduates and the Institute for Advanced Studies (Princeton, NJ) for scholars.

My Conclusion and Further Thoughts

“The dog which did not bark in the night”: or, the activities which PFG did NOT mention in the Founding Documents

What PFG doesn’t say in the foundational documents of LF is just as revealing as what he does say. For example, there is no mention of using any political party as a means of achieving his goals. He might have thought of using his wealth to form a new political party, perhaps calling it the “Liberty Party”; or attempting to “infiltrate” or influence the existing Republican Party in which his father had been Governor of Indiana and a leading figure in the GOP. It its likely he gave some money to the Republican Party at various times, and he did unsuccessfully lobby for the Indiana state GOP to support Senator Taft against Eisenhower at the 1952 party convention (Starbuck, pp. 289-90). But these efforts seem to be one off actions and weren’t intended to become the centre of his longer term strategy of promoting the idea of liberty. Hence, there is not mention of this form of activity in any of the founding documents.

There is also no mention of any specific policies or pieces of legislation which were either before Congress or which had recently been passed. Even though he wrote the founding documents in the mid-1950s and into 1960s when major changes were taking place in the American political and economic system and the size of the Federal government was rapidly increasing, he makes no mention of the civil rights movement, Johnson’s Great Society legislation, the Vietnam War, etc.

There is also no mention in the documents of LF using its resources to write public policy analyses like many other “think tanks” do; no mention of newspapers, TV or other media, or using journalism, and such as writing op-eds, opinion pieces, and columns to influence public opinion). This was an option he might easily have chosen as he owned newspapers in Indiana (Central Newspapers on the board of which he sat for 35 years) with Eugene Pulliam. He could have used his influence there to editorialize, or write op-eds which could appear in his newspapers.

There is also no mention of him engaging in fundraising from outside sources. He expected LF to be self-sufficient and self-contained with the funds he had given it. Only be doing this did he think LF could be truly independent of outside influence and could pursue the strategy, and course of action he had set out for it. The only mention of fundraising in the documents takes place is in the context of a college raising funds and the obligations this places on the college vis-à-vis the donors, which is something he wanted to avoid with LF.

Thus, in the light of these omissions in the founding documents, I think the rule of thumb for LF should be that we should never mention by name any sitting politician or political party, any piece of legislation which is currently before Congress, or any other policy matter currently under discussion. If we want to talk about “free trade” or “peace” we should do so historically (by referring to past historical debates about free trade vs. protectionism) and theoretically (by referring to classic texts like Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations). That way we can be true to PFG’s “founder’s intent” and our tax exempt status as an educational foundation.

The issues which threatened Liberty at the time LF of LF’s 50th and 60th anniversaries (2010 and 2020)

Given the events which immediately preceded and followed the 50th anniversary of the founding of LF in 2010, as well as the 60th anniversary in 2020, one can’t help thinking that PFG was quite prescient in his warnings about the ebb and flow of support for liberty in our society. At the very same as we are experiencing enormous benefits made possible by technological innovation, the broadening of the division of labour as huge countries like China and India enter the global market, and world trade expands as a result, we are also experiencing a parallel new “dark age” when it comes to other forms of liberty

I will repeat here the list I included above of the issues which may have been on PFG’s mind when he founded LF:

  1. nuclear weapons and the Cold War: the possibility of the Soviet Union and the U.S.A. mutually annihilating each other in a nuclear confrontation (Cuban Missile Crisis)
  2. the Welfare State: the creation of a full-blown “welfare state” under Johnson (the “Great Society” program)
  3. the Vietnam War and conscription: the expansion of the “warfare state” during the Vietnam War and the introduction of conscription
  4. Keynesian Economics: the domination of Keynesian economic ideas in the academy during the 1960s with the explosion of government debt and Nixon’s decision to go off the “gold exchange standard” (a technical default by the U.S.)
  5. the Environmental Movement: I would also add something which PFG made no reference to, but which can see in hindsight was occurring as he wrote, which was the rise of the environmental movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968), which would introduce a whole new raft of reasons to tax and regulate society and which would come to dominate society over the next 40 years.

The issues which threatened liberty 50 and 60 years after its founding were:

  1. War: the expansion of the warfare state following 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its further proliferation in Libya, Syria and elsewhere
  2. Sound Money: the knee-jerk reversal to Keynesian orthodoxy following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9, concerning government debt, deficits, and monetary expansion
  3. Presidential Power: the growth of presidential power and the abdication of Congress to restrain these powers, such as declaring and financing foreign wars
  4. The Surveillance State: the power of the NSA and other agencies to spy upon and surveil ordinary citizens at will
  5. Socialism: the growth in interest in “socialism” since the 2018 elections. One should also add here two new forms of socialism which threaten liberty:
    1. the rise of “Green Socialism” which is desire of many radical environmentalists to use the fear of “global warming” to severely regulate and perhaps shut down whole sectors of the economy which are not “carbon neutral or net zero”. The so-called “Green New Deal” of the “Great Reset”.
    2. the “Hygiene Socialism” created by the over-reaction to the covid-19 virus resulting in virtual house arrest for most people (“lockdowns”) and massive increases in government spending to provide for the economic support of those who have lost their jobs as a result of the government-imposed lockdowns
  6. Protectionism: and the use protectionist trade policies under President Trump

This makes one wonder what PFG would make of all this. After 60 years in existence, what has LF actually achieved; how do we measure this; what plans do we make for the short term, the medium term, the long term; are we entering a new “dark age” of liberty; and if so, what should we do and how can we make this conform to “founder’s intent”?