The Fading of Pierre Goodrich’s Dream to Spread the Word about Liberty

“Fade to White”

The party politicization (pro-Trump republican) of Liberty Fund and its rapid turning away from the Founder’s “original intent” of promoting long-term educational and academic goals is the subject of an article in this month’s Indianapolis Monthly magazine. As the victim of the first round of purges of those who defended that vision I learnt with dismay about the victims of the second round in May 2021 which led to my colleague Nico Maloberti taking his own life in despair and hopelessness for the cause. This is the subject of Adam Wren’s article “The Pursuits of Liberty”.

I will let Adam Wren’s article speak for itself but I will note that I was struck by the very clever and insightful graphic the magazine used to represent the fading away of Goodrich’s vision under the current Board and senior management, which I have entitled “Goodrich’s vision for LF: ‘Fade to White’.”

Note: After all that has happened over the past four years the fact that there is now a “Goodrich Resident Scholar” at Liberty Fund is one of the world’s great ironies and a travesty of justice to Goodrich’s memory.

The story of the decline of Liberty Fund has been taken up by Damon Linker in “The Week”: “A libertarian tragedy in Indianapolis: The political struggle over the libertarian soul takes a grim and telling turn” (27 January 2022) online. His sad conclusion is that in addition to its drift towards explicit “politicization” it is also a result of the Foundation’s loss of faith in the power of ideas to change the world:

However one describes it, the shift could well be driven as much by the corporate imperative to demonstrate influence as by naked political passion and ambition. The businessmen who sit on Liberty Fund’s board may be committed Republicans, but they may also have grown impatient with the absence of metrics to show their expensive conferences are making a concrete difference in the world.

In this respect, the story of Liberty Fund’s drift away from its founder’s vision may be one as much about overt politicization as it is about declining faith in the power of libertarian ideas to win the day through erudite conversation alone. And, far beyond this one organization in Indiana, that’s a loss — or, at least, a sign of a larger, deleterious shift — for our country, where once we tried to aspire toward something more reasonable.

I would add small caveat here. I do not think that it is an “either, or” choice between educating people about the history and theory of liberty, and “making a concrete (political) difference in the world.” There is after all a division of labour among advocates of any idea and its policy implications. There are some institutions which develop and promote the ideas at a theoretical level, there are those who teach these ideas to their students, there are “Think Tanks” where policies based on these ideas are developed, there are political parties which endeavour to put these policies into practice, and there are voters who vote (or usually don’t vote) to put these parties into power. If any link in this chain goes missing then the task becomes that much harder to reach.

The old Liberty Fund was situated at the top end of this long “structure of production of ideas” and was placed there very deliberately by its founder Pierre Goodrich to, as Damon accurately notes, “(foster) conversation among intelligent people from a range of backgrounds about the foundations and maintenance of a free society.” These “conversations” were often centered around one of the Great Books of Liberty which Goodrich had spent much of his adult life reading and promoting. He thought these great books provided the “soul” of the liberty movement and thus deserved close and frequent study. Liberty Fund’s place in the broader liberty movement was a unique and very important one but it is now vacant and is waiting for something else to fill it.

There are now four public statements which document what has been going on at LF:

  1. my piece “Nico Maloberti: In Memoriam” posted to my website on July 2 online;
  2. the “Letter to the Board” by long-time LF friend and supporter Chandran Kukathas which he wrote 11 July denouncing their actions and wanting to sever all ties with LF (privately but widely circulated)
  3. the article by Adam Wren: “The Pursuits of Liberty: The Tragic Death of an Idealistic Academic has brought to Light an Existential Struggle within the Halls of one of the Country’s most powerful Education Foundations, the Liberty Fund”, Indianapolis Monthly (Jan. 2022) online
  4. Damon Linker, “A libertarian tragedy in Indianapolis: The political struggle over the libertarian soul takes a grim and telling turn” The Week (27 January 2022) online