Libertarians You’ve Never Heard Of: FA “Baldy” Harper

SFL Staff

It’s important to learn from intellectual giants like Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, but there are many unsung heroes that are also worth exploring. In thiseducational series, we hope to introduce students to such individuals. While not all of the figures profiled here explicitly identified as libertarian, they made great contributions to the cause of liberty that are worth acknowledging.

“. . . So far as my rights are concerned, the right to life carries with it the right to defend my life. And since my property is the economic extension of my person, it is likewise within my rights to protect property from theft or destruction.” -Baldy Harper

Who

F.A. “Baldy” Harper was an economist, lecturer, and networker. He and a handful of other scholars settled the ‘40s and ‘50s liberty movement into institutions, some of which still exist today.Baldy’s great vision was to guide and develop a body of libertarian scholarship and research, and legends say he was the model teacher.

Major Works

Professional path

In his early twenties, the Michigan native sunk his teeth into research as a field agent with the Federal Farm Board, and later as a business analyst for the Farm Credit Association. Harper then spent 19 years as Marketing Professor at Cornell University. Harper left Cornell in 1946 after university officials forbade him from teaching #Austrianeconomics by his serendipitous namesake, #FAHayek.

The pro-liberty network had been connecting throughout his career; when he left the high-brow university life, Harper immediately co-founded the Foundation for Economic Educationwith Leonard E Read. Harper served on the Foundation for Economic Education’s staff until 1958, when he began to co-direct the William Volker Fund. The Volker Fund “engaged in the vital task of discovering and sponsoring libertarian and allied scholars in all related fields and disciplines, and in aiding and publishing their work as individuals separate from their universities.”

Indeed, Harper was a true Libertarian Bro: He was present for the inceptive meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, founded by libertarian bigwigs FA Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Karl Popper.

Legacy

By the early ’60s, Harper’s sphere of influence inspired him to make big moves. He cast his net ever wider, expanding Volker activities to house libertarian fellows, scholars, conferences, and publications in a permanent home dubbed the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS). IHS is around today, educating people about liberty and funding human liberties research through seminars, scholarships for undergrad and grad students, an online archive of recorded lectures, and an interactive website that links classical liberal academics.

Harper initially served as IHS’ secretary and treasurer, becoming the Institute’s president in 1966. He held this position until his death in 1973.

Further reading

In honor of the 60th anniversary of the publication of Harper’s In Search of Peace anti-war pamphlet, and Leonard E. Read’s Conscience on the Battlefield, FA Harper Professor of Economics Christopher J. Coyne published War and Liberty: Wisdom From Leonard E. Read and F. A. ‘Baldy’ Harper.

A summary of his ideas

*Read and Harper argued that the use of war as means of attacking the enemy of liberty was misguided because it misspecified the true enemy. Both understood that the true enemy of liberty was not something that could be killed by force. ‘The enemy’, Harper writes, ‘is basically an idea, which is an abstraction. It has no nose to be punched and no heart to be pierced.

*There is strength in unity, as the saying goes, but what ultimately matters are the ideas that people believe and share in common with others. Unity around the use of coercion by the government is only a false strength.

*Both Read and Harper made the bold conjecture that the communist threat would not be thwarted by the use of force, but instead by winning the battle of ideas.

Instead, what they advocate is the principle of non-aggression. Both do so by arguing against the use of US-driven aggression in the first place and by providing an alternative, namely a liberal, ideology.

Even further reading

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