The battle of ideas
Acton Institute Powerblog

The battle of ideas

The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek

This OpinionJournal article, “Investing in the Right Ideas,” by James Piereson, surveys a brief history of philanthropy in the 20th century. Piereson describes three phases of conservative philanthropy, initiated by F. A. Hayek in the 40’s and 50’s. He writes, “The seminal influence on these funders was F.A. Hayek’s ‘The Road to Serfdom,’ published in London in 1944 and in the U.S. the following year. This slender volume, an articulate call to battle against socialism, turned its author, then an obscure professor at the London School of Economics, into an enduring hero among conservatives and classical liberals on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The second phase is identified with a move toward a broader interaction with society, in areas of art, religion, and literature, among others. The funders in this phase “were more self-consciously conservative than libertarian. While sympathetic to the writings of Hayek and the ideals of classical liberalism, they adopted a broader intellectual framework encompassing fields beyond economics: preeminently religion, foreign policy and the traditional humanities. In contrast to Hayek and his followers, they were also prepared to engage the world of politics and policy and to wage the war of ideas in a direct and aggressive style.”

The third and current phase of conservative philanthropy represents a greater emphasis on practical policy issues and a corresponding devaluation of the ideas and underpinnings of conservatism. Piereson, I think rightly, identifies this generally as a negative shift, and concludes that “in this sense, Hayek and the neoconservatives have had it right all along: Any movement, if it is to maintain or augment its influence, will need to wage an ongoing battle of ideas. To do so, conservatives, no less than liberals, will need the help of sympathetic philanthropists.”

Part of the article is a brief sketch of corresponding giving among liberal causes in the 20th century. Piereson identifies the financial abilities of the conservative philanthropists as dwarfed by liberal institutions, including higher education. In that vein, I pass along this link to DiscoverTheNetworks, a site that “identifies the individuals and organizations that make up the left and also the institutions that fund and sustain it; it maps the paths through which the left exerts its influence on the larger body politic; it defines the left’s (often hidden) programmatic agendas and it provides an understanding of its history and ideas.”


Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.