Karl Marx wrote that the ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of its ruling class. Looking backward, it is hard to dispute this observation, but how does it actually work? That is what our story is about. It starts with the businessman below and his simple frustration at the success of Marxism as an idea, first among his own workers and then amongst the American establishment whose wide-spread adoption of the appropriately conciliatory "New-Dealism" was entirely in response. In an economic system in which everything is reduced to a commodity, a man of means should be able to simply buy a counter-idea, shouldn't he? So it turns out...
the overwhelming priority of Volker's "philanthropy" was focused, not on public spaces but on reactionary ideology. Dismayed by the rise of Socialism in America and doubly dismayed by what he saw as the evolution of government and political thinking towards accommodation and a "new liberalism", eventually personified by the widespread adoption of the economic views of John Maynard Keynes and the New Deal policies of Franklin Roosevelt, Volker set out to create a new and much more reactionary "mainstream" ideology based loosely around his own ideas of "laissez-faire" capitalism (i.e. a largely unregulated economy) and social Darwinism (the pseudo-scientific notion that in society, unhindered competition would allow the "cream to rise to the top").
In truth, Volker was no great scholar or thinker. The ideology he set out to create was built upside down, starting only with a set of foggy conclusions for which he had a predisposition. From these conclusions, it was the task of Volker's considerable fortune to find a set of justifications, then an enabling ideology or "theory" that gave it all perspective and unity and, eventually, a true philosophical platform from which to launch the whole. But if this task was analogous to building the Great Pyramid, starting from the top, Volker was undaunted. He may not have had a brain but he had money... and he had a personal connection to one of the most reactionary sections of that most reactionary of organizations - the National Association of Manufacturers. Volker's "associates", who would all participate closely, included Jasper Crane of DuPont, B. E. Hutchinson of Chrysler, Henry Weaver of General Electric, Pierre Goodrich of B.F. Goodrich, and Richard Earhart of White Star Oil (which through many mergers and acquisitions would eventually become Mobil Oil). Moreover, Volker had "influence" at the leading scholarly institution in his home town: The University of Chicago was founded by none other than John D. Rockefeller and created with a certain ideological "bent".
In 1932 Volker established the William Volker Fund and, with that, started on the road to becoming perhaps the most significant anonymous asshole of our times. In every way, William S. Volker was the true "father" of Libertarianism and Modern Conservatism.
For the first dozen years, the fund largely floundered. There is some evidence that Volker may have flirted with Fascism. That ideology though, which attracted such celebrities as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, was thought to have a limited future in America. In the face of Keynesian economics, widespread social spending, and the CIO, what was really required was a return to pre-New Deal economic policy and an anti-communist/anti-union social policy.
The breakthrough came in 1944, when Volker's nephew, Harold Luhnow, took over, first the business and then the Fund. In the same year, Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was published. The book was a product of the "Austrian School" of economists, originating at the University of Vienna and first coming to modest prominence at the end of the 19th century in its attacks on Marxist and Socialist economics. Hayek's book was an almost mystical (and hysterical) defense of laissez-faire capitalism and the "free market". According to Hayek, market prices created a "spontaneous order, or what is referred to as 'that which is the result of human action but not of human design'. Thus, Hayek put the price mechanism on the same level as, for example, language." In turn, any attempt at regulation would inevitably lead to "totalitarianism" and in this, both Marxist and New Deal "socialism" were essentially similar. The theory was perfect . Volker and Luhnow had found their ideology. The cash began to flow.
In short order, the Volker Fund and its larger network arranged for the re-publication of Hayek's book by the University of Chicago (a recurring and important connection) despite the fact that it had been almost universally rejected by the Economics establishment. A year later, the book was published in serial form by the ultra-reactionary Readers Digest not withstanding the fact that it was supposed to be a "scholarly text", ordinarily inappropriate for the readership of the Digest, and despite the fact that it had also had been panned by literary critics. In 1950, the Fund arranged for Hayek to secure a position at the University of Chicago and when the University only granted an unpaid position, they arranged for the Earhart Foundation to pay him a salary. Hayek was only the first of a veritable flood of émigré, "scholars".
Recruiting the Homeless
Hayek's teacher in Vienna had been one Ludwig von Mises who, in turn, had been the student of Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk (who had gained fame for his attack on Marxist Economics) and who, in his turn, had been the student of Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian school. Each of these had published several books that were virulent attacks on Socialism and defended "pure capitalism". It was all very good. Von Mises book was called Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis and it too had been received with yawns when it was published in English in 1936.
While von Mises really had "taught" at the University of Vienna, his was an unpaid position. The University had turned him down on four separate occasions for a paid position. Not surprisingly, in 1940 the nearly destitute von Mises had emigrated to the United States. In 1945, an unpaid "visiting professorship" was obtained for him at NYU while his salary was paid by "businessmen such as Lawrence Fertig". Fertig was an associate of the Volker Fund and a friend of Henry Hazlitt, the Fund's friendliest journalist. In all, they would fund von Mises for 25 years and von Mises never would need a "real job".
In fact, this was typical of the Fund's "bait and switch" tactic for developing resumes. In the United States, von Mises was the "famed economics professor from the University of Vienna". In Europe, he would become the "famous American economist from NYU".
The economist Milton Friedman, during his fifteen minutes of fame, took the opportunity of the publication of his opus, Capitalism and Freedom to decry the shabby treatment that the likes of Hayek and Mises had received from the Economics "establishment". On his own similar reception, he wrote in the 1982 preface of his book: (Image: Daquella manera)
"Those of us who were deeply concerned about the danger to freedom and prosperity from the growth of government, from the triumph of welfare-state and Keynesian ideas, were a small beleaguered minority regarded as eccentrics by the great majority of our fellow intellectuals.
Even seven years later, when this book was first published, its views were so far out of the mainstream that it was not reviewed by any major national publication--not by the New York Times or the Herald Tribune (then still being published in New York) or the Chicago Tribune, or by Time or Newsweek or even the Saturday Review--though it was reviewed by the London Economist and by the major professional journals. And this for a book directed at the general public, written by a professor at a major U.S. university, and destined to sell more than 400,000 copies in the next eighteen years."
It is attractive to believe that Friedman was really this foolish and that his expertise in the "politics of fame" was similar to his expertise in Monetary Policy. In fact, his separate acknowledgements of the importance of the Volker Fund belie this possibility. In truth, the Fund and its progeny identified Friedman early on, shepherded his career at the University of Chicago, subsidized him through a paid lecture series (which eventually were combined into Capitalism and Freedom), paid his way to Mont Pelerin, arranged for the serialization of his book by Reader's Digest, and bought a significant number of the books that Friedman was so proud of "selling".
Friedman was only one of dozens of such local "scholars" who were suddenly "discovered" through the efforts of the Fund.
The Fund also now began to recruit friendly young "future-scholars" and subsidize their development. Not only was the cause thus advanced, but a modest intelligence network became a part of the "Libertarian Movement". One such early recruit was Murray Rothbard, later to become famous as the "father" of "Left Libertarianism", "Libertarian anarchism", and "anarco-capitalism". Later much castigated for his "sellout to the Right-wing Republicans", Rothbard had, from the first, been intimately wrapped up in Anti-Communism, McCarthyism, the "Old Right", and the right-wing ideology of the Volker Fund. It was through the Fund that he became an associate of Ayn Rand and a student of Mises.
"Rothbard began his consulting work for the Volker Fund in 1951. This relationship lasted until 1962, when the VF was dissolved. A major part of Rothbard's work for the VF consisted of reading and evaluating books, journal articles, and other materials. On the basis of written reports by Rothbard and another reader - Rose Wilder Lane - the VF's directors would decide whether to undertake massive distribution of particular works to public libraries.
"The VF also asked Rothbard to submit reports on particular questions, such as how to rank sundry economists in terms of friendliness to the free market, surveys of the literature on monopoly, Soviet wage structures, etc., etc. Rothbard's memos number several hundred, covering works in economics, history, philosophy, and political science. The memos, which range in length from one page to seventy pages, provide a window into the scholarship of the period - and Rothbard's views on that scholarship. They thereby shed much light on Rothbard's emerging worldview and his systematic defense of liberty."[*]
They also shed "much light" on how the Fund decided which "scholars" to promote, and which to attack. Rothbard later called his work with the Volker Fund, "the best job I've ever had in my life".
Multiplying Like Rabbits
In support of the imported scholars and the new ideology, the Volker Fund also pioneered a process which would become the hallmark of the "Libertarian Movement". The Fund started to spin-off organizations by the boatload, each intended, not just to serve specific purposes but to give the appearance of many "independent" efforts spawned by a "mass" appeal. The list of "begats" is too numerous to chronicle but the first set are illuminating.
Among the very first "front organizations" of the Volker Fund was the "National Book Foundation". While the Foundation's affiliation to the Volker Fund was not hidden, it was circumspect enough to suggest, even to most "Libertarians", that it was independent. The fund began modestly enough by distributing free copies Eugene Böhm-Bawerk's works to thousands of libraries and universities across the country. As the Volker efforts geared up, the Foundation began to distribute millions of books from dozens of authors, all coming from the Fund's stables. Many educational "incentives" were initiated such as "teach a course on Hayek, get 10 (or 100) textbooks for free"...
The Foundation for Economic Education was spun out in 1946, under the leadership of Leonard Read, a leading figure in the Chambers of Commerce. The grand-daddy of all libertarian "think-tanks", the FEE initiated the original Mont Pelerin Society meetings. Its own publication, The Freeman, became the founding journal of "Libertarianism". The rent was paid by Volker.
The Institute for Humane Studies was created by Floyd "Baldy" Harper, the "ace recruiter" of the Volker Fund, in 1961. The IHS identified and subsidized "bright young students" and "promising scholars" friendly to the new "Libertarian" doctrine. Not only did the IHS fund thousands of "students", but it spawned dozens of similar organizations throughout the world. After the Volker Fund was finally closed, subsidies for the IHS shifted to some of the most reactionary organizations in America: The Scaife Foundation, Koch Family Foundations, The Bradley Foundation, and the Carthage Foundation.
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute was founded in 1953 to combat what they would eventually call "political correctness" and "'left-bias" in colleges and universities. The organization now consists of 50,000 college students and faculty and through its lavish subsidies, sponsors dozens of programs representing the entire spectrum of right-wing "Libertarian" causes. The first president of the ISI was a young William F. Buckley Jr.
The Earhart Foundation was created by and named for Richard Earhart of White Star Oil, one of Volker's original collaborators in the National Association of Manufacturers. This foundation was used to subsidize various émigrés and not only financed Hayek but also Eric Voegelin, yet another "Austrian". Through Voeglin, the Earhardt Foundation became connected with the infamous Leo Strauss and, since then, various "projects" of not just a "libertarian" but of a "neo-conservative" perspective have been beneficiaries of the Foundation. In addition, The Earhart Foundation helped to pioneer still another use of the newly-emergent Libertarian think-tanks. As the network of these think-tanks grew, they undertook not only to promote ideology but also specific points of policy, particularly in support of private corporations. The culmination of the Foundation's efforts in this direction came with the founding of the George C. Marshall Institute in 1984. The Institute was initially a foremost proponent of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), heavily promoted by the Defense Industry, and later became the leading non-industry critic of "Climate Change". The CEO of the Institute is currently a registered lobbyist for ExxonMobil. (Image: WikiCommons)
Through the list of organizations, above, the Volker Fund's near-biblical "begats" encompass nearly every single prominent individual and organization of the "Libertarian" and "New Conservative" movements of today.
The Not-So-Secret Society
"In 1947, 39 scholars, mostly economists, with some historians and philosophers, were invited by Professor Friedrich Hayek to meet at Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, and discuss the state, and possible fate of classical liberalism and to combat the "state ascendancy and Marxist or Keynesian planning [that was] sweeping the globe". Invitees included Henry Simons (who would later train Milton Friedman, a future president of the society, at the University of Chicago); the American former-Fabian socialist Walter Lippmann; Viennese Aristotelian Society leader Karl Popper; fellow Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises; Sir John Clapham, a senior official of the Bank of England who from 1940-6 was the president of the British Royal Society; Otto von Habsburg, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne; and Max von Thurn und Taxis, Bavaria-based head of the 400-year-old Venetian Thurn und Taxis family." 
If the above rings of "Bohemian Grove" and similar fodder for conspiracies, it is because informal "retreats" at out-of-the-way resorts are one of the favorite methods by which the wealthy of many countries formulate a common international policy. What distinguishes the Mont Pelerin Society, however, is that it did not consist primarily of the wealthy. Instead, it was comprised of a majority of marginal, thread-bare "scholars", united only by their common hatred of "socialism" and Keynesianism (which were one and the same for most of them) and sprinkled with only a handful of rich patrons and journalists. In fact the Mount Pelerin Society was organized as much by the Volker Fund as by Hayek himself and the Foundation paid the way for all 10 of the American "participants".
Once in Switzerland, the "scholars" agreed on their hatred of "socialism" but on little else except to meet yearly to "facilitate an exchange of ideas between like-minded scholars in the hope of strengthening the principles and practice of a free society and to study the workings, virtues, and defects of market-oriented economic systems."
From this not-so-secret-but-thoroughly-right-wing society's more than humble beginnings, the phoenix of laissez-faire capitalism would rise, propelled skyward by unlimited funds. Over a dozen of the scholars who could not previously get a job, a review, or a book deal would go on to win the "Nobel Prize in Economics" (this "epic" story will be told separately). More importantly, the Mont Pelerin Society would itself beget 500 foundations and organizations in nearly 80 countries... again with strategic contributions from Mr. Anonymous. Once transformed into an "international movement", there was no end to what was possible. One example tells the story.
Initiated at Mont Pelerin and copying the FEE, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was created in London in 1955. Serving as a conduit for both cash and "ideas", the IEA set about the task of "rejuvenating" the dead and decaying British Tories. By 1985, the "Iron Lady", Margaret Thatcher, would positively gush on the occasion of the Institute's 30th Anniversary: "You created the atmosphere which made our victory possible... May I say how thankful we are to those who joined your great endeavor. They were the few, but they were right, and they saved Britain." With that, the IEA begat the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which in turn created a network of over 50 "think-tanks" in more than 30 countries.
And what were the scale of these efforts? John Blundell, the head of the IEA, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, and Atlas in 1990, would identify a rare failure in the Society's efforts. Shaking his head at the abortive attempt to subsidize academic "Chairs of Free Enterprise" in dozens of countries throughout the world, Blundell complained about wasting, "hundreds of millions, perhaps one billion dollars". This was just one initiative among many.
Oceans of Cash
Aaron Director was a lawyer and Ukrainian émigré whose sister had married Milton Friedman prior to the Second World War. That then became the connection which led to the Volker Fund's subsidy of Director and his association with the University of Chicago. He was one of the fund's "imports", alongside Von Mises. Director's collaborator at the University was Edward Levi who would eventually go on to become the President of the University and then Attorney General of the United States. Together, Director and Levi were instrumental in the development of the Chicago School of Economics, or the conquest by the Economics department of the School of Business and the Law School.
The Law School? What does law have to do with economics? The answer was everything according to Director, who developed a theory of "Law and Economics" (called, without tongue-in-cheek, the L&E "Movement'), stressing free-enterprise principles and the primacy of property law as well as measuring legal rulings with longer-term economic criteria. "He founded the Journal of Law & Economics in 1958... that helped to unite the fields of law and economics with far-reaching influence." The journal was, of course, funded in large part by what had now become a substantial network of Volker affiliates. Despite the fact that he himself wrote virtually nothing throughout his career, "Director influenced a generation of jurists, including Robert Bork, Richard Posner, Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist."
John M. Olin
One part of what made such a thing possible was not just new territories in which to sell the tired old "economic" ideas, but also new benefactors who spread the message far and wide. In this case, perhaps the most important new "convert" was the munitions magnate, John M. Olin and his Foundation:
"...John M. Olin was disturbed by a building takeover at his alma mater, Cornell University. At the age of 80, he decided that he must pour his time and resources into preserving the free market system that had allowed him to acquire his own wealth. The Foundation is most notable for its early support and funding of the law and economics movement, a discipline that applies incentive-based thinking and cost-benefit analysis to the field of legal theory. Olin believed that law schools have a disproportionately large impact on society given their size and to this end decided to focus the majority of his funding there." 
Between 1969 and 2005, when the Foundation disbanded, the John M. Olin Foundation disbursed no less than $370 Million, "primarily to conservative think tanks, media outlets, and law programs at influential universities. The Foundation is most notable for its early support and funding of the law and economics movement."
But that was not the only thing that the Olin foundation promoted. Through its contacts at the University of Chicago, the Olin Fund ran into political sciences professor Leo Strauss:
"Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism ("Epilogue"). The first was a "brutal" nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. These ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace it by force with a supreme authority under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type -- the "gentle" nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies -- was a kind of value-free aimlessness and hedonism, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society. In the belief that 20th century relativism, scientism, historicism, and nihilism were all implicated in the deterioration of modern society and philosophy, Strauss sought to uncover the philosophical pathways that had led to this situation. The resultant study led him to revive classical political philosophy as a source by which political action could be judged." 
Well, it was not exactly the same thing but it was close enough... and, with its further evolution, "neo-liberalism" would abandon the "classical liberals" in favor of medieval scholars, thus coming much closer to a "synergy". Meanwhile, for both, "classical political philosophy" was, of course, synonymous with political reaction. The unmentioned irony was that the critique of Straussianism, that it was "crudely anti-democratic, obsessed with secret meanings and in love with white lies told by powerful men to keep the rabble in line" applied neatly as a summation of the "classical liberalism" or "Libertarian" movement as a whole. In addition to its Libertarian mission, The Olin Foundation became a founder and one of the principal funding sources for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
Extending their reach, the inheritors of Mr. Anonymous' legacy, also set about creating umbrella organizations for Libertarian funding sources dedicated to funding the "counter-intelligentsia." These extended from newly created, shadowy and "anonymous" Foundations to the famous think-tanks (such as Cato, Hoover, and Hudson) to the infamous (such as the Scaife Foundation). As the network has grown, the financing of "scholars" has been supplemented by the adoption of campaigns, not just in the name of "Capitalism", "Freedom", and "Liberty" in general, but on behalf of individual capitalists in particular. Today there is virtually no public campaign, against anti-tobacco legislation, against environmental legislation, rejecting climate change theory, on behalf of HMOs and private health care, against pharmaceutical regulation and so on - outside of industry and trade associations - that does not originate within the network created or touched by Mr. Anonymous. Today the size of the cash flow is not counted in millions or hundreds of millions or in billions, but in tens of billions, and perhaps even more.
But, what about "ideas"?
In our search for cash and connections without parallel, it might be argued that we have missed the "great ideas" of Libertarianism. The simple explanation is that there are none. Beyond a pro forma agreement on the evils of Marxism, Keynesianism, and "big government" and a thoroughly mystical, near religious belief in capitalism and "free-markets", reduced to paper-thin slogans such as "Personal Freedom" and "Individual Liberty", there is no other point of consensus. Pressed beyond such platitudes, the "theoreticians" of this "movement" have always descended into the most bitter disagreements about the most substantial of issues. Such might easily be suspected of an "ideology" that embraces a political spectrum which includes right-wing Republicans, and neo conservatives and neo liberals and neo-Fascist Ayn Randians, and "classical Liberals" and Libertarian Party members, and "anarchists".
The economic historian, Jamie Peck, in setting out to write a history of the theories of the Austrian School, was dismayed to find that he could not find an "Aha moment" in that history, nor could he see substantial points of agreement between any of the authors (beyond the obvious), nor could he detect a coherent point-of-view that remained constant amongst any one of them for long. "There was nothing spontaneous about neo-liberalism; it was speculatively planned, it was opportunistically built, and it has been repeatedly reconstructed", wrote Peck.
We will deal with this subject in accompanying material, but for the moment it should be said that even the above misses the point. Beyond congenital disagreements, the embrace of Libertarian Economics as political slogan from the beginning meant that the "science" (and it is only as "economic science" that the ideology has ever had even nominal roots) was still-born, no matter how miserable its stock in trade may have turned out to be. Hayek said as much at the time of his "Nobel Prize". He complained that Serfdom. had ended his "career" as an "economist" and implied that it began his life as an "ideologist". No matter what illusions he may have harbored as to his own "destiny", the comment passes down to us as the complaints of a paid shill of the real Libertarian "science" - the science of propaganda, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volker Fund - with Hayek only counting as just another whiney paid-professional, complaining about his job-title.
There is no evidence that the much larger irony ever occurred to Hayek:
Tens, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of millions of books, hundreds of journals, dozens of universities, tens of thousands of people and thousands of professorships, and so on in a network touching virtually everyone in the "Western Democracies" - all of it centrally planned, all of it subsidized, none of it capable of existing by itself in the commercial marketplace or in the "marketplace of ideas" and all of it failing dozens of times until hooked into the river of cash produced by the simple subsidies of the rich designed to derail the "free" evolution of ideas as they were actually proceeding... is there any such example in all of human history of a "movement" so far at odds with its own self-proclaimed "principles"? No problem, though, for William S. Volker, for whom "belief" was always optional. Mr. Anonymous got exactly what he paid for.
For anyone who would attempt to understand class societies, the unmediated slogans of those same societies are the worst possible places to begin. For feudal societies, slogans such as "Chivalry", "Honor", "Fealty", "Chastity", "Virtue" and the like, underlay a social fabric that was monstrous, arbitrary, and treacherous. In most cases the slogans hid social truths which were the exact opposite of their rhetorical claims. The cruelty of the joke was not fully apparent until the end times of feudalism itself or, perhaps, even after.
In our own times, the slogans which have replaced these are those of "Freedom", "Liberty", "Democracy", "Enterprise", "Individuality", and so on. It is impossible to know the meaning of these as given and even more unlikely that one may make of them as one may wish. In the present society, they are like virgin forests that one may stumble upon while walking. No matter how pristine and unfettered such may appear, in our contemporary social system that forest is inevitably someone's private property and is thus absolutely resistant to any other appropriation.
So too, it is the same with "Freedom" and "Liberty". No matter how one may "choose" to think of them, in truth they have only one source and one meaning.
The current stakeholder for those terms is the anonymous asshole above, William Volker. He mined the ore, refined the technique, processed the product, and merchandised the result; finally sending the finished commodity out on rivers of cash, no less so than Henry Ford did with his automobiles. As with all other industrial Barons of his time, that he knew nothing of the actual ideas, processes, and practices meant nothing at all. He bought them, he paid for them, he owned them, and in the process, he spawned the liberty industry, a multi-billion dollar monopoly which today owns "the marketplace of ideas". So too, just as with Ford, the complete legacy of his "works" becomes apparent only now.
Notes and a Postscript: This blog is accompanied by several sidebars.
As far as a postscript goes, we end as we began - with yet more fodder for conspiracy theorists. The William S. Volker Fund closed up shop in 1974, secure in the fact that it's "mission" had been taken up by others. The last millions in the Fund were passed on to the ultra-conservative Hoover Institution. What were not passed on were the files of the Volker Fund, which mysteriously disappeared. The entire paper trail documenting where the money had come from, how it was spent and who was "touched" by it, all of this disappeared with a "poof". Three decades after he died, Volker seems to have guaranteed his anonymity in perpetuity and to this day nothing but the vague outlines of this story are known. And so it goes...