A Tribute to George Resch

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Few persons have done as much as George Resch to advance libertarian scholarship. He was a protégé of the outstanding libertarian thinker F. A. "Baldy" Harper and worked with Harper at the William Volker Fund. While working there, he helped Harper establish the Institute for Humane Studies and became part of Murray Rothbard’s inner circle. He became an authority on education and wrote a seminal paper that dissected the concept of equality of opportunity.

Anyone fortunate enough to have met George will be struck immediately by his incisive mind. His intellectual gifts immediately impressed Harper, who lectured at the advanced session of the Freedom School in Colorado that George attended in 1958. (The Freedom School was a program of lectures and seminars run by Robert LeFevre that helped to popularize libertarian ideas. George became aware of the Freedom School through reading an advertisement in National Review.) Harper and George engaged in intense discussions during the weeklong sessions and found they held many ideas in common. Harper, a retired economics professor at Cornell University, did not confine his advocacy of the free market to economic arguments. He embraced a comprehensive philosophy of freedom and rejected the need for government altogether. (Murray Rothbard, who met Harper at the Foundation for Economic Education, later said that Harper was one of the first individualist anarchists he had met.)

When talking to Harper, George mentioned that there were two persons he especially wanted to meet: Murray Rothbard and Aubrey Herbert, a writer for the libertarian magazine Faith and Freedom. Harper informed him that the two people were one and the same: "Aubrey Herbert" was a pen name that Rothbard sometimes used

One issue was particularly important to Harper, and here he found himself in entire accord with George. War was the principal means by which the power of the state has grown: libertarians must, then, oppose a bellicose policy, whatever its ostensible rationale. As Harper noted in In Search of Peace" (1951): "It is frequently argued these days that force must be use to stop aggression before it starts. This is an untenable position. . . Such use of force is never justified, and in engaging in it there has been opened a floodgate of mayhem, which, in its release, can be followed logically to the ultimate obliteration of the human race."

George tells a story — he has anecdotes about nearly everybody — that perfectly illustrates Harper’s point. Frank S. Meyer, an ex-Communist who later became a Senior Editor of National Review, claimed to be a classical liberal. But he saw no inconsistency between defending a minimal state and calling for a preventive nuclear war against Soviet Russia. George protested, and he and Meyer argued. The great Richard Weaver, the author of Ideas Have Consequences, listened to the dispute and said, "I agree with Mr. Resch."

Harper naturally wanted George to become further involved with the libertarian movement, and he was in an excellent position to bring this about. Harper worked for the William Volker Fund, the principal organization at that time that discovered and supported classical liberal scholars. (The Fund, e.g., helped to pay the university salaries of Mises and Hayek.) George accordingly received an invitation to attend a conference, sponsored by the Fund, at Claremont Men’s College in 1959. Arthur Kemp directed the conference, and the principal speakers were Armen Alchian, John Jewkes, and Felix Morley. (Ralph Raico also attended the conference.)

One of Alchian’s lecture topics was monopoly, but George had heard that another economist held more radically free market views on the subject. This was of course Murray Rothbard, and George telephoned him to ask what he had written about the topic. Rothbard had not yet published his views, but he outlined his main arguments in a long conversation. From this initial contact, a lifelong friendship developed. Rothbard became George’s intellectual mentor, constantly suggesting books and articles for George to read and discussing them with him.

To return to Claremont, George’s intellect and remarkable knowledge again attracted attention. G. Warren Nutter, the noted University of Virginia economist, attended the conference and wrote a very favorable report on George. Results quickly followed. Harper offered George a part-time position with the Foundation for Voluntary Welfare, an organization with close ties to the Volker Fund; and after a short time, he became a researcher and liaison officer with the Fund.

Meanwhile, George graduated from Lawrence College, Wisconsin, in 1960. Here he studied with Herbert Spiegelberg, a philosopher and historian of the phenomenological movement, and Mandell Morton Bober, the author of Karl Marx’s Interpretation of History, a standard critical work. He later did graduate work in history at Indiana University, studying with the Pulitzer Prize winner R. Carlyle Buley. George assisted Buley in a seminar on the historiography of Pearl Harbor. Buley, like George, was a resolute revisionist.

At the Volker Fund, George continued his close ties to Murray Rothbard, and many of Rothbard’s detailed reports on books and articles are addressed as letters to him. The Fund’s primary purpose was to promote the work of classical liberal scholars, and George became an expert talent spotter. He was not easily impressed. I well remember that his enthusiasm for John Gray, an Oxford political theorist for a while much in favor with libertarian groups, was under firm control. Rothbard later said that George had been "prematurely sound on the John Gray question."

Harper strongly supported an extension of the Volker Fund’s mission. He thought there should be a center where classical liberal scholars would be able to conduct research. He and George drew up organization plans, and the center was established with Volker financing. Second only to Harper, George thus ranks as a principal founder of the center in question, the Institute for Humane Studies.

At the Volker Fund and the IHS, George specialized in education; and his work in this area is of fundamental importance for libertarian theory. His essay, "Human Variations and Individuality," a chapter in William F. Rickenbacker, ed., The Twelve-Year Sentence (Open Court, 1974), challenges the underlying basis of state-controlled education. (He also contributed an annotated bibliography on compulsory education to the volume.)

Defenders of state schools argue that it is unfair that children from poor families might, in the free market, be denied an equal opportunity for education. This accusation has often put defenders of the market on the defensive: while many challenge "equality of result," is not "equality of opportunity" a slogan that nearly everyone accepts?

George, along with Rothbard, sharply dissents. Because people differ extensively in their abilities and interests, equality of opportunity cannot be achieved. If so, it must be abandoned as a goal. "So long as individuals, largely as a result of their biological inheritances, vary so greatly, equality of opportunity is simply not possible. What equality can there be, for example, between two young people, one brilliantly intelligent and in vigorous good health and the other a mental dullard with a sickly constitution? Is it not obvious that they are marked for different roles in life and that what they need is unequal opportunities in accord with their unequal endowments?" (Rickenbacker, p.43)

Defenders of equality might counter by claiming that, even if the goal cannot be fully attained, schools should do as much as possible to produce equality. George relentlessly pursues his case: "Even by subjecting all children to the same curriculum, however, we would still be unable to achieve the desired equality. The inborn differences among individuals are too fundamental a part of their natures to be obliterated even by a decade or more of scholastic engineering. Compulsory education not only fails to achieve its egalitarian goal, but by subjecting all to the same studies in lockstep fashion effectively denies them any real opportunity at all." (Rickenbacker, pp.45—46)

Given these views, it is hardly surprising that he found congenial Rothbard’s analysis of the same issue in Power and Market. In a review of this volume, George recognized its stature: "The market, in harmony with man’s nature, involves man exercising his power over nature to the benefit of all. . . State interventionism, in contrast, inherently involves coercion and the exploitation of some men by others, the disruption of want satisfaction and an incessant war of all against all as people struggle to capture control of the state apparatus for their own purposes. . .This brilliant work is certain to spark a spirited debate and is destined to be one of the classics of the rapidly growing literature of a free society."(Modern Age, Spring 1971, pp. 210—11). George early established himself as a foremost Rothbardian and together with Rothbard founded the journal Left and Right in 1965.

After 1962, George pursued a career in business, apart from a brief return to the IHS in 1970. He has worked at Camino Coins with Burt Blumert, another of Rothbard’s closest friends and a key supporter of the Mises Institute, for many years. I have known George since 1979 and have spoken to him nearly every day since then. His remarkable range of knowledge, which ranges from the works of W. H. Mallock to the mysteries of herpetology, his analytic mind, and his devotion to a free society are an inspiration. He is a great person and a great friend.

May 6, 2006

David Gordon [send him mail] is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, editor of its Mises Review, and author of Books on Liberty.

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