Floyd Arthur 'Baldy' Harper, RIP

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First published
in The
Libertarian Forum
, May, 1973.

the evening of Saturday, April 21, Dr. F.A. "Baldy" Harper
died suddenly, of a heart attack, at the age of 68. To say that
Baldy’s death is an irreparable loss, personally and in every other
way, to the libertarian movement, would be a masterpiece of understatement.
Ever since he came to the Foundation
for Economic Education
in 1946 as its chief economist and theoretician,
Baldy Harper, in a very real sense, has been the libertarian movement.
For all these years, this gentle and lovable man, this wise and
Socratic teacher, has been the heart and soul and nerve center of
the libertarian cause.

I had the privilege
of meeting Baldy in the winter of 1946–47, and from that first
meeting, he became my first dear friend and mentor in the libertarian
movement. And I was scarcely an isolated example. For years before
and ever since, Baldy Harper carried on an enormous and inspiring
correspondence, seeking out all promising libertarians, encouraging
any signs of their productivity, by his wise teaching and example
developing a large and devoted following of friends and students.
The thought of never again receiving one of Baldy’s famous cryptic
and allusive hand-written notes is almost enough to move one to
tears. The last letter I had received from him, a brief week or
two before his death, was typical: a glowing note about his discovery
of a brilliant young mathematics professor who is anxious to move
into the field of Austrian economics and to refute the fallacies
of orthodox mathematical economics.

It was Baldy’s
burden, which he bore with his usual uncomplaining grace, that he
was a member of a veritable "lost generation" from the
libertarian point of view. In the late 1940s, there were some libertarians
and free-market economists of the Ludwig von Mises generation or
slightly younger: men then in their 60s, such as Mises, Fred Fairchild,
Willford I. King. And there were a few of us youngsters coming up.
But in his vital "middle generation," there was only Baldy:
all of the other intellectuals of his day were leftists and statists.
And so Baldy simply set out, in his quiet and gentle way, to create
a body of students and followers. In those early days at FEE, for
example, almost every staff member had been brought into the movement
by Baldy: W.M. Curtiss, Paul Poirot, Ivan Bierly, Ellis Lamborn,
all students of Baldy at Cornell. Baldy was indeed a notable inspiration
and guide for young people, and his followers are now everywhere
in the libertarian world. There were scarcely any of us touched
by his special magic who did not come to love Baldy as a mentor
and a friend.

and I came to anarchocapitalism from laissez faire at about the
same time, driven by inexorable logic, in what for us was the memorable
winter of 1949–50. I vividly remember one time I was visiting
him at FEE and he quietly pulled out a copy of Tolstoy’s anarchist
of Love and the Law of Violence
, which he confided that
"some of us are now reading with great interest."

Baldy in those
days contributed some vital works to the libertarian literature;
perhaps the most memorable was his great antiwar pamphlet, In
Search of Peace, and his magnum opus, Liberty:
A Path to its Recovery
, which brought to libertarian theory
an abiding concern for human variety and diversity which reflected
Baldy’s lifelong interest in the "hard" and the biological
sciences. But Baldy’s abiding passion was a deep concern for strategy,
for the development of a strategic theory and practice for the libertarian
cause. It was out of this concern for strategy that Baldy developed
his lifelong dream, his vision of the course which libertarians
must take for ultimate victory. He saw that the nub and the heart
of libertarian strategy must be ideas and scholarship, that activism
could never succeed unless informed by a body of ideas and research
on the deepest and most advanced levels. Baldy’s great vision was
to guide and develop a body of libertarian scholarship and research.

pursuit of this dream, Baldy Harper moved in 1958 to the William
Volker Fund, of Burlingame, California, which had been 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, completely separate from their
universities or from such Establishment agencies as the Social Science
Research Council. The Volker Fund concept – of discovering
and aiding libertarian scholars, and of bringing them together in
meetings and conferences – was an unsung task of enormous importance
which developed and held together libertarian scholars during the
lonely years of the 1940s and ’50s. By the end of the ’50s, Baldy
saw the importance of establishing the Volker activities on a permanent,
funded basis; and he moved to transfer the bulk of the Volker funds
to a new Institute for Humane Studies,
which would expand the Volker concept and would provide a permanent
home for libertarian fellowships, scholarship, conferences, and
publications. An endowed IHS would have been of inestimable and
incalculable value for the libertarian cause, and the fulfillment
of Baldy’s lifelong dream. Then, in 1962, just at the point of consummating
the new IHS, for various personal and ideological reasons the Volker
Fund collapsed, and its funds were forever lost to the cause of
libertarian scholarship.

Faced with
this shattering blow, Baldy Harper never faltered; with unswerving
and inspiring integrity, he determined to build the Institute for
Humane Studies even without its promised endowment. Painfully, and
at cost of great personal sacrifice, Baldy patiently, step by step,
built up the institute. After nearly a decade of this slow and painfully
wrought development, he was able to bring the IHS to the point where
it could sponsor conferences, publish books and pamphlets, grant
fellowships, and begin to fulfill the Harper dream of a center for
libertarian ideas and scholarship.

now, despite this grievous blow, we can continue to build the institute
and see that it flourishes, we can build a monument to Baldy which
I am sure he would cherish more than any other. It cannot replace
this wonderful friend and teacher of us all; but it would be of
enormous and indispensable value to the cause of liberty which Baldy
held so dear and to which he devoted his life.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report

Rothbard Archives

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