Sir Antony Fisher

British multimillionaire Antony Fisher, born in 1915, was one of the most influential actors in the rise of libertarian think tanks (a usually political center of research, propaganda and spreading of ideas) during the second half of the XX century. Fond reader of Friedrich von Hayek [1] since 1945, he met him that year and the economist convinced him of the need to create a think tank network to support the project on society’s changes. Thanks to his huge fortune and the network he had created in Mont Pelerin, Fisher worked on this. In 1955, along with Ralph Harris, he founded the Institute of Economic Affairs in London.

In 1977, and with the help of the eminent American lawyer William Casey, who would become later CIA director [2], he founded the International Center for Economic Policy Studies (ICEPS) in New York. According to Loic Wacquant, both men wanted the Institute «to apply the principles of the market economy to social problems» [3]. At the same time, Sir. Antony Fisher opened an institution to advise and finance the libertarians of the world so that they could found similar think tanks in their own countries. The International Institute for Research engendered the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1980 and the International Policy Network in 2001. In about 30 years, Fisher founded 90 research centers in 39 countries

William Casey

ICEPS’s board of directors included Lewl Lehrman [4], Irving Bristol [5], Ed Feulner [6] and William Casey.

Under the influence of Charles H. Brunie [7] and William Hammet, who would become President of this think tank at the beginning of the 1980s, the ICEPS changed its name and its purpose. By becoming the Manhattan Institute, its main target was the intellectual elites of New York who had to be convinced of the goodness of Reagan’s policies.

Indeed, America was working on the future “conservative revolution” while democratic President Jimmy Carter was living his final hours at the White House. Neoconservatives under Ronald Reagan [8] and George H. W. Bush, who were about to substitute him, were trying to develop an ideological arsenal to legitimate the desired destruction of the welfare state. The Manhattan Institute’s role was to officially provide this liberal-conservative ideology which was based on curious mixture of pseudo economic and sociological anticipations, as was reflected in one of the first works published by the Institute signed by George Gilder.

This former Henry Kissinger’s student at Harvard wrote several speeches for well-known political republican personalities such as Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney and Richard Nixon. In the 1970s he suddenly drew his attention to the causes of poverty and richness in the U.S. Then, in 1972, he published Sexual Suicide where he explained that women’s liberation would lead to the end of the human race. According to him, unmarried men were essentially unstructured and those who did not follow a “traditional” sexual practice were deviant.

In Visible Man, published in 1978, Gilder affirmed that there was no racism in the American society, that it was a “post-racist” society and the worst enemy an African-American could have was himself due to his way of living, his dispersed family and his «ghetto image». This rhetoric supported his allegation on federal subsidies as a tool for perpetuating a society in which African-American “lived a lost life while waiting for the governmental green checks” [9].

This was the type of discourse the Manhattan Institute was trying to promote. So, in 1981 George Gilder was given a scholarship at the Smith Richardson Foundation [10] through the Manhattan Institute to write Wealth and Poverty where he explained his extreme right-wing theories. Based on what he said, the cause of American misery could be found in «the family anarchy of the poor living in the inner city» which was favored by the social assistance whose only effects were «undermining the working desires, the patriarchal family and the religious fervor which were the three reins of prosperity» [11].

Thanks to the support of the Manhattan Institute, the extremely liberal press did welcome the book and even The Economist wrote an article titled “Blessed those who make money”. Quickly, the book became a best-seller, although its main achievement was that it became Ronald Reagan’s most important book. According to study made on his speeches, George Gilder was the former American President’s most quoted alive author.

George Gilder

The Manhattan Institute repeated the experience the following year. While Ronald Reagan was successfully implementing its extremely liberal conservative revolution, the think tank where George Gilder was hosting a seminar, was looking for a new promoter of its racial-economic theories. It chose an unknown university student named Charles Murray who had sent one of his articles to Irving Kristoll. Kristoll, interested in the demagogic style of the text, contacted Michael Joyce, President of Olin Foundation, and tried to raise funds to transform the article into a book. William Hammet, who had become President of the Manhattan Institute, agreed to hire Murray.

According to an internal memo written by him, «every generation produces a number of books with a lasting impact, books that change the basic ideas about the way the world function (or should function...). Charles Murray’s Losing Ground could be one of these books and in that case it would change the debate of what may be the most important political matter of our time: the modern welfare state» [12]. Consequently, the institute paid the author 30 000 dollars and two years to work in peace. Thus, in 1984 he published Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 which according to Loic Wacquant «appeared in the right moment to in a pseudoscientific way approve the strong cancellation of social commitments carried out by the Republican government (with the support of the democratic majority of the Congress)».

The explanation was simple: «the excessive generosity of the policies to assist the poor was to be blamed for the increase of poverty in the U.S. because they favored inactivity and the moral degeneration of popular classes, especially the “illegitimate” unions as the main cause of every social problem in modern societies, including ‘urban violence’» [13].
Despite a huge number of obvious nonsense and empirical mistakes pointed out by sociologist Christopher Jencks, economist Robert Greenstein and even Nobel Prize James Tobin [14], the media turned the pamphlet into a “classic” and made it the central issue on the debates about social assistance in the U.S. On its side, the Manhattan Institute made an enormous promotion of the book: William Hammet sent 700 copies to journalists, political and “university” personalities in America and hired an expert on public relations to turn the unknown Charles Murray into a “media-related phenomenon”. Its purpose was not selling the book but made it the core of every political debate. Months later, the Institute held a symposium on Losing Ground whose participants,whether they were journalists, public policies experts or social sciences specialists, received between 500 and 1500 dollars.

Charles Murray’s career had begun. In 1994 he published The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, [15] an «authentic treatise on scientific racism (...) which affirmed that class and racial inequalities in the U.S. reflected the individual differences of ‘cognitive capacity’» [16]. He wrote that the intelligence quotient (IQ), genetically inherited, would be then the leading factor for social success, the capacity to maintain marriage, for properly educating children and being a good citizen: «the most intelligent children of every social class, including the poorest ones, quickly learned how the State functioned and were more capable of informing themselves and debating political matters than participating in them».

On the other hand, a low IQ increased the possibilities of committing a crime, and therefore, the possibility of being imprisoned. So, a person is not a criminal due to his deprivation but to his moral and mental depravation. This statement led to two conclusions: first, the reason why ethnic minorities were the majority of prisoners was due to their low IQs and not to the inequalities of the American society. Second, «the State had to stop intervening in social life by reducing ‘natural’ inequalities or it would make things even worse by perpetuating ‘the aberrations of the egalitarian ideal of the French Revolution’ because ‘Jacobites, or Leninists, egalitarian tyrannies were worst than non humanitarian because they were inhumane» [17].

Charles Murray

But this time, Charles Murray went too far and the Manhattan Institute refused to join the project, though this did not mean it was not interested in the debate. Then, Murray sought refuge in the American Enterprise Institute, with Irving Kristoll’s blessing. In 1994, some time after the publication of his book, the think tank hosted a dinner to honor Murray and his last work. When he was given the floor, he explained the 15 differences between African Americans and whites’ IQs and criticized the positive discrimination programs.

The Manhattan Institute then drew its attention to the “urban violence” issue by popularizing for the first time the “broken windows” questionable doctrine, formulated in 1982 by James Q. Wilson, the theorist of conservative criminology, and George Kelling in an article published by the Atlantic Monthly [18].

According to the authors, by fighting minor disorders (currently known as “incivilities”) great criminal pathologies were reduced. This thesis got the attention of New York’s attorney, Rudolf Giuliani who, as a result, attended a conference hosted by the Manhattan Institute by the mid 1990s. The main topic of the conference was “the sacred character of public spaces” as indispensable for public life for the “disorder” of poor classes was, by nature, a fertile terrain for “crime”.

The future mayor of New York, who has lost municipal elections to democrat African-American David Dinkins, found there the topics for his victorious campaign of 1993. The “zero tolerance” doctrine was born out of this thesis which affirmed that any misdemeanor had to be sanctioned; otherwise, the minor offender would become a criminal sooner or later. In real life, this doctrine was a relentless hunting of minor offenders and a policy to maintain beggars and homeless in poor neighborhoods, out of the big city. This program of Giuliani was welcomed by New York middle and upper classes, the true voters, and was quite published by City Journal, the new magazine of the Manhattan Institute. It was actually the program that gave Giuliani his victory.

However, “zero tolerance” meant giving up a fair proportion between the misdemeanor and the means to repress it. Therefore, the doctrine provoked a spiral of public violence that affected individual liberties. Once in power, Giuliani applied the elaborated ideological arsenal designed, in part, by the Manhattan Institute. He was assisted by William Bratton, the man in charge of the security of New York’s metro, later appointed chief of municipal police [19]. In five years only, New York Police’s budget was increased 40%, amounting to 2 600 million dollars. The city hired also 12 000 new policemen whereas social services lost a third of its budget and 8 000 employees. This spectacular deployment of resources to repress every infraction (such as the use of helicopters and several police cars to stop and fine a driver for a minor offense) left memories on people’ minds but kept the police away from real crimes.

The most amazing thing was that the result of this policy was less impressive than the arsenal it demanded. By comparing New York to San Diego which used only its “local police”, we could find out that «between 1993 and 1996, Californian metropolis showed a decrease in crimes similar to New York’s but with an increase of only 6% of its police force. The number of arrests dropped 15% in three years in San Diego whereas in New York it increased 24%, amounting 314 292 arrested people in 1996 (...) finally, the number of complaints against the police reduced 10% in the Pacific Coast whereas in Giuliani’s city» it increased 60%.

This distrust of New York’s population, especially among African-American, against its own police revealed the existence of a “social war” atmosphere as a result of the “zero tolerance” doctrine. But these negative results did not prevent its followers from exporting the New York model to the whole world. Once William Bratton was fired by the Mayor of the city -it seemed that Bratton overshadowed Giuliani- he became a consultant of the Manhattan Institute and of several cities around the world.

During the 1990s, the authors of the Manhattan Institute continued developing their neo-conservative ideology based on ethnocentric and racial prejudices, especially on the superiority of the white Americans way of life. Their discourse was similar to those of numerous journalists and French experts of the time on the “unassimilation” of Islam and the “invasion” threat immigration represented. In the U.S., African-American and Latino populations have been the most attacked ones.

Abigail Thernstrom, member of the Manhattan Institute, coauthored with her husband, Harvard professor Stephan Thernstrom, America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible [20], a book on the disastrous effects of positive discrimination. It was financed by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Earhart Foundation and Carthage Foundation.

Another member of the Manhattan Institute, Tamar Jacoby, wrote about the futility of American integration in Someone Else’s House: America Unfulfilled Struggle for Integration, a book financed by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation. In 1993, Myron Magnet blamed in The Dream and Nightmare the counterculture of the 1960s for the creation of the urban underclass [21].

The Manhattan Institute financial sources are varied but funds usually come from even more reactionary hypothetically philanthropic organizations [22], mainly the Olin Foundation [23]. Its influence is quite notable in Washington where this think tank is an ideological guarantee and a mentor of ideas.

Thanks to its promoting abilities, the Manhattan Institute prepares the media and the public opinion for extremely liberal and socially retrograded thesis. The White House pays attention to its theories on social matters and George W. Bush asked John J. Diulio Jr. and Stephen Goldsmith, both members of the Manhattan Institute, to apply one of the ideas the Institute has defended for a long time, that is, the elimination of the commitments of the State on social work and their transfer to religious orders.

This doctrine was recently brought back by influential Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute, in a work titled What Makes Charity Work? A Century of Public and Private Philanthropy published in 2001. This book defended a system of social assistance based on charity and not on solidarity by saying that it would be more effective, cheaper and above all, more magnanimous. This was a “compassionate program” the Bush Administration quickly implemented when it took power and after the opening of a Faith Initiative Office [24] in the White House.
By promoting the reduction of the State, the Manhattan Institute has shown the true image of libertarianism while justifying the elimination of the commitments of the State in social matters and its expansion of repression.

[1Denis Boneau: «Friedrich von Hayek, el padre del neoliberalismo» Voltaire, March 4, 2004

[2Richard Cockett: Thinking the unthinkable: think-tanks and the economic counter-revolution, 1931-1983, Fontana Press, 1995. In 1981, and as part of the changes made within CIA by Casey, he promoted the Agency’s activities in the American territory

[3Loïc Wacquant : Les prisons de la misère (Las prisiones de la miseria), Raisons d’agir Publishing House, France, 1999

[4Lewis (Lew) Lehrman was an important figure of the triumphant Reaganism. In the 1980s, he was involved in the establishment of the Citizens for America association, which was defined as a “non-partisan and apolitical civic league devoted to the promotion of the American Way of Life as the essence of Reagan’s legislative program whose triumph would be the hope of every family and citizen of the U.S.”

[5From 1947 to 1952, Irving Kristoll was director of Commentary, the almost official magazine of Congress for Cultural Freedom before being replaced by Norman Podhoretz. His son, William Kristoll, is currently in charge of Weekly Standard, the «neocons» magazine. This article will soon be published in Red Voltaire

[6Edwin J. Feulner became later the President of the Heritage Foundation. See «Le prêt-à-penser de la Fondation Heritage» (text in Frech that will soon be publsihed in Red Voltaire), Voltaire, June 8, 2004

[7Charles H. Brunie is the founder of the Oppenheimer Capital and member of Mont Pelerin association. Closed to Alan Greenspan, by the end of the 1960s he became friend of Milton Friedman. See: Charles H. Brunie’s biography in the web site of the Hudson Institute and Roger Hertog’s speech presenting Charles Brunie, awarded with Alexander Hamilton’s Prize in 2003

[8«Ronald Reagan contre l’Empire du Mal» (Text in French), Voltaire, June 7, 2004

[9Quoted by Emily White in «Techno-tyrants», Seattle Weekly, October 14-20, 1999

[10Eric Alterman: «The ’Right’ Books and Big Ideas», The Nation, November 22, 1999

[11Quoted by Loic Wacquant, op.cit

[12Quoted in «The ’Right’ Books and Big Ideas», op.cit

[13Quoted by Loic Wacquant, op.cit

[14For a refutation of Losing Ground, see William Julius Wilson : Les Oubliés de l’Amérique, Declée de Brouwer, 1995 (First edition, 1987)

[15Charles Murray y Richard Herrstein: The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, Free Press, 1994

[16Quoted by Loic Wacquant, op.cit

[17Quoted by Loic Wacquant, op.cit

[18The publication of Geroge Kelling’s book Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities, The Free Press, 1996, was financed by the Center for Civic Initiative, Kelling’s think-tank where Richard Schwartz works. Schwartz was the man in charge of hard labor programs during Giuliani’s administration and president-general director of Opportunity of America, a private firm that “provided” jobs to the citizens who depended on the aid social programs

[19Edgar González Ruiz : «El "superpolicía" Bratton en Lima», Voltaire, August 25, 2004

[20For a criticism of the book, see Stephen Steinberg: «Denying the Obvious. The Fallacies of America in Black and White», by the Institute For Public Accuracy

[21«The ’Right’ Books and Big Ideas», The Nation, op.cit

[22For a list of the financial sources between 1985 and 2002, visit the web site of Media Transparency

[23The Olin Foundation was founded in 1953 by industrial John Olin and financed, since 1977, political careers and university studies. Funds coming from Olin financed several activities of the American Enterprise Institute directed by Norman Podhoretz e Irving Kristol, both former directors of Commentary.

The Foundation also assisted philosopher Leo Strauss’s follower, Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, one of the “classics” of the neoconservative literature whose bastion is John m. Olin University (Chicago). On the other hand, Olin Foundation was also involved in the formation of several members of Reagan’s Administration such as Murray Weidenbaum y Martin Feldstein

[24See: «Pour Georges W. Bush, la foi tient lieu de politique» text in French, Voltaire, March 26, 2001