Peter Boettke’s IHS Journey: Helping Lead a New Generation of Scholars

What most attracted Peter Boettke to the Institute for Humane Studies were the events which gave renewed life to ideas that were in danger of quietly being ignored. Boettke, University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University, attended several programs early in his career that motivated him to continue his graduate studies and ultimately become a professor.

At an event hosted by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 1981, Boettke met Bettina Bien Greaves, a longtime FEE resident scholar and contributing editor. There, Greaves convinced Boettke to attend graduate school and connected him to IHS.

Peter BoettkeGeorge Mason University

Also at the event, Leonard E. Read, who founded FEE in 1946, would gift Boettke a copy of his book, “A Path of Duty” (The Foundation for Economic Education 1982), further validating Boettke’s graduate school intentions.

Peter Boettke (back row, center) with IHS faculty partner Jerry Ellig (on the left) and future IHS Outstanding Alum winner Howard Baetjer Jr. (front row, center) and other scholars at an IHS student program.

Already in correspondence with IHS staff, Boettke discovered IHS seminars that were taking place, and in 1984, he attended his first seminar on Austrian Economics at Marquette University. At the seminar, Boettke would meet some of the young scholars who would later go on to become his colleagues at New York University.

Following that seminar, Boettke continued to remain active in IHS circles and would later receive several Hayek Fund for Scholars and Humane Studies Fellowship grants, spend two years as a Summer Graduate Research Fellow, and attend countless IHS seminars. Eventually, Boettke found himself on the other side of those seminars as an instructor, sometimes teaching as many as three summer seminars, an experience he credits as “very formative and important to me.”

Peter Boettke pictured with Jack High, Professor Emeritus of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, circa the late 1990s. 

IHS was this environment of complete serious study, which fostered a familiarity and interaction with so many scholars and students. IHS was the centerpiece around which all my early career opportunities flourished. It was truly a unique and wonderful moment in my career development.

– Peter Boettke

As a student at the summer seminars, Boettke remembers how valuable it was to share ideas with individualist thinkers, conversations which often lasted late into the night and sometimes into the early morning. Moreover, the speakers were personable and genuinely interested in the ideas that were to take form at these events.

Similarly, in a feature story highlighting Karen Vaughn, Professor Emerita of Economics at George Mason University, she elaborates upon the community atmosphere that IHS provided, giving young scholars the chance to interact with ideas and challenge similar minds. This is what strengthened the resurgence of Austrian economics and classical liberalism more broadly.

Boettke recalls that what made IHS events so stimulating and influential in the 1980s were the challenging topics discussed with such strong-minded and curious thinkers. During Boettke’s formative years, Dominick T. Armentano would publish “Antitrust and Monopoly” (John Wiley 1982), Larry WhiteFree Banking in Britain” (Cambridge University Press 1984), Don LavoieRivalry and Central Planning” (Cambridge University Press 1985), and Mario Rizzo and Gerald O’Driscoll “The Economics of Time and Ignorance” (Basil Blackwell 1985). According to Boettke, these publications were living proof that IHS was advancing a serious argument in favor of classical liberalism.

Peter Boettke attending an IHS program.

Those seminars played an undeniably important role in the promotion of Austrian economics. They were a crucial input into being able to galvanize the young people to pursue PhDs and their academic careers and provide a support network and a meeting place.

– Peter Boettke

Additionally, the staff at IHS helped assist Boettke and other graduate students in organizing travel to conferences that exposed them to classical liberalism both in the U.S. and across the globe. As an aspiring professor, these experiences turned out to be decisive in shaping the course of Boettke’s intellectual development. In this way, IHS became a wellspring of knowledge and information to be gleaned not just from scholars and students around the organization, but from the people within it as well.

IHS, Boettke affirms, was also a constant stalwart of what he coins the mainline tradition, or according to his 2012 book “Living Economics,” the “set of positive propositions about social order that were held in common from Adam Smith onward” (xvii).

Boettke further notes that since 1961, IHS has serviced the liberal conversation and pushed the envelope of spontaneous order without ever presuming to hold a set of definite conclusions about how to solve complex problems. As a result of trying to reimagine the moral sciences, IHS has always been a promoter of PPE—philosophy, politics and economics.

Peter Boettke hosting a lecture.

The greatest strength of IHS is in promoting a conversation that is ongoing, that problematizes liberty and spontaneous order. That’s what Baldy Harper was trying to get people to understand in 1961. He was trying to reinvigorate the social sciences to include humans, not automatons.

– Peter Boettke

Even to this day, Boettke’s involvement with IHS continues to pay dividends. Many of his current and former graduate students were past participants at IHS events, including Virgil Storr, who is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University and senior fellow at IHS, where he also serves on the Board of Directors, and Christopher Coyne, also a professor of economics at GMU and a director of the board for IHS. “There was a period from 1998—when I first moved to George Mason—up until 2005 in which I had a series of students, all of whom I met first through FEE or IHS programs.”

Peter Boettke

Boettke, who now serves as a distinguished fellow at IHS, sums up his journey by describing the waves of pride he feels when his students, many of whom were introduced to him at IHS events, go on to lead successful academic careers. To Boettke, the true meaning of IHS were those students he was lucky enough to have inspired. He continues to lead the next generation of scholars following in the mainline tradition.

The Institute for Humane Studies is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2021. For more spotlights on scholars, video interviews, photo galleries, and in-depth conversations on classical liberal ideas, visit TheIHS.org/60


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