The Mission of the Institute


The Institute for Humane Studies was founded in 1961 by Dr. F. A. "Baldy" Harper, a former economics professor at Cornell University. Part of a generation that had lived through two devastating world wars and seen the rise of numerous totalitarian dictatorships, Harper set up an institute devoted to research and education in the conviction that greater understanding of human affairs and freedom would foster peace, prosperity, and social harmony.

History demonstrated the great capacity of humans to solve their problems through "the practice and potentials of freedom," and Harper envisioned this as the primary focus of the Institute for Humane Studies. "Not in government or force, not in slavery or war, but in the creative, and thereby spiritual, power of freedom, shall our inspiration be found," he wrote in an early proposal for the Institute.

Based for many years in Menlo Park, California, the Institute moved in 1985 to Fairfax, Virginia, and affiliated with George Mason University. At George Mason, the Institute has been able to pursue its mission more effectively in cooperation with other organizations affiliated with the university -- the Mercatus Center, the James Buchanan Center, and the Law and Economics Center at the GMU Law School.

Today, with a primary focus on students, the Institute continues the work begun by Baldy Harper. The mission of IHS is to support the achievement of a freer society by discovering and facilitating the development of talented, productive students, scholars, and other intellectuals who share an interest in liberty and who demonstrate the potential to help change the current climate of opinion to one more congenial to the principles and practice of freedom.

In 1998 IHS awarded over $400,000 in scholarships to over 80 students from universities around the world. IHS also sponsored the attendance of over 400 students at its summer seminars. Through these and other programs, the Institute promotes the study of liberty across a broad range of disciplines, encouraging understanding, open inquiry, rigorous scholarship, and creative problem-solving.