I want to take the occasion of Fisher’s 100th birthday to reflect on how the think tank industry has changed since Antony’s passing just over a quarter century ago. In particular, I want to call attention to some of the challenges that merit debate and discussion among our community of leaders connected to Atlas Network, so we can be more strategic and more effective in the years ahead.
On a macro level, the right ideas presented by the right people at the right time can change the course of history. On a more individual level, enthusiastic disseminators of ideas can have life-changing consequences.
Atlas Network founder Antony Fisher spent his life dedicated to changing the world by building institutions that helped change the climate of ideas. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the organization created this video remembering Fisher's legacy and his commitment to the fight for freedom. The video features Fisher's daughter, Linda Whetstone, a board member of both IEA and Atlas Network, as well as chairman of Network for a Free Society.
German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that there were three themes worthy of the philosophical enterprise: God, the immortality of the human soul, and the meaning of human freedom. While human civilized order has wrestled with each of these themes, the role, extent, and definition of human freedom is central to modern society. What does it mean to be free? Is it a bacchanalia freefall or an ordered and virtuous society? Is it marked by discipline, character, learning, responsibility, and law? With its fragile development progress, Africa may be at the crossroads of this discussion of the role of freedom in society. Development should be about the expansion of human freedom, giving men and women opportunities to exercise reasoned agency as responsible persons.
2015 marks the would-be 100th birthday of Sir Antony Fisher. In this short interview with Chip Mellor, President and General Counsel of the Institute for Justice, he discusses how Fisher’s irrepressible and charming approach had a lasting impact on his career.
By founding institutions like the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Fraser Institute, and Atlas Network, Antony Fisher understood that reclaiming the classical liberal tradition had to start in the realm of ideas. The way in which ideas influenced the broader culture, including politics, was at the forefront of Hayek’s concerns after the rout of classical liberalism in the Great Depression and World War II. His essay “The Intellectuals and Socialism” was his most focused attempt to understand that process. It was encountering Hayek, and presumably hearing a version of that argument, that led Fisher to see the importance of think tanks for changing the world, especially in comparison to partisan politics.
In 1945, after serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Antony Fisher read a condensed version of Nobel laureate economist Friedrich A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in Reader’s Digest. Alarmed at the rise of socialism in Britain, Fisher considered a career in politics, but Hayek dissuaded him, arguing instead that he should direct his energies to changing public opinion.