The Institute for Humane Studies

The Institute for Humane Studies was founded in 1961 and moved to George Mason University in 1985. At this time, a man named Leonard Liggio was the Institute’s President. Liggio, was a thought-leader in the Koch network and first advocated for the libertarian movement to base their youth outreach on Hitler’s Nazi Germany youth model. Liggio argued that a libertarian youth movement required a concentrated organizational effort that would give a group identity to its members, and suggested it be concentrated in the universities (Mayer, 2016).

Today, the Institute for Humane Studies still operates on the campus of George Mason University. It awards scholarships, sponsors summer seminars, and provides career assistance to students interested in the study of “classical liberal ideas.” It also provides reading & discussion materials to students and faculty who want to sponsor discussions about classical liberalism on campus. Their faculty serve as recruiters to bring undergraduates and graduates into the Koch network (IHS, Who Are We).

The Institute for Humane Studies has received over $35 million from Koch family foundations (Guide Star 990 data). Charles Koch himself has served in various leadership positions of the Institute since the 1960’s (IHS, Who Are We; Charles Koch 1974 IHS speech), and continues to sit on the Institute’s Board of Directors. 


Koch’s strategy at work

The Institute for Humane Studies serves as the recruitment firm for the state-based and election-based programs facilitating Koch’s agenda across the country.

According to a representative of the Charles Koch Foundation, campus programs like the Institute for Humane Studies “act as a talent pipeline” for the Koch network’s infrastructure of think-tanks, front groups, and advocacy projects. By “help[ing] students see the message to fight for freedom,” these campus programs are intended to groom a grassroots base of supporters aligned with Koch’s policy agenda.

“Not only does higher education act as a talent pool stream where teachers and professors operate other new programming, but … the students that graduate out of these higher education programs also populate the state-based think tanks and the national think-tanks… they become the major staffing for the state chapters on the grassroots innovation around the country… that group of students taught in these centers… we've been able to produce two million or so grassroots.  

So the network is fully integrated… it's not just work at the universities with the students, but it's also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities, and integrating this talent pipeline.  So you can see how this is useful to each other over time. No one else, and no one else has this infrastructure. We're very excited about doing it.”

Leveraging campus programs in this way is a part of Koch’s political strategy to achieve privately-funded policy change, known as the “Structure of Social Change.” The Institute for Humane Studies teaches this strategy as part of their framework for a career in public policy (Creating Your Path to a Policy Career, pg. 7).

Talent Identification

This Talent ID Rubric demonstrates the ways in which the Institute for Humane Studies identifies the students they want to support. This includes grading students based on their sympathy with “classical liberalism” and their potential career direction, which aligns with the Charles Koch Foundation’s goals of developing a “talent pipeline.” 

The document defines “CL Sympathy” as “both the amount people agree with the Classical Liberal (CL) framework and their likelihood of becoming more CL sympathetic through discussion.”  This metric (p. 1) highlights the Institute’s intent to support students with particular political identities (libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, conservatives, etc.). IHS calls CL sympathy their “most important metric,” and “most [IHS] program invitations start with filtering for sympathy.”

This Talent Rubric describes the “CL framework” as based on principles like “markets, property rights, political and economic freedom,” as interpreted by “Libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, Objectivists, Rothbardians, consequentialists with libertarian conclusions.”

The highest level of CL Sympathy are those identified as “On Board” with the CL framework, specifically “Libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, Objectivists, Rothbardians, consequentialists with libertarian conclusions.” Just below that level are “Market Friendly” candidates that “[a]grees with many CL ideas (including the power of markets)” and is “inclined to support freedom-enhancing policies.” 


Connections to White Supremacy

The phrase “classical liberalism” itself, as used by the Charles Koch Foundation and the Institute for Humane Studies, describes a fringe free-market ideology characterized by Libertarian/Anarcho-Capitalist thought, as influenced by the “Austrian-school” of economics. 

According to the Institute’s Talent ID Rubric, “High Knowledge” IHS candidates are expected to be familiar with a list of figures that includes Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard.

“Rothbardians” are a radical sect of Austrian-school economists based out of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, co-founded by Murray Rothbard. The Mises Institute is designated a neo-confederate think-tank by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the past ten years, the Koch Foundation spent almost $15 million supporting scholars of the Mises Institute.

The Institute for Humane Studies’ connections to white supremacy don’t stop there. Several scholars affiliated and honored by the Institute have associations with the League of the South, a violent white-nationalist hate group.  

Donald Livingston, the founder of the League of the South Institute (the “educational arm of the League of the South”) lectured in George Mason University’s economics department as part of an Institute for Humane Studies sponsored “Invisible Hand Seminar” in 2017. Livingston also served on the IHS Academic Review Committee, which reviews applicants for “Humane Studies” Fellowships. These fellowships were originally “Claude R. Lambe Fellowships,” because they were founded and funded by the (Koch family operated) Claude R. Lambe Foundation.

Other founding member of the League of the South include Thomas Woods and Joseph Stromberg. Woods lists himself as the recipient of “two Humane Studies Fellowships and a Claude R. Lambe Fellowship from the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University,” while Stromberg served many years as an associate editor of the Institute for Humane Studies publication, Literature of Liberty.


Silencing Dissent: 

While facilitating the spread of classical liberal ideas rooted with intent to maintain white supremacy, the Institute for Humane Studies is also participating in the Koch network’s campaign to squash student protestors who seek to stand up to hate speech on campus.

In the past year, state lawmakers across the country have coordinated an effort to file “campus free speech” bills (see Washington Post’s map). These bills make it illegal for students to protest in a way that “disrupts” the speech of anyone who has been invited onto campus. These bills are based on a model bill, the “Campus Free Speech Act,” developed by two organizations funded by Koch family foundations: the Goldwater Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. See the model legislative language here.

 The authors of the model legislation describe how it is meant to eradicate campus safe spaces, citing how “trigger warnings” and “speaker dis-invitations” are the reason that “the core constitutional value of free speech is now under siege.” The announcement of the model bill was released the morning that Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley.

According to a 2017 funding proposal sent by the Institute of Humane Studies to the Charles Koch Foundation, the Institute will be developing and providing access to resources that teach faculty how to handle the threats posed by student activists on campus.