The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 17, 2018

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Intercollegiate Studies Institute
John Zmirak - 03/13/12

At the initiative of one of ISI’s most important leaders over the decades, executive vice president John Lulves, in 1976 ISI took on the publication of Modern Age, whose financial condition had not kept up with its editorial excellence. The quarterly is aimed more at graduate students and faculty—complementing the mission of the Intercollegiate Review—and publishes long, analytical pieces on broad issues of culture and philosophy.

With the “arrival” of the conservative movement in 1981 after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, ISI saw many of its alumni enter positions of influence and power, including Richard V. Allen, Donald Devine, and T. Kenneth Cribb Jr. Other important activists in the (mis-titled) “Reagan Revolution” with ISI roots included Robert Reilly, Rep. Robert Bauman, and Morton Blackwell. But the organization’s gaze remained steadily on the deeper cultural issues underlying ephemera of policy and power, leaving its mission unaltered and spirits undimmed by the centrist retrenchment of the first Bush administration. According to Lee Edwards, ISI also managed to avoid the worst effects of the growing division on the Right between traditionalists and libertarians on the one hand, and increasingly influential neo-conservatives on the other. Because it had always opened itself to multiple voices—in the beginning, monarchists such as Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn alongside rationalist liberals like Ludwig von Mises, and later, traditionalists like Frederick Wilhelmsen and M. E. Bradford beside American Whigs like Harry Jaffa—the organization could never be pigeon-holed or rendered marginal.

In 1989, Cribb, a former Reagan administration justice department official, became president of ISI, employing his extensive connections to increase fundraising and extend ISI’s reach without compromising its core missions. He added to ISI’s programs the new publication CAMPUS, a national magazine written by and for conservative college students. To help incoming students navigate the shoals of academia, in the late ’90s ISI began to publish a college guide titled Choosing the Right College as part of its new, ambitious publishing program led by Jeffrey O. Nelson. A couple of years earlier, beginning with a series of high-quality reprints of conservative classics, ISI’s book imprint, ISI Books, began to produce a wide range of titles by political scientists, philosophers, literary critics, theologians, and economists. Prominent in its catalogue are the Library of Modern Thinkers series, which features examinations of important twentieth-century thinkers on the right such as Eric Voegelin, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Robert Nisbet, and Wilhelm Röpke; its series of student guides to the major disciplines, which has featured authors John Lukacs, Wilfred McClay, Paul Heyne, and Ralph McInerny; and its Crosscurrents series of translations of classic and contemporary works by non-English-speaking intellectuals on the right. ISI Books publishes approximately twenty new books per year and now has more than 100 titles in print.

By 2005, ISI could boast volunteer representatives at over 900 colleges, more than 50,000 ISI student and faculty members on nearly every campus in the country, and over 300 educational programs held on campus each year. At the conclusion of Chodorov’s “50-Year Plan,” America no longer faced the threat of an aggressive communist empire; yet the organization he had founded faced new, unimagined challenges, including the challenge posed by a “wired” world whose core philosophies had been “deconstructed” and whose most basic social institutions—such as marriage and motherhood—were under attack by new species of social radicals, some of them purportedly conservative. Through new media and old, ISI carries on its original mission of forming America’s elites in the wisdom of their ancestors.

Further Reading
  • Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. 2nd ed. Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1996.
  • Panichas, George, ed. Modern Age: The First Twenty-Five Years. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Press, 1988.
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