The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

January 21, 2019

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Earhart Foundation
Lee Edwards - 12/22/11

Harry Earhart died at his home near Ann Arbor, Michigan, on October 21, 1954; he was eighty-four. Writing about his entrepreneurial spirit and philanthropic philosophy, Earhart Foundation president James A. Kennedy explained that Harry Earhart was an individualist with “a strong sense of responsibility to his fellow man and with a profound affection for his native land.” Underlying his many philanthropies was an insistence that “giving should serve to strengthen recipients rather than to make them increasingly and perhaps permanently dependent upon help from others.”

With the coming of the chaotic 1970s, Earhart trustees realized that the ideas of liberty were being challenged in the field of culture as well as economics and politics. They decided to expand the foundation’s program to include support of research and writing in history, philosophy, and literature—the essential transmitters of traditional values.

In 1985, the foundation adopted a statement of the basic philosophy that guided H. B. Earhart and “which should continue to guide Earhart Foundation, its trustees and its members.” It begins, “Harry Boyd Earhart believed profoundly that the free, competitive American enterprise system, based upon the Christian ethic, was the highest form of social organization in history.” It is to preserve and foster such beliefs, states the foundation’s history, “that he entrusted his resources to Earhart Foundation.”

With current assets of about $73 million, Earhart Foundation is small compared to giants like MacArthur, Pew, and Lilly, with their billions of dollars, but in the words of Michigan history professor Stephen Tonsor, few foundations “have been so imaginatively and brilliantly managed” in the pursuit of nonestablishment solutions to social problems.

In the early days, Earhart and Relm “were nearly alone” in their patronage of the conservative movement. They assisted members of all three groups that then constituted that movement—the anticommunist cold warriors, the cultural conservatives, and the free- market economists. However, as Richard Ware, longtime president of the Earhart Foundation, pointed out, both Earhart and Relm worked with “outside” individuals and organizations sharing “some but not all of the conservative philosophy.” Scholarship of high quality and a willingness to allow “chips to fall where they may” have been the hallmarks of staff recommendations and trustee decisions. “I believe,” said Ware in summary, “we have played a defensible role in the use of venture capital in the competition for ideas.” That mission was ably carried forward by Ware’s successor as president, David Kennedy, and more recently by foundation president Dr. Ingrid Gregg.

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