The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

October 15, 2018

REFERENCE DESK
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Regnery, Henry
Stephen Tonsor - 04/07/11
Lifespan: (1912–1996)

Publisher, conservative, musician and music patron, author and civic leader, Henry Regnery was born in Hinsdale, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, in 1912. His father, William H. Regnery, was a successful businessman and manufacturer, a second-generation American descended from German Catholic ancestors. His mother, Francis Susan Thrasher, of older Pennsylvania and Maryland stock, married William H. Regnery in Kansas City on June 30, 1903.

After being educated in the public schools of Hinsdale, in the fall of 1929 Regnery entered Armour Institute of Technology, now the Illinois Institute of Technology, to study mechanical engineering. Increasingly uncomfortable with the implications of technology, he transferred to MIT where he majored in mathematics. In 1934, influenced by a friend, he went to Germany and studied for two years at the University of Bonn. In the fall of 1936 he entered the graduate school at Harvard in economics. In 1937 he completed the requirements for and was granted an M.A. Shortly thereafter he met Eleanor Scattergood, a descendant of T. P. Cope and the daughter of Alfred G. Scattergood, who had supervised the child-feeding program in Germany after World War I for the American Friends Service Committee. Her character and judgment were the most important influence in the life of Henry Regnery.

The Regnery family was not always politically conservative. Henry’s father had, as a young man, been influenced by the reform movements of his day, particularly the ideas of Henry George. He had supported Franklin Roosevelt in the elections of 1932 and 1936. Young Henry had worked for the New Deal Resettlement Administration and later the American Friends Service Committee in community development. Both Henry and his father, however, were increasingly alienated by the intrusiveness and authoritarianism of New Deal domestic policies and Franklin Roosevelt’s drive to involve the United States in World War II. The elder Regnery was one of the founders and a financial supporter of the America First Committee.

Conservatism slowly began defining itself as a consequence of the political, cultural, and economic wreckage that followed in the wake of World War II. In 1945 Henry Regnery became one of the partners in the publication of Human Events among the paper’s first pamphlets were those authored by Robert M. Hutchins. On September 9, 1947, the Henry Regnery Company (later Regnery Gateway) was created, becoming overnight the most influential small publishing company in the United States. Regnery not only published the Great Books for the University of Chicago program but also translations of German texts of enduring cultural value. Regnery’s press became the organ of World War II historical revisionism and published book after book calling attention to the postwar communist threat. With Regnery’s publication in 1951 of William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind in 1953, American conservatism took on an identity and became a movement.

Not only did his Regnery Gateway publishing house provide the decisive impetus in the formation of twentieth-century conservatism, but Henry Regnery, energetic and self-effacing, spent his time and money identifying talent, serving on committees and boards of trustees, and looking for opportunities to create community and stimulate ideas even after his retirement. This quiet service, often not in a political cause, is best exemplified in his generous trusteeship at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and his membership in the Cliff Dwellers, a Chicago club devoted to the arts. His sustained interest in literature, history, and culture often expressed itself in hospitality, turning his home into a conservative salon frequented by the likes of Buckley and Kirk. After a life spent in service to the “great and noble tradition” of Western culture, Regnery died at the age of 84 in 1996.

Further Reading
  • Regnery, Henry. The Cliff Dwellers: The History of a Chicago Cultural Institution. Chicago: Chicago Historical Bookworks, 1990.
  • ———. A Few Reasonable Words: Selected Writings. Edited by George A. Panichas. Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 1996.
  • ———. Perfect Sowing: Reflections of a Bookman. Edited by Jeffrey O. Nelson. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 1999.
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