Tyler Cowen broke the sad news that Walter Grinder passed away. Tyler was one of the many intellectual protégées of Walter- certainly the most prominent and successful, the one with whom Walter felt the stronger bond, as he met Tyler when the latter was a teenager. But Walter, as the engine behind the Institute of Humane Studies, played a similar role to many, whom he gently and wisely steered in several new avenues of research.

Never underestimate the role of the person who puts a good book in your hands. Particularly if he imagines you could expand your views thanks to it and perhaps use it to see the world from perspectives you did not imagine before.

Walter did precisely that to perhaps countless people, some of whom honoured his sagacity by building on his insights, becoming thoughtful academics or serious think tankers.

In the last few years, when he was already seriously debilitated by illness, Walter did that predominantly by e-mail, engaging with a younger generation of libertarian scholars and authors that he perhaps never met in person. I was privileged to be in his e-mail list. Walter was not sending around comments or reviews to show his erudition off: he was writing about works he considered important and eye-opening, to carefully assembled mailing lists of people that he thought could benefit of those. I have myself met him only once, in early 2020 (before Covid). I know he corresponded, and rather intensely, with colleagues whose faces he never knew.

This is an effort too easily dismissed as the pastime of an old man. Walter was again playing, as the circumstances allowed him, the role of the intellectual impresario that so suited him. He belonged to the generation of libertarian scholars who envisioned and built the modern libertarian movement. A few of those, most notably Murray N. Rothbard, were constantly writing and producing page after page as ammunition for this new small movement. Others were quieter, like Walter and his friend Leonard Liggio, but weaving the web of connections and institutions which allowed the following generation of libertarian scholars to benefit from opportunities unknown to them.

Walter edited a new edition of Albert J. Nock’s Our Enemy, the State and Capital, Expectations, and the Market Process by Ludwig Lachmann, an author he helped many to appreciate better. He wrote many articles, always insightful, some of which can be found online. In the last few years, he was working, with John Hagel III, on a paper entitled “Evolving Liberalism to Thrive”, which I hope will still see the light. He was planning, if I’m right, for his books to be donated to the Institute of Liberal Studies in Canada. I hope this happened and that we may all go visit a “Walter Grinder Library” soon.

In different moments in history, classical liberalism shows different nuances. It is largely because of the circumstances, but also because of the personality of some highly influential authors. Vilfredo Pareto, for example, was very upset with some of the late 19th century liberals. He thought they were overemphasizing reasons for optimism, inebriated as they were by economic growth, and they forgot a key lesson by one of their very heroes, Frédéric Bastiat. That is, that government is basically plunder, and that exploitation mechanisms lie behind any kind of government.

This was an insight never lost on Walter. It may have been for generational reasons, because they lived through WWII and then the Korean war and, of course, because of Vietnam, or because of the influence of the so-called “old right,” or because they were scoffed by the “cold warriors,” but I think the great libertarians of Walter’s generation tended to have clearer in their mind the indissoluble link between government and violence. Perhaps Walter’s way of thinking is still best expressed in “Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate Decision-Making and Class Structure”, written with John Hagel in the 1970s. He was certainly distressed by the reemergence of militarism, as he was by the lack of historical curiosity by some of the contemporary libertarian economists and pundits.

He was a very good man, intellectually as honest as he was pugnacious. May we do a fraction of the good he did, for this movement.