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Building a Library for Liberty

May 17, 2016

Quarterly Performance Report Second Quarter, 2016

This essay is based on remarks delivered on May 4 during the dedication of the Michael Parry Mazur Library at The Heartland Institute.

On May 4, The Heartland Institute formally dedicated the Michael Parry Mazur Library at The Heartland Institute. For me personally, it was a capstone of more than 40 years of research and learning. For Heartland, it was a clarion call to the world that the ideas of liberty will not be lost during our watch.

Literature Is Our Legacy

Ronald Reagan frequently reminded audiences that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on [to our children] for them to do the same.”

Preserving the literature of liberty – the finest work of the greatest minds who understood the power of ideas and in particular of one idea, freedom – is an important way to perform our patriotic duty to future generations. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with other forms of activism yet is easily overlooked.

Why Not Just Google It?

In this digital era, an iPad or Kindle is a portal to more research and commentary than any physical library can hold. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that books and libraries are obsolete. Indeed, many libraries are downsizing their collections of books or no longer stocking new titles.

I’m a big fan of the Internet. The Heartland Institute was the second “think tank” in the country to have a website when the World Wide Web was first created ... the Hoover Institution beat us by only a month or two, but when ours launched it had pictures and theirs didn’t!

Every Heartland publication is available digitally, usually before physical copies are released. Heartland’s websites – 18 of them in total – have massive content, more than the sites of nearly any other think tank. PolicyBot, our online search engine and database, alone has some 32,000 documents offering free-market solutions to social and economic issues. Our YouTube channel has nearly 1,000 videos.

A physical library is no substitute for all this, but it can be a valuable addition. So much research and commentary is now available online that the good stuff – reliable, accurate, and often profound – is difficult to find. The sheer volume of content makes the writing of even the greatest thinkers and scholars disappear behind a fog of blogposts and ephemeral opinion pieces.

A physical library, in contrast, can be curated, putting in one place the books written, say, by prominent libertarians. Seeing the works of Frédéric Bastiat alongside those of David Boaz and James M.. Buchanan and realizing the continuity of their thought is an entirely different intellectual experience than “Googling” their names.

Similarly, putting in one place all of the best books on free-market solutions to, say, protecting the environment, is a huge benefit to students and scholars. Walk down the “environment” aisle of Heartland’s new library and you will see the books written by Terry Anderson, John Baden, and Robert L. Bradley, Jr., side-by-side, ready to be opened and read. The odds of finding and reading the good stuff, and not just propaganda, are vastly better in our library than online.

Down the Memory Hole

George Orwell warned us, in his 1949 novel titled 1984, of how totalitarian regimes could exercise control over their citizens by making news of past events and articles about forbidden ideas disappear “down the memory hole.” The Party’s Ministry of Truth would frequently edit, revise, or simply destroy documents that contradicted its propaganda.

The Internet makes it easier for governments and their allies to do this. The results of Google searches increasingly show evidence of bias and behind-the-scenes manipulation. Websites and articles expressing conservative and libertarian ideas appear only after page after page of politically correct sites and blogposts, making them unlikely to be seen by all but the most determined searcher.

Facebook and even Twitter appear to be succumbing to the same pressure to conform to the political creed of the current occupant of the White House.

Digital documents are easily edited or deleted. Probably the most tragic example of this is Wikipedia, the self-described “people’s encyclopedia.” Thousands of  its entries – particularly profiles of organizations and individuals and articles about climate change – have been rewritten to reflect a pervasive left-wing bias.

Unlike web entries, printed books cannot be altered. They can be bought and burned to keep people from reading them, but some copies of the original books will remain in the hands of people who keep them in a safe place where others can read and learn from them.

A library provides one more thing the Internet cannot: a safe physical space where students, scholars, and concerned citizens can come together to study, learn, and discuss the ideas that have made America so exceptional. As Virginia Woolfe put it back in 1929, creative thought and true discovery require having “a room of one’s own,” a private place free from peer pressure and government interference, where a person is free to think and explore and write.

Heartland’s Library

One way to protect the literature of library is to donate books to The Heartland Institute or help us acquire them. Here, they will be kept safe and made available to scholars, students, and the general public for many, many years to come.

The library now holds nearly 10,000 books on American history, economics, education, environment issues, health care policy, law, libertarianism, philosophy, and other topics. Our new permanent home in Arlington Heights has room for at least 20,000 volumes.

The family of Michael Parry Mazur made a generous donation to the library, and in return we named the library in his honor. Dr. Mazur was a staff economist at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Washington, DC serving under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. He passed away in 1987.

Public Access

A catalogue of books in Heartland’s library is available online at www.heartland.org/library. In the near future we plan to post a “wish list” of books on the site, titles we wish we had but do not.

The library is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no admission fee, but visitors are asked to call first. The library is not, at this time, a lending library. Duplicate copies of some books in the collection are available for sale.

If you have books or a whole library you need to part with as you “downsize” or experience some other change in life, please consider donating them to The Heartland Institute. We will make sure the books are properly handled and used by scholars and the next generation of freedom fighters.

* * *

Why build a library devoted to liberty? Because freedom is first and foremost an idea, not a social or political movement. That idea is contained in literature – the literature of liberty – and it must be read and understood in order to endure the changing politics and fads of the day.

We must persuade the next generation of civic and political leaders that preserving freedom is the only valid duty of government, and capitalism is the only social order discovered by man that leads to peace, justice, and prosperity. A physical library ensures that the literature of liberty cannot be stolen or hidden from future generations.

Building a library isn’t all that needs to be done to preserve freedom, not by a long shot. But it’s a key part of ensuring our success. I hope you agree and will join us in this noble effort.

Article Tags
Government & Politics
Author
Joseph Bast is the CEO of The Heartland Institute, a 33-year-old national nonprofit research center located in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
jbast@heartland.org @JosephLBast