Rushdoony the Philosopher and the Historian
Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part V "An Opportunity... Thanks Be to God!"
By early 1962, my father had been a pastor for eighteen years, but his desire had always been to write. His first two books had been published and a third manuscript was completed. Years later, when near death, he gave me instruction on his unpublished work. When asked, in 1994, which of his books were his best, he replied, “The next ones.”1 Grandpa Y. K. Rushdoony had often encouraged his work in his regular letters. Once, during a visit to Santa Cruz, my father noted in his journal that he studied until 1:30 a.m. then, “Read to my father. Went to bed after his blessing and prayer for a world-wide ministry through writing.”2 That ministry would begin full-time in 1962.
As early as October of 1961, Dad had told the church session that he planned on leaving. He had, in August and September, spoken with Ivan Bierly and F.A. “Baldy” Harper of the Volker Fund, at least in part about his hope to establish a Christian college.3
The William Volker Fund
William Volker (1859–1947) was a Kansas City, Missouri, magnate who made a fortune in home furnishings. In 1932 he established the William Volker Charities Fund to oversee his charitable work which at first focused on Kansas City. By that time, he had already become a major philanthropist, but the extent of his giving will likely never be known, as he preferred to give with no public fanfare. Recipients of grants were required to make no public acknowledgement,4 but Volker was, in fact, known in at least some circles as “Mr. Anonymous.”
The organization was later re-named the William Volker Fund (“Volker Fund”) and was entrusted, along with the business, to Volker’s nephew, Harold W. Luhnow by 1944. He expanded the Fund’s work well beyond charity centered in Kansas City to broad educational activities. In the early 1960s, the Fund’s offices were moved to Burlingame, California.
Luhnow’s management of the Volker Fund produced tremendous results. No history has ever been written of its impact and likely never can be, as its records have been missing for many years. Volker had focused much of his philanthropy on charitable and community projects and was centered around Kansas City, Missouri. He was a major contributor to the fledgling University of Kansas City (later the University of Missouri-Kansas City). Later, under Luhnow, the Volker Fund focused on conservative and free-market education. It was Luhnow’s goal “to stimulate the private sector into assuming greater responsibilities in every area.”5 The idea behind the Fund’s giving was to provide seed money “to stimulate the birth of new organizations to meet new crises or needs. As a result, numerous grants have been made in various fields to help start new organizations and to further their activities for a few short years until they are able to gain support from a variety of continuing sources.”6
Few have today heard of the Volker Fund, though it it was largely responsible for the development of much of the right after the war. Volker had successfully fought the Democratic machine in Kansas City, but Luhnow wisely turned the Fund’s efforts toward developing a broad spectrum of individuals and organizations with ideas that challenged the political, academic, and economic orthodoxy of the time.
In 1946 Volker money funded the establishment of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Its founder, Leonard Read, coined the term libertarianism about that time. In 1956, FEE’s flagship publication, The Freeman, was introduced and quickly became the most important free market resource in the country. In addition, FEE’s free teacher seminars educated thousands in free market ideas. Volker funded the start of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (later the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, ISI). William F. Buckley, Jr., was its first president and E. Victor Millione its second. The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was founded in 1960 and soon attracted large numbers of college students. By 1964 it was a tremendous asset to the Barry Goldwater campaign, which was the last time an outsider bucked the party hierarchy and defeated their candidate (Nelson Rockefeller) for the nomination.7 A student libertarian journal, The New Individualist Review, was produced from 1961–1968. In 1967 it came out strongly in favor of abolishing the draft, an idea later advocated by Richard Nixon and made law in 1973.8
Many grants were provided to conservative scholars. “A very large number, if not the major share, of conservative books published in the past twenty years were written on grants by Volker. The total number of scholars this aided probably numbers in excess of 600, according to the president.”9 The Volker Fund created the National Book Foundation which supplied conservative and libertarian books to college libraries.
Luhnow was the funding source of economists such as F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, F.A. Harper, and Murray Rothbard (who was on the staff of the Volker Fund from 1951–1962).10 The University of Chicago did not pay Hayek a salary, nor did New York University Ludwig von Mises. It was Volker which funded them.
My father had communicated with men and women associated with the Volker Fund for at least a decade by 1962. On February 23 of that year, he received a phone call from senior staffer Ivan Bierly asking him “to write a statement on the roots of liberty for [the] foundation.” The following week he finished “The Ground of Liberty” and a short time later “Bierly and friends” attended his evening class on the Constitution and visited afterwards at our home. On March 16, after recording he had sent letters to Gary North (then a young student) and Van Til, he noted: “Rec’d phone calls from Ivan Bierly, Verna Hall, re working for Volker Fund, etc. God be thanked.” Four days later, he wrote,
To Burlingame, Volker Fund offices, to pick up Ivan Bierly; to S.F., for lunch and meeting with Verna Hall, Montgomery, Handly, Younger re. my usefulness to their cause. To Burlingame, to see Mr. Luhow re. working under Volker Fund. Received approval … An opportunity to study, write and speak to the glory of God. Thanks be to God!11
Marriage to Dorothy
By 1962 it had been four years since the divorce and five since my Mom had left the home. Being a single parent with six children must have weighed heavily on him. He rarely expressed the strain, but a few days before Christmas, 1961, he concluded his journal with: “Another day ended: 5 hrs. spent in housework (washing done at laundromat), 4 hrs. in calling and study for church services, three hours study for writing.”12
A few months earlier he had noted another difficult situation. A church member informed him that, “according to gossip, she is my latest prospective wife.”13 By the spring of 1962 when he was in negotiations with the Volker Fund he was, in fact, contemplating remarriage, but there were several eligible women in the church and he apparently felt it best to wait until he stepped down as pastor in order to avoid any conflict it might cause in the church. Many in the church had gone through the Trinity Church trauma and would have been supportive, but, as in many denominations, there were many disparate views on divorce and remarriage in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and he did not want his family life to be the focus of another church upheaval. Now that he was stepping down and beginning work with the Volker Fund, he had liberty to remarry.
Thomas and Dorothy Kirkwood had been members of Trinity Presbyterian and became charter members of Santa Cruz OPC when it began in 1958. Tom had been a deacon and elder at Trinity. Both had been strong supporters of my father during his trouble with the P.C.U.S.A. and the divorce. Tom was examined by the local OPC Presbytery and approved as a member of the first session. After they migrated to the Santa Cruz OPC, references to Tom drop out of my father’s journal. That is most likely because there were no longer any major problems he felt worthy of documenting.
It is not until two years later his name reappears in February 1960 when my father noted that Tom was seeing a lawyer about divorce and that he had not been in the Kirkwood home since the previous October. Years later, Mother referred to him as a philanderer. In July, Dad noted that Dorothy had finally learned where he was living and with whom. She and Tom reached an agreement on the sale of their house and in September 1960 she left for Reno, Nevada, where she stayed until she could establish legal residency before filing for divorce. Dad’s next mention of her six weeks later notes her return, referring to her thereafter as Dorothy Ross, her maiden name.14
The church was obviously fully aware of my father’s pending departure, if not his pending marriage. On April 18, 1962, a week before he turned fifty-six, he wrote:
To Burlingame, Volker Fund, with Dorothy, to sign contract. To Atherton to see house; decided against it, as too luxurious: my future may require very humble circumstance, & there is no point in developing a taste for what will not be a part of my life … 6:30–8:30 p.m., church potluck dinner and congregational meeting; Arthur Riffel called as pastor.15
They were married by Rev. Riffel on June 14, 1962, at a house they leased in Los Altos Hills in preparation for their new life and work. Present as witnesses were my grandmother, my uncle Haig Rushdoony, Kay Riffel, and the only Santa Cruz church member, Frances Braun, an elderly widow and a dear friend of both bride and groom. On July 2 he went to the Volker offices as a staff member for the first time. The next day he noted in his journal that he read “Mr. Anonymous,” The Story of William Volker, by Herbert C. Cornuelle.
The Center for American Studies
My father went to work at the William Volker Fund in the midst of a great upheaval. It had moved to Burlingame and was shifting away from charitable work in Kansas City to a more ideological orientation. Rothbard was let go about that time, as was Baldy Harper. Luhnow seemed to be directing his efforts at a more specifically Christian undertaking. An official “Announcement of impending dissolution was made in the spring of 1962.” Since much of the Fund’s efforts over the years had been to capitalize new organizations, my father obviously went on the staff at this transitionary period thinking either his desire for a college or study/research center would be funded, or, more likely given the events which followed, that the new focus of the Volker money was to be the work for which he and others were recently hired.
Even as the Volker Fund was shutting down, it created a new organization in late 1962: the Center for American Studies (CAS or “the Center”). This was to be an organization created by the Volker Fund itself. It was intended as:
a continuing organization, on a trial basis, dedicated to research in the field of American studies and the stimulation of a restoration of the historic, conservative, Christian American perspective. This program was planned by the three persons then on the Volker staff, the president, H.W. Luhnow, Ivan R. Bierly, liaison officer of the previously existing staff, and R.J. Rushdoony, brought in as a Christian conservative and a theologian to provide theoretical structure. Collection of the library was undertaken by Rushdoony, and the appointment of a staff. The Center was to be a graduate research center, as well as a conference center, for the training, in short conferences, of clergymen, school teachers, business men, etc. Two very successful conferences were in fact held, a ministerial conference and a teachers (sic) conference, in August, 1963, with a major impact on and reshaping of the thinking of those present.16
My father had a habit of tallying his year’s work each December 31. For 1962 he noted he had completed The Messianic Character of American Education (just before his hiring by the Volker Fund) and This Independent Republic. The latter was a project specifically for the CAS, but it would be one that would prove to be a source of conflict. He also noted that, not including church services, he had spoken forty-six times. Some of these were lectures at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, for the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists Student Conference. After one of these lectures in August he noted, “Gary North in motel room c. 1 ½ for discussion of predestination, etc.”17 The following summer my father brought Gary to the Center as an intern.
By the time Gary North arrived in 1963, the Center was in an epistemological identity crisis. The crux of the ideological conflict was the nature and extent of the Christian emphasis of the center. In early February of 1963, a plastic-comb bound 8½ x 11 version of my father’s This Independent Republic manuscript arrived at the Center’s offices. A few days later Ivan Bierly mailed out eighty copies. The feedback from some was less than enthusiastic. It was seen by some as too Christian, too Calvinistic, or too sectarian.
The conservative movement was, at the time, still struggling to find its voice. My father presented a case that American’s uniqueness was its heritage of Christian faith and the practical outworking of that faith in its culture and institutions and that a return to Christian faith and practice was its hope. But the individuals and groups associated with the William Volker Fund over the years represented a variety of philosophical and religious perspectives, including atheists like Murray Rothbard and the Catholic ISI and William F. Buckley, Jr. The creation of the Center from the William Volker Fund had been intended to focus the Volker fortune on a more specifically Christian message. The push-back against my father’s presuppositionalism and Calvinism apparently surprised Luhnow and Bierly.18 To complicate matters, William T. “Bill” Couch was brought into the Center by Bierly in April of 1963 and quickly opposed my father’s perspective “re. centrality of orthodox Christian faith with savage bitterness.”19
Luhnow’s own religious beliefs were something of a hodgepodge, but my father’s journal entries indicated Luhnow was initially very supportive. In a personal meeting with my father Luhnow referred to Bill Couch as “the problem” and my father “encouraged in resisting him.” In that meeting my father’s contract was renewed. A few days later, “I was supported by Mr. Luhnow, who flatly stated that Couch was trying to take control of the Fund as Harper had tried.” On July 5 my father noted his “4 ½ hr. session with Ivan [Bierly] challenging the direction of present activity, Couch’s anti-Christian position, etc.”20
In a subsequent meeting with Bierly, my father learned that the publication of This Independent Republic was “vaguely postponed.” Two days later my father spoke to a teacher’s conference held by the Center. His topic was that of his paper written the previous year at the request of Bierly: “The Ground of Liberty.”
To office, conference. Spoke 1:30–3 p.m., on “The Ground of Liberty,” with tremendously favorable response from all teachers, anger from Bierly and Luhnow. First written as a paper, March 3, 1962, it brought me to Volker Fund. Now, it brings me hatred from the same source, indicating the changed situation due to epistemological self-consciousness. Great demand for “This Independent Republic,” re-publication requested from the floor, refused by Mr. Luhnow.21
A week later he spoke on the same topic, as well as others from This Independent Republic at a teachers conference in Houston attended by about 250, though this was not a Center-sponsored event.22 Two weeks later he was dropped from the staff for “failure to work with Wm. T. Couch, to ‘agree’ with him. Christian stand also called uncooperative…”23
The Center for American Studies was not to be the vehicle for my father’s ministry, though the day after his firing he applied for re-instatement as an independent contractor and the next day received a two-year contract at the same salary plus a publication contract for This Independent Republic.24 A year later Luhnow fired both Bierly and Couch and began the dissolution of the Center entirely. The remaining funds, variously estimated at seven to ten million dollars, eventually went to the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.25
1. “Interview with R.J. Rushdoony,” Contra Mundum, No. 13, Fall 1994.
2. Work journal of R.J. Rushdoony, entry of August 1, 1953.
3. Work journal, entries of August 30 and September 14, 1961.
4. “The William Volker Fund,” p. 1. This is a two-page single-spaced typewritten synopsis of the organization that I found in my father’s files. It is unattributed and undated, but I believe it was almost certainly written by my father in 1964. I do not know the intended purpose of the paper or if it was ever published.
8. Gary North, “The Final Triumph of ‘Mr. Anonymous’ from Beyond the Grave.” Garynorth.com
9. “The William Volker Fund,” p. 1.
10. Gary North, see above.
12. Work journal, entry of December 11, 1961.
13. Work journal, entry of July 10, 1961.
14. Work journal, entries of February 7, 10, and 22; September 12; and October 27, 1960.
15. Work journal, entry of April 18, 1962.
16. “The William Volker Fund,” p. 2.
17. Work journal, entries of December 31 and August 27, 1962.
18. For a more complete treatment of the Volker Fund/CAS period, see Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), pp. 46–78.
19. Work journal, entry of May 28, 1963.
20. Work journal, entries of July 4, 12; July 5.
21. Work journal, entry of August 16, 1963.
22. Work journal, entries of August 26 and 27, 1963.
23. Work journal, entry of September 9, 1963.
24. Work journal, entries of September 10 and 11, 1963
25. “The William Volker Fund,” p. 2.
Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of Chalcedon and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life and Chalcedon’s other publications.