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About Us

The Goodrich Room, Lilly Library
The Goodrich Room, Lilly Library

Our Mission: Established in 2021, the Stephenson Institute for Classical Liberalism is a student-focused, non-partisan, academic resource center. We provide teaching, learning, and research opportunities for motivated students and faculty at Wabash College and beyond whom share an interest in the operations and implications of a free society.

Core Topics and Areas of Interest: 

Individual Liberty

  • What are the potentials and limits of free speech and free expression in the modern world?
  • What personal moral standards are most compatible with a peaceful and prosperous society?
  • What political and economic institutions are necessary and most conducive to the protection and promotion of individual rights?

Personal Responsibility

  • What are the cultural and economic consequences of paternalistic governance?
  • What are the causal relationships between civil society, government, and the market economy?
  • What role does religion play in the promotion and preservation of a free, prosperous, and peaceful society?

Private Property

  • What are the causes and consequences of different private property institutions and arrangements across times and cultures?
  • What institutional types and arrangements best promote different social outcomes such as prosperity, civic and legal equality, happiness, and the protection of individual rights?
  • What are the causes and consequences of economic development and economic growth around the world and through time?

Intellectual History

  • What role does individual liberty play in different intellectual traditions?
  • What are the core causes and effects of individual and economic freedom from different academic disciplines?
  • How would the ideas and theories of key historic thinkers across the liberal tradition engage contemporary social issues?
Benjamin Rogge
Benjamin Rogge

Classical Liberalism at Wabash: Grounded in a nearly two-century tenure of liberal-arts education in Indiana, Wabash College has long provided teaching and research on themes of relevance to the classical liberal tradition.

Furthermore, Benjamin Rogge (1920-1980), Distinguished Professor of Political Economy and Dean of the college for over three decades, was a leading scholar of classical-liberal thought in America. Rogge’s own philosophy mirrored what Wabash students find on campus, as any community finds a middle way between anarchy and an overly powerful bureaucracy. In Rogge’s view, a free society would thrive if it was not “absorbed by the state. Society, with its full network of restraints on individual conduct, based on custom, tradition, religion, personal morality, a sense of style, and with all of its indeed powerful sanctions, is what makes the civilized life possible and meaningful.” The college itself, being a free association of individuals, enhanced by custom and tradition, has survived and thrived in this way for almost two centuries.

In the 1950s, Rogge invited Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman to give a lecture series at Wabash, these transcripts went on to be published as Capitalism and Freedom, and has sold over a half million copies. Rogge was also dedicated to undergraduate teaching and inspired numerous Wabash alumni who consider him a mentor and exemplar, including Mr. Stephenson.

Rogge’s vocation was to teach people about a free society, so that his students could become humane, tolerant, and curious individuals. As he once said, “the free market cannot produce the perfect world, but it can create an environment in which each imperfect man may conduct his lifelong search for purpose in his own way, in which each day he may order his life according to his own imperfect vision of his destiny, suffering both the agonies of his errors and the sweet pleasure of his successes.” 

In further articulating his own philosophy in a Chapel Talk in 1969, Rogge argued that students should be skeptical of “the ideologue as someone… who has a clear vision of what man is or should be or could become and who has some kind of socio-political program for bringing about the desired state of affairs.” For civilization to grow, innovate, and thrive, a free society remains vibrant when it is connected with the liberal-arts tradition, producing interdisciplinary knowledge and lifelong learning. Thus, the classical liberal is interested in open and deep discussions of perennial questions; Wabash’s Pierre Goodrich (1894-1973, class of 1916) advocated a Great Books curriculum as well as designed and funded the Goodrich Room in Wabash’s Lilly Library; this unique conference room is adorned with walls that feature an epochal timeline of influential thinkers that suggests the story of man striving toward liberty.

 

The Founding of the Stephenson Institute for Classical Liberalism was made possible by the support of Richard J. Stephenson ’62 and his wife, Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, along with his family, including Wabash alumni Dr. Christopher (’87) and Jamie Stephenson and Shawn (’98) and Morgan Stephenson.

Thanks to the Stephensons’ generosity, the Institute coordinates on campus lectures and workshops providing students with the opportunity to have conversations with world-class thought leaders and financially supports students to pursue summer internships across a variety of fields. The Institute also sponsors Wabash faculty research, provides support for new course offerings, and sponsors student immersion trips.

Wabash men are shaped not only by the tangible support of the Institute’s campus programs, but also enduring intellectual dividends from their participation in Institute programming. Hence, the Stephenson Institute is uniquely positioned to tap into and build upon the lasting legacy of Wabash College and those seeking to understand the foundations of a free society.

Wabash’s century-old Gentleman’s Rule, a minimalist approach to a student code of conduct, states that a student must “conduct himself at all times, both on and off campus, as a gentleman and a responsible citizen.” This simple rule serves as a touchstone for the day-to-day exercise in balancing individual liberty and personal responsibility in a free society.