The ultimate think tank: The rise of the Santa Fe Institute libertarian

A new piece in History of the Human Sciences may interest AHP readers: “The ultimate think tank: The rise of the Santa Fe Institute libertarian” by Erik Baker. Abstract:

Why do corporations and wealthy philanthropists fund the human sciences? Examining the history of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), a private research institute founded in the early 1980s, this article shows that funders can find as much value in the social worlds of the sciences they sponsor as in their ideas. SFI became increasingly dependent on funding from corporations and libertarian business leaders in the 1990s and 2000s. At the same time, its intellectual work came to focus on the underlying principles of adaptation, innovation, and decentralized coordination supposedly at work in ‘complex systems’ from biological ecosystems to markets and firms. This research cast the ideas of the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek into a new scientific idiom. SFI also became a space where figures in business, media, academia, and politics could come to learn to see the world in a particular way—to acquire the subjectivity of what I call ‘the Santa Fe Institute libertarian’. At SFI, visitors did not simply learn the principles of neo-Hayekian complex system science. They came to see themselves as agents of social evolution, providing the spark that the free-market system needed to produce new technologies and new solutions to social problems without top-down political direction. For the Institute’s corporate and libertarian financiers, SFI was not just a space where intellectuals described the world in favored ideological terms, but a space where elite actors became committed to the project of making a new political-economic order.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.