Happy Birthday, Walter Grinder!

Yesterday was the 75th birthday of Walter Grinder. Several tributes have already appeared. Here is mine.

I first came into contact with Walter Grinder while I was a first-year graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the early 1980s. While it was before P.C. had gained a stranglehold, and my (often Marxist/New Left) professors were generally open-minded, the history department could still a very lonely place for a young libertarian. Walter was instrumental in giving me the necessary self-confidence to navigate my way through. When I faced a historical or theoretical conundrum, or simply wanted some references to leading work in a field, I rang up Walter. I always felt better as a result. Few people were better able to shed new light on a question that many of my professors, and fellow graduates, considered settled. I remember fondly our long conversations about the role of overproduction, or lack thereof, as a cause of U.S. imperialism. So much new stuff! In his role of outside faculty mentor, Walter was the ultimate “network builder,” always trying to make us aware of others who shared our interests and passions.

After I received my Ph.D., it was Walter and Leonard Liggio who were responsible for the publication of my dissertation on tax revolts during the Great Depression. Both arranged a fellowship for me at the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), which enabled me to revise the manuscript. Unbeknownst to me, Walter sent a copy of the manuscript to Lew Bateman of UNC Press. Bateman liked the book and got the ball rolling.

Later, after my position was not renewed at the University of Nevada, Walter and Leonard were the only ones who kept my head above water by cobbling together a combination fellowship and “make work” job supervising history students at IHS. Without this lifeline, I may well have dropped out of the profession. In that make work job, I did my best to mentor young history students via long distance in the same way that Walter had mentored me. One of those students was the brilliant Alan Petigny who died tragically last month. Walter was also key to turning me onto the vast role of mutual aid in history, which ultimately led to my book on fraternal societies and, then, my book on T.R.M. Howard.

I will always be grateful for Walter’s sage and thoughtful counsel, his passion for liberty, including a deep-seated hatred of war which I took to heart, lack of pretense, no nonsense sense of humor, and genuine concern about helping students survive in the profession and become better scholars. He has not only been a mentor for so many of us but a kind of super mentor. In this regard in particular, Walter’s retirement from the Institute for Humane Studies left a gap which nobody has come close to filling.

David Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and editor of the Independent book, The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society (with Peter Gordon and Alexander Tabarrok).
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