THERE wasn’t yet a “conservative movement” in the early 1950s, but there was bustling activity on the right side of the political spectrum. The great Austrian economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises had come to America, and Leonard Read had launched the Foundation for Economic Education to give their libertarian (“classical liberal”) ideas wide exposure. Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk were writing their seminal works, and Henry Regnery was publishing them. Human Events and The Freeman were bringing conservative analysis to the general public. The 25-year-old Bill Buckley burst on the national scene with God and Man at Yale (also published by Regnery), and another Austrian expatriate, Willi Schlamm, started plying Buckley with the idea of a conservative journal–which four years later made its appearance as NATIONAL REVIEW.
Another of Buckley’s mentors, the libertarian Frank Chodorov (whom WFB later described as a “gentle, elderly anarchist”), recognized that the left-wing ideas criticized in God and Man were by no means confined to Yale. The Left was making its long march through the institutions. If the Right was not to cede the next generation, action was needed. In 1953, Chodorov founded the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, grandly announcing that he had a “fifty-year project” to defeat collectivism in all its manifestations.
At first, though, Chodorov’s endeavor was more a hope than a plan. Then he received a windfall donation from a wealthy Midwesterner and made the best investment of his life: He hired a 28-year-old Pennsylvanian named Vic Milione to run ISI and spread the word on the campuses. Chodorov told Milione, “Vic, I have this money and as long as it lasts, you will get $75 a week and expense money. You’ll have to take your chances on the future.”
Milione took the chance. When the money ran out, he raised more. And he formed a plan to do an end run around the leftists’ march. As his eventual successor, Ken Cribb, put it, “If ISI was denied schools, it could have summer schools. If the classroom was out of reach, there was the independent lecture and the seminar. If ISI couldn’t assign texts, it could make available alternative libraries of books and journals via the mails.” And eventually, the young scholars nurtured by ISI did make their way into positions in the academy. Milione himself, speaking a few years ago about ISI’s Weaver Fellowships, pointed out that the recipients among them “have published over 1,000 books–8,000 articles and reviews–and it is estimated that they teach about 50,000 students each year.”
Besides making ISI a viable institution, Milione shaped it into a conservative institution. Whereas Chodorov was a pure libertarian–in fact, by his own description, a “radical” libertarian–concerned only with protecting freedom from the incursions of government, Milione was devoted to “Western Civilization as well as our specific American Heritage.”
He saw to it that ISI fostered a love for that civilization and that heritage among its student members, and among all those, students or not, who bought its books and subscribed to its journals, The Intercollegiate Review and Modern Age. The change in emphasis, which he had begun with Chodorov’s permission while the older man was still president of ISI, was underlined after Chodorov’s death, when ISI dropped “individualist” from its name and became the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Milione handed his beloved ISI over to Ken Cribb in 1988 and took pleasure in its continued thriving. As his health permitted, he continued to attend ISI functions and meetings of sister organizations such as the Philadelphia Society. His diminutive frame belied the largeness of his vision. With the substitution of just one word, what he said of ISI sums up Vic Milione’s own life: “Fifty”–eighty–“years of integrity (meaning both honesty and wholeness) of effort, and diligence, has reaped rich rewards.”