On 23 April 2022 we lost a dear member of our community: David J. Theroux, a gentleman and a scholar.
Sundry reasons account for Theroux’s prominence, not least among them the Independent Institute, a non-profit think tank devoted to research and education, in Oakland, California. Theroux founded the institute in 1986. Appropriately named, the Independent Institute has since its inception aspired to transcend partisan interests and politicized debate to serve the common good. Civility and understanding are tough to come by in this day and age. Theroux persevered anyway. He was a gentleman and a scholar.
His training was broad, though not without depth. Theroux studied engineering and mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley and business at the University of Chicago. Prestigious institutes both, they enjoy even greater repute for having been attended by students such as Theroux. But as the great founders of the United States were well aware, liberty is not defended in theory alone. Like them, Theroux would combine profound learning with civic duty. He was a gentleman and a scholar.
His views were widely sought out. True to his desire to overcome partisan politics, he appeared in various media on both sides of the spectrum, in print and on television. He could also boast (though one suspects he wouldn’t) of a prodigious academic output, some 140 books, which he directed or published. The Independent Institute lists the following: “Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government by Robert Higgs (1986, with a 25th-anniversary edition in 2012); Antitrust and Monopoly, by Dominick Armentano (1990); Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure, by Randy Simmons (updated edition 2011); Out of Work, by Lowell E. Gallaway and Richard Vedder (1997); Entrepreneurial Economics, by Alexander Tabarrok (2002); The Empire Has No Clothes, by Ivan Eland (2004); Making Poor Nations Rich, edited by Benjamin Powell (2007); The Enterprise of Law, by Bruce Benson (2011); Living Economics, by Peter J. Boettke (2012); Liberty in Peril, by Randall Holcombe (2019); and many more.” A scholar, indeed – and a gentleman.
A man who disdains the inane mudslinging of partisan politics feels the need to go deeper, to penetrate the mysteries of man’s existence. Thus did Theroux found the C. S. Lewis Society of California, “an independent, non-profit, Christian, educational and cultural organization interested in events, publications, and other developments that advance deeper understanding of the enduring philosophical, cultural, historical, literary, spiritual, social, and economic issues of mankind.” I do not believe that Lewis professed with the closed fist of dogma, rather the open hand of gentle persuasion. How appropriate that Theroux should found a society in the lay theologian’s name. No less significant is its establishment after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when more than ever liberty, charity, and justice required defenders, such as Theroux. He was a gentleman and a scholar.
Theroux’s ideas and institutions have justly earned him praise – high praise from high places. Desmond Tutu, Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, Vaclav Klaus, to name only a few. His work and example have crossed oceans, finding fertile ground far beyond the US alone. For the language that he spoke – the language of liberty and civility – is universal. But the private man is mourned no less than the public man, and we send our deepest condolences to David Theroux’s wife Mary, and their children and grandchildren. We join them in mourning, for we know the kind of man Theroux was.
Scott B. Nelson is Research and Strategy Advisor at the Austrian Economics Center and Hayek Institut. He lectures on politics and philosophy and publishes books, scholarly articles, and commentary. His last book is Tragedy and History: The German Influence on Raymond Aron’s Political Thought. His next book is on Cicero and prudence in politics.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.