Fifty years ago, Rand Corp. nuclear strategist and futurist Herman Kahn, along with several colleagues, founded a think tank in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., a tiny village about an hour north of New York City.
The Hudson Institute was meant to be a different kind of a research institution, with a mission to think about the future in unconventional ways.
In the decades that followed, the Hudson Institute has done exactly that. In the 1970s, its scholars challenged the conventional wisdom of the day by refuting the Malthusian, no-growth policies of the Club of Rome.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it provided free-market research that helped to jump-start the economies of the Baltic nations recently liberated from Soviet tyranny. In the 1990s, it helped to design the Wisconsin welfare reform law that became the model for federal legislation signed by President Clinton.
Today, its scholars are seeking to help transform the Muslim world by developing policies of political and economic reforms for the region.
The list of Hudson fellows, advisers, and trustees over the years is a veritable who’s who of conservative politicians and thinkers. Among the notables that have been associated with the institute are Dan Quayle, Alexander Haig, William Bennett, Robert Bork, Norman Podhoretz, Ben Wattenberg, Conrad Black, Rudy Boschwitz, Pierre du Pont IV, Douglas J. Feith, and Richard Perle.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was the group’s president from 1987 to 1990. Herb London, the current president, has been associated with Hudson for more than three decades.
Kahn’s eclectic background set the tone for the institute early on.
While at Rand, he authored On Thermonuclear War, which analyzed the possible effects of nuclear war, and was a modern pioneer in assessing future trends, publishing in The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next 33 Years and World Economic Development, The Next 200.
The institute published other groundbreaking books. Frank Armbruster’s Our Children’s Crippled Future was a seminal look at the failings of the American educational system. Hudson’s 1987 study, Workforce 2000, and its 1997 sequel, Workforce 2020, dared to predict far into the future the impact of technology on the American workplace. The Emerging Japanese Superstate foretold of Japan’s economic boom of the 1980s.
Hudson moved to Indianapolis in 1984 after Kahn’s death and its emphasis shifted more toward domestic issues, including groundbreaking research on education. After 9/11, Hudson moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C., and returned to its roots by increasing its focus on foreign policy and national security issues.
Hudson has received financial support over the years from some of the conservative movement’s leading foundations, including the Scaife Foundation, Koch Family Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation. Money from foundations accounts for about a third of its funding, with another third coming from individuals, according to Hudson’s 2009 annual report. It also receives corporate donations and has accepted government grants, including from the Departments of Justice and Commerce.
The institute, often described as having a neoconservative bent, currently operates 18 research centers with 75 scholars in residence. Its work supports the notions of “security, prosperity, and freedom,” James Bologna, Hudson associate editor and media liaison, told Human Events.
The Bradley Center studies civic society and philanthropy while the Center for Global Prosperity investigates ways that private capital can aid Third World countries.
There is a Center for Human Rights and Religious Freedom, a Center for European Studies, and a Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World.
The Hudson Institute has multiple ways to get its work into the marketplace of ideas. Its scholars produce books and lengthy research papers, and respond to news events in columns and blogs.
For example, the Muslim center’s scholarly journal Current Trends in Islamist Ideology last summer published a 7,000-word paper by David Menshri titled “Reform Versus Radicalism in the Islamic Republic,” analyzing the political situation in Iran, including how the United States missed an opportunity by not giving more support to the 2009 protests in Tehran.
But with events in the Middle East changing by the day, Hudson senior fellow Nina Shea testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on how Christian minorities were under attack in Iraq and Egypt .
And Hudson senior fellows recently held a panel discussion, while there was still turmoil in the streets, on how the U.S. should respond to the crisis in Egypt. On the panel was former Pentagon official Douglas Feith, who has been working on a Hudson project about how the U.S. government should respond to the ideology of Islamist extremism.
While neoconservative foreign policy has been under attack from some quarters since the Iraq war became a prolonged conflict, the Hudson Institute celebrates the term. In February, it sponsored a panel to discuss the newly published Neoconservative Persuasion, a collection of essays written from 1942 to 2009 by the late Irving Kristol, often called the godfather of neoconservatism, and a former Hudson board member.
But rather than describing itself as a conservative or neoconservative think tank, Hudson prefers to be described as future-oriented. Appropriately, Hudson is commemorating its 50th anniversary this year by holding a monthly seminar series looking at future trends.