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Brownstone Institute at One Year

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Twenty-six months ago, we hoped that the period of darkness would end quickly once it became obvious that pandemic policy was a mistake of epic proportions. Sadly, in the meantime, something more terrifying has been revealed to us. For many among the ruling class, it was not a mistake but an aspiration: to destabilize, disorient, confound, gain power, and fundamentally reverse the progress of centuries. 

By the time Brownstone Institute was first imagined one year ago, the crying need for an alternative voice and institution was already apparent. The lockdowns had been rolled back in many parts of the country and the world but the machinery of compulsion and coercion was seeking new targets. Mask and vaccine mandates had become the rule with the new administration, despite the absence of evidence for their effectiveness in pandemic control. The economy was nowhere near recovered but had not yet fallen into another crisis as a result of brutal policies. 

The biggest crisis of all could be called intellectual. There was vast confusion in the air, as a demoralized public scrambled to find meaning in it all. They turned to media sources in vain because all but a handful of outlets had been wholly captured. They assured everyone that all of this was wise and necessary, and only political deviants and dangerously selfish people would dare question it.

Tragically, many institutions and individuals who should have spoken out long before remained silent, mostly out of confusion but also out of fear. Even from early in the lockdowns, it was obvious that the people we had largely counted on to explain and interpret the world around us had been blindsided by the seeming emergency of the pandemic. 

We hadn’t really had experience with that in our lifetimes. Another way to put it: in the past pandemics had largely come and gone without massive upheaval, so even smart people presumed that this one must be different else why would so many intelligent people at the top insist on such an extreme reaction?

As for the fear part, people were losing their jobs for daring to dissent. The corporate/police state had shown muscle against defiance as never before. What is sometimes called the bio-fascist state was on the march, with demands that everyone accept the government’s shot else be excluded from all public life. Doctors who spoke out were quickly canceled. We were only months away from the demonization of noncompliance: the claim that the continuation of the pandemic itself was due to those who refuse shots and masks and otherwise try to live a normal life. 

By then it was obvious that this was not just about pandemic response; the whole project of human freedom itself was at stake. With Brownstone Institute, we had the idea to create a sanctuary for research and knowledge in the midst of a crisis that we knew would be ongoing for a very long time.

Over the course of the summer, Brownstone Institute quietly gathered some of the best minds among scientists, economists, journalists, historians, and medical doctors, all of whom had demonstrated a commitment to speaking out when it mattered most. To gather the necessary funding to operate on a minimal level was another challenge and continues to be. 

Then we began to build. We took a very systematic approach with the intention of being in this struggle for a very long time. The point was not to create an “activist” institution on one or two topics but rather one that could speak to all the issues that would unfold from the crisis that began in March 2020. The point was to build an intellectual refuge, both as a means of granting intellectuals freedom but also in becoming a light of hope for the world. 

Public awareness of Brownstone’s work began August 1, 2021. For many people it signaled that most important thing: hope, a sign that the world had not actually gone crazy. There were people willing to step up and report with facts and evidence. There still survived a group out there that was willing to say what is true. The value of freedom had not been entirely forgotten. And with this effort, perhaps too were not fated to live in an arbitrary despotism. 

Since then, Brownstone has published more than 1,000 articles plus a globally influential book with several more on the way, held conferences both public and private, assembled a very large social media following, and constructed canonical research reports on all topics related to the pandemic response, all with the goal of countering the dominant narrative, finding our way out of the thicket of confusion, and inspiring a new enlightenment with the conviction that history is what we make of it. 

This work has been very widely cited in academic articles, court filings, legislative hearings, popular rallies, and tremendous amounts of writing and speaking, and been read and shared by many tens of millions of people the world over. You know this because you have shared it yourself, with the confidence that credible information is capable of overcoming even the most aggressive media propaganda. 

Sure enough, the crisis of our times has upended all sectors of public life and dramatically changed our private lives too. Politics will not be the same, as partisan loyalties lasting decades have shifted based on the issues that have unfolded so dramatically over more than two years. The culture has changed with the loss of trust. Our educational institutions are in upheaval. Our health-care system is a mess but so is medical science itself, having been taken over at the top by people with an agenda other than a genuine concern for public health. 

Meanwhile, the most salient effect of terrible policies has affected the economy, which is the very pith of our daily lives. There is a direct link between the pandemic response, supply-chain breakages, inflation, and the impending (or continuing) recession. Already the financial press is talking about a lost decade. Imagine that: two weeks to flatten the curve turns into ten years! And notice too how all the assurances that things will get better soon (chip shortage, goods shortage, gas prices, inflation generally) never turn out. That’s because so much is broken and so deeply. 

There is a struggle going on right now over who will write the orthodox story of our times and who will be tagged as heretical or “revisionist.” We see it played out daily in all sectors of society. 

One side says we didn’t lock down soon enough and hard enough, we didn’t impose mandates and mask with enough ferocity, and hence the state and the ruling class needs permanent power, more of it, and should centralize and codify that power. 

The other side, present in small ways at the beginning but largely forged as a public presence by Brownstone since its founding, is that we need a restoration of traditional public health principles along with social and market functioning, individual rights, and a decentralized system for action and knowledge dissemination, all informed by respect for human dignity and the principle of freedom. 

These two positions are incompatible. Only one story will win. Let us hope it is the true one. If history is written by victors, we simply cannot let them claim victory. The stakes are extremely high, more so than ever before in our lifetime. Surrounded by such calamity, and facing such a task, how can we not throw ourselves into the intellectual battle? 

The question that has long weighed on many people is the large one: can we truly make a difference? Maybe the forces allied against freedom – and there are so many – are too powerful to overcome. 

What this pessimistic outlook forgets is the awesome power of ideas. The urge to censor is a tribute to that power. They know that if people hear a compelling alternative, history can turn on a dime. Public opinion – not the polls but the deeper beliefs of the large majority over what kind of lives we want to live – will be decisive. 

After one year, Brownstone Institute has made huge strides, from an inauspicious founding to dramatic growth to broad and global influence. Deep gratitude goes out to our many benefactors who have made the work possible. It is an inspiration to join with so many who have hope for the future and are willing to take the steps necessary to bring it about. We have just begun. 

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  • The Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research is a nonprofit organization conceived of in May 2021 in support of a society that minimizes the role of violence in public life.


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