Michael Fry

American cartoonist, online media entrepreneur and screenwriter

In 1983, Young America’s Foundation invited Michael Fry, a young Scottish journalist, to the 5th annual National Conservative Student Conference. As Michael recalls, the conference provided an opportunity to learn about the “aspects of America seldom covered in the foreign media and, in particular, to point out how these were represented in the policies of Ronald Reagan’s administration.”

“This was my first visit to the U.S., and it made a great impression on me… I would say this has been one of the great formative influences on my life and thinking.”

Some 24 years later, Michael has stood as a candidate for both the British and Scottish parliaments, written for almost every major British newspaper, conducted extensive research at the Huntington Library and Brown University, and published eight books on Scottish history.

“I think I have made a particular contribution here,” says Michael, referring to his writing. “The [historical] field tends to be dominated by a dreary sub-Marxist economic determinism… I concentrate on the individual human interest and the cultural history, which, in my view, give a far better picture why Scotland has survived as a nation, rather against the odds.”

In the 1980s, the Oxford-educated Fry worked as a journalist for The Scotsman, the morning newspaper in Edinburgh. He has also written regularly as a columnist for The Herald and The Sunday Times. Of his decision to become a freelance writer, Fry notes, “Taking my 20 years at this as a whole, I have no doubt I made the right decision.  Every day I can get up and do just what I want to do (well, assuming I haven’t got a commission I don’t specially want to do, and these have to be fulfilled too).  On the whole, though, this freedom is a wonderful thing.  Freedom always is.”

Michael Fry says one of his most memorable accomplishments in his professional career was organizing the celebration honoring Adam Smith on the bicentennial of his death in 1990. “Smith lived the last years of his life in Edinburgh and is buried in a graveyard in the city,” notes Fry. “We invited all the living winners of the Nobel Prize in economics to come here and speak on his significance for their own work.”

Formally trained in German philosophy, Michael is a self-taught student of history and a staunch defender of freedom. “It was a good thing that my academic specialism has remained so completely irrelevant to what I did later in life. The irrelevance means you can be more objective.”

His advice to today’s students? “Read John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.  It was published in 1865, but I don’t think anyone has put the case for freedom better since then.”

Addressing current events, Michael notes we have two main challenges. “I am most worried about the breakdown in relations between East and West—not the Communist East, as of old, but the Islamic East and perhaps other civilizations in Asia.  I spent part of my boyhood in Arabia…We in the West have not much to teach these peoples about capitalism; their commercial instincts are of the soundest.  But I am less sure that we can expect the acceptance of western political concepts and standards by peoples which have never known them. When Christianity spread around the world it took different forms in different countries, according to their own cultural traditions. I think economic globalism will be most successful if it does much the same…”

The second challenge facing our world today, according to Fry, is the perpetual resurgence of socialism. “Remember that socialism is a hydra: a monster with many heads that keep growing again when you cut them off.  In our time the battle for getting governments out of the economy has largely been won, or at least continues to be won, even in countries like the former Red China.  But different pressures for official regulation remain relentless…every actual measure of control has to be scrutinized for its effect on human freedom.”

Fry credits his attendance at the Foundation’s 1983 conference for inspiring his “long involvement with the U.S., stretching now over nearly a quarter of a century.” This Scottish historian’s interest in America only increases over time, however. Among his current areas of interest, Fry notes he would like to determine “whether the present American ideal of multiculturalism is really superior to the older one of the melting pot, because this has implications for my own country and for others.”

Religion and American culture is another topic of interest for Michael Fry. “I would like to pin down why religion in the U.S. has become ever more powerful while in Europe (which underwent much the same sort of social and economic development in the twentieth century) religion has gone into decline, indeed in many countries is more or less moribund. These are the main questions that concern me, but if I were to list all those that my American experience brings to mind I would have to write a book: and maybe I will one of these days.”

Fall College Retreat
Nov 13

11:00 am