Sir Antony Fisher (28 June 1915 – 8 July 1988) was a background player in the global rise of libertarian think-tanks during the second half of the twentieth century, founding the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Through Atlas, he helped establish up to 150 other think-tanks worldwide.
Fisher was only two years old when his father was killed by a sniper in Gaza during World War One.
Fisher was educated at Eton College and during the Second World War served in the Royal Air Force alongside his younger brother who was killed in the Battle of Britain. These events profoundly affected him and he dedicated his life to what he saw as the fight against totalitarianism.
After World War II Fisher was alarmed by the election of a Labour government, the nationalization of industry, and the introduction of central economic planning. This sentiment moved Fisher to read Road to Serfdom by Austrian economist F. A. Hayek which influenced his thinking. Fisher sought out Hayek that year at the London School of Economics where he taught and talked about his plans to go into politics. Hayek, however, convinced him that think-tanks were the best medium for effecting political change.
In 1952, Fisher undertook a study trip to the United States, where he visited the new Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). F. A. Harper of the FEE introduced Fisher to former colleagues from the Agriculture Department of Cornell University, who showed him intensive chicken farming techniques with which Fisher was very impressed. Fisher returned home to start England's first battery cage chicken farm, Buxted Chickens, which eventually made him a millionaire.
Despite losing his fortune in several ill-advised business ventures (including a turtle-farming operation), in 1971 he founded the International Institute for Economic Research, which went to spawn both the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1980 and the International Policy Network in 2001. Through these operations, Fisher provided financial and operational support for a huge number of fledgling think-tanks, most of which would not exist without his influence.
It was through the Atlas Economic Research Foundation that Fisher was able to extend his beliefs worldwide. By 1984, Fisher was watching over eighteen institutions in eleven countries.  Today, Atlas supports and works with around 400 free-market think-tanks in over 90 different countries.
In his book Thinking the unthinkable, Richard Cockett sketched Fisher's role in supporting other emerging think-tanks around the world. Cockett wrote, "On the strength of his reputation with the IEA, he was invited in 1975 to become co-director of the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, founded by the Canadian businessman T. Patrick Boyle in 1974. Fisher let the young director of the Fraser Institute, Dr Michael Walker, get on with the intellectual output of the Institute (just as he had given free rein to Seldon and Harris at the IEA) while he himself concentrated on the fund-raising side".
Cockett explained that after his success at the Fraser Institute, Fisher went to New York where in 1977 he set up the International Center for Economic Policy Studies (ICEPS), later renamed the Manhattan Institute. "The incorporation documents for the ICEPS were signed by prominent attorney Bill Casey, later Director of the Central Intelligence Agency".
Cockett comments that "under the directorship of William Hammett the Manhattan Institute became probably Fishers greatest success after the IEA".
In 1977, Cockett wrote, Fisher moved to San Francisco "with his second wife Dorian, who he had met through the Mont Pelerin Society, and founded the Pacific Research Institute in 1979" and Fisher and Milton Friedman lived in the same apartment block in San Francisco during the 1980s.
Cockett wrote, "In 1981, to co-ordinate and establish a central focus for these institutes that Fisher found himself start up all over the world, he created the Atlas Economic Research Foundation which in 1987 joined up with the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) founded by the Mont Pelerin member F. A. Harper in 1961) to provide a central institutional structure for what quickly became an ever-expanding number of international free-market think-tanks or research institutes".
According to Cokett, "Fisher used the local and international gatherings of the Mont Pelerin Society to find personnel, fund-raisers and donors for many of the Atlas Institutes" as the international think-tanks proliferated.
Fisher died in 1988, only four weeks after being knighted.
The most prominent think tanks founded by Fisher include:
- Fraser Institute
- Manhattan Institute
- Pacific Research Institute
- National Center for Policy Analysis
- Centre for Independent Studies
- Adam Smith Institute
Through the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, Fisher helped establish up to 150 other think-tanks worldwide.
He was father to Linda Whetstone, who has been involved with many of Fisher's think tanks, and grandfather to Rachel Whetstone, formerly Political Secretary to Conservative leader Michael Howard, now global head of communications and public policy for Google, who is married to David Cameron's Director of Strategy Steve Hilton.
- Founder's Story, Atlas Economic Research Foundation
- "Tory! Tory! Tory!". BBC Television. 2006.
- Cockett, Richard,Thinking the unthinkable: think-tanks and the economic counter-revolution, 1931–1983, Fontana Press, 1995, ISBN 0-00-637586-3
- Frost, Gerald, Antony Fisher, Champion of Liberty, Profile Books, Great Britain, 2002.
- Kwang, Jo (2008). "Antony Fisher (1915–1988)". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024.
- John Blundell, "Hayek, Fisher and The Road to Serfdom in Friedrich A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: the condensed version of the Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek as it appeared in the April 1945 edition of Readers Digest, Institute of Economic Affairs, 1999.
- John Blundell, Waging the War of Ideas, speech to the Heritage Foundation, January 1990
- Article by Adam Curtis about think tanks, featuring Antony Fisher from the BBC
- This article uses content from the SourceWatch article on Antony Fisher under the terms of the GFDL.