Forty-six years ago, I enrolled as a freshman at Grove City College in Pennsylvania for one reason. His name was Dr. Hans F. Sennholz, one of only four individuals ever to earn a PhD under the tutelage of Ludwig von Mises. Sennholz was himself an extraordinary and inspiring professor, but the special magic of his lectures came from knowing that I was getting my economics just one generation removed from the master himself. I was enthralled on a daily basis.
Ludwig von Mises remains not only the pre-eminent economist of the “Austrian School” but also a towering figure within the science of economics itself.
Ludwig von Mises remains not only the pre-eminent economist of the Austrian school, but also a towering figure within the science of economics itself. It is a tragic oversight that a Nobel Prize never came his way while the award has often been bestowed upon individuals of fewer insights and lesser consequence.
If only the world appreciated how he brilliantly and thoroughly demolished socialism nearly a century ago, millions of early deaths and untold misery could have been avoided in the decades since. Fifty Nobels would be insufficient to appropriately honor the man, but the world we know is hardly fair.
Mises and FEE
Diving into Human Action as a student of Sennholz in the 1970s, I found Mises challenging. I had little if any prior knowledge of such terms as “praxeology,” “a priori reasoning,” “catallactics” and a host of others I was confronting for the first time. I found many of his other works more accessible, such as The Theory of Money and Credit; Socialism; Bureaucracy; Planned Chaos; and The Anti-Capitalist Mentality.
But with Human Action, his magnum opus, Mises was aiming at high-brow intellectuals who exercised great influence by animating others, namely, the so-called “second-hand dealers in ideas” who sway the masses that make up the general public. So when you read Human Action, you’re not reading newspaper column material; you’re reading the original wisdom that a professor absorbs before he teaches the student who becomes the columnist.
In all the years that the name “Mises” was virtually synonymous with “Austrian economics,” FEE and Mises were joined at the intellectual hip.
Mises occupies a special place in the history of the organization I lead, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Human Action itself was published only when our founder Leonard E. Read agreed to buy nearly the entire first print run and distribute it. This is what kicked off the book to become a big seller for many decades. Read gave Mises writing projects and kept his books in print, and boosted his professional standing among many donors and journalists in America.
Within a decade after his emigration to the U.S. in the wake of the Nazi onslaught in Europe, he felt “at home” in our ancestral mansion in Irvington, New York, where he was a frequent lecturer. FEE, notably trustee Lawrence Fertig, helped support Mises in the years he taught classes and seminars in nearby New York City.
Read was profoundly influenced by the man and his ideas, as was long-time FEE staff member and Mises biographer, Bettina Bien Greaves. In all the years that the name “Mises” was virtually synonymous with “Austrian economics,” FEE and Mises were joined at the intellectual hip. His image prominently adorns a wall of honor in our new Atlanta, Georgia headquarters.
The Legacy of a Masterpiece
In 1978, five years after Mises passed away, Nobel laureate and fellow Austrian economist F. A. Hayek reflected on his late mentor: “Though I learned that he (Mises) usually was right in his conclusions, I wasn’t always satisfied by his arguments, and retained to the end a certain critical attitude which sometimes forced me to build different constructions, which however, to my great pleasure, usually led to the same conclusions. I am to the present moment pursuing the questions which he made me see, and that, I believe, is the greatest benefit one scientist can confer on one of the next generation.”
So it is indeed with great pleasure that we at FEE present this digital version of a classic in economics, Human Action, to new generations of readers.