Excerpt from the Introduction by the author, Shawn Ritenour:
Knowledge of the principles of the free society is not something
that everyone is born with or something that we just catch like the
common cold. The principles of liberty must be carefully passed
on from one generation to the next if they are to survive, let alone flourish.
Each generation must learn anew from their predecessors the virtues of
private property and the consequences of statism. It is even more crucial
today, in our contemporary intellectual environment, to have something
to offer besides empty platitudes about how we can all “just get along.”
Today’s citizen who is interested in things economic, can do no better than
to turn to Ludwig von Mises. In his life and work Mises provides the intelligent
person a vision for the importance of truth, economics, liberty, and
scholarship that continually inspires to greatness.1
The reason Mises is so important can be understood by looking at our
halls of learning. It is no secret that state-run elementary and secondary
schools are failing their charges. Year after year we hear the all-too-familiar
reports telling us again and again how test scores are falling. Such dismal
performance sows the seeds for a meager harvest reaped by these
same students as they enter college. Fewer and fewer of them graduate
high school with a basic knowledge about history, literature, science, and
math. It should not surprise us that 20 percent of all college freshmen in
the United States need remedial classes.2
It is particularly disheartening to observe the decayed condition of modern American higher education. Not so very long ago, the college was seen as a most important institution charged with transmitting Western civilization from one generation to the next. It was here that students had the luxury of critically examining what different voices throughout time have answered when considering the big questions regarding man, life, death, and God. Th e goal was not an endless
pursuit for pursuit’s sake, but was indeed pursuit for true answers to these
Most people, I am sure, recognize that this is no longer the case. Most
college faculties are now dominated, especially in the humanities, by one
manifestation or another of deconstructionism. Everything is up for grabs
and, at worst, the intellectual sees his chief end as the destruction of the
foundations of Western civilization so that we can all dance on its ruins.
On the economic front, things are not much better. Several years ago
a college near mine was having a political debate of sorts and evidently
could not fi nd anyone on their campus to defend the free market position,
so they asked some of my students if they would participate. The
report back from my students was by turns outrageous and depressing.
From their opponents, there were numerous serious calls for stronger
anti-trust regulation, energy regulation, increased state funding of education,
subsidization of business, increased welfare, socialized health care,
state urban planning, increased environmental regulation, an $11/hour
living wage, regulations forcing insurance companies to cover abortions,
and increased gun ownership restrictions.
This is what happens when intellectuals, teachers, and college professors
see themselves as destroyers instead of cultivators. If we want to preserve
our noble cultural inheritance, we cannot think that it will happen
automatically. It is always easier to destroy than to maintain and build up.
If civilization is not to descend into barbarism, we must teach each generation
the importance of truth, liberty, and private property. It is not called
culture for nothing. We must cultivate civilization. A former colleague of
mine reminds me from time to time that as professors we are indeed the
thin tweed line separating civilization from barbarism. Recently, however,
the barbarians have been winning because the troops charged with manning
the thin tweed line have been either absent without leave or actually
fighting for the enemy.
What makes the fight more difficult is that to preserve society, it is not
enough merely to oppose destructive philosophies, although oppose them
we must. We also must offer a positive and real alternative. As Mises warns
us at the end of his book, The Anti-capitalist Mentality,
An “anti-something” movement displays a purely negative
attitude. It has no chance whatever to succeed. Its
passionate diatribes virtually advertise the program they
attack. People must fight for something they want to
achieve, not simply reject an evil, no matter how bad it
may be. They must, without any reservations, endorse the
program of the market economy.3
In this, Mises was, perhaps unwittingly, in agreement with the Apostle
Paul who told us many years ago to hate indeed that which is evil, but also
to cling to that which is good. In order to maintain our cultural inheritance,
we must not only oppose statism but also teach our students to cultivate
and nurture the roots of civilization: the free society of voluntary
exchange built on private property.
In today’s intellectual vacuum, students need someone to whom they
can look for an example of sound scholarship that provides true answers
to the important economic and political questions of the day. They could
do no better than to turn to the writings of Ludwig von Mises. The life and
work of Mises provides students with a magnificent example of what an
economist, a scholar, and, in many ways, what a person should be.
For a good and accessible overview of Mises’s thought see Th e Essential von Mises and Ludwig von Mises: Scholar, Creator, Hero (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 2009), both by Murray N. Rothbard. Th ey are combined in one volume in Rothbard (2009). A more extensive biography of Mises can be found in Israel Kirzner’s Ludwig von Mises: The Man andHis Economics (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Book, 2001). Jörg Guido Hü lsmann’s massive Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 2007) is the most extensivebiography and the standard-bearer on Mises’s life and work.
2 A. Lu, States Reform Remedial College Education (2013). Available at: http://www.pewstates.org/projects/stateline/headlines/states-reform-college-remedial-education-85899492704
3 Ludwig von Mises, Th e Anti-capitalist Mentality (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1956), p. 112.