“Today people are increasingly urged to support this or that political program advertised as solving a vexing social problem with no understanding of economics and hence no frame of reference from which to evaluate different policies. All that is mustered in justification for interventionism are feelings that make people want to “do something.” The economics of Mises is the crucial antidote for the current interventionist ideology supporting the progressive march to economic fascism. Citizens acquainted with Mises quickly understand that any sort of middle-of-the-road economic policy does indeed lead to socialism.
Ludwig von Mises does not only provide us a vision of economic truth, however. He also inspires us to greatness by presenting the student an example of what an outstanding scholar should be. It does not take the reader of Mises’s work very long to see what a breadth of knowledge Mises had. Murray Rothbard once recounted how, when someone first recommended Human Action to him, he asked, “What is it about?” The response to Rothbard was “Everything.” A student in one of my managerial economics courses was impressed with the same observation. I had assigned from Human Action a brief section about the distinction between the manager and the entrepreneur. He liked what was assigned, so he began to read through the first part of the book. He was greatly impressed and told me, “He doesn’t write just about economics. It’s all there, of course, but he also writes about everything else.” This student now has a standard for real scholarship.
Throughout Mises’s works are insightful discussions about history,
philosophy, political science, sociology, and even aesthetics. He makes
not only references to, but thoughtful comments on the likes of Aristotle, Bentham, Bismark, Comte, Locke, Kant, Marx, Mill, Napoleon, Tacitus,
Saint Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza. As he once explained in his New York
‘One of the indispensable prerequisites of a master of
economics is a perfect knowledge of history, the history
of ideas and of civilization, and of social, economic, and
political history. To know one field well, one must also
know other fields.’10
In another instance Mises cited a number of authors in French and German.
One student spoke up, asking, “Why are you giving these citations,
Professor? I can’t read French and German.” Mises replied simply, “Learn
it. You are engaged in scholarly activities.”11 He also encouraged his students
not only to read authors with which they agreed, but to read about
an issue from all sides. A student who reads Mises is inspired to be such
Looking at Mises the scholar, the contemporary student learns a valuable
lesson in integrity. His life was a never-ending fight for economic
truth, liberty, scholarly excellence, and the principles of the free market.
As he notes in his autobiography, at a particularly depressing time in his
life when it appeared that he had become merely “an historian of decline,”
he remembered his personal motto adopted from a line out of Virgil: “Do
not give in to the evil, but proceed ever the more against it.” Throughout
his life, he did just that.
10John Chamberlain, “My Years with Ludwig von Mises,” The Freeman 27, no. 2 (February
The Mises Reader, Introduction, page 23-24, Shawn Ritenour, Editor
(PDF pages 21-22).