Alexander Gray on Mises

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Alexander Gray
(1882–1968) is my favorite historian of economic thought. A
Scottish professor of political economy, first at Aberdeen University
and then at the University of Edinburgh, Gray’s writings were not
voluminous, but his two great works, The
Development of Economic Doctrine
(1931) and The
Socialist Tradition
(1946), were witty, satiric, and highly
perceptive. Gray’s demolition of socialist writers was apt and devastating.
Gray was also a poet and a translator of poetry into the Scottish
language; and we find that “his translations into broad Scots of
European ballads and of Heine
were sensitive and much admired.”[1]

An example
of Gray’s deft dismantling of socialists, combined with his love
of Scottish dialect, is his discussion of the 18th-century French
communist François-Noël
(“Gracchus”) Babeuf
. A revolutionary egalitarian, Babeuf desired
“the annihilation of all things, trusting that out of the dust of
destruction a fair city may arise. And buoyed by such a hope,” Gray
adds, “how blitheley would Babeuf bide the stour.”[2]

I always knew
that Gray was appreciative of the Austrian School, and his final
chapter on the Austrians in his Development was not at
all satiric. But still, I was surprised and delighted recently to
come across a wonderful appreciation of Ludwig von Mises in the
Preface to the “Second Impression” of The Socialist Tradition,
written in December, 1946.

Amidst the
climate of an increasingly socialist Britain, Gray writes about
laissez-faire, and then follows with a quote on consumer sovereignty
and entrepreneurs from Mises’s Omnipotent
, preceding the quote by saying that “Professor
Mises, whose sturdy faith in laissez-faire has suffered no tarnishing,
expresses this point of view admirably.”

Gray then brings
his deep knowledge of poetry to bear, saying that Mises’s view “today,
in its extremity, is something of the voice of an economic Abdiel.”

Abdiel, in
Milton’s Paradise
, was the only one of the seraphim (the highest order
of angels) who remained loyal to God and refused to join Satan’s

In a tribute
to Mises, Gray then adds this deeply moving excerpt from Paradise
Lost about Abdiel:

Among innumerable
false, unmoved,
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty he kept….
number, nor example, with him wrought
swerve from truth, or change his constant mind,

article was originally submitted to the Austrian
Economics Newsletter
but is previously unpublished.


T. Johnston, “Gray, Alexander,” in The
New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics
(New York: Macmillan,
1987), vol. 2, p. 562.

Alexander Gray, The
Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin
, p. 105.

Ibid., p. xiv.

This appeared

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) dean of the Austrian School
and the founder of modern libertarianism – was the
author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, and many other books and articles.
He was academic vice president of the Mises
and editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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