Disciples, Followers, and Cheerleaders

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In every
movement, we find these three classes of adherents. It is not
always clear in the early stages of a movement which adherent
belongs in which category.


A disciple
is an early convert. He decides that a master teacher has something
to say that is both unique and important — so important that
the disciple publicly abandons his commitment to the status quo.
He establishes a personal relationship with the master.

At this
early stage, the master must be careful in the selection of disciples
from the pool of enthusiastic candidates. The more attractive
he is, or the more attractive his doctrine, the more people he
will attract. The character and commitment of the would-be disciples
are not tested. Out of 12 disciples, Jesus attracted a ringer.
“Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son,
which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three
hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he
cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag,
and bare what was put therein” (John 12:4-6).

Ludwig von
Mises had two sets of disciples in his career. The first group
came to him in the aftermath of World War I, when socialism was
attracting the best and brightest of a generation. Mises’ challenge
to the economists and intellectuals of his day was comprehensive.
In “Economic Calculation in the Socialist
” (1920) and Socialism
(1922), he threw down the gauntlet to socialists everywhere. Socialism
is economically irrational, he argued, because it abolishes private
property and therefore abolishes capital markets. Men cannot know
what any resource is worth without free markets to inform them.
They cannot know what the most valuable use is for any scarce

A group
of very intelligent young men switched their allegiance from socialism
and identified with Mises. These included F. A. Hayek, Wilhelm
Rpke, Fritz Machlup, Gottfried Haberler, and Lionel Robbins.
They adopted Mises’ views in the 1920s. They established personal
relationships with him.

In the 1930s,
as a result of a prolonged worldwide depression, all but Hayek
and Rpke switched allegiance again, this time to the mixed economy,
especially as articulated by John Maynard Keynes. Hayek had attracted
his own followers in the early 1930s: John Hicks, G. L. S. Shackle,
Kenneth Boulding, Nicholas Kaldor, and Abba Lerner. All switched
to Keynes and away from Austrianism. Murray Rothbard discusses
this in his 1988 essay, “Keynes, the Man.”

Mises’ second
group of disciples assembled in the post-World War II period,
when Mises was living in New York City. His evening seminar at
New York University was the equivalent of his by-invitation-only
seminar in Vienna. Among these disciples were his four Ph.D. students:
George Reisman, Israel Kirzner, Louis Spadaro, and Hans Sennholz.
Then there were Bettina Bien, her future husband Percy Greaves,
and Rothbard. Henry Hazlitt at the time was the most influential
disciple. At a distance, 25 miles up the Hudson River, were senior
staff members of the Foundation for Economic Education.

go out and recruit more people. Some of these recruits become
disciples of the disciples. They recruit followers.


The follower
has little or no direct contact with the founder. Followers are
attracted by the founder’s books or other written materials. They
may be attracted to one of the disciples. They remain at a distance.
They do their best to think through the principles of the founder.
They begin to view the world through his glasses.

The followers
extend the founder’s message to the world at large. They may write
or teach. They may merely read and apply what they have read to
their immediate circumstances. Their goal is to extend the founder’s
innovative vision of the world to those around them, by word and

They receive
little applause. This does not bother the ones who are truly dedicated.
They are not after applause. They may get opposition. This also
does not bother the hard core. They expect opposition. They go
about their business, day by day. If anyone asks them why they
do things differently, they provide an answer. Peter, a disciple
of Jesus, told his readers, “But sanctify the Lord God in your
hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that
asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and
fear” (1 Peter 3:15). The follower understands this principle.
He hands out articles. He suggests web links.

These are
the people who were described by Albert Jay Nock in his 1937 essay,
Isaiah’s Job.” They are
attracted to the master or the “prophet.” They like his message.
Somehow, they hear about the ideas of the master. They come, one
by one, to read the writings of the master. They do not join anything
openly. They do not think of themselves as organizers or part
of an organized movement. They internalize the message and begin
to apply it.

We see this
process at work in the success of LewRockwell.com and Mises.org.
There are no better examples of Nock’s principle of attraction.
Word gets out. People come. There is no way to trace how they
come or why they come, but they come. They are the backbone of
any transformation of public opinion. Through them, word gets

From 1956
until the arrival of the Internet, The Freeman was a main
recruiting tool. (It ceased to be a primary recruiting tool when
it became a paid-subscription magazine. Subscribers would hand
out free copies.) Handout by handout, word got out. This was the
strategy of Leonard E. Read, who ran the Foundation of Economic
Education from 1946 until his death in 1983. FEE published The
Freeman. It still does.


A cheerleader
seeks attention. He wants to be seen. It is not clear to him or
anyone else why he should be seen. His means of gaining attention
is to attach himself to a team. He wants to be on the winning
side. He wants to be seen on the winning side.

is an American institution. It serves no useful purpose, but it
is always there at high school and college football and basketball
games. Where there is a large crowd to see the team, there will
be cheerleaders. With sports where there is no crowd, there are
no cheerleaders.

pretend that they control the crowd. The crowd pretends that their
organized cheers in some way help their team or thwart the opposing
team. They stand, they sit, they cheer in an organized way. They
do what the head cheerleader tells them to do. These efforts have
no effect. The team pays no attention. The outcome of the game
is not influenced by organized cheers.

This is
boola-boola in action. This is a system of pretense: layers of
pretense. The cheerleader thinks of himself as part of the team
effort. He isn’t. The individuals in the crowd think of themselves
as part of the team effort. They aren’t.

When cheering
really matters, there is no organized direction. Individuals get
excited by something on the field, and they cheer. This unorganized
noise may actually have an effect on the team. But that which
is organized doesn’t.

want to bask in the glory of the team. They want to think that
the public recognition accorded to team members will be accorded
to them, as part of the team. But a cheerleader is easily replaceable.
If he is replaced, there will be no perceived difference in the
actions of the crowd or the team. No cheerleader wants to admit

The cheerleader
is part of the game’s environment. He is not part of the team.
But he wants to be part of the team. He does not have the talent
to make the team. Above all, he does not want to be part of the
crowd. The office of cheerleader exists for the sake of cheerleaders.
It has no useful function other than this. It is for public amusement
and personal ego gratification.

cheerleaders do acrobatic stunts. They deserve recognition for
this. But these skills have nothing to do with the outcome of
the game. The cheerleaders are there for the amusement of attendees
when nothing important is happening in the game. For those fans
who are paying close attention to the game, cheerleaders are a

In every
ideological movement, there are cheerleaders. They want to be
part of the disciples, but they are not sufficiently gifted or
committed. Or maybe they showed up late. Access is closed to them.

They do
not want to be part of the crowd. It is not enough for them to
be followers, grubbing out a daily existence in terms of the founder’s
precepts. They want to be seen by all as almost a team member,
almost important to the cause. They see the conflict of visions
as a game.

What they
fear most is rejection. They fear rejection by the captain of
the team. Rejection exposes them as peripheral to outcome of the
game. They do not want to be peripheral to the game. But they
cannot get on the field. Besides, those opposing linemen are bruisers.


The disciple
pays a heavy price for his commitment. The status quo offers benefits.
The founder can offer only the sense of being part of the wave
of the future, or maybe the truth that will get swamped by the
future. The founder has no tenured offices to grant. Whatever
fame he has is mostly negative, especially with the Powers that

Mises could
not get a job as a professor at the University of Vienna. His
professorship at NYU was peripheral to the department. His salary
was not paid by the university. His colleagues regarded him as
an eccentric, and an obsolete one at that. His students were not
part of the establishment. He was a fringe member of both the
department and the economics profession. He was a pre-Keynesian
has-been who had stayed around too long. He was a man without
equations and calculus.

What distinguishes
the disciple is his level of commitment. Without disciples, a
movement dies with the founder. Most of Mises’ Vienna disciples
failed to carry through. The same was true of Hayek’s. The Great
Depression demoralized them. They really did not believe that
such an enormous catastrophe of unemployed resources, especially
workers, was the result of something so seemingly minor as government-imposed
price floors, tariffs, and other trade restrictions. They could
not believe that fractional reserve banking had been the source
of the misallocation of resources in the boom phase. Lionel Robbins’
1934 book, The
Great Depression
, argued along these lines, but he repudiated
this book decades later. They abandoned Mises’ ideas.

In his parables
of the kingdom, Jesus described this phenomenon.

he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a
sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by
the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell
upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith
they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when
the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root,
they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns
sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and
brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some
thirtyfold (Matthew 13:3-8).

Mises’ early
disciples had fallen among thorns. The Great Depression was a
thorny field for Misesians. It tested the disciples’ commitment
to the principle of voluntarism. Most of them succumbed. They
turned to the state as the agency of economic redemption.

The second
group of disciples constituted the good ground. Some of them are
still writing, most notably Kirzner, Sennholz, and Reisman. Rothbard’s
work lives on, more important than it was in his lifetime, because
of the Internet. Sennholz, now in his eighties, is on-line, and
has more readers than ever before. The technology of the Internet
is the most perfect manifestation of Isaiah’s job that the world
has ever seen. It is ideal for good ideas that receive a bad press.
The press is now being superseded.

was Rothbard’s disciple. Mises was dead by the time Rockwell gained
his skills as a distributor of ideas. But Mises benefits as a
“free rider” from Rockwell’s efforts. Mises’ legacy has the largest
audience ever, and growing.

In this
process, the cheerleaders play no crucial role. They are the white
noise of life as far as team members are concerned: noise that
is automatically blocked out. They do not really understand the
game. They do not understand the team’s strategy. They do not
care about the subtleties of X’s and Y’s on the coach’s blackboards
during the week. They know only this: something big seems to be
going on, and they don’t want to sit in the stands.

Some of
them would transfer to a larger school if they could be sure of
becoming head cheerleader.


need disciples to extend their vision. Disciples need to recruit
more disciples. They also need followers, who will cheer them
on when the going gets tough, or when victory is in sight.

There is
therefore a role for the person in the stands who knows which
team he is cheering for. At key times, his cheering may actually
help the team, when combined with unorganized cheering of those
in the stands on his side of the field. Movements need committed

As far as
I can determine, nobody needs cheerleaders. It is nice to win
the big game, but boola-boola has nothing to do with the victory.
Neither does ziz, boom, bah.

26, 2004

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
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