The Mises We Haven't Known

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Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism. By Jörg Guido Hülsmann. Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007. Xvi + 1,143 pages.

Guido Hülsmann shows us in this monumental biography that a common view of Mises is mistaken. As even Macaulay’s schoolboy knows, the American economics profession, dominated by Keynesianism, shunted Mises aside when he came to America. He was viewed as a relic, preaching an extremist view of free enterprise; and, as the mainstream had it, his famous calculation argument that showed the impossibility of socialism had been refuted both in theory, by Lange, Taylor et hoc genus omne, and in practice by the immense achievements of Soviet Russia. Private funds paid Mises’s salary at the business school of New York University: no major university economics department could find space for this world-renowned scholar.

The situation had been better for Mises in his native Vienna. His famous seminar attracted visitors from all over the world. He was recognized not only as a famous teacher but also as a theorist of striking originality. But even here, the common picture has it, Mises remained a figure on the margins. He never held the rank of full professor at the University of Vienna.

Hülsmann overturns this picture. Despite his situation at the University of Vienna, Mises was, during the late 1920s and early ’30s, a major presence in European economic thought. Even members of the German Historical School, his chief adversaries, were forced to make concessions to him.

But the real knockout for academic socialism in Germany came at the hands of its own vicar. Heinrich Herkner had succeeded Schmoller in his position at the University of Berlin and as the president of the Verein für Socialpolitik. For practical purposes, this meant he had become Schmoller’s heir as head of the Historical School … Herkner singled out Mises’s Socialism as the single most important work of this liberal resurgence, endorsing virtually all criticisms that Mises had leveled against socialism. (pp. 398—99)

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December 4, 2007

David Gordon [send him mail] is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and editor of its Mises Review. He is also the author of The Essential Rothbard. See also his Books on Liberty.

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