The Good, the Sad, and the Ugly

LRC readers understand well that Lew Rockwell is an entrepreneurial genius for marketing ideology. His creation of the Mises Institute has been the nurturing soil that has grown the largest crop of libertarians in history.

How? A key strategy was to provide the historic literature of freedom over the internet at the Mises Library. As a follower of the institute for many years I have used the library as a resource, often looking for specific passages, and occasionally reading a longer article. But reading a long article on a computer or printing out a pdf is not practical. Thus, it was the advent of the electronic book that has really opened this library for me. Since I bought my Kindle in early 2016 I have read multiple books by Garrett, Hazlett, Higgs, Hoppe, Raico, Rothbard, and of course, von Mises downloaded for free.

I would like to note that I like physical books better than the Kindle. But it is like comparing a true physical meeting with an old friend to a Skype conversation. Of course, the true meeting is better, but with Skype being free and so convenient so much more are encounters possible that is to great to have as an option. Kindle is extremely practical in many ways, allowing me to obtain these great books for free and to read them in an accessible form.

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In this article I will present vignettes from two short books that I just read, The Memoirs of Ludwig von Mises and Keynes the Man by Murray Rothbard, in the form three persons that we can call The Good, the Sad, and the Ugly.

The Good

My daughter’s middle names is Louise in honor of Ludwig von Mises. So it is clear I think he was good; in fact very, very good.

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He was reticent about his own life even in these memoirs that he had the discretion to allow to be published only after his death. But two aspects of his character do emerge, his unflinching honesty and courage. In terms of honesty and truth, he was a champion of open discourse. “In science, there is only one sure method for the ultimate triumph of an idea: one should allow any contrary notion to run its course completely.” He wrote about the Austrian masters Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and Carl Menger as models. Memoirs Ludwig von Mises Best Price: $1.10 Buy New $10.95 (as of 10:45 EDT - Details)

As pioneers and creative thinkers, they recognized that one cannot arrange for scientific progress, nor breed innovation according to plan. They never attempted to propagandize their theories. Truth would prevail of its own accord when man possessed the faculties necessary to perceive it. Using impertinent means to cause people to pay lip service to a teaching was of no use if they lacked the ability to grasp its substance and significance.

As for courage, there is much to be known about his physical courage during the 1914-1918 war and his intellectual courage throughout his life. The best source for information is the biography by Guido Hulsmann The Last Knight of Liberalism. From this passage, we see that courage was a central aspect of his character for all of his life.

It has been said that the problem lay within the realms of public education and public information. But we are badly deceived if we believe that the right opinions will claim victory through the circulation of books and journals and with more schools and lectures; such means can also attract followers of faulty doctrines. Evil consists precisely in the fact that the masses are not intellectually enabled to choose the means leading to their desired objectives. That ready judgments can be foisted onto the people through the power of suggestion demonstrates that the people are not capable of making independent decisions. Herein lies the great danger. Thus had I arrived at the hopeless pessimism that had long pervaded the best minds of Europe. We know today from the letters of Jacob Burckhardt that this great historian, too, harbored no illusions about the future of European civilization. This pessimism had broken the will of Carl Menger. It had cast a shadow over the life of Max Weber, who had become a good friend of mine while spending a semester at the University of Vienna during the last months of war. How one carries on in the face of unavoidable catastrophe is a matter of temperament. In high school, as was custom, I had chosen a verse by Virgil to be my motto: Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito (“Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it”).

I am about the same age as von Mises was when he wrote these memoirs, his late 50s. It was a terrible time for him. He had just come to the US after fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe. His life’s work seemed to be lost and forgotten. Yet what he accomplished after this low point in his life, Human Action and the rebirth of the Austrian School in America, should be an inspiration to all freedom loving people. Keynes, the Man Murray N. Rothbard Best Price: $29.97 Buy New $5.50 (as of 10:40 EDT - Details)

The Sad

As alluded to in a passage quoted above, the great Austrian economist Carl Menger’s will was broken by his extreme pessimism for the future of Austria, Europe, and Western civilization in general. Mises wrote:

According to my grandfather, as told to me around 1910, Carl Menger had made the following remarks: The policies being pursued by the European powers will lead to a terrible war ending with gruesome revolutions, the extinction of European culture and destruction of prosperity for people of all nations. In anticipation of these inevitable events, all that can be recommended are investments in gold hoards and the securities of the two Scandinavian countries. Menger’s savings, in fact, were invested in Swedish securities. One who so clearly foresees disaster and the destruction of everything he deems valuable before his fortieth year cannot avoid pessimism and depression.

I literally thought to myself after reading this passage: Wow what would he be thinking now!

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Carl Menger

Mises: The Last Knight... Ju00f6rg Guido Hu00fcl... Best Price: $17.55 Buy New $24.48 (as of 10:25 EDT - Details) The Ugly

Okay, John Maynard Keynes is better categorized as The Bad, but I needed to include the quote about Menger. In terms of a technical undressing of this charlatan, nothing is better than Henry Hazlitt’s Failure of the ‘New Economics that is also available in the Mises Institute library. He notes at one point that “We have already seen that Keynes had a false theory of interest. We shall soon see that he had also a false theory of wage-rates, a false theory of money and credit, and a false theory of prices.”  But the Ugly (or Bad) is palpable in Rothbard’s account that is completed by,

Yet Keynes was much more than a Keynesian. Above all, he was the extraordinarily pernicious and malignant figure that we have examined in this chapter: a charming but power-driven statist Machiavelli, who embodied some of the most malevolent trends and institutions of the 20th century.

Here was a man with an incredible Satanic charm that could even turn the virtue of thrift into a vice almost single-handedly.

Capture

Compare the von Mises approach to spreading the truth as in a quote above to the selling of Keynes. The Failure of the New... Henry Hazlitt Best Price: $2.91 Buy New $6.00 (as of 09:20 EDT - Details)

But Keynes used tactics in the selling of The General Theory other than reliance on his charisma and on systematic deception. He curried favor with his students by praising them extravagantly, and he set them deliberately against non- Keynesians on the Cambridge faculty by ridiculing his colleagues in front of these students and by encouraging them to harass his faculty colleagues. For example, Keynes incited his students with particular viciousness against Dennis Robertson, his former close friend.

You will think of Keynes after reading Rothbard, What a schmuck! What an egotistical bastard!

I will end this article with another great passage from von Mises’s Memoirs that is pessimistic but realistic, and to me somewhat humorous; enjoy.

Political decisions, however, are not made by economists, but by public opinion, that is, the general public. The majority determines what should happen. This is true of all systems of government. Even absolute kings and dictators must govern in accordance with the demands of public opinion. With the awareness that men like J.M. Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Harold Laski, and Albert Einstein could not comprehend the problems of economics, must not the attempt to guide the masses in the proper direction be considered hopeless?