Legacy Builders, Part 2
Tea Party Economist
by Gary North: Legacy
In my previous
report, I surveyed the contributions of five men. I discovered
two principles that undergirded the careers of all five: stick to
your knitting, and stick to your guns.
who has as his goal in life to change the opinions of other people
had better be committed to both of these principles. First, most
people do not want to change their opinions. To change a single
opinion requires you to change your opinions on numerous topics.
The old rule is true: "You can't change just one thing." So, there
is a high cost of rethinking your most cherished opinions. People
avoid projects that involve high costs.
is confronted with a new opinion, if the opinion relates to how
people ought to act, one of the first defenses that the listener
can raise is this one: "Does the person recommending the new idea
live consistently in terms of this idea?" If it is obvious to the
listener that the person does not walk the talk, it becomes clear
to him that the promoter is not really serious about the truth and
effectiveness of whatever it is that he is promoting. This gives
the listener an easy way out.
This is why
the people I have selected for this series all manifested a commitment
to living in terms of the ideas which they promoted. They were shaped
by these ideas. This made it difficult for people who heard these
people present their case to dismiss the new ideas automatically.
was one of the four men who was granted a PhD in economics under
the guidance of Ludwig von Mises. Mises did not have an academic
position in Austria at the University of Vienna, except as a private
instructor. He did teach at the Graduate Institute of International
Affairs in Geneva for several years, but he did not supervise any
graduate student in writing a PhD dissertation in economics.
to the United States unwillingly as a prisoner of war. He had been
shot down by ground fire not by a pilot, as he always hastened
to tell anybody who knew his story in World War II. He, along
with 400,000 other German prisoners, was sent to the United States.
He spent the war years working on a farm in Arkansas. As he liked
to point out, that farm was probably the best run farm in the state.
Some magazine ran an article on it, he told me.
On the day
news arrived that Germany had surrendered, he presented himself
to the camp's commandant. He volunteered to join the U.S. Air Force
to fight Japan. The request never made it to Washington, he thought.
to Germany, where he earned a PhD in political science. But he wanted
to study under Mises, so he came to the United States in the early
1950s. As a graduate student, he also came into contact with the
Foundation for Economic Education, which was located about 25 miles
north of New York City. He became a committed defender of the free
One of the
members of the board of the Foundation was the richest Calvinist
in history: J. Howard Pew, the head of Sun Oil Corporation. Pew
donated a great deal of money to a four-year liberal arts college
in western Pennsylvania, Grove City College. When he told the head
of the college that he wanted Sennholz to take over the economics
department, he got no argument. He never got any arguments. So,
from 1956 until 1992, Sennholz ran that department. That department
was the only economics department in the United States for years
that consistently taught Austrian school economics. Only in the
late 1960s was Hillsdale College added to this list.
an effective lecturer. For decades, he was paid by dentists and
other professionals to give lectures on the free market. He also
was a prolific writer. He did not write for professional academic
journals. He wrote for the Freeman, American Opinion,
and hard-money newsletters. He wrote numerous shorter books, aimed
at intelligent readers outside of the university system.
With a secure
academic position, he was able to promote the views of the Austrian
school. He was a faithful disciple of Mises. He did not deviate
from what was taught in
to the students he taught at Grove City College, he taught other
students who were invited to seminars sponsored by what was then
known as the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, but which
is now known as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. This has
been the premier academically oriented conservative organization
aimed at intelligent undergraduates and graduate students.
I had known
about Sennholz from my freshman year in college. I read his articles
in various small circulation conservative newsletters. I did not
meet him until the summer of 1962, when he taught a one-week course
in economics at a seminar sponsored by the ISI. At that seminar,
he predicted that Gresham's law would soon be found to apply to
silver coins. He said the silver dollars were already going out
of circulation, and soon this would happen to all American silver
coins. One year later, this began. I was part of the reason. I bought
silver coins throughout the summer.
that retirement programs were likely to be eaten up by price inflation.
So, early in his career, he began buying rental properties in Grove
City. Later, he began buying other properties that were located
closer to Penn State. He understood how to keep renters happy. He
built equity by means of careful investing in houses, rather than
attempting to beat the stock market. He always talked about how
he thought he would have been a great speculator on Wall Street,
but I always thought that he was better equipped to invest in local
real estate than in the stock market.
and lectured almost until the day he died. He got onto the World
Wide Web late, but he began to publish articles there on a regular
basis. His site is www.Sennholz.com.
He died in 2007.
At the same
summer seminar where I met Hans Sennholz, I also met Rev. Rushdoony.
I had corresponded with him a few months before. At that time, he
had just been hired by an organization that had been the primary
source of money for libertarian causes, the William Volker Fund.
The organization was shifting its focus, so it brought in conservatives.
The man who would run the organization's publication operation,
the libertarian anarchist economist F. A. Harper, had been fired
a few months before.
not yet well known in the conservative movement. His first conservative
book, a critique of public education, appeared in 1961: Intellectual
Schizophrenia. He was a voracious reader, and for a decade
he had a lot of time to read. He was a missionary on the Western
Shoshone Indian reservation in the area around Nevada and Idaho
from 1945 to 1955. It was his time on the reservation that convinced
him that socialism is a destructive force. The American Indian reservation
was the first experiment in government ownership, beginning in the
late 19th century. By the time he became a missionary, the effects
of that system had undermined the Indian family and other tribal
arrangements. It made welfare dependents out of warriors. That was
the goal of the reservation system. It worked as planned
one of the few experiments in socialism that ever achieved its goal.
To give you
some idea of the degree of his commitment to scholarship, during
World War II he was a graduate student in education at the University
of California, Berkeley. He took a graduate seminar from a scholar
who is legitimately known as one of the founders of medieval history,
Ernst Kantorowicz. For that seminar, which was outside his major,
he wrote a 600-page term paper on the history of church-state relations
in England from 1630 to 1930. He would sit in the Berkeley library
with a letter opener, slicing pages open that had not been read
in 200 or 300 years. The term paper was good enough so that his
professor attempted to get it published by a university press, but
the wartime paper shortage kept it from being published.
was a member of the largest Presbyterian denomination, which had
been captured by the liberals no later than 1936. Its seminary system
had been captured by the liberals no later than 1900. So, he was
out of step, and he resigned his position to join a small Calvinistic
denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His father remained
a member of the old church, because the church bureaucracy was smart
enough to make it mandatory that anyone who left the denomination
lost his pension. Rushdoony forfeited his pension when he resigned
until 1973, he wrote a series of books that remain classics. His
first one, The
Messianic Character of American Education, published in
late 1963, remains the finest critical study of the ideology of
the two dozen founders of progressive education. He wrote what I
regard as the best 50-page refutation of Sigmund Freud that has
ever been written: Freud. In 1968, he wrote a book on the
early creeds and councils of the church, which showed that the church
was in a life-and-death struggle against statism within the Roman
Empire. No one had ever analyzed the creeds and councils from the
point of view of their impact on Christian political philosophy.
The capstone of his career was a 1973 book, The
Institutes of Biblical Law, a detailed study of the Mosaic
law as a system of moral and civil law opposed to the messianic
I married his
daughter in 1972. It was his influence that led me to write Marx's
Religion of Revolution, which was published in 1968, and
Introduction to Christian Economics, which was published
in 1973. He helped get both of these books published.
to write until his death in 2001. Throughout most of his life, he
read about five books a week, and read them intensely. His personal
library was in the range of 30,000 volumes when he died. There were
only a few figures in the conservative movement with his breadth
of learning. The only ones I can think of are Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
and Russell Kirk.
He was criticized
from all sides. Liberal churchmen hated him, conservative churchmen
resented him, conservative political theorists did not like his
presuppositions, and libertarians never trusted his biblical epistemology.
But he never quit writing, and he never quit lecturing. He was effective
In the battle
between the liberals and the conservatives in the northern Presbyterian
Church, which went on from the mid-1870s until the mid-1930s, there
was only one conservative who stayed in the church and who was a
clear-cut winner after 1936. This was Henrietta Mears.
Sunday school at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. In
the 1930s, this was a church that had money. The pastors were conservatives,
but none of them ever had the influence that Miss Mears had. From
all over Los Angeles County, people drove to church in order to
take her adult Sunday school class.
I met her
briefly when she was an old woman in 1960. But for two years, I
was influenced by men whom she had taught. She taught a series of
young men who became nationally prominent. One of them became chaplain
of the United States Senate. Another served as the pastor of Ronald
Reagan in his years before he became Governor of California. One
of them founded Campus Crusade for Christ, probably the most influential
Protestant evangelistic organization on American college campuses.
Sunday school for decades. She began writing materials for her classes.
These became the foundation of a publishing venture called Gospel
Light Publications. These had influence far beyond the Presbyterian
Church. She became the most prominent Sunday school teacher in American
She did not
seek power. I think she sought influence, because anyone who teaches
Sunday school year after year is trying to influence people. Her
influence grew from the mid-1930s until the mid-1950s.
stuck to her knitting. She did not have to stick to her guns, because
as far as I can determine, she never had any enemies. If there was
someone who was critical of her, I never heard about it. She operated
in the shadows, and some of the people she taught turned out to
be very influential people. But most of them were simply people
who sat in her Sunday school classes and listened.
I met Walter
Knott on a few occasions in the late 1960s. He was the founder of
Knott's Berry Farm. He was one of the most successful businessmen
I ever knew. Of those who started with nothing, he was the best.
He had been
an unsuccessful fruit farmer for a decade. He got his big break
in the recession of 1920. Prices collapsed. In desperation, he started
a roadside berry stand. He wrapped the baskets of berries in clean
wrapping paper, and he put rubber bands around them. His competitors
used newspaper and twine. That seemingly minor change gave him an
advantage. No one copied him. The recession ended by late 1921,
and his business took off. He added jams and pies.
In 1932, he
heard about a man who had developed a hybrid berry, a man named
Boysen. He tracked down the inventor, who gave him six scraggly
plants. They grew rapidly on his little farm. Knott named the berry
the boysenberry. That added to the Knott business. He began selling
berries and jams made from the berries his little farm produced.
out with chicken dinners, and soon his restaurant was packed. In
1940, he bought some old buildings that had been abandoned in ghost
towns, and he created an imitation ghost town close to his restaurant.
This began to attract even larger crowds. He hired local entertainers.
The crowds grew. Many years later, one young entertainer who played
the banjo a little, made animals out of balloons, and told jokes
was Steve Martin.
In 1955, Disneyland
opened. A lot of people at the time speculated that would be the
end of Knott's Berry Farm. Oh, for an end like that! The crowds
doubled and doubled again.
Knott was a
hard-core conservative. He put his money where his mouth was. In
fact, he pretty much closed his mouth, and just wrote lots of checks.
In 1965-66, one of his nonprofit organizations became the legal
umbrella for Rushdoony's Chalcedon organization, before Chalcedon
was granted nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service.
to his knitting: selling berries, jams, and pies. But he paid attention
to what customers wanted. He died a multi-millionaire in 1981.
I met Blumert
for the first time in 1965. Rushdoony had been buying gold coins
from him for several years. Rushdoony moved to Southern California
in 1965. He organized a meeting of conservatives in the upscale
city of San Marino. He invited Blumert to come down and sell coins.
This was the first time Blumert had ever encountered a group of
rich people in what would become known as the hard money movement.
They bought more coins in one meeting than he had ever sold in his
life. That got his attention. His attention increased over the next
He was a very
good businessman. He sold coins for a lower profit margin than just
about anybody else in the United States. He ran a tight ship. His
store never seemed to have more than half a dozen employees. It
was very low key, which was sensible for somebody selling gold and
silver coins. I never saw him do any advertising. It was mostly
He was a libertarian.
He surely put his money where his mouth was. Within what could legitimately
be called the Rothbard wing of American libertarianism, Blumert
was there with his checkbook for three decades.
He was always
upbeat. He always had a joke to tell. In fact, one of the costs
of dealing with him was that you were required to listen to at least
one joke, not always Jewish. He never had any pretensions of being
a scholar, but he listened very carefully to what any speaker said,
and he always seemed to know the fundamental principle that underlay
whatever the speaker had just said. This is a skill not many people
He was a man
who was able to extend his job, which was selling coins, in order
to further his calling, which was to help people understand why
it is that gold provides monetary stability and promote economic
liberty. He had the ability to move from what a customer was interested
in, which was buying a coin, to an understanding of free market
principles. In this sense, he combined practical wisdom with considerable
theoretical expertise. When he told you about the history of this
or that coin, you could be sure that you were getting the right
In a sense,
all of these people had ministries. They wanted to promote a particular
worldview. They found themselves in a position of influence over
other people's thinking. Some of them were scholars. Some of them
were businessmen. Sennholz was a mixture of both.
All of them
were teachers. All of them had students. Only Sennholz was in the
classroom filled with students seeking credit.
All of them
had influence beyond their circle of friends and students. Their
reputations spread by way of their students or by way of their writings.
Not all of them are remembered. Henrietta Mears is not remembered.
Burt Blumert is not widely remembered. Knott's Berry Farm is remembered,
but Walter Knott is not. People who do not write for a living tend
to be forgotten within a few years of their deaths. This is another
reason why people who are committed to ideas should take advantage
of the World Wide Web.
North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
2012 Gary North
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