Legacy Builders, Part 3
Tea Party Economist
by Gary North: Legacy
Builders, Part 2
In my previous report, I provided a mix of legacy builders. Some
were scholars. Some were businessmen. One was a Sunday school teacher.
All had influence on many people.
In this group
of legacy builders, scholarship was preeminent. There are three
economists and one sociologist. The sociologist is not out of place,
although it is not common for sociologists to have any appreciation
of economic theory.
My only meeting
with Mises came in the fall of 1971. I had been hired by the Foundation
for Economic Education. I was invited to attend a special ceremony.
F. A. Harper had edited a second collection of essays honoring Mises.
The first book of essays honoring Mises had been edited by Mary
Sennholz and was published in 1956. The meeting was held in a nice
hotel in New York City. After the meeting, I was able to talk with
Mises about a number of things, including his connection with the
German sociologist, Max Weber. Weber referred to Mises's 1920 essay
Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, in a footnote
in a book that Weber did not complete. He died in 1920. Mises told
me he had sent the essay to Weber.
a legacy that has steadily grown since his death in 1973. He was
one of those rare men who had two phases in his career. The first
phase, beginning in 1912 and ending after the publication of John
Maynard Keynes's General
Theory (1936), established his reputation as a major economic
theorist. His 1912 book on money and banking, his 1922 book on socialism,
and his many articles on specialized topics in economic theory identified
him as a major theorist. But his opposition to all forms of fiat
money gained him a reputation as a 19th-century Neanderthal in the
world of fiat currencies, which began with the abolition of the
gold standard at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. His hostility
to socialism also contributed to his status as a pariah. He was
clearly resisting what was regarded in academic circles as the wave
of the future. Academics want to be trendy. Mises was not trendy.
of Keynesianism after 1936, coupled with the outbreak of World War
II in 1939, led to an eclipse in Mises's career. When he came to
the United States in 1940 as a refugee, he was virtually unknown
here. He had no teaching position. He was 59 years old. He had never
been known in the United States. He was dependent on occasional
writing assignments, and also on donations from friends, including
as a free market voice crying in the Keynesian wilderness for the
next 30 years. He presided over a graduate seminar at New York University
which went on for a quarter-century. Murray Rothbard was one of
the regular attendees, although as an auditor. He was not paid by
the university, which relegated him to the status of visiting professor.
He was supported by donors. Yet there was no one on the NYU economics
faculty who is remembered today. They were nonentities, and they
left no legacy.
of his book, Human
Action, by Yale University Press in 1949 did begin to establish
his reputation in America. The book sold far better than anyone
had expected. This book was the first comprehensive, integrated
theory of free market economics that had ever been published. Very
few people understood this in 1949, but anyone who has studied the
history of economic thought finds in this book the first comprehensive
application of economic theory to the entire market-based economy.
The analysis is integrated in terms of the Austrian economic defense
of subjective value theory and methodological individualism.
to write after 1949. His books were sold by the Foundation for Economic
Education, which brought him to the attention of readers who were
in favor of the free market. His articles appeared in the Foundation's
magazine, The Freeman. The Freeman did not circulate
widely in academic circles, but it was a widely read magazine on
I bought a
copy of Human Action in 1960. I was aware of Mises's importance
in the history of economic thought, but at my university, I was
probably the only student who knew about him. I suspect that the
only professor who knew about him was Carl Uhr, who taught a course
in the history of economic thought.
Mises was tenacious
in his commitment to free-market principles. Probably more than
any other major scholar of the 20th century, he was known to his
peers as uncompromising. He was regarded as ideological by Chicago
school economists. They were correct. Because of his consistency
in applying the principle of nonintervention into every nook and
cranny of the economy, but above all in his opposition to central
banking, free-market economists regarded him as eccentric. "Eccentric"
for them was a word for "rigorously consistent."
He was known
to the Left as the West's most implacable opponent of economic intervention.
When the Nazis marched into Austria in 1938, they confiscated his
library. He had left it behind when he left the country to go to
Switzerland in 1934. He feared that the Nazis would take over in
Austria, and he was correct. As a free market economist and a Jew,
he would not have survived in Austria.
also recognized who he was, and they confiscated the library from
the Nazis, and sent it to Moscow. It was not discovered there by
any Western economist until the 1980s. That was a great irony: Western
economists did not know who he was, but Soviet economists did. This
became increasingly true in the 1980s, as the Soviet economy began
to disintegrate, exactly as Mises had predicted it would.
advantage over almost all of his peers was this: he wrote in English
as a second language. Most economists write in English as a third
or fourth language. He did not use equations. He did not use a lot
of jargon. He developed paragraphs based on sentences that were
developed consecutively. You could begin on page 1 of any of his
books and, if you paid attention, you could get to the end without
This was an
advantage because average people who were interested in economics
could follow his logic. His reputation spread by way of "The Freeman"
throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s. That magazine had a circulation
as high as 40,000 in some years. There were not many economists
who could reach an audience that large.
did stick to his knitting, and he really did stick to his guns.
He stuck to his guns with such tenacity that for decades he had
no influence whatsoever in the academic community. They wrote him
off. But, after his death in 1973, his influence began to grow.
In 1974, his disciple F. A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize in economics.
Bit by bit, his reputation spread. Because of the Mises Institute,
his name is now more widely known than almost any other economist
of his generation, either before World War I or after World War
II. The average person would be unfamiliar with the name of most
economists in the first half of the 20th century, and he would be
unable to read the works of almost any economist in the second half.
Mises was unwilling to compromise, especially in the area of methodology,
refusing to use equations, his legacy has been greater than most
of his long-dead peers. His legacy is growing, and theirs is almost
Much of Mises's
influence is the result of Murray Rothbard's voluminous writings,
in powerful, captivating, and flawless English, from the late 1950s
until his death in 1995. Rothbard became the primary interpreter
of the works of Mises, even though he did not share Mises's commitment
to 19th-century limited government. It is possible to read Human
Action, but it is a lot easier to read Man,
Economy, and State. Rothbard never found full-time employment
in a college or university that had an economics department until
late in his career. He taught engineering students, who were not
interested in economics and surely did not know who Rothbard was.
If he had any legacy from his classes at Brooklyn Polytechnic, nobody
has been able to discover it.
his reputation as an economist mainly through the publications that
appeared in a 12-month period from 1962 through early 1963. Columbia
University Press published his doctoral dissertation on America's
first depression: The
Panic of 1819. It read like a dissertation, unlike anything
else Rothbard ever wrote. It had some minor influence in the economic
history, but it was a narrow topic.
Man, Economy, and State in the fall of 1962. Then, the following
spring, came America's
Great Depression. That book was a study of the statist policies
of the Hoover Administration. It applied the Austrian theory of
the trade cycle to the economic and political events of the Hoover
Administration. Because it was based on Austrian economic theory,
academic economists rejected it. Because it was hostile to Herbert
Hoover, any conservative who found out about it probably rejected
it before even looking at the table of contents. It was almost a
perfect book for alienating everybody. Then came the acceleration
of the Vietnam War and the development of the antiwar movement.
Rothbard became actively involved in the antiwar movement, and he
ceased writing books on economic theory. This continued until the
early 1980s, when he wrote the best upper division textbook in money
and banking that has ever been written, and which has probably never
been assigned in any university in the United States: The
Mystery of Banking. It is totally hostile to fractional
reserve banking, central banking, and all forms of fiat money. It
is the primary task of all university-level courses in money and
banking to establish the students' confidence in all three of these.
Rothbard once again had painted himself into a corner.
Only at the
very end of his life did he begin to do a detailed academic study
in economics. He wrote two volumes on the history of economic thought.
He died before the third volume was completed. There has never been
any history of economic thought to rival it in terms of a mixture
of minute details of the lives of economists, coupled with careful
analyses of their economic doctrines.
stems from the power of his economic analysis and the cogency of
his writing style.
He left another
legacy in the area of early American history: his study of colonial
America up to, but not including, the American Revolution. Sadly,
he took his notes on a piece of audio recording technology that
disappeared, so he was never able to finish the fifth volume.
is his legacy as the most literate defender of economic and political
anarchism in the history of anarchist thought.
He stuck to
his knitting. He never stopped writing. He did not compromise in
his hostility to economic intervention by the state. He did short
articles, midsized articles, fat books, heavily footnoted books,
pamphlets, newsletter articles, movie reviews, political analysis,
and whatever else interested him, which was everything except possibly
nuclear physics. The huge volume of his writings, the clarity of
his writings, the ideological consistency of his writings, and the
fact that he got Lew Rockwell on his side, established a legacy
which has been leveraged by the power of the World Wide Web. He
is reaching a larger audience today than he could have imagined.
He died in 1995, the year that the Netscape browser was introduced.
He could not have foreseen the impact of this event.
were ideally suited to this new technology. His skills in written
communication are exactly what people doing Web searches are looking
for. He was a print-media person, and while the Web is equally geared
to video, for those who are looking for cogent writing, Rothbard's
body of material is vast.
an anomaly. He was a sociologist who was a master literary stylist.
This borders on the inconceivable. Second, he was a political and
philosophical conservative. For a sociologist, this is as rare as
the ability to write clearly. Third, his career had two phases,
and the second phase made him an international figure. This almost
As a graduate
student, he was highly influenced by a remarkable academic genius
by the name of Frederick Teggart. Almost nobody knew about Teggart
in his day, and if it weren't for Nisbet, almost nobody would know
about him today. He was a graduate assistant for Teggart, and he
learned how to use a research library as a result.
in the library at Berkeley the writings of French conservative political
theorists who wrote in the first third of the 19th century. They
had virtually been forgotten. He was able to write his doctoral
dissertation on this tradition in social theory. He had an undistinguished
career at Berkeley, and then in 1954 he took an administrative position
at the newly created University of California at Riverside. From
that time until 1965, he did not teach many classes.
His one book
in this phase of his career was well received: The
Quest for Community. It was published in 1953 by Oxford
University Press, the major academic publisher, and a publisher
that had book sales outside of college libraries. His theory was
that the growth of totalitarianism went hand-in-hand with the disappearance
of voluntary societies at the local level. This left the isolated
individual with no commitment other than to the state. A similar
explanation of the rise of totalitarianism had been offered to a
much larger audience by Hannah Arendt in her book, The
Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Nisbet's book was well
received, but it did not become a best-seller. It did stay in print,
however, which is remarkable for any academic book.
Then, in 1965,
he resigned from his administrative position and took a sabbatical
to teach in Italy. When he came back, he went into the classroom,
and he began to write. He soon became a favorite author in what
was then called "the Commentary crowd," meaning Jewish intellectuals
in New York City who had begun to abandon their far Left political
views about this time. His books began to sell, because articles
began to appear in "Commentary" and the other outlet, The Public
Interest. As he told me once, Jews buy a lot of books. He knew
that this was the primary basis of this second phase of his academic
career. For the next 20 years, he wrote book after book, and all
of them are worth reading.
Here is a case
of a man who did not stick to his knitting for at least a decade.
He taught in the classroom, but he was not a well-known scholar
until the publication in 1953 of his book on totalitarianism. He
literally did not know of the existence of the conservative movement
during these years, and it was only when he read Russell Kirk's
Conservative Mind, also published in 1953, that he realized
that he was part of a broader intellectual movement.
I first met
him in the spring of 1960, when he took me to lunch with Russell
Kirk and the Chancellor of the University. The only reason why he
took me was because I was one of maybe three conservatives on the
campus, and I had dropped them a note about something that I had
read of his in Modern Age, the conservative quarterly journal.
I studied sociology with him in the late 1960s. The only reason
why I did that is because it wasn't sociology. He was on my doctoral
dissertation committee in 1972.
By going into
administration in 1954 at a new school located in the boondocks
of Southern California, bordering on the desert, he disappeared
from public view. When he emerged, the timing was such that there
had been a major shift of opinion in New York City, and it was spreading
to the rest of the country. He was able to find a market for his
books, and he had been thinking for the entire period about the
issues of the day, but always in relationship to the history of
Western social theory. He could write in English, and he had long
since given up any interest in academic sociology.
was right. He had stuck to his guns, but he had fired them only
once from 1945 until 1965: in 1953. He stayed out of the line of
fire. By the time he emerged, guns loaded, he found an audience
for his views. He could not possibly have foreseen this in 1963.
That he would wind up in the Schweitzer-endowed chair in sociology
at Columbia University in the final phase of his teaching career
would have seemed equally inconceivable.
He made only
one mistake. It was a big one. As a teaching assistant, he had watched
Teggart decline intellectually. He had heard his lectures, and they
were substandard toward the end. He vowed at that time that he would
never teach in a university beyond the age of 70. He told me this
years earlier. He resigned from Columbia when he turned 70. Yet
he remained a highly effective speaker, almost a spellbinder, until
the very end. The only scholar I have ever heard who may have been
better than Nisbet behind a podium is Paul Johnson. But I only heard
Johnson speak once, so it may not have been a representative sample.
Enoch Powell was better than either of them, but he had long since
given up academia. He was in Parliament. The same was true of Representative
Phil Crane, who would have been a great historian, but who went
into politics instead.
was a free market economist who went into administration at Wabash
College, and he never wrote much. He was the most entertaining academic
speaker I have ever heard. He spent many years earning extra money
on what speakers call the rubber-chicken circuit. He was a perfect
defender of free market principle in front of a group of businessmen.
He could entertain a group of academics with equal facility.
was as an advisor to one of the richest libertarians of all time,
Pierre Goodrich. Goodrich built the Independent Telephone system
of Indiana. There is no question in my mind that he was a genius
entrepreneur. He also thought of himself as an intellectual. Here,
he was not equally gifted. I had to listen to him for two days at
a conference in 1971, and when the entire group got ptomaine poisoning
after the second day, I regarded that experience as preferable to
a third day at the conference.
me the following. "Rich men know how to accumulate wealth, but they
are not skilled at giving it away. My job is to give Goodrich advice
that will not lead to a great deal of harm."
was tremendous. He guided Goodrich in creating the Liberty Fund,
which publishes the highest-quality low-cost books in the world.
They are libertarian books, books on classical 18th-century political
theory, the collected writings of great free market scholars, and
are published on high-quality paper at low prices. Goodrich locked
in the organization's by-laws to a very narrow focus, which meant
that the organization was not worth capturing by the Left or the
Establishment. Today, it has the largest endowment of any Right-wing
organization in the world. Hardly anybody knows about it. Rogge's
legacy is in those books. He did not gain a group of dedicated young
men as disciples. He did not leave a large body of literature. While
he was a great speaker, few of those speeches are still available.
But he gained the confidence of an exceedingly rich man with an
exceedingly libertarian vision. He helped that man create an organization
that has provided young scholars with high-quality books for the
last 40 years.
It is easier
for someone who writes a great deal to leave a legacy. The reason
why I included Ben Rogge in this list is because his influence was
not through his own writings, but through other people's writings.
Each of these
men decided early in life that he would defend an intellectual position
that was completely out of step with the prevailing intellectual
opinion of their day. Mises defended the conclusions of 19th-century
classical liberalism, but he did so in terms of the new philosophy
of what men can know and how they can know it. He restructured economics
in terms of the philosophy of methodological individualism. Rothbard
extended this vision, and went far beyond it in terms of his application
of it to historical events.
early 19th-century French conservatism, and he adopted that view
as a young man. He was still defending that position half a century
later. He defended it with greater eloquence, clarity, and historical
support than the founders had. He dropped out for 20 years, from
1945 to 1965, but when he returned to the battle, he was better
armed than almost anyone of his generation to take on the mythology
of American liberalism.
We don't know
what opportunities we are going to be given. I am reminded of the
mother of four star general Chappie James, a black, who rose to
be the senior officer in the U.S. Air Force. His mother told him,
when he was a young man, "if you knock at the door of opportunity,
you had better have your bags packed." All of the people I have
surveyed in this series had their bags packed.
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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