My Years with Ludwig von Mises


My Years with Ludwig von Mises, by Margit von Mises, New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1976, 191 pp., Illustrated, $9.95.

While free-market economists such as Hayek and Friedman have come in of late for long overdue honors, the general public still knows little of the man whom most knowledgeable observers believe to be the foremost classical economist of this century—Ludwig von Mises.

Perhaps with the failure of interventionist economics dawning in an ever-widening circle of public opinion, this situation will be corrected and the name von Mises will be as well known to the man on the street as Samuelson or Galbraith or Keynes. Aiding invaluably in this process is an admirable little biography of Professor von Mises by his widow, Margit—a study that looks, not at the theories that propelled her husband to the apex of libertarian thinkers, but rather at the individual himself, a man who devoted his whole life to economic freedom and the diversity of the marketplace.

Already a scholar of some note in the first decade of this century, Ludwig von Mises served in the Austrian army in the First World War and in the 1920's performed as a high official of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, a semiofficial trade organization, advancing to a position as one of his nation's foremost thinkers through the publication of his ground-breaking study Socialism.

He was not a garrulous or an outgoing man; his manners were reserved and courtly and belonged, even in that decade, to an earlier era, but upon meeting Margit—a distinguished and lovely actress and a translator of dramatic properties—he resolved to end the bachelor ways his academic colleagues felt he would never forsake.

Nothing got in the way of his work, however. He continued to carry forward the gospel of free-market economics to the rest of Europe. In 1934, either through a careful reading of the Central European political situation or by mere fortune, he migrated to Switzerland. Four years later, when Hitler marched into Austria, von Mises spirited his future bride out of Vienna and completed their decade-long courtship.

A comfortable life in Geneva was threatened by continued German aggression, and the couple made their way across the remnants of free Europe in 1940 to America, where Ludwig was offered a post in California.

Now in his sixties, von Mises began a second career, teaching seminars at New York University, writing voluminously (it was in the New World that Human Action, Bureaucracy, and Omnipotent Government were written), lecturing throughout the Americas, and influencing an entire generation of American classical economists.

He was, as ever, an unbending advocate of a free society. As von Mises himself said of a colleague, Benjamin Anderson, in words that are equally applicable to himself: "His most eminent qualities were his inflexible honesty, his unyielding sincerity and his unflinching patriotism. He never yielded. He always freely enunciated what he considered to be true. If he had been prepared to suppress or only soften his criticism of popular, but obnoxious policies, the most influential positions…would have been offered to him. But he never compromised. This firmness marked him as one of the outstanding characters of this age."