One of the 20th century's stranger odysseys was that of Hans Sennholz–who went from (drafted) Luftwaffe pilot in his German youth to leading exponent of Austrian-style free-market economics in America. He served as chair of the economics department at Grove City College (where he taught from 1956-92) and later as president of the Foundation for Economic Education from 1992-97. Sennholz died Saturday at age 85.
Current FEE president Richard Ebeling writes of Sennholz, giving the biographical details and some intimate and amusing insights into what the Sennholz experience was like.
Some samples from Sennholz's appearances in my new book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, will give you some insights on the man in full:
Sennholz on his relationship with Ludwig Von Mises, from whom he studied economics at New York University:
"We developed family relations. I married a classmate [Mary Homan, a secretary at FEE], introduced to me by Mrs. Mises. She claimed credit when we had a boy, and became godmother. Mrs. Mises and Dr. Mises went to baptism classes, and from then on he was always considerate and nice and fatherly. We had such an excellent relationship that whenever he went on a speaking tour to Central America, if they invited someone else to accompany him it would be me….When Mises was ninety or ninty-one, I was giving a speech at FEE. This was 1972. Mises came out with his wife. I was honored that the old man would come when I would speak. And he would go to sleep. That was our relationship on some level."
Sennholz's academic career in the U.S.:
While Sennholz made no great theoretical or scholarly contributions to the Austrian cause, he was the teacher who directly influenced the largest number of students toward a passion for the Austrian economics and libertarianism, and the connection between the two….Most who dealt with him have a Hans Sennholz story to tell, often with a head-shaking combination of admiration and exasperation. One former student….recalls how his students often asked Sennholz why, with his strongly held political views and obvious love of expounding upon them, he never chose to run for office. "Oh sure," he would say in his thick German accent, "I can see some United States veteran with an injured or missing arm come to me at a speech crying, 'Did you do this? Did you do this?!'"
Peter Boettke, an economics professor at George Mason University and a scholar on Soviet economics, on his teacher Sennholz, who turned a kid who only cared about basketball into an economist:
"Sennholz could get you hyped up on your ability to walk through fire for the truth. He doesn't reach you with the technical aspects, but with the ideological aspects. Sennholz explained the welfare state as this giant circle with all of our hands in our neighbors' pockets. This lecture was 15 years ago and I can still remember it. How many people with one lecture 15 years ago can make you still remember that lecture? That's the kind of guy Sennholz is."