Economics

Hans Sennholz, RIP

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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."

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  1. Brian,
    I have read your book. In the beginning you said the five biggest contributors were four Jews and one Catholic.
    Well I knew Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand were Jewish but I couldn’t tell from your writings the other three religious affiliation.
    I guessed Hydrach or Von Mises.
    I assume the Catholic was Von Mises.
    Please confirm.
    thank you.

  2. Hayek.

  3. How many people with one lecture 15 years ago can make you still remember that lecture?

    Let’s see, how about any free-market fanatic lecturing to other free-market fanatics? Sounds like a recipe for unforgetable to me.

  4. Von Mises was Jewish. So, with Rand, Friedman, and Rothbard, that’s four. That leaves Hayek as the Catholic, although I think that’s only by upbringing, as I believe he was agnostic.

  5. Crap. I forgot to change my name back from “Nathan Explosion” from my most recent snark post.

  6. I doubt that most observant Jews would want to claim Ayn Rand, although she did express contempt for Palestinians.

  7. I attended the FEE seminar in July 1994. It was the best week of my life. I remember thanking Doctor Sennholz in his office for such a wonderful time. He generally kept to himself that week. He humbly told me to thank Barbara Dodsworth (seminar director).

    What I still remember about the week was just how wonderful everyone there was. There is no doubt that Sennholz’s leadership was a part of that. And you could just tell that Hans and Mary Sennholz were deeply in love.

    This death hits hard. It isn’t quite as hard as that of Ed Opitz (whom I also met during that wonderful week). But I have cried again.

  8. Was a student of Hans in early 70s,he turned a hippie into a conservative in a few weeks. An amazing guy who I loved to listen to. I took every class he offered,even though he flunked me on my first final for being 30 seconds late.
    I have never been late for anything since that day.

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