Guido Hulsmann’s massive biography of Ludwig von Mises, entitled “Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism” is a real gem. Liberalism in the title, of course, refers to the Old Liberalism, or classical liberalism, (pre-American Progressivist/socialist “liberalism.”) which taught the freedom of the individual against statism and political power– and more importantly at a historical level, developed the economic case for free trade and the market system.
The following was pulled from the very beginning of the Preface. I enjoyed it because it succinctly captures the difficult political context in which Mises developed his socio-economic thought. The end of the quote makes mention of Mises’ audacious stance on epistemology, which was quite unacceptable during his time with the rise of logical positivism. And today too, embracing logic to the extent Mises had done is considered “old fashioned” and un-“scientific.”
In the summer of 1940, with Hitler’s troops moving through France to encircle Switzerland, Ludwig von Mises sat beside his wife Margit on a bus filled with Jews fleeing Europe. To avoid capture, the bus driver took back roads through the French country- side, stopping to ask locals if the Germans had been spotted ahead—reversing and finding alternative routes if they had been.
Mises was two months shy of his fifty-ninth birthday. He was on the invaders’ list of wanted men. Two years earlier, they had ransacked his Vienna apartment, confiscating his records, and freezing his assets. Mises then hoped to be safe in Geneva. Now nowhere in Europe seemed safe. Not only was he a prominent intellectual of Jewish descent; he was widely known to be an arch- enemy of National Socialism and of every other form of socialism. Some called him “the last knight of liberalism.”
He had personally steered Austria away from Bolshevism, saved his country from the level of hyperinflation that destroyed inter- war Germany, and convinced a generation of young socialist intellectuals to embrace the market. Now he was a political refugee headed for a foreign continent.
The couple arrived in the United States with barely any money and no prospects for income. Mises’s former students and disciples had found prestigious positions in British and American universities (often with his help), but Mises himself was considered an anachronism. In an age of growing government and central planning, he was a defender of private property and an opponent of all government intervention in the economy. Perhaps worst of all, he was a proponent of verbal logic and realism in the beginning heyday of positivism and mathematical modeling.