In view of the current financial crisis it may be interesting to revisit the work of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) . His first major work in 1912 was on money and credit. A sleeping giant of the 20th century, for many decades he was the spine of the Austrian school of economics and social thought but he has yet to become a household name, even among economists and classical liberals where he should be best known and appreciated.
Jorg Hulsmann has written what will surely be the definitive biography of von Mises for some time to come. Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism at 1100 pages is physically easier to put down than to pick up but with a large font and generous margins it is not such a huge word count, the writing is fluent and the content is engrossing. The entire book is on line at the Mises Institute site.
One of the triggers for the biographical project was the discovery of the papers that the Nazis stole in 1938. Within hours of the invasion of Austria, local agents in Vienna raided the apartment where Mises kept a library of books and papers while he worked in Geneva. He visited Vienna regularly but he was out of town when the Nazis called or he would have ended up in smoke. The Red army found the boxes of papers in a trainload of Nazi booty at the end of the war and the whole lot was catalogued and filed in a Moscow archive.
Unless some crisis intervenes I will aim to do a series of short posts to summarise the book, part by part.
I Young Ludwig
II The Ausrian School
III Officer, Gentleman and Scholar
IV Mises in his Prime
V Mises in Geneva
VI Mises in Amerca
In 1881 the Austro-Hungarian empire encompassed Austria, Hungary, Slovakia,the Czech Republic, as well as parts of present-day Poland, Romania, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro. Previously Austria, under the Hapsurgs, was the centre of the Holy Roman Empire until defeat at the hands of the French and germans at Austerlitz (1806) precipiteated a long period of decline. After World War I the empire was completlye dismembered in the name of national self-determinism, and so the Balkans were Balkanised, laying the foundations for further conflagrations up to the present day. The granduer of the empire at its height can be guaged from the number and size of the public buildings, monuments and museums in Vienna.
Writers, scholars, administrators and entrepreneurs (and revolutionaries) moved backwards and forwards between the major centres of the empire, building a rich multicultural tradition of culture and learning. Multilingual in a way that is scarcely comprhensible to Anglo-Saxons, with at least ten languages in the empire, they fed on the thoughts of Russians, Poles and Germans with the same facility that they absorbed ideas from England and France, though their accents betrayed them when they fled to safety in the west during the 1930s. Some of the most important threads of modern thought passed through Vienna, not necessarily through the university but also by way of the famous private seminars convened by the likes of Freud, Schoenberg, Mises (Ludwig and Robert), Schlick (the Vienna Circle), and Karl Menger.
Ludwig Mises (1881 – 1973) lived from a decade after Carl Menger published
the book that launched the Austrian school of economics, to the year before
the conference at South Royalton that signalled the revival of the school
in the US. He was born of Jewish parents in Galica, an outer province in the
Austro-Hungarian empire, now located in the Ukraine. The family moved to the
ancestral home in Vienna where he took a doctorate in law (with some
economics). His father was an engineer in the governent department that ran the railways and his brother Richard was a physicist and mathematician with a high profile in probability theory.
Actually you don’t need to know a real lot about young Ludwig except that he was a great swot, like all his Jewish classmates and he attended one of the elite high schools that catered for the children of the ambitious middle classes who were not born to wealth or high status but intended to get there by cleverness and hard work.
To be continued.