Rereading Human Action
This is the inaugural Rothbard Graduate Seminar. Let me apologize at the outset for the tight quarters. Later this month we are breaking ground for an expansion of our physical plant. If all goes well, by this time next year, our library, study, and office space will be three times the size they are now. Our goal is to have plenty of room for permanent and visiting scholars the year round.
I know that you will enjoy meeting with and learning from our extraordinary faculty and the other students. We’ve tried to space the lectures and seminar so that you will have plenty of time for library work, visiting in the garden, and discussing ideas with your colleagues.
Even so, the program is going to be very rigorous. We are attempting something remarkable: the first full-scale systematic, seminar-based rereading, reassessment, and reapplication of what is quite possibly the most important economics book ever written. You are to be congratulated for making it through an application process that was intensely competitive, and also for agreeing to take on a very difficult task. If this were the Olympics, you would all be triathletes.
We hope that this week will help inaugurate a new and exciting era of truly scientific scholarship in the social sciences, and in economics in particular. It is our firm conviction that the time for the full-scale ascendency of the Misesian paradigm has arrived–fifty years after the publication of this remarkable book.
If we think about this century of incredible intellectual error, the Austrian School has proven to be an incredible survivor, thanks in large part to the existence of Human Action.
Mises left his homeland in 1934, and the Austrian School scattered in different directions. Fortunately, Mises was given refuge in Switzerland, where he worked for the next five years on his masterpiece. But when Nationalökomie appeared, it sank very quickly due to the war.
After coming to the United States, he got to work reworking and expanding it for English- speaking audiences. Thanks to a friendly editor at Yale University Press, Human Action appeared in 1949, too late to convince an already-Keynesianized economics profession, but not too late for its impact to be felt five decades later.
The book has been through troubled times in the intervening years, with later editions botched and compromised through additions and subtractions of debatable merit. At long last, the restoration appears this year, thanks to the hard work of some of the scholars with us this week to take you through this masterpiece and explain its significance for our time.
There’s no question that Mises knew he was writing for the ages. The book comes as close as any economics book can to making a timeless statement about universal principles. That does not mean the book is perfect or that Mises said everything that needs to be said. His thought needs to be examined with both humility and a critical eye, if we are to play a role in advancing economic science.
We have a model in this regard. It was the major goal of Murray N. Rothbard’s career as an economic theorist to elucidate Misesian economics, and expand it, and there can be little doubt that the present state of Misesian economics owes just about everything to his efforts.
For this reason, and to honor his memory and place in the history of ideas, we have named this seminar in his honor. I want to thank especially Miss Alice Lillie, who is with us this week. An admirer of Murray’s, she has helped make this program possible. Also helping to make this program possible is the generosity of David and Mary Alice Swain, and I want to thank them so very much as well.
I don’t mind saying that you are all part of an intellectual elite. There were many who applied, but only a few chosen for what I believe is going to be a historic occasion.
How important is your role here? Consider the first and last sentences of Human Action, which when put together sum it all up. "Economics is the youngest of all sciences.... But if men fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race."
See the complete schedule of the Rothbard Graduate Seminar.
Read Shawn Ritenour’s lecture on Human Action in the Life of a Student.
Read Lew Rockwell’s speech, Human Action and the Politics of Freedom.