Mises the Man
[Eulogy for Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973)]
At a seminar in Honolulu last Saturday morning, a participant said, "I have read the works of Ludwig von Mises but, Leonard, what kind of a man was he personally?" I reported to the whole group that he was a gentle man, modest, humble, and kindly, and that I had never known him to push his thoughts onto anyone. To the contrary, his life was devoted to a search for truth and that he gladly shared his findings with any seeker of light, that Professor Mises was a shining example of a refined and inspiring exemplar. That's one way to measure a man.
Now I shall give you another way to measure a man. The first experience I had with him began 32 years ago when I was General Manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. It was his initial visit to the West Coast. That evening I had a dinner at my home and present were at least a dozen of the best thinkers of our philosophy in Southern California — such men as Dr. Benjamin Anderson, Dr. Thomas Nixon Carver, the business genius Bill Mullendore, and the like.
We listened to Ludwig von Mises until midnight, and then a question was posed. "Professor Mises, we will all agree with you that we are in for parlous times. But suppose you were the dictator of these United States and could effect any changes that you think appropriate. What would you do?" And quick as a flash came the answer: "I would abdicate."
The proudest tribute mankind pays to one it would most honor is to call him Teacher. The man who releases an idea that helps men understand themselves and the universe puts mankind forever in his debt. In whatever directions progress is possible, the Teacher is one who has moved out ahead of inquiring humanity and by the sheer power of ideas has drawn men toward him. Men would stagnate otherwise. Historians may label an age for some ruler, such as the age of Charlemagne or Louis XIV, but the true Teacher is not for an age; he is for all time.
Ludwig von Mises is truly — and I use this term in the present tense — a Teacher. More than two generations have studied under him and countless thousands of others have learned from his books. Books and students are the enduring monuments of a Teacher, and these monuments are his. This generation of students will pass away, but the ideas set in motion by his writings will be a fountain source for new students for countless generations to come.
We have learned far more from Ludwig von Mises than economics. We have come to know an exemplar of scholarship, a veritable giant of erudition, steadfastness, and dedication. Truly one of the great Teachers of all time! And so, all of us salute you, Ludwig von Mises, as you depart this mortal life and join the immortals.
My concluding remark is addressed to Margit and to you who are here and to his friends all over the world. Condolences at times like these provide small solace, so I resort to philosophy. It goes something like this: There is no moment in time brief enough to be called the present. All is past or all is future, which is to say that all is memory or expectation. True, the earthly expectations are over, but the memories go on forever and ever. Amen.