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Join the Revolution in Ideas

December 6, 2006

Tags Austrian Economics Overview

A dramatic change in the political and social landscape can happen nearly overnight. When does it happen? When the ideological conditions are right. At that point, no power on earth can stop it.

What is seen is the upheaval. What is unseen is the long work of preparation. That preparation is everyone's job. You can assist us in doing ours with a year-end contribution. Click here to contribute.

For a person educated in economics, especially in the Misesian tradition, public commentary can be exasperating in the extreme. In doing's Daily Article, for example, I discuss those who imagine that we can do without entrepreneurship and that social progress it brings.
That particular ideological bent is only one of a thousand that have targeted freedom as the problem. Is there reason for despair? Not at all! Think of the collapse of socialism. State power was useless to stop it. History turned on a dime. The enforcers lost conviction, and the rebels won. What preceded this was decades of intellectual rebellion.

Or, on a darker note, think of the war in Iraq. The rebels are driven by ideology. The largest arsenal in the world cannot stop an upheaval whose time has come.

These are points made by Ludwig von Mises. He lived through World I, Communism, Nazism, and WWII. He saw statism sweep the world. Yet he never knew despair. He knew that the right ideas could prevail under the right conditions.

He wrote:

"Prophets who in their heart know themselves to be false cannot prevail against those filled with the power of sincere conviction. Nothing can corrupt ideas. Neither by money nor by other rewards can one hire men for the fight against ideas…. What is needed to stop the trend towards socialism and despotism is common sense and moral courage."

That is why he longed for the institute to be founded in his name in 1982, nine years after his death.

Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Mises Institute. Important trends are afoot. The institute is leading the national and international fight for liberty through teaching programs, books, journals, and scholarships for students. As a reader of Mises.org, you know of the extraordinary resources we provide, from the thousands of hours of free media, to hundreds of online books, to forums, commentary, and much more. Our reputation for quality is more widespread than organizations ten times our budget and staff. Our productivity dazzles our friends and alarms our opponents.

What makes the difference? It all comes down to your support, and the Mises Institute's attachment to principle and our willingness to work very hard.

When you consider the ranks of the enemies of free markets, you can feel overwhelmed. Who are they? The special interests who live off intervention are everywhere. The intellectuals can always score points at the expense of our liberties. The state's appetite for our taxes and its desire to control us are insatiable. When you consider the odds against freedom, it is a wonder that the darkness of tyranny hasn't been a permanent condition.

But consider the flowering of civilization in the ancient world, in the High Middle Ages, in the Renaissance. Think of the American Revolution — and the Industrial Revolution. Look at the reforms in East Asia, and the booming prosperity of former Soviet clients. These are all cases in which freedom beat power. And the results are spectacular to behold.

What these prove is that freedom can prevail, that the state can be beaten back, that oppression is not a permanent condition. And when you look at each episode, you find something in common in all of them. Freedom-minded intellectuals were out front and ready to make the case. They took risks. They told the truth without fear. They worked to see their visions realized in their lifetimes.

The Mises Institute is the home of such people. The Wall Street Journal observed last year that our home in Auburn, Alabama, is the font of libertarian ideas for the whole world, and one reason is precisely that we are far from the hub of power.

Just this year, we've put out a dozen books, published two important scholarly journals, held conferences in Auburn and around the country, taught hosts of students about capitalism and freedom, and welcomed scholars from around the world who come to use our archives and library.

Has it made a difference? Yes it has. The ranks of the Misesians — as we are called — are growing, both in public life and in academia. We've observed that the mentions of the Austrian School, of libertarianism, of Mises and Hayek and Rothbard, are perhaps two and three times what they were just last year.

Helping students to learn the economics of freedom, and inspiring them to go on to teach, is perhaps the institute's most important program. Since 1984, we've held summer schools for students from all over and the world and aided thousands of students with scholarships. Altogether, adding in the web, we've reached hundreds of thousands.

No, socialist and Keynesian ideology has not disappeared. And property is not secure. The government hasn't melted, the dollar isn't sound, and the regulatory state is far from crumbling.

But that only means that our work is not done. The ideals of liberty require a culture-wide commitment, even on a worldwide scale. That is why we work to develop an idea machinery that combines the beauty of the sanctuary with the tactics of intellectual guerilla warfare. Students, faculty, and researchers from all over the world tell us that they see the Mises Institute as their alma mater, a true home for liberty, a model of genuine learning in an age of official lies.

As we near our 25-year mark, the names and works of the great Austrians, once near extinction, are driving the debate in many areas. Not bad for a small institute with ideas considered outlandish by the mainstream media and the two main political parties (though, of course, you are our secret weapon).

We must continue to work to keep the great literature of freedom available. In that spirit, we've published in print and online such thinkers as Rothbard, Albert Jay Nock, Garet Garrett, Hans Sennholz, John T. Flynn, Rose Wilder Lane, F.A. Hayek, Friedrich Bastiat, Walter Block, William Sumner, Frank Chodorov, Thomas DiLorenzo, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Frank Fetter, Percy Greaves, F.A. Harper, George Reisman, Henry Hazlitt, Robert LeFevre, Wilhelm Roepke, and many others.

Our website is now host to the largest audio collection on liberty anywhere in the world, serving more than a terabyte per month in downloads. (That's a lot!) Our research resources, already huge, are growing by the day.

Of course, this kind of research bank isn't created overnight. We've been using the newest technologies in the service of freedom since we were founded, and particularly since the development of the Internet. Students the world over benefit as a result.

The inspiration for this work comes from two sources: the confidence that supporters like you have shown in us, and from the example of freedom fighters like Mises and Rothbard. They spoke boldly and truthfully, and when they were threatened and ordered to shut up, they refused. They paid a professional price — Mises was drummed out of his country — but their influence is for the ages.

Note what they did not do: they did not lobby for new government programs, join political parties, hold cocktail soirees for the central bank, shine the shoes of bureaucrats, curry favor with powerful politicians, seek grants from the Department of Spend the Dough, pant outside the executive mansion, or call for a new cabinet seat in economics. Government is not what they were about. It is not what we are about.

Mises taught that no government is classically liberal by nature. They all want maximum power and wealth, which they can only obtain at the expense of the people. And it is only the public belief in liberty — originating with the intellectual class — that ultimately restrains the state's ambitions.

Totalitarianism is not an aberration, in this view, but the expected result of any state that is not so restrained. After all, the state can use any ideological excuse. In ancient times, it claimed to be a god. In the last century and this, the excuses have included the need for community (communism), national greatness (fascism), central economic planning (the New Deal), or homeland security.

If the population is passive and uninformed by contrary voices, the state can succeed. If cultural convictions are intolerant of power, and embrace the inviolable right to person and property, liberty prevails. That's why the most important work to do for liberty is idea-based. An ideological resistance must thrive and have a voice. Intellectuals committed to liberty must be supported. They must have the freedom to write and speak and research. There must be the means to disseminate their ideas, influence people widely, and attract young thinkers.

Murray Rothbard always looked to the new generation as the source of intellectual fire for the movement for liberty. They are prepared to look at the world a new way. The impulse toward freedom — implanted in their hearts — leads them to be open to libertarian ideas, and to be critical of the apparatus of statism into which they are born.

The decisive events of this generation of American students involve not only the socialism of the Left. Under right-wing rule, we've experienced political hypocrisy of the worst sort. We get the language of freedom but the reality of statism using crisis and security as a pretext.

It is the very people who used to denounce big government programs who have given us this "brave new world." To those who are warped by an extreme partisan mentality, these outrages are overlooked or defended. But to people who have studied and learned, and begun to think independently about the true meaning of freedom, they must be resisted along with the nostrums of the Left.

How can we stop the bird of prey called the state? By encouraging ever more people to think clearly and understand how freedom works. To discover the ideas of freedom is to steel a person against the statist temptation for an entire lifetime. The student who has read and mastered a book like Mises's Human Action or Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State is prepared to understand the world in a completely different and effective way.

Sometimes it only takes once well-placed quotation or a mention in a scholarly article or a news story. Sometimes it can even come from a professor who warns the student: "Whatever you do, don't bother with what the Austrians have to say!"

Our experience suggests that people who encounter the Mises Institute for the first time are drawn in out of curiosity and then stay with our program of learning because of its explanatory power and its vision of a prosperous, peaceful world. This is what carries the day.

After all, even the media have begun to turn to the Mises Institute as the most reliable voice of dissent. We have stood against despotism on issue after issue, making available rock-solid analysis and riveting free-market opinion, even in times of government advance.

More important, students need access to and teaching about the classics that would otherwise not be available. Professors need colleagues and classroom materials, and a means of publishing. Teachers, financial professionals, writers, pastors, and everyone need access to often-suppressed wisdom.

You share this vision with us: an economy unencumbered by government controls, a society permitted to live and thrive in freedom, a money untainted by central banking, scholars who appreciate the workings of liberty, and individuals who are educated in the truth of freedom.

We believe that this vision can be the future, for ourselves and our descendants. The message of free markets, sound money, peace, and libertarian scholarship is getting a hearing on campus and in public life as never before.

People sometimes ask: what can I do to assist the movement for liberty? The answer lies not in the political grind nor in far-flung schemes. Real change requires patient work in the area of education. Start with students, cultivate professors, generate impeccable arguments and articles, publish and distribute books and journals, build a great library, sponsor research, and pursue and say what is true. This was the path of Mises, and this is the path of the Mises Institute.

Daily there are signs of success. Applications to our programs are high in number and quality. Mises.org has soared to the top of all search engines. Worldwide traffic on the site is so large that we need ever more robust systems to keep up.

Particularly inspiring are the students. Their diligence and imagination are impressive. They combine idealism with a drive to succeed. Their curiosity is intense. Their ability to devour information and make new discoveries is inspiring. Thanks to the resources and opportunities the Mises Institute can provide them, they are able to study at the feet of the great masters of economic science and the cause of liberty.

The main lesson they learn is this: freedom breeds prosperity and civilization, whereas government wrecks all it touches, achieves the opposite of its stated goals, and crowds out private solutions. Whatever is glorious in the world today comes from the private sector, while the government gives us mostly evil. It's no wonder that people of all ages are receptive to the idea of a laissez-faire capitalistic economy.

How thrilled Mises would have been. When we started, his widow, Margit von Mises, was our chairman. Murray N. Rothbard, F.A. Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, and Ron Paul were founding advisers. Professors from around the world joined the institute faculty as adjunct scholars. Above all, we worked tirelessly to build our academic programs.

Yet there is another essential ingredient: supporters like you who have made it possible for our ideas to make such great strides. And we need your help now more than ever. The times are right. The young are listening. We have the faculty. We have the ideas. We have the facilities. We have the passion and the strategy.

What is planned for next year? Some of the most exciting books in liberty to appear in decades, large teaching conferences, an international outreach, ongoing technological developments, and much more. We won't offer the details now, but some of what's brewing right now will thrill you; we can promise you that.

What we need are the financial means — a solid capital base on which to build a permanent series of programs: more student scholarships, more faculty positions, more publications, and more communications networks with even greater reach. As a privately funded institute with no connections to powerful elites, we have only one hope: you.

Won't you join us in this fight? Now is the time to prepare for the exciting days to come. Please help us with your most generous contribution for 2007 and beyond. We have a world to win for liberty.

 


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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