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A Sanctuary for Freedom

September 9, 2005

If defending freedom in normal times is essential, how much more so in times of crisis and calamity? Consider these following inspiring examples, and also consider helping the Mises Institute as we come to freedom's defense in difficult times.

The day the floods came to New Orleans, not everything failed and not everyone fled. A single internet service provider (DirectNIC), run by devotees of freedom who had been reading Mises.org for years, kept running. Its offices were high enough to avoid the waters. And through incredible dedication, uncommon courage, and untold barrels of diesel to run their generators, they stayed when everyone else fled.

It is an inspiring story, and the Mises Institute played an important role. In the first week, as interest in their reliable reports grew (they broke story after story), they were desperate for some way to broadcast their live camera pointed at the streets of New Orleans. We were fortunate enough to have a server dedicated to just that purpose, one we had kept for our own live broadcasting from Mises Institute events.

Within minutes, the world was watching. The traffic was overwhelming and costly. But because of their efforts and the Mises Institute server, the world had another source of information besides unreliable statements of government bureaucrats.

It was a triumph amid disaster. The entire community of Mises Institute scholars had been in shock over the demolition of a major world center of Austrian and libertarian thinking: Loyola University, New Orleans. Senior fellow Walter Block, together with William Barnett and other members of the faculty, have worked for years to build a community of liberty-minded students. Already many of them are in graduate school with more coming through the ranks.

Then disaster struck. There are no classes at Loyola University this semester. The institution promises to reopen in January, but no one knows the future. In the meantime, many students are transferring out, faculty is worried, and the peace of a growing environment of learning has been profoundly disturbed.

The Mises Institute is playing an important role here, again operating as a port in the storm. Students and faculty are looking to our facilities and resources to provide a safe harbor, and we are thrilled to be able to assist.

Crises like this take on an eerie resonance for us, because of Mises's own personal history.

In 1933, the year Hitler came to power in Germany, Mises looked out his office window in Vienna and saw the first signs of the disaster that would drive him out of the country, plunge the world into a ghastly war, and smash what remained of the liberal Europe of his youth.

He saw paramilitary gangs marching to a Nazi flag, young men angling to become part of the German state on the move, and a population confused by the economic depression and infected by socialist ideology.

By 1938, when the German army smashed through the door of his apartment, went through his papers and books, and put them on a train to Berlin, he was safe in Geneva, at a sanctuary funded by private money, working on what would become his lifetime masterpiece.

There he found time and space to mount the intellectual resistance. The product of his labors in Geneva sparked the ongoing revolution in ideas that continues more than a half century later.

Call it destiny, Providence, or bitter historical irony, but the Mises Institute seems to be taking on a role not altogether different from that which that Geneva institute played in Mises's own life. It was a safe haven for him, a place of peace removed from the dangers and destruction, a respite from calamity and crisis.

Austrians in the early 1930s knew there was trouble welling up in their beloved land. They did not anticipate the precise nature or the scale of the calamity. So it is in our country, in our times. Four years ago, it was hijacked airplanes that struck at the heart of world finance and capital. And now we have the catastrophe that followed, hurricane Katrina.

We see the state's evil hand at work in these crises. In World War II, it was the imperial state marching under a variety of socialist banners. On 9-11, we saw hatred fueled by war smashing the myth that the government can protect the homeland. And with Katrina, we saw the failure of government at all levels, from the inability of the levees to hold, to the fleeing of government officials, to the failure to intervene in the ensuing chaos.

Such calamity has real effects on intellectual life and the prospects for liberty. What if Mises had had nowhere to go in 1936? We often ask ourselves this question, and we prepare for the worst for his successors. The Mises Institute must function as a kind of sanctuary.

What if the important intellectuals of our time find themselves drummed out of the academy, forced into silence due to public-sector failures? What if the solitude necessary for innovative thought is crushed by government-created mayhem? These intellectuals and their students must have a place to go, a network of support, a means by which they can continue to teach and their writings can be published and distributed.

Finally, there is the all-important issue of interpreting the crisis. Many blame the lack of government spending or the absence of socialism for the onslaught of crisis. Many call for more public works, more spending, higher taxes, and economic interventions such as price controls. Meanwhile, government managers evidentally believe that sloshing money around and grabbing guns is a viable rebuilding strategy.

The Mises Institute serves the role of countering this point of view, with far-reaching editorials and scholarly background to show how it is the failure of the state that is at issue, and how only private enterprise can rebuild after disaster. Lew Rockwell's piece the day after the flood had a huge impact.

Whether it is the daily articles, the journals and treatises online, the up-to-the-minute blog, the hundreds of hours of media files, or the support services for courageous bloggers in New Orleans, the Mises Institute is there to make the case for freedom, not just in a crisis but in all times.

We are thankful for all the support you have shown us through the years. As you give generously to charities assisting those in need, remember the Mises Institute needs your help, not only to get through the present crisis but those unforeseen ones in the future.

You can make your contribution to our efforts here, whether $1000, $500, $250, a new or renewed membership of $50, or any amount.

Mises said, quoting Virgil, that when faced with evil, we should not give in but proceed ever more boldly against it. Please join us as we do so.


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

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