Here is a magisterial book for today and the ages, one that inspires awe for both the subject and the author who accomplished the seemingly impossible: a sweeping intellectual biography, constructed from original sources, of the 20th century's most astonishing dissident intellectual. It has the apparatus of a great scholarly work but the drama of a classic novel.
Ludwig von Mises’s colleagues in Europe called him the “last knight of liberalism” because he was the champion of an ideal of liberty they consider dead and gone in an age of central planning and socialism of all varieties. During his lifetime, they were largely correct. And thus the subtitle of this book.
But he was not deterred in any respect: not in his scientific work, not in his writing or publishing, and not in his relentless fight against every form of statism. Born in 1881, he taught in Europe and the Americas during his century, and died in 1973 before the dawn of a new epoch that would validate his life and ideals in the minds of millions of people around the world. The last knight of liberalism triumphed.
Jorg Guido Hulsmann, professor of economics at the University of Paris (Angers), tells the full story of his dramatic and inspiring life and contributions – and in the course of it, provides not only a reconstruction of the history of the Austrian School of economics of which Mises was the leading expositor, and not only of the entire history of economic thought on the Continent and the United States, but also of the political and intellectual history of the 20th century.
Virtually everything in this book is new, a result of ten years of combing archives in five countries but of an unprecedented access to the voluminous Mises’s papers and to those of Mises’s colleagues, written by an author who himself is a master of the discipline and all the languages involved (German, English, and French). And though the book is huge (1,200 pages) it reads like a great novel, with a fast pace and high drama.
"This a magnificent work of scholarship," writes historican Ralph Raico, "not only definitive on Mises's life and works, but also brilliantly delineating the Vienna of the time, the development of the Austrian school, the place of other thinkers like Hayek, and Mises's contributions to American and world libertarianism."
Even for those who believe they know something of Mises’s life, it is a story told here for the first time. We learn of Mises’s background from a newly ennobled Jewish family, his comprehensive early education, his war experiences and how he was nearly sent to his death, his revolutionary monetary treatise, his struggles as a young academic, his turn against socialism, his fights with colleagues, his love for ideas, his stand against national socialism, his flight from Vienna and Geneva, his life in the United States, and legacy.
As Robert Higgs wrote the author:
"I have finally finished reading your great book about Mises. When I use the word 'great,' I mean not simply that it weighs at least a kilo and contains more than 1,000 pages. I mean most of all that it is a magnificent scholarly achievement. I can't remember when I have taken more pleasure from a book. It is a joy to read, in every way. The English is precise and polished, and everything is put just right. The research is amazingly broad, yet deep, too. The judgments are sensible and mature. The coverage--from the personal details to the content of Mises's ideas to the context in which he lived and worked--is extraordinary, and the organization puts everything into comprehensible order. The bibliography is more than impressive. All in all, the book is simply an amazing accomplishment, and a fitting tribute to its great subject.
The Mises Institute deserves great credit, too, not only for its support of your work on this project, but also for producing a book that is a fine example of the publisher's art: the typeface is clean and clear, and large enough to permit effortless reading; the layout is spacious and proper; the footnotes are where they should be, and they, too, are large enough to be read without a magnifying glass; the illustrations are splendid complements to the text; and the indexes are terrific. The work is thus not simply beautiful intellectually, but beautiful physically, as well.
If I had ever written anything half so wonderful--and I recognize that I lack the abilities to do so--I would consider my career a complete success, and feel myself justified in taking my ease, to rest on my laurels. I do not perceive that you have this plan in mind for yourself, and therefore the world will be the better, not only for your great book on Mises, but also for all the great achievements that lie in your future. I salute you, my friend, not without a touch of envy, but with my whole heart."
What’s remarkable is how little has been previously known about life in Europe before 1940, and the author writes 800 thrilling pages on this topic alone. These were the critical years in which the doctrines that would dominate the century would be hatched and debated. Mises stood against inflationism, socialism, positivism, and interventionism and did so nearly alone. The author shows that in many ways Mises made so many expansions of the original liberal idea that he ought to be considered the founder of a new school.
And so herein we gain the first accurate and detailed account of the origin and development of the Austrian School, which up until now has been muddled and incomplete and has led to a gross misunderstanding and one-sided judgment of Mises's intellectual evolution and contributions, even among many of his contemporary followers. Within the narrative we also have first-rate mini-biographies of the most notable figures of his epoch: Menger, Boehm-Bawker, Weiser, Schumpeter, Meyer, Strigl, Robbins, Hayek, Keynes, and many more.
But more than that, we have here the first full and detailed revisionist intellectual history of the 20th century, one that accounts for the failures of central planning and the positivist project in the social sciences, in all countries, and reinterprets them in light of Mises’s warnings and positive contributions.
The treatise divides Mises's life into six main stages: his youth, his early academic period, the war years, his intellectual prime, his Geneva years, his time in America, and his last years. Each section covers the biographical details and provides a full discussion of the evolution of his ideas as evidenced in his published writings and private correspondence. The author discusses and evaluates Mises's strategic decisions in politics and in his personal life.
The apparatus alone is mind-boggling, from its ten thousand footnotes to its bibliography that covers the world’s libraries to its massive name and subject indexes. Here we have intellectual machinery the likes of which we rarely see in the modern age, one that compares to the great biographies in the history of ideas.
The binding is terrific, the paper quality excellent, the price is a bargain for a book of this scholarly status, and it even comes with a place-holding ribbon.
We took bids on the manuscript from prestigious academic publishing houses, but none could offer this high a quality edition at anywhere near this low a price. This is not just a book for libraries but everyone.
It is large, so make room on your bookshelf, and, more than that, prepare to stop whatever you are reading to enter into a deeply informative tour of a world of a thinker and an age we've not known.
"This is work that is outstanding...starting with the volume itself. The type face is pleasing, the binding is sturdy, the bibliography is exhaustive: 31 pages, including 73 Mises citations. There are separate subject and name indices, and notes placed where the Lord intended: at the foot of the pages. (While some footnotes are just citations, many are worthwhile amplifications.) Photographs, many never seen before, are sprinkled conveniently through the text, not bunched in the middle.... his book is a major contribution, one that will inform both newcomers to Mises and veteran students." LIBERTY MAGAZINE
"A true masterpiece!" —Bettina Bien Greaves
"This masterpiece on the life of Mises is a great achievement! Its contents and scope surpass all economic biographies." —Jesus Huerta de Soto
"The first 300 pages of this big book were so fascinating that I promptly read the remaining 800 or so. I am delighted with the work. I applaud the author's summaries of various theories, his sketches of cultural and political backgrounds, his resourceful use of the archives, and his sketches of various personalities (which were especially interesting to me because I was personally acquainted in one degree or another with many of the persons involved or knew them from their writings and reputations)." —Leland B. Yeager
"Jorg Guido Hulsmann's tribute to Ludwig von Mises is a broadly and deeply researched scholarly accomplishment. Written with effortlessly readable prose, this biography will be of enduring interest to intelligent laymen unfamiliar with Mises's writings as well as to academicians and others already familar with the life and legacy of this intellectual giant." —Edward Younkins, The New Individualist
Jörg Guido Hülsmann is senior fellow of the Mises Institute where he holds the 2018 Peterson-Luddy Chair and was director of research for Mises Fellows in residence 1999-2004. He is author of Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism and The Ethics of Money Production. He teaches in France, at Université d'Angers. His full CV is here.
Auburn, Alabama: Mises Institute, 2007