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A Call to Activism

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06/01/1984Margit von Mises

The Free Market 2, no. 3 (June 1984)

Mrs. Mises delivered this speech on February 27, 1984, at the Mises Institute dinner in her honor in New York City.

Thank you, Mr. Rockwell, for your most generous and gracious remarks. Thank you all who came here tonight, for without you, I would not be here. And thank you especially for your kind welcome. I know, of course, that this welcome is really meant for my husband, in whose name I gladly and gratefully accept it.

People often ask me, "Aren't you proud of what you have done?" I can only say, "no!' I really am not. I am happy that the ideas of my husband get more and more recognition, but I am not proud. I did only what I had to do. It was an inner "must."

Perhaps you will be interested to learn how this book, which you will all receive through the kindness of Mr. Rockwell, came into being.

When my husband died on October 10, 1973, I could not even cry. I was like a stone. It took two months until the first tears came into my eyes. My daughter, Gitta, and Don, my son-in-law, who live and work in London, insisted that I come and stay with them for a while. They suggested that I make a reservation on the Queen Elizabeth, which at that time still regularly crossed the Atlantic. They knew how much I loved the sea. And so I got my reservation for the month of February 1974.

The sailing was rough, but I loved every minute of it. Most of the time I spent on deck, where I was pretty much alone. It was so stormy and cold that most passengers preferred the warmth of the staterooms. But a friendly steward kept a chair for me facing the water. He covered me with blankets, and I could watch the seagulls following the boat from morning to night, shrieking, their wings fluttering, always moving. Dark clouds covered the sky. Sometimes the wind was so strong that water came over the railing. But I was safe and warm, watched over by this kind steward.

I tried to read, but I couldn't. Always I thought of my husband and the years we spent together. But suddenly, it was as if a thunderbolt struck me. "Why don't you write about him? Why don't you put down on paper everything you know?" And I decided to do so.

I did not even have a notebook or pencil with me when my mind started to work. But in my thoughts I divided the book into eleven chapters. I decided on all their titles, and I never changed a single one of them. For example, I knew I had to write one chapter about Human Action. People had to know how my husband suffered about this, his greatest work.

The boat landed one day late, and I stayed with my children and started writing, never telling anyone a word. It took me two years to finish the book. Often I rewrote a chapter four or five times, but I never changed the table of contents. (Except for the second edition, which has two new chapters.) All research was done carefully, and every word I wrote is true.

If I told you before that I am not proud of the work I have done, then I must tell you now that there is something I am proud of. And that is that all of my husband's former students, from the Vienna seminar as well as the New York seminar — with very few exceptions — became, since my husband's death, my friends also. They stayed by my side all the time, all the way, and helped me when I needed help.

I want to mention first of all my very dear friend Professor Fritz Machlup, who died on January 30, 1983, of a heart attack. Since his student days in Vienna, he had been· especially devoted to my husband, even though they did not agree in all their economic views. But it was as if - after my husband's death — he wanted to prove his great admiration for his beloved teacher by helping and advising me. It was on his advice that I wrote the new chapter about the Vienna seminar. He guided and supervised and helped me, in his wonderfully kind and charming way, and I shall never forget him.

I also want to give special thanks to Professor Israel Kirzner, who helped me put the material together for a chapter on Austrian economics. Here is another example of a famous man who has helped me because of his devotion to his great teacher. Another one of these famous pupils who has always most willingly helped is Nobel-Prize winner Friedrich von Hayek, about whom I wrote so much in My Years With Ludwig von Mises.

But now I have to come back to the story of how the book came to life. I had already finished five chapters, and still no one knew anything about it.

Let me first tell you about a good friend of mine, Nellie Erickson. Nellie is the creator of the famous bronze bust of my husband, with copies now in so many different parts of the world. One day Nellie and her husband George invited me to join them on a Sunday trip on their yacht on Long Island Sound. With them were Ilo and George Koether, our mutual friends. It was a beautiful day. The sun was hot and the sea glittered like gold. I was sitting on a winch when George Koether joined me and said, "You know, Margit, I thought so much about you. I wonder why you don't write a book about your husband:' It was then that I could no longer keep my secret. The words poured out of me, and I told him everything.

He was enthusiastic about the news, and immediately offered all the help he could give. I asked him to keep silent about it, and told him I would accept gladly — but I wanted no ghost writing. The story was absolutely mine. He promised, and from that moment he became one of the best advisors and helpers I could have found. Always ready to do something for me, he never let me down.

When I had finished the book, George Koether showed the manuscript to Neil McCaffrey, then president of Arlington House, Publishers, and one day later the book was accepted. No other publisher had ever seen it.

What happened afterwards came without my asking for it: one work followed another. And so these ten years went by, and it still seems to me as if my husband had died only yesterday.

Those who have read my book will remember much about my husband that the general public does not know. But there was one aspect of his life that I did not describe in my book, and this is an appropriate occasion on which to emphasize it.

Professor Hayek once called my husband "a great radical, an intelligent and rational radical, but nonetheless a radical on the right lines." This was correct, but Ludwig von Mises was also an activist — an activist of the mind. Not only did he write scholarly books containing great wisdom — he also promoted the free market in speeches, articles, lectures, and seminars. And he worked hard as an activist at his desk in the solitude of his study.

He did not confine his interest and time to writing and to contact with scholars only — although the brilliant scholars who developed out of his teachings, the professors Hayek, Haberler, Morgenstern, Machlup, and many more, could justifiably have claimed all his attention. He also had the time and interest for others: businessmen, journalists, and members of many professions other than teaching. To all of those people with whom he came in contact he was an activist of the mind. He stimulated the interest, and then the understanding of all the people he met. And he did even more. He stimulated them to action.

Think, for example, of Professor Murray Rothbard, who has written, and is still writing, brilliant books extending the influence of Austrian economics, and who — with some friends — founded the Center for Libertarian Studies which works to foster libertarian scholarship, following in eco, nomics solely the ideas of Ludwig von Mises.

Think of Antony Fisher, whose Atlas Economic Research Foundation has brought about the creation of nineteen institutes in twelve countries throughout the world, always mentioning Ludwig von Mises and quoting Weaver, "Ideas have consequences."

Think of Leonard Read, the late founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, who — after meeting my husband and reading all of his books — gave students as well as teachers the opportunity to learn about individual freedom and the free market. Out of his foundation came great men like Baldy Harper, who founded the Institute for Humane Studies, and George Roche, who is now president of Hillsdale College, which shelters the Ludwig von Mises Library, and who heads his own Shavano Institute in Colorado, never asking for help from the government. Think of Dr. Hans Sennholz, who is chairman of the economics department at Grove City College, a great traveler and lecturer who educates one student after another in Mises' ideas.

And last, but certainly not least, think of Lew Rockwell and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which in a very short time has attracted 14,000 contributors, begun an extensive teaching, fellowship, and publications program, held a very successful conference on the gold standard in Washington, DC, and become integrated with Auburn University. Never before have a university and an institute of this kind entered into a partnership.

Yes, Ludwig von Mises was an activist, whose influence has reached — and is still reaching — far over the world. Imagine how much better our world would be today if all those "activists" who chant for womens' rights, for gay rights, for tenants' rights, for minorities' rights, were working to correct the true cause of our social problems! Imagine how much better off we would be if those who blame the West for the plight of the so,called underdeveloped nations could be taught the economic facts of life as demonstrated by Ludwig von Mises!

They can be taught, if all of us become activists of the mind. If each of us will do this — in his or her own way — we may accomplish more than we now imagine. And we will do it, not like mindless sports fans cheering for their hero, but out of dedication to those principles of truth and freedom for which my husband fought. We must do it — not simply out of admiration for a man like Ludwig von Mises. We must do it because we are dedicated to the principles which he elaborated so well in his many great works.

Is it idle — now, in these dark days when the shadows of Communist dictatorship reach over more than half the world — to dream of a day when knowledge instead of ignorance, respect instead of hate, peace instead of war, freedom instead of force, will reign over the world? Not if we spread the truth as my husband did.

I can see a day when every great university will have in its economics department a bust of Ludwig von Mises, when all of his writings will be combined in one grand edition avail, able in every library of any size.

can see a day when economics will be taught as human action — including every subject that those words imply — and not broken up into courses that produce mathematicians instead of economists.

I can see the day when more and more followers of my husband's thoughts will produce book after book and paper after paper elaborating on the fundamental ideas contained in his works. (And this day has arrived already.)

I can see an anthology of my husband's thoughts published in a series of books dealing with specific issues that are getting attention in the daily press. The special edition of the Freeman magazine that appeared on the 100th anniversary of my husband's birthday indicates the possibilities I see in this direction.

I can see more universities asking the Ludwig von Mises Institute for assistance in choosing professors to teach the economics of the free market. And I can see, as an activity of the Institute, establishment of fellowships to permit young journalists to enjoy a full year of study in Austrian economics to further their understanding and ability to better report events' in the daily press.

I could go on and on — but many of you have even more ideas than those I have just mentioned. In order to achieve anything, however, we must all become activists. We have no choice. As Ludwig von Mises said many years ago, in words I once quoted at Hillside:

Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. No one can stand aside with unconcern: the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.

I feel confident that the Ludwig von Mises Institute will do much more than "carry its part of society on its shoulders!' We have the intellectual leadership, the managerial expertise, and the burning desire to succeed. And, happily for us, we have the truth on our side.

If anyone doubts that, let him or her look at all the calamities, the miseries, the cruelties, and the stupidities of every form of collectivism and interventionism. With truth on our side we cannot, we must not, we will not fail!

Thank you. Thank you very much for listening to me.

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Cite This Article

Mises, Margit von. "A Call to Activism." The Free Market 2, no. 3 (June 1984): 1–2, 4–5.

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