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Home | Mises Library | Mises's Private Seminar: Reminiscences by Gottfried Haberler

Mises's Private Seminar: Reminiscences by Gottfried Haberler

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Tags BiographiesHistory of the Austrian School of Economics

10/15/1961Gottfried Haberler

(Reprinted from The Mont Pelerin Quarterly, Volume III, October 1961, No. 3, page 20f.)

The period between the two wars from 1918 to the occupation by Hitler was for Austria and especially for Vienna a sad epoch from the political and economic standpoint. One calamity followed the other: Collapse of the traditional frame of the new Austria – of the old Austria-Hungarian Monarchy – , war exhaustions and destruction, high inflation, brief revival followed by deep depression, civil war on two fronts and then the dark night of Nazi rule and again war, destruction and occupation.

But the intellectual life especially in the realm of science was exciting and stimulating in Vienna until the rise of Nazism in the middle thirties. There existed several internationally famous scientific centers with numerous connections between them. The best known schools were: that of psycho-anaylsis; the pure theory of law, founded by Hans Kelsen and his numerous disciples; the school of logical positivism centered around Moritz Schlick and Rudolph Carnap; and last but by no means least, a group of economists, sociologists and philosophers which had their center in the famous "Privatseminar" of Professor Ludwig von Mises who celebrates his 80th birthday, youthful and fresh in mind and body as his friend and colleague of University days and later at the Institut Universitaire at Geneva-Hans Kelsen. Most original members of these various groups left Vienna before 1933 and many of them and their numerous students are active in Universities and research institutions around the globe.

Regular participants of the seminar were several members of the Mont Pelerin Society – notably Hayek, Machlup, the late Alfred Schutz and in the very early days, John V. Van Sickle. Visiting scholars regarded it a great honor to be invited to the seminar – among them Howard S. Ellis (University of California), Ragnar Nurkse (late Professor of Economics in Columbia University, New York) whose untimely death occurred three years ago, Karl Bode (later in Stanford University and now in Washington), Alfred Stonier (now University College in London), and many others. There was Oskar Morgenstern (now Princeton University), the late Karl Schlesinger and Richard Strigl, two of the most brilliant economists of their time, and above all the author of the songs reproduced below,* the unforgettable Felix Kaufmann, philosopher of the Social Sciences in the broadest sense including the law and economics – he also wrote a much debated book on the logical foundation of mathematics – who after his emigration in 1938 joined the Faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York where he taught with great success until his premature death twelve years ago.

Other prominent members were Professor Martha St. Brown (Brooklyn College, New York), Professor Walter Froehlich (Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Dr. Helene Lieser (for many years Secretary of the International Economic Association, Paris), Dr. Ilse Mintz (Columbia University and National Bureau of Economic Research, New York), Dr. Eric Schiff (Washington), and Dr. Emanuel Winternitz (Curator of the Musical Instrument Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

The Seminar met every Friday at 7 p.m. in Mises' office in the Chamber of Commerce. Mises sat at his desk and the members of the group around him. The meeting would be introduced by a paper by Mises himself or by another member on some problem of economic theory, methodology of the social sciences or economic policy. Sociology, especially the "Verstehende Soziologie" of Max Weber and related problems were favorite topics. The always lively discussion lasted until 10 p.m. when the group walked over to the nearby Italian Restaurant "Ancora Verde" – "Der grune Anker" in Kaufmann's song – where dinner was served. There the discussion continued on finer points of theory and later usually took on lighter tones. At eleven thirty or so those members who were not yet exhausted went to the Cafe Kunstler, opposite the University, the favorite meeting place of economists in Vienna in those days. Mises was always among the hardy ones who went to the Kunstler Cafe and was the last one to leave for home, never before 1 a.m.

Next morning, fresh as a daisy, he was at his office at 9 a.m. At eighty he still keeps to his habit of working late and rising early.

In 1935 Mises accepted an offer of W. E. Rappard and joined the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva where he taught until 1940 when he emigrated to America. Some of his students had left before –  Hayek had gone to London and the present writer to Geneva. Those who remained in Vienna until the night fell in 1938, felt lonely and forlorn. Kaufmann's song gave moving expression to these feelings.

Mises' departure and the disappearance of the other schools which were mentioned above left a big void in the intellectual life of Vienna which has never been filled again, not even after the spectacular economic and political revival of Austria after World War II.

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Gottfried Haberler was a professor of economics at Harvard University. He was interviewed by the Austrian Economics Newsletter.

Reprinted in Planning for Freedom (Libertarian Press, 1980), pp. 276 - 278

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