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The Way to Will Power

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06/15/1922Henry Hazlitt

What a thrilling little treasure this is, a completely rediscovered book by Henry Hazlitt from 1922

This is Hazlitt before he became an advocate of the Austrian School, and here he is not writing on economics but personal ethics as informed by ancient principles. But the pre-Austrian in him shines through, because it is an application of the theory of time preference he picked up from his reading.

The book has been nearly impossible to get until this new edition, completely reset by the Mises Institute.

Why bring it back? Because it is Hazlitt, and because it is just splendid as a manual for the management of personal life Just look at some of these quotes:

"Will-Power, then, may be defined as the ability to keep a remote desire so vividly in mind that immediate desires which interfere with it are not gratified."

"As long as we keep in the backgrounds of our minds that the will is really an abstraction, there is no harm in speaking of it a good part of the time as if it were an entity; and insofar as it can be said to represent a definite and permanent entity, the will may be defined as our desire to be a certain kind of character. "

"It is not the 'conscience' in itself, nor the 'evil' desires, that ultimately count; it is the relation of the one to the other. The stronger his conscience, or counter-desires, must be; the weaker his desires, the less need he has for a strong conscience."

"A man who is good from docility, and not from stern self-control, has no character."

"Not all of us have refused tempting commercial opportunities for certain poverty and struggle for a time, to gain an end in which the mathematical chances were ridiculously and overwhelmingly against us. Not all have kept desperately fanning the embers of dissatisfaction, fanning them into a constant white hot flame. With most of us the early fire dies; the embers fade and grow cool. We reach a high level as we ever seriously hope to reach. We have spasms of dissatisfaction with our position in the world, but not sufficient dissatisfaction to make us work our way out of the rut to a higher position. We have moments of longing for mountain tops, but not enough longing to make us willing to give up something for them. Strolling in the valleys is so much more pleasant than climbing."

"Forming a new habit is like forging for yourself a new path in the woods, through stubborn underbrush and prickly thorns, while all the while it is possible for you to take the well-worn, hard-trodden, pleasant path that already exists. But you can reflect that every time you travel through the new path you are going to tramp down more shrubbery and clear more entanglements from the way."

About Oscar Wilde's temptation epigram ("The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."): "Like all good epigrams, it is at least true in a special sense. And the sense in which the epigram is true is that if you yield to a temptation, you will get rid of it for the moment. ... For the very fact that you have yielded to the temptation will make it return at a later time with increased power and urgency. Every time you yield to it, you do two things: you increase the intensity of the desire and lessen the power of resistance."

"The problem, then, in all creative work, is to seek to sustain the interest at the highest pitch, never allowing it to flag. ... Eight times out of nine it is flagging interest, rather than real fatigue, which makes us quit."

"We honestly intend to do certain things, and for some strange reason we keep ont intending to do them. There is nothing especially difficult about them. They demand no gritting of teeth, no heroic sacrifice. They are simply not as pleasant as certain other things."

"Interest, excitement, absorption in the pursuit of a subject, make you forget yourself and your discomforts. ... This principle in the mental field applies quite as strongly in the physical. A man who would be completely tired out if he beat a rug for his wife, will play five sets of tennis of an afternoon... . The first is 'work' the second 'play'."

"You want your friends to know of your will-power, but the best way for them to discover it will be through your actions, not your words."


Henry Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt (1894–1993) was a well-known journalist who wrote on economic affairs for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek, among many other publications. He is perhaps best known as the author of the classic, Economics in One Lesson (1946).


E.P. Dutton 1922. This scan is quite poor. But this is also a very rare book.