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A Call to Activism from the Late Margit von Mises

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Tags History of the Austrian School of Economics

01/07/2016

In a superb talk, given on February 27, 1984 at an early Mises Institute event in New York City, Margit von Mises discusses the process by which she came to write the memoir of her late husband. She also discusses his impact on the world, as evidenced by the success and reach of his many former students.

Margit von Mises saw her husband not only as a great economist, but also as a committed ;activist. Yet she didn't use the term as we ordinarily use it, to describe political action or organizational outreach. She used it to describe her husband's intellectual efforts to build support for liberty: he was an "activist of the mind."

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.

She also stresses the importance of pressing on and expanding the work her husband started, using language that still perfectly fits today's political and social landscape:

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.

The entire speech is an enjoyable read, and her strength comes through in every paragraph. Her memoir, My Years with Ludwig von Mises, is also a wonderful history of his work and their time together (available free here).

Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. He previously worked as chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul, and as an attorney for private equity clients. Contact: email; twitter.

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