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Freedom Needs Us, and We Need You

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There is never good reason to give up hope, and I’m convinced that the forces of freedom will prevail. Yet these are dark times for liberty. The rise of socialism is bad enough, but there are other dangers as well.

  • The political elites in both major parties are using every excuse to build up the welfare-warfare-police-surveillance state.
  • The Fed is opening the money spigot, more than it ever has.
  • The pandemic is still with us, yet another misbegotten excuse for vast spending.
  • Among the general public, many people are too confused or frightened to resist.
  • In academia, there is passivity or even celebration at the demise of essential rights.
  • Almost no national politician will tell the truth about where we’re headed.

Of course, this is hardly the first time statism has cast a dark shadow over civilization. In the years following the stock market crash of 1929, various sorts of socialism battled for control.

In different countries, it had different names—Bolshevism, National Socialism, fascism, New Dealism, Fabianism—but the essential principles were the same. As Mussolini put it: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

In Austria, however, one prominent economist refused to go along. His name was Ludwig von Mises, known all over the Continent for his pioneering contributions to economic theory, his personal integrity, his tenacity, his love of liberty, and his dogged opposition to all forms of despotism.

As the storm clouds gathered, he realized that Austria would fall to either the Communists or the Nazis. Then in 1934, a letter arrived. It was from an independent academic institute in Switzerland, offering Mises a position. It meant a two-thirds cut in pay, but it also meant sanctuary.

He left immediately for Geneva, and for six years, until he emigrated to America, he worked very hard. The result was the original German version of Human Action, the greatest economic treatise of the twentieth century. Even today, Human Action is a big seller, still educating students in liberty.

Meanwhile, the Nazi armies did arrive in Austria, marched to Mises’s apartment, and stole everything, including all the books and papers he had not taken with him to Switzerland. Mises never saw them again, but his ability to research, write, and teach had survived.

People ask what would have become of the idea of liberty had Human Action not been written. But another question is just as important: What would have become of Mises had that institute not existed to provide him refuge?

When I think of the value of the Mises Institute to the world, I think of our predecessor in the 1930s. The parallels between then and now are obvious, and chilling.

Ask good professors about the politics of their “woke” campuses and the story is the same. They do not feel free to write what they want or say what they believe. Academic freedom? It’s almost gone. Instead we have mandatory critical race theory.

Are there any truly independent institutions of higher learning? Today, as in the 1930s, they are fewer and fewer. Today, as in the 1930s, people are turning to evil ideologies. In this climate, the Mises Institute stands for an old-fashioned ideal: the value of freedom and the power of good ideas to change the world.

An institute with this ideal has never been more essential. The state is bearing down. Consider the proposals now coming out of Congress: massive public works, national ID cards, conscription, higher taxes, nationalized airlines, email spying, increased wiretaps, exchange controls, national economic planning, rationing, wars, and martial law.

But these proposals are madness. Permitting state control to supplant free-market liberty would wreck our civilization. Yet for opposing bigger government and insisting that freedom is still the answer, the Mises Institute has come under attack from both the left and the right wings of the establishment.

Instead of taking government money, or otherwise being hooked into the state machinery, we go full-speed ahead with our work, which is more in demand than ever. We have a master’s degree program in Austrian economics. We’d eventually like to offer a PhD, too.

At the Mises Institute, you will find seminars in economics, history, and philosophy. You will find teaching conferences that students clamor to attend. You will find faculty members writing wonderful books and articles. You will find an astonishing library with books that regular academic libraries deem too old-fashioned—or dangerous.

But the message of the Mises Institute is not confined within our walls. Instead, our students go on to become scholars and teachers themselves. Our publications, journals, and books are distributed the world over. Our electronic media reach all corners of the globe.

What began with an old typewriter on my kitchen table almost forty years ago has emerged as an international force for liberty, and the fruits are everywhere.

Never before has the Mises Institute’s network of freedom-minded intellectuals been larger or better supported. Unlike Mises and his students after World War II, our scholars and students do not work in isolation, but rather enjoy colleagues, publication outlets, and professional conferences.

At the beginning, did we know what could be accomplished with your help? Did we know just how necessary the Mises Institute would end up being? Did we know that there would come a time when the Institute would serve as a safe haven for the ideas of liberty?

No. But we knew that Mises’s desire for an independent institute for liberty had merit. In a private memo circulated in the 1960s, he had urged friends and colleagues to get busy and create just such an organization. He died in 1973, nine years before its creation. He certainly did not know that it would bear his name.

How thrilled Mises would have been. His widow, Margit von Mises, was our chairman. Henry Hazlitt was a founding advisor. Professors from around the world joined the Institute as scholars. Above all, Murray Rothbard worked tirelessly as head of academic affairs.

There was another essential ingredient, of course: men and women like you, who have helped the Institute make such great strides in its first thirty-nine years.

I founded the Mises Institute to correct one of the great oversights of the twentieth century: the neglect of the ideas of Ludwig von Mises, those of his followers, and the Austrian school tradition that they represent. Now we have become a thriving sanctuary for liberty and truth, for people of integrity the world over.

Why is this important? Because the future of liberty depends on the ideas people hold. If the ideology of statism is permitted to have a monopoly in academia and the public mind, despotism is inevitable. But by supporting and advancing the ideas of liberty, we give civilization a fighting chance, even for victory.

I am often asked what the Mises Institute hopes to accomplish. Both Mises and Rothbard were undoubtedly asked about their own hopes. I think their answer would have been very simple: they hoped to write what is true and do what is right, and to do it with enthusiasm and vigor. If we do nothing else, that is enough. And yet, it is everything.

Mises was one of a kind, but today, there are hundreds, even thousands, of professors and students who share his ideals and moral courage. Through the Mises Institute, they are given a home and the backing they need to carry on their work, especially in difficult times.

We have our critics, of course. What was said of Mises is sometimes said of the Mises Institute. We don’t have many friends among the powerful. We do not court big media. We do not bend the knee to the political class. Our intellectual ambitions are deeply contrary to the current trends.

We plead guilty on every point. It could not be otherwise, for the Mises Institute was founded to carry out Mises’s vision of an independent source of intellectual support for young minds with academic vocations, not to be part of the gang.

Now, thanks to the help you give the Institute, we are able to be a life-support system for the worldwide movement for liberty, the top source for scholarship in the Austrian school tradition, the leading publisher of free-market materials, and a promoter of the best new books on economics, history, and philosophy.

Working with students one-on-one for almost four decades, the Mises Institute has been growing hugely in its influence. Whereas we once had to scour for good students, we are now inundated for every teaching program we offer. And many of our best applicants are our students or former students, now professors themselves.

The progress inspires us to look to the future. Many of the socialists now teaching will retire. Many others will just lose faith in destructionism. The question is: What worldview, what theory of economics, what political ideal, will replace the Left? The Austrian school, in the tradition of Mises and Rothbard, offers precisely the radical and attractive alternative.

When we started, it was hard to find economists at major investment houses who even noticed Austrian business cycle theory. Today, many of the top ones are busy educating themselves. So too in departments of finance, economics, philosophy, history, and political theory.

In the marketplace of ideas, our ideas are on the march. The journals, the books, the students, the daily hard work of our faculty and staff, all add up to create something much larger than we ever dreamed all those years ago.

Anyone who works with or for the Mises Institute can confirm that our goal was never growth alone, never attention alone, never public relations alone, never large conferences alone. We never set out to build a great institution as an end in itself. The goal, the driving passion, of the Institute has been to create the conditions for truth to be told, to make available a setting where freedom is valued and practiced.

The difficult times in which we live are a reminder that our mission is far from complete. The forces of statism are always waiting for an opportunity to rob us of the blessings of prosperity and liberty, of civilization itself.

Mises believed that the best way to defeat the socialists was to say what is true. Against the idea of liberty, he said, the fiercest sword of the despot is finally powerless.

Help us wield that sword. That means forging ahead, sticking to principle, and teaching tomorrow’s intellectual leaders, no matter what the times. Please help us in this cause, with your most generous contribution.

Author:

Contact Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is founder and chairman of the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of LewRockwell.com.

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