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A Word of Thanks, Lew


Many Mises.org readers know that Lew Rockwell, founder of the Mises Institute and quiet benefactor to countless individuals in libertarian circles over the decades, continues to recover from a recent back injury. While the episode has not quelled his enthusiasm for liberty, recovery is no picnic.

Apparently medicine remains in the Dark Ages when it comes to backs, especially lower backs. Some treatments are sketchy and unreliable, cortisone injections provide only fleeting benefit, pain management is fraught with nausea and other nasty side effects, and surgical options portend Armageddon. All that said, Lew is in great hands with innovators at Emory University (yes, xenophobes, we have wonderful doctors down South) and feeling much better. A procedure performed earlier this week appears to have yielded tremendous benefit, and we expect Lew back at 100% very soon.

My point in writing this is twofold: first, to update friends and supporters of the Institute on Lew’s progress, and second to remind all of us of the tremendous debt of gratitude we owe him.

Let me risk Lew’s wrath by sharing a few personal details about him.

Few people know that his much older brother was killed as a young pilot during World War II—by friendly fire. The family never fully recovered, of course, and the event instilled a deep antiwar sentiment in Lew as a boy even though he could not fully grasp the depth of the tragedy and his parents' grief. And while he grew up as a Taft and later a Goldwater conservative, Lew soured on the GOP during the Nixon era and dismissed it as a hopeless and even malevolent force.

Lew and Mardi Rockwell are adoptive parents to a wonderful special needs daughter, who came into the world lacking the devoted parental care she would need. It was Ron Paul who brought her to Lew’s attention, and with his medical partner, facilitated everything.

I’m always puzzled when Lew is attacked as a “right winger,” especially by libertarians. This is a charge made by those who insist on attaching a left-cultural component onto political libertarianism, and thus find Lew’s commitment to his Catholic faith and the natural rights tradition suspicious if not disqualifying. But political liberty is about state power, not extra-libertarian cultural preferences. Lew’s America would allow any and all voluntary social arrangements; that he would not endorse all of them is beside the point.

As mentioned above, his antiwar bona fides are beyond reproach. He opposed the vicious war on Vietnam, and was, and remains, among the earliest and most effective voices against the (latest round of) US wars in the Middle East. While conservatives, progressives, and many libertarians spent 2003 and 2004 merely debating the parameters of Uncle Sam’s domination in Iraq and Afghanistan, LewRockwell.com was busy decrying empire altogether. The silence from those who clamor endlessly about “brown people,” by contrast, was deafening.

For his troubles he was labeled an “unpatriotic conservative” by none other than the deplorably un self-aware David Frum, writing in the addled pages of National Review. At least Lew was in good company, as our great friend Justin Raimondo was attacked in the article as well. Lew never accepted either the stated aims of these invasions nor the pyramid of corpses they wrought. He has been consistently friendly toward the cause of self-determination in the Islamic world, always seeking to understand and ameliorate conflicts between religions and civilizations through his advocacy of peaceful trade and diplomacy (see, e.g., this terrific conversation about Islam and capitalism).  

We need not delve into decades of Lew’s written work to dispense with the right-wing charge, as his seminal article “The Reality of Red State Fascism” does the job in one neat package. It is hard to imagine Code Pink or Salon issuing a more damning indictment of the Bush II era—and in fact they could not, because they lacked Lew’s ability to capably diagnose modern conservatism.

More than anything, we owe Lew gratitude for having the foresight to create the Mises Institute in 1982. It was his relationships with people like Margit von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt, Ron Paul, and Leonard Read that finally convinced him to give up a far more lucrative think-tank career and undertake the thankless task of building a radical new organization.

Without a salary, without a building, and without wealthy benefactors, Lew set about using his typewriter and kitchen table to put Austrian economics back on the map. Remember that while Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State and the famous South Royalton conference both helped resuscitate the flagging Austrian school in the 1960s and 70s, the landscape for Austro-libertarian thought remained extremely challenging. The creation of the Mises Institute provided a sorely-needed beacon of hope and visibility. Henry Hazlitt especially appreciated Lew’s “giving Murray a platform.”

In the 35 years since, many thousands of individuals, students, and scholars from every walk of life have benefited from the organization Lew created. It put Austrian economics online and made its foundational texts available free to all. He created undergraduate and graduate programs that helped launch hundreds of careers.

Quietly, always working behind the scenes, Lew helped (and continues to help) countless Austrian and libertarian scholars with paid jobs, stipends, speaking fees, scholarships, tuition assistance, research fellowships, book publishing, office space, library access, letters of recommendation, and travel expenses. In sum, he provided much-needed help for libertarian intellectuals to grow and make a name for themselves.

It’s no exaggeration to say many of those individuals would not have succeeded without the help of Lew and the Mises Institute. Lew’s beneficiaries work at organizations across the libertarian spectrum, including many well-known people at:

American Institute for Economic Research
Campaign for Liberty
Cato Institute
George Mason University
Grove City College
Hillsdale College
Independent Institute
Institute for Humane Studies
Libertas Institute
Loyola University New Orleans
Mercatus Center
Mises Brasil
Mises Canada
Mises Deutschland
Mises UK
Mont Pelerin Society
Nevada Policy Research Institute
Property and Freedom Society
Ron Paul Institute
Society for the Development of Austrian Economics
Students for Liberty
University of Angers
Universidad Francisco Marroquín
Universidad Rey Juan Carlos
Young Americans for Liberty

As Dr. Gary North points out, Lew has proven unique in his ability to raise money and build a viable libertarian organization without compromising on principle or watering down the message. He deserves appreciation for helping to right the Austro-libertarian ship, for creating an intellectual space to consider anarcho-capitalism, and for resisting the siren song of “public policy” and deep-pocketed donors with agendas. He provided an intellectual home for Rothbard and Hoppe, Salerno and Gordon, Raico and Hülsmann, De Soto and Klein, Herbener and Thornton, Woods and Murphy, and many more, plus thousands of lay readers of mises.org just like you. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.


Contact Jeff Deist

Jeff Deist is former president of the Mises Institute. He is a writer, public speaker, and advocate for property, markets, and civil society. Jeff was chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul. Contact: email; Twitter.

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