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The Sadness of Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig-von-MisesLudwig von Mises:

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.”

Since my college years, I’ve had a hidden fascination with the history and culture– and tragic disintegration of– Old World Austria. One might suppose that my interest in Austrian economics plays a heavy role in that, but while true, there’s always been something deeper than that. Perhaps it was my own mother’s love of the Sound of Music movie. I always connected, at an emotional level, with the tale of Captain von Trapp and the sad fall of Old Austria.

In one scene in the movie, von Trapp gazes off into the distance and reflects on the rise of democratic statism and very painfully laments a “world that is slowly fading away.” It’s a sad moment. Internationalistic statism was gaining the upper hand in Europe and forever changing the European landscape. It was the rise of globalism, of one-world-orderism, multiculturalism, the loss of national sovereignty.

Mises' apartment door-- from my trip
Mises’ apartment door– from my trip

Did you know that the Habsburgs, the Family Elite of Old Austria, opponents of global government and the evils of democracy, were supporters of Ludwig von Mises? The son still lives and even reflected on the Mises he remembered.

For my first anniversary, my wife and I travelled to Vienna for two weeks. It was remarkable. I was able to visit Mises’ apartment, walk where he walked, read where he read. It was surreal.

For all his heroism and courage, Mises too felt the deep pain and loss of the beloved culture of his ancestors. It was not just that Hitler was a bad man. It’s that socialism and revolutionary leftism destroyed an entire Old World culture that pulled deeply at Mises’ heart. In fact, his wife Margit reflected on this pain when she wrote:

From the day of our marriage he never talked about our past. If I reminded him now and then of something, he cut me short. It was as if he had put the past in a trunk, stored it in the attic, and thrown away the key. In thirty-five years of marriage he never, never– not with a single word– referred to our life together during the thirteen years before our marriage.

The decade before their marriage was their time in Austria, before they were forced to flee as the Nazis raided his apartment and burned his books and writings. It was too painful, what became of his beloved homeland. Indeed, for Mises, the rise of socialism and the German statism was a reflection of a “world that was fading away.” Margit:

Lu followed the political situation in Germany and Austria with passionate interest. He saw the slippery road the Austrian leaders were forced upon. He knew Hitler’s rise to power would endanger Austria, and he knew exactly what the future would bring. Only the date was a secret to him. Lu was a typical Austrian. He loved his native country, the mountains, the city of Vienna, the beauty of the old palaces, the crooked streets, the fountains-but this, too, was something so deeply imbedded in his soul he rarely would talk about it. But I knew how he felt and how deeply he was hurt.

I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.
I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.

Not many people understand how the world changed during the world wars. It was during these times that the entire west became rich soil for the doctrines of etatism (Mises’ word, which meant statism) and socialism and democratic egalitarianism. Which is why Rothbard’s essay on World War I is called “World War I as Fulfillment.” War is the stepping stone to cultural and academic upheaval. Hence why Progressives love war and true conservatives despise it.

When one reflects on the fall of Western Civilization, it’s not just the state itself that must be blamed. It’s the entire culture. Look at what happened to Charles Murray. Everything is racist, sexist, bigoted. These words have no meaning. They are merely bully clubs intended to destroy the remnants of Old World traditions and mannerisms.

Consider then Margit’s remembrance of Mises’ pain:

In retrospect I judge these attacks differently, and I believe I understand the reason for them. Lu wrote some notes in 1940, and I read them again and again. He wrote of Austria and of Carl Menger, who as early as 1910 recognized that not only Austria but the whole world was getting nearer to a catastrophe. Lu, thinking alike, tried to fight this with all the means he had at his disposal. But he recognized the fight would be hopeless, and he got depressed– as were all the best minds in Europe in the twenties and thirties.

He knew that if the world would turn its back to capitalism and liberalism (in the old sense of the word) it would tumble into wars and destruction that would mean the end of civilization. This terrible fight against corruption, against the foes of liberty and the free market had broken the spirit of Menger, had thrown a dark shadow over the life of Lu’s teacher and friend Max Weber, and had destroyed the vitality and the will to live of his friend and collaborator Wilhelm Rosenberg.

Theirs was a fight for a world that did not want to be helped. Few people recognized the danger, and even fewer were readyto fight alongside Lu. It was like being on a sinking ship on which people were dancing though the end was near. Lu recognized the danger. He knew how to help his fellow passengers. He tried to lead them to the right exit, but they did not follow him– and now doom knocked at the door.

_________________________

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.” –LvM

Published in C.Jay Engel