Hunt Tooley was born and raised in Vernon, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University and did his doctoral work in History at the University of Virginia, where he received his Ph.D. in History in 1986. He taught at several institutions in the southeast before he came to Austin College, in Sherman, Texas, in 1991. He is Professor of History at that institution. He is a specialist in modern European and modern World History, and his research and writing has been focused on issues of war, revolution, and peace in modern times. Among his recent publications are “Some Costs of the Great War: Nationalizing Private Life,” The Independent Review 14, no. 2 (Fall 2009), and a volume which he co-edited with Steven Bela Vardy, Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe. He has also recently experimented with online history in the form of a blog called Design of a Violent Century: Blogging the Paris Peace Conference Ninety Years Later:
1. What drew you to the Austrian school and the Ludwig von Mises institute?
I grew up in a staunchly Old Right family. My grandfather started his successful small business (an independent jobbership in Frank Phillips’s then new company, Phillips 66) during the depth of the Depression. My grandfather couldn’t stand FDR, and being against Big Government is a family tradition. My parents first mentioned Ludwig von Mises to me when I was growing up. I suppose I read some little bit of Mises along with Hazlitt’s classic Economics in One Lesson while I was in high school (along with Garet Garett, John Flynn, and similar authors). So I knew of the work of Mises early on, and by my early grad school years, I had internalized Omnipotent Government (still one of my favorites) and some of Mises’s other writings from the thirties and forties. About 1980 I attended a summer seminar of the Institute for Humane Studies around 1980 featuring Roger Garrison, Isreal Kirzner, and others. That experienced really deepened my appreciation of the Austrian school. I became aware of the Mises Institute early in its life, but I began attending LvMI functions only in the mid-nineties, when I really began to learn about the Austrian tradition more deeply.
2. What thinker has been your biggest inspiration?
Well, I will choose two.
One would have to be Ludwig von Mises. I am a historian, in the first instance, of modern Europe, and I think that the most compelling part of reading Mises for me has always been the vision of this great Central European thinker, lonely and dignified, standing against the tides of totalitarianism and collectivism from all sides.
I think Thomas Jefferson plays a similar role in inspiring me. The Sage of Monticello worked out so much of classical liberalism, was so ardent a champion of liberty, that it is hard to read Notes on the State of Virginia, The Declaration of Independence, or any given letter of his without standing back in admiration. Like Mises, he was heroic in defending liberty. Shortcomings he had to be sure (we are discussing “inspiration” here in the intellectural sense), but by and large, his powerful contributions to the practice of liberty and, specifically, the political victories of the “revolution of 1800″ were absolutely crucial in establishing the tradition of liberty in the American Republic.
3. Who is your muse?
Hard to say. See the preceding answer. But taking “muse” in the sense of someone who gets me energized and writing, I would have to choose two here as well: Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard.
4. If you weren’t a scholar, what would you be doing?
I think I would be in the business world if I had not become a scholar. I had plans for an entrepreneurial life at some points early on. I enjoy being my own boss.
5. What are your hobbies?
Many of them are connected to music. I have played trombone since 1966. I was in the Aggie Band at Texas &M, and I have continued to play. I have been principal trombonist for the Sherman Symphony Orchestra (a very good regional North Texas/Southeast Oklahoma orchestra connected to Austin College) since 1991. I volunteer in pit orchestras for musicals, in college ensembles when needed, etc. More recently I have taken up some folk instruments, most especially the ukulele.
6. Can you give a short description about your summer class?
This class is the study of the enormous inflations that have accompanied the rise of the state. We really begin with the rise of Venetian financial institutions at the end of the Middle Ages, and we continue with the “blockbuster” cases of inflation up to modern times. In order to understand all these historical events, we have to understand the actual process of inflation, and we have to come to terms with “interpretations” by modern economists, in particular Keynes and his many followers. But the approach to all the inflations is based on an understanding of the Austrian understanding of the business cycle.
7. What is the motivation of this course? Why specifically hyperinflations?
Since the state is the generator and beneficiary of inflations, I think it is really important to understand these cases of massive government expansion of the money supply, since they also represent massive redistribution of wealth. Inflation is one of the most important tools in the toolkit of the modern state. It occurs all the time in modern societies in one degree or another, but these gargantuan cases help us see the process and the characteristics of inflation more clearly in outsized form.
8. Do you think history plays a vital role at the Ludwig von Mises Institute?
The Mises Institute has always been interested in history and hospitable to historians. I think of Ralph Raico, David Gordon, Thomas Woods, and many others. Mises himself often wrote historically, and was specifically interested, from a technical standpoint, in the relation of history and theory. That most Austrian economists are good historians is obvious from perusing any Austrian Scholars Conference program, or simply Mises.org itself. In any case, some of the best history being written today is being written by “historians” who do not have a Ph.D. in History. One has only to think of Robert Higgs, Hans Hoppe, Tom DiLorenzo, Mark Thornton, economists all and excellent historians at the same time. Much great history is presented at any Mises function. In any case, the Mises Institute reflects the truy holistic scholarly approach of Mises himself: if ever there was an “interdisciplinary” scholar, Ludwig von Mises was one. The Institute reflects this aspect of its namesake in many ways.
9. What are your impressions of the current state of libertarianism? Are you optimistic about the future?
As bad as things look for the forces of libertarianism and for liberty itself, my feeling is that they have looked worse at many points during the last 40 or 50 years. Much groundwork has been laid by the the libertarian movement, and this should be encouraging. The Mises Institute, the Independent Institute, and many other organizations provide an infrastructure that has not existed before. Political activities can be very important, but they are often ephemeral. Educational activities, fueled by the new media and the new communities deriving from them, create the most fundamental kind of change.