On the third day of the Vienna conference, the room was still full of students, supporters, academics, and many others, despite the early hours and despite a full schedule of the conference so far. John Denson began the day’s proceedings. He reviewed the history and, in particular, the extraordinary role of Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., who had the vision and stamina to found the Mises Institute, with the hope of giving a high role to the person and writings of Ludwig von Mises, who in 1982 had not received anywhere near the credit he deserved. The idea was to sponsor scholarship and to provide an infrastructure of push Misesian ideals. Denson reviewed this happy history, with a particular focus on the pioneering research on war that the Institute has sponsored throughout all these years.
The results of these efforts were everywhere on display, as we met what seemed like multitudes of people who have begun their own efforts around the world and in every sector of society. It was a beautiful thing to see the living embodiment of the point that Doug French returned to in his talk. He reviewed the history of Mises.org from its beginnings to its current role as the provider of information for the globalized Austrian movement. The size of the service is actually mind boggling: 1.4 million unique visitors per month, all downloading vast amounts of material in every conceivable filetype. The struggle to maintain stable servers under these conditions is a matter of daily development and maintenance. What Mises always believed turns out to be really true: the world has waited for the Austrian message. Now that we have the technology, we can make the dream happen.
In my own talk, I discussed the relevance of the Austrian masters in the digital age. They all wrote not only for their times but also for all times and places, and this is what makes the Austrian school different. All the writers, activists, donors, bloggers, and everyone else involved are working for that great and essential project of building human liberty. The metaphor I used was the St. Steven’s Cathedral in Vienna, the building of which began in the 12th century and lasted the 16th century. The workers never saw the final results of their work. Neither did the benefactors or decision makers. They built for the next generation, and they had to do it again and again as fires and bombs and disasters struck continually throughout the centuries. It is helpful to think of human liberty in the same way. There must always be people in the present generation to build, regardless of the conditions, else no generation will experience the grandeur and magnificence.
A panel of webmasters and founders of other Mises Institutes from around the world followed. It included Douglas French, Helio Beltrao, Vlad Topan, Josef Sima, Joakim Fagerström, and Joakim Kämpe – all of whom are heroes of liberty in our time. This was one of the more inspiring sessions, in my own view. It illustrates the power of an idea that it can come to rest and then take off again in so many different cultural contexts. It is especially wonderful to see the Austrian School take root again in Vienna through the work of the young minds at the Institute for Value-Based Economics. Notably, none of the main players are associated with the academic establishment in Austria. They are all outsiders, more or less like Mises himself, and they are making a gigantic difference.
The conference portion of the event ended with a brilliant talk by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who compared the approaches of Mises and Hayek in their work for a free society. Hayek’s contributions are immense but he too often pulled away from the radical implications of his theory. In selected places in his work, he endorses a range of interventions which amount to intellectual permission for the ruling elites. Sure enough, this is what is most often cited in his work – fact that would surely displease him today. Mises on the other hand never pulled back from the implications of his theory – he never compromised and he always told the truth as he saw it regardless of the intended audience. His legacy and reputation as a firm anti-statist continues to rise. Hoppe made the point that Mises should be our model: truth is more effective than compromise. This audience was absolutely thrilled with his talk, and he received an rousing standing ovation.
I enjoyed some private time with Hans to discuss his strategic outlook concerning the need to create intellectual salons all over the world. In his view, this can be the most effective tool of organizing. It had not occurred to me until then that this is precisely what internet groups and social networking attempt to emulate in the digital world: it’s the 19th century approach all over again. Hans has created a globally famous intellectual salon in Europe with his own Property and Freedom Society, which also provides a model for others to follow.
The remainder of the day was spent on walking tours of the old country – visiting all the hotspots of the Austrian School in the interwar years. The tour ended in a theater where it was my great pleasure to sing English versions of the many of the same songs that Mises, Hayek, Haberler, Machlup, and the gang sang in the coffee shops of old.
I used to have a hard time imaging that this really took place and yet I saw real-life examples in bars around Vienna. In one, music from the interwar years played and all the patrons began to sing the songs while drinking great beer and filling the entire place up with the most cigarette smoke per square inch that I’ve witness in a lifetime.
The strong impression that I had that this is a much freer country than the U.S. police state was reinforced day by day. The police just aren’t part of life. People do what they want when they want. Life is organized spontaneously. The economy might be more socialistic than in the United States, but there survives in Austria a profound respect for personal liberty. After ten years of living in a fascistic security state, I think I must have forgotten what it is like to possess actual human rights. It is a great feeling. I now more fully understand why so many people are leaving the U.S. to live in places like Austria. I met many of these people in Austria. They regard their emigration from the U.S. as the best decision they ever made.
It’s all very interesting, especially given all the reflection at this conference on Mises’s own decision to leave his beloved homeland. Sometimes you just have to leave to preserve your personal freedom. It is a hard decision no matter the country or the time. I fully expect to see more of this among American young people, as the police state grows ever more oppressive and job opportunities dwindle.
If there were any doubt about what has happened in this country, it is all removed by the simple act of navigating customs on re-entry. It can take hours. Bags are screened twice. No cameras are allowed. You are harassed at every step. If you make a mistake, you risk everything. It’s not really about terrorism, drugs, or immigration controls. It’s obvious: it’s about sending a clear message that the state is in control. It will grant you the illusion that you are free provided that you obey every mandate without question.
A theme of this conference was the migration of an intellectual tradition: from Austria to the U.S. and back again. An unexpected theme of this conference that was never openly discussed but bears mentioning: the migration of the politics of the 1930s from Austria to the United States. Will it all end with another diaspora? We shall see.