The book’s opening chapter, Roots, is a fairly detailed description of Ludwig von Mises’s familial background reaching back as far as 100 years before Ludwig was born.Mises was born into a Jewish family in the city of Lemberg, the capital of province Galicia in the then Habsburg Empire. Galicia had long been under Polish dominion, which, quite significantly, had a peculiar political structure with apparently great respect for individual liberty. We read, for example, that one of the slogans of Polish nobility, which comprised a fifth of the population (!), was “Menace the foreign kings and resist your ownâ€.
The chapter is mainly about Mises’s very illustrious familial background which will prove to be quite significant for the overall assessment of the character of his personality and achievements of his long and productive life. Here we learn a general account of the cultural and political conditions under which Jews in the Imperial Austria had to live. The life was anything but easy in those days, particularly for Jews. Far from being a respected and welcome minority in foreign lands, driven repeatedly from country to country, Jews had many obstacles to overcome. In Galicia they found one of very few places where they could live relatively free, excel, and flourish.
Being tolerant, open, hardworking, and possessing a culturally hardwired predisposition for intellectual work, they were subsequently able to fill important niches in commerce, banking, legal services, and science. The nineteenth century, the century of capitalism and free-enterprise, gave them the only thing they needed to succeed â€“ the freedom to act on their own judgment, by the work of their minds and hands.
Mises’s family was a particularly outstanding example, possessing the noblest qualities of the age of Enlightenment. Distinguished by a particularly appealing combination of secular and humanistic outlooks, Mises’s family felt especially close to the high civilization of Germany. Mises’s great-grandfather, Meyer Rachmiel Mises, struggles to implant secular German culture amidst Jewish orthodoxy were eventually recognized by the Emperor and earned him and his descendants a title of nobility.
By all standards, Mises grew up in an extremely cultured family which was determined to bring out the best in its children: “to care for others, to be modest and frugal, to honor truth and virtue more than encomiums of the world.â€