More than a century ago, a young man read a book. His life was never the same again. In fact, his reading of that book changed the world. Last year, an online school opened its doors. In what follows I will explain how these two events are connected.
The book the young man read was Carl Menger's Principles of Economics, and the young reader himself was Ludwig von Mises. Mises would later write that reading Principles "made an economist out of me." On that day, an intellectual odyssey began: a single, coherent project of intellectual advancement that continues to this day. This Misesian project has been both scientific and pedagogical, for science and pedagogy are two sides of the same precious coin of intellectual progress. Through science, man discovers truth; and through pedagogy, successive generations discover it anew.
The crystalline mind of Mises — clear, ordered, and intricate — refracted the discoveries of classical political economy and Mengerian economics into a complete picture of the sciences of man, and what they entail for the big political choices that lie before us.
But, again, science was only one side of the coin. Then came the teaching. For Mises, teaching what he had discovered was particularly urgent, because the ideology of his age disastrously attempted to contravene every law of human action. As he saw it, the Western world, in chasing the chimera of socialism, was flinging itself headlong into a "crisis of interventionism" in which civilization itself would be in mortal danger. Picture a conscientious epidemiologist transported to plague-ridden 14th-century Europe. Imagine the sense of urgency such a fellow would have. Then you can have an inkling of what it must have been like for Mises to hold in his hands economic truth in a time of politicoeconomic madness.
Unfortunately for the world, Mises found himself at a severe disadvantage in his efforts to teach. As Jeffrey Tucker says in his splendid speech "Dissident Publishing: Then and Now," it often surprises people to learn that Mises was never a full professor at the University of Vienna. As Mr. Tucker explains, Mises had three strikes against him in the eyes of the German-speaking academic establishment: he was Jewish, not a socialist, and principled.
But, Mr. Tucker goes on, Mises did not despair or give up; he simply found a work-around. He got a job at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and taught a private seminar out of his own office. This private seminar, the original Mises Circle, as Lew Rockwell writes in his moving essay "Economics and Moral Courage," "grew into a full-blown economic society" before the rise of national socialism pressured Mises out of Austria and scattered the circle to the four winds.
Years later, the Nazis forced Mises out of Europe altogether, and he took refuge in the United States. Yet, even in the "land of the free," there was no academic chair to be found for a true liberal, no matter how brilliant and accomplished. But Mises once again found a work-around. As Mr. Rockwell tells us, some of Mises's American admirers "put together a fund that would provide Mises a position at New York University, where he could teach and write. He was not paid by the university, where he was always a visiting professor, but through a private endowment."
While many of his fellow scholars yielded to the prevailing winds of the time for the sake of their careers (Hans Meyer, Mises's colleague in Austria, being the paradigm of this type), Mises always preferred the challenging, creative work-around to the easy, dishonest compromise.
That was also the principled approach Lew Rockwell took when, inspired by the examples of Mises and Murray Rothbard, he founded the Mises Institute. As Jeffrey Tucker explained in the speech mentioned above,
That's what the Mises Institute is about. We go outside official channels, and we try to make a difference. We've inherited this tradition.
The Mises Institute honors this inheritance in promoting unfiltered, unflinching Misesian science and all its proliberty implications by going outside official lecture channels with its Mises Universities and Mises Circles, by going outside official publishing channels with its web sites, books, and journals, and now by going outside official classroom channels with the Mises Academy. The Mises Academy does not offer credits that can be applied to a state-accredited school; what it does offer is real knowledge that can be applied to a state-afflicted world.
You see, we all share one unfortunate thing in common with Mises. We too live in a time of politicoeconomic madness. But we, like Mises, must never give in to disaster but strive ever more boldly against it. For, as Mises wrote in the concluding chapter of Socialism,
Society lives and acts only in individuals; it is nothing more than a certain attitude on their part. Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.
But, you might ask, how can "every man" take part in a "great historical struggle" that is fought with intellectual armaments? Isn't such combat a matter solely for the experts? — solely for those with PhDs? Although he was fully aware that creative geniuses like himself were few and far between, Mises would have none of that. As he wrote in Human Action,
Economics must not be … left to esoteric circles. It is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man's human existence.
There is no means by which anyone can evade his personal responsibility. Whoever neglects to examine to the best of his abilities all the problems involved voluntarily surrenders his birthright to a self-appointed elite of supermen. In such vital matters blind reliance upon "experts" and uncritical acceptance of popular catchwords and prejudices is tantamount to the abandonment of self-determination and to yielding to other people's domination. As conditions are today, nothing can be more important to every intelligent man than economics. His own fate and that of his progeny is at stake.
Very few are capable of contributing any consequential idea to the body of economic thought. But all reasonable men are called upon to familiarize themselves with the teachings of economics. This is, in our age, the primary civic duty.
Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that economics cannot remain an esoteric branch of knowledge accessible only to small groups of scholars and specialists. Economics deals with society's fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen.
In the two passages quoted above, Mises packed an entire manifesto into 19 sentences: a general call to intellectual arms one might call the "Misesian injunction."
The Mises Institute, more than any other organization, has heeded the Misesian injunction by taking what has sneeringly been called a "populist" approach, but which would be more accurately characterized as public education in the best sense of that term.
The Mises Academy was a natural next stage in the Mises Institute's pedagogical mission. We already had the online, openly available literature (and other media) to fill out a world-class syllabus, thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Tucker and his editing and development team. We already had the expert teachers, thanks to the educational groundwork provided years ago by Murray Rothbard and his students. We already had the growing throng of potential students, largely thanks to Ron Paul's efforts. And we already had the communicative catalyst of the Internet at hand, finally powered with the technology to make an all-online course effective. The Mises Academy brought these four reactants together, and the result has been powerful and brilliant.
Originally published at Mises.org.