Ludwig von Mises and Dietrich von Hildebrand: some remarkable parallels

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Author: Robert Higgs
Date: Winter 2016
From: Independent Review(Vol. 20, Issue 3)
Publisher: Independent Institute
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,286 words
Lexile Measure: 1330L

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According to Herbert J. Cans, "Between 1933 and 1941 approximately 7,600 refugee professionals--scholars, artists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.--came to the United States from Germany, Austria, and other parts of Hitler's Europe" (1953, 394). This group included many important and highly influential thinkers in a wide variety of fields, including such well-known figures as Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Szilard, Leo Strauss, Paul Lazarsfeld, John von Newmann, Erich Fromm, and Karen Horney (Jay 1970; Coser 1984; McClay 1994).

For economists of the Austrian School, the most famous member of this "intellectual migration" (Bailyn and Fleming 1970) was Ludwig von Mises, whose hair-raising escape from Europe, one step ahead of apprehension by the Nazis in 1940, has been recounted by several writers (see especially Hiilsmann 2007, 746-57).

Another of the intellectual migrants, seemingly a person altogether different from Mises, was Dietrich von Hildebrand, a famous Catholic theologian and philosopher. While reading recently about Hildebrand, however, I was struck by the many parallels between him and Mises. No doubt other migrants might be found who also shared similar parallels, so I am not suggesting that the occurrence of such parallels in this case is as unlikely as being struck by lightning. Nevertheless, they seem extraordinary to me.

The two men's life spans overlapped to a high degree. Mises was born in 1881 and died in 1973; Hildebrand was born in 1889 and died in 1977. Although Hildebrand was the son of a famous German sculptor, Adolf von Hildebrand, and a German mother, Irene Schauffelen, he was born and reared in Florence. He later studied under leading German philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Max Scheler, and Adolf Reinach, and he taught philosophy for many years at the University of Munich.

Mises, in contrast, was an ethnic Jew, born in Lemberg, Galicia, in the outer reaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the city is now called L'viv and located in Ukraine). He was educated at...

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