Re: In Memory: Hans F. Sennholz, February 3, 1922–June 23, 2007

Terry’s post on the late, great Hans Sennholz gives a good example of the influence he had on students at Grove City College. It also reminds me of the — somewhat humorous — account of Sennholz’s tenure at Grove City in Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism (which I recently finished reading):

Sennholz, after a year teaching at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, had impressed FEE [Foundation for Economic Education] J. Howard Pew, who in 1956 granted him chairmanship of the Economics department at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, of which Pew was a chairman of the baord and a major funder.

“I’d go to Mises and complain of being stuck in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania,” Sennholz recalls. “When I’d express my unhappiness, he always told me, ‘Be Happy, be satisfied. there is only one position in the United States where we are wanted, and you got it.”

While Sennholz made no great theoretical of scholarly contributions to the Austrian cause, he was the teacher who directly influenced the largest number of students toward a passion for Austrian economics and libertarianism, and the connection between the two. Many dozens of them have some role in libertarian or conservative activism or promotion or scholarship now. Most who dealt with him have a Hans Sennholz story to tell, often with a head-shaking combination of admiration and exasperation. One former student, who now works for a libertarian legal defense foundation, recalls how his students often asked Sennholz why, with his strongly held political views and obvious love of expounding upon them, he never chose to run for office. “Oh sure,” he would say in his thick German accent,  “I can see some United States vetaran with an injured or missing arm come to me at a speech crying, ‘Did you do this? Did you do this?!”

Peter Boettke, an Austrian economics professor at George Mason University and editor of the most thorough guidebook to modern Austrian economics, The Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics, was a Sennholz student almost by accident (all Boettke realy cared about was basketball), but Sennholz’s fervor changed his life.

“Sennholz could get you hyped up on your ability to walk through fire for the truth,” Boettke remembers. “He doesn’t reach you with the rechnical aspects, but with the ideological aspects. Sennholz explained the welfare state as this giant circle with all of our hands in our neighbors’ pockets. this lecture was 15 years ago and I can still remember it. How many people with one lecture 15 years ago can make you still remember that lecture? That’s the kind of guy Sennholz is.”

It makes me wish I’d known him.