July 04, 2003

Rothbard and Hayek: A Personal Memory

Ronald Hamowy shares his memories of the two men:

Everyone familiar with Rothbard’s writings is aware that he wrote a truly prodigious amount. What is not as well known is that he seems to have totally mastered the literature in those fields in which he had an interest. He had a vast library and unlike the books in my own library, all of Murray’s books had been read, and read with care. All one need do is scan a book out of Murray’s library and he will find marginal comments in Murray’s hands scribbled on each page ("Bull____!," "Ugh!" "Right on!", etc.) and that almost every line on every page was underlined. One of the great mysteries for all who knew him, at least at the outset, was where on earth he found the time to turn out the dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and literally thousands of letters he wrote and on top of it to read so much. In addition to have written a massive amount he seemed to have read everything that came within his grasp, newspapers, magazines, journals, newsletters, even flyers and advertisers.


During the many years I knew Hayek I recall only one occasion when I saw him really angry. In occurred soon after the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, who was killed in a plane crash in the Congo in September 1961 while attempting to bring some order to the chaotic situation that obtained there. Hammarskjöld, an economist by training, was, like Hayek, particularly interested in business cycles. Indeed, his doctoral dissertation at the University of Uppsala had been on that topic. Unlike Hayek, however, he was a firm adherent of planned economies and of the need for government intervention in the market. Despite the ideological differences that separated them, however, Hayek and he became and remained quite friendly.

Soon after Hammarskjöld’s death, William Buckley, in some comments attacking Hammarskjöld that appeared, I seem to recall, in the pages of National Review had maintained that Hammarskjöld had been a less than honest man and had suggested that he cheated at cards - the phrase "had an ace up his sleeve" comes to mind. This attack on Hammarskjöld’s personal integrity so infuriated Hayek that he wrote a blistering letter to Buckley denouncing his maliciousness and asking that National Review stop sending him future issues of the magazine. Buckley responded to Hayek’s letter, regretting Hayek’s reaction and pointing out that the characterization was only "un jeu de mot," but it made no difference to Hayek, whom, I believe, remained only on the most formal terms with Buckley for the rest of his life.