Mark Lilla has written a review of Robin’s book in The New York Review of Books, but his criticism of Robin as an über-lumper (for Robin lumps monarchists like Burke with democratic liberals like Ludwig von Mises) does not go far enough. Robin’s scholarship is weak. He tends to rely on secondary sources, and he does not appear to grasp some of his primary sources. Like most academics, he has no grasp of the ideas of the Austrian School of Economics led by von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek. As well, he is unaware of von Mises’s biography: The Nazis drove him from Austria. Despite his status as a leading economist, he was refused a tenured job in America because he did not conform to the social democratic ideology that dominated universities in the 1950s. More offensively, Robin calls both von Mises and Werner Sombart conservatives. Sombart was the Nazi sympathizer who wrote the letter evicting Mises from the German Sociological Society because von Mises was a Jew.
Upon reading Robin’s thesis that conservatism amounts to a defense of those in power, I immediately thought of Sombart, and sure enough, on page 35 he makes the implicit claim that Sombart was a conservative. In fact, Sombart was the first Marxist academic. In his book Value-Free Science? Robert N. Procter outlines Sombart’s career. By the 1890s, when he was in his thirties, Sombart had introduced Marxism as a form of value-free analysis. Friedrich Engels said that Sombart appreciated Marx better than any other academic. By the 1920s Sombart’s book on socialism had gone into its tenth edition. But by the early 1900s Sombart’s socialism had become increasingly nationalistic. In 1911 he attributed capitalism to Jewish usury. Robin lumps Sombart with von Mises, a pro-capitalist Jew.
Equally puzzling is his association of National Socialism with Rand’s, von Mises’s, and von Hayek’s liberalism. Hitler said this in a speech on February 24, 1941: “For we (sic), the poor, have abolished unemployment because we no longer pay homage to this madness, because we regard our entire economic existence as a production problem and no longer as a capitalistic problem.” Could Hitler have conceivably been an ally of von Mises or Rand? Robin claims so. Robin’s argument that Rand was sympathetic to the Nazis because she valued heroism is ridiculous. Robin’s work is not scholarship. It is not even a caricature of scholarship.
I attended the second session of the Wolfe Institute’s Robin colloquium. Besides Viscusi, Chopra, and their two graduate assistants, for half the discussion I was the only professor present. I raised these points. Viscusi was, in fact, sympathetic. I wonder how much of political correctness depends on simple misinformation. Midway through the discussion, Professor Andrew Arlig joined us. Arlig is one of the few other libertarians at Brooklyn College. The discussion was collegial; nevertheless, Robin’s book is an embarrassment to the Wolfe Institute and to the college. The colloquium amounted to a whimper rather than a bang.
Mitchell Langbert is Associate Professor of Business at the Brooklyn College School of Business.
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