Ralph Raico, RIP
Historian Ralph Raico passed away yesterday. David has already shared some memories, let me share mine too. I met Ralph first when I was 18. A sweet, grumpy man, he was a very serious scholar and a magnificent teacher.
I first met Ralph when he visited Italy, on the invitation of my mentors and friends Marco Bassani and Carlo Lottieri, to take part in an ambitious two day conference on classical liberalism (the proceedings, which include his speech, are available here). Marco then drove Ralph, and Hans Hoppe, who was likewise participating in the conference, to Lake Como, where I lived with my family. We had dinner together. I don’t quite remember when and why this happened, but I have a clear recollection of Ralph familiarising with my dog, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ralph didn’t particularly approve of the name). Ever since, whenever I bumped into Ralph, I always had to answer his questions on my mother’s health, and Obi’s too.
I had the pleasure of being in touch with Ralph from time to time, to hear his stories on the early years of the postwar libertarian movement, and, most importantly, to listen to his lectures.
The story of Raico and his pal George Reisman meeting Ludwig von Mises for the first time is particularly amusing.
In the words of Guido Hulsmann,
Raico and Reisman were both fifteen years old. They had been reading The Freeman for a year or two and had also read some of Mises’s books. Inspired, they had established the “Cobden Club,” an organization of right-wing students to fight the good fight. One day they decided to pay their hero a visit and came up with the ruse of presenting themselves as salesmen.
Apparently, Raico and Reisman (fifteen year old guys who had read Human Action already!) knocked at his door and asked the great man if he wanted a subscription to Freeman, thinking that he would warm up to their youth and commitment. Mises replied that he already had a subscription and shot the door. Later a proper meeting was arranged for the two wonder boys by FEE.
Ralph later translated Mises’s Liberalism into English. When he was a PhD student under Hayek at the Committee on Social Thought in Chicago, he edited the New Individualist Review. In that short lived, yet impressive journal, many important articles were housed: from George Stigler’s The Intellectual and the Marketplace to Ronald Hamowy’s perceptive critique of Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty and a piece by Bruno Leoni on “consumer sovereignty”. In its preface to the Liberty Fund reprint, Milton Friedman commented that the New Individualist Review “sets an intellectual standard that has not yet, I believe, been matched by any of the more recent publications in the same philosophical tradition”.
Friedman also noted that the journal was highly indebted to two events, one local and one national. The local one was the fact that Hayek moved to Chicago, to work at the Committee on Social Thought. The national one was the Vietnam War.
Conspicuously, the journal published a special issue on the draft, which included essays by Milton Friedman and Walter Oi, and reconnected the opposition to the draft to the great libertarian anti-militarist tradition.Opposition to imperialism was at the root of Ralph’s commitment to classical liberalism, very much in the tradition of Richard Cobden.
Ralph Raico has written quite a few essays (some are available here), though not as many as all who knew him wished he wrote, and a book on German liberalism. He was a splendid lecturer. I remember listening to him rehearsing the lecture that became also this article on Keynes. I couldn’t find a recording online. The text, however, may suffice to provide you with a glimpse of Ralph Raico’s scholarship, passion, and profound commitment to individual liberty.