I’m glad that Geoffrey Lea expressed his misgivings about Richard Ebeling’s discussion of “the Remnant.” Even though I had read Richard’s essay carefully twice, I failed to comment on that part of his essay. But Geoffrey’s comment reminds me that I do have my own misgivings.

I shouldn’t blame Richard too much. I had misgivings in the 1970s, when I first read about Albert Jay Nock’s concept of the Remnant. As Nock himself admits in his famous 1936 essay, neither the “Remnant” nor the “masses” can be defined by class or station. Someone could be a bona fide member of the elite and still be a member of the masses; similarly, one could come from a humble background and be part of the Remnant. So even if one stuck to writing only for the Remnant, that would not mean that he or she should focus on a particular well-defined audience.

When he gets to his actual argument, Nock is essentially saying that we should not water down or compromise our thinking to appeal to the masses. I agree with that. Even if Nock didn’t intend it, though, thinking that one is producing ideas for the Remnant could lead one not to reach out to others. It could easily lead someone to isolate himself from all but those who already agree with him, whether they be fellow scholars or what might seem to be members of the “masses.” Fortunately, many members of the Austrian school have engaged in valuable outreach to people who might be mistaken for the “masses,” without compromising or watering down. In my view, Murray Rothbard is a case in point.

I do remember, though, the case of one prominent Austrian scholar who refused to reach out to a scholar who was not a member of the Austrian school. That Austrian scholar was Israel Kirzner. This might sound surprising, given my genuine praise of Kirzner in my first essay. But I distinctly remember a story he told the audience at either the South Royalton conference of 1974 or the Hartford conference of 1975.

Kirzner told of his excitement when hearing that Sir John Hicks, who had earlier won the Nobel Prize in economics, was writing an explicitly Austrian book. The 1973 book was titled Capital and Time: A Neo-Austrian Theory. Kirzner told of excitedly attending a session of the American Economic Association meetings in New York in 1973 at which Hicks was to present his “neo-Austrian” ideas. Kirzner said that after listening to Hicks present for a few minutes, he concluded that Hicks did not understand Austrian economics and he, Kirzner, got up and walked out before the session was over. When I heard Kirzner say that, I thought, “What a wasted opportunity!” It’s true that Hicks was not an Austrian. But a good-willed prominent economist, Hicks, who thinks he is doing Austrian economics is probably worth talking to. And who better to try to steer him in the right direction than the clear-thinking and normally patient Israel Kirzner.

This is from my second essay in the Liberty Fund series on the South Royalton Austrian Economics Conference, which was held in June 1974. The other contributions are on line also.

I’ll have comments on those in a day or two.