Skip to main content
Log in

Left luggage: finding the relevant context of Austrian Economics

  • Published:
The Review of Austrian Economics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Recently a number of scholars, including Tony Judt and Corey Robin, have attempted to discredit Austrian economics by emphasizing the (cultural) distance between the context in which the Austrians made their contributions and our current society. This article argues that the cultural and social context is indeed relevant for how we understand the contribution of the Austrians, but that the critics fundamentally misunderstand or misrepresent the Austrian and Habsburg context. It is argued that the relevant context, particularly for the interwar contributions of Mises, Schumpeter, Hayek and Popper is the despair about the breakdown of their civilization, which includes the rise of mass political movements such as socialism and fascism. It is only against this background that we can understand the intent of their work, and the problems which they sought to address. It is further argued, in contrast with earlier work which has tended to emphasize the philosophical and methodological context in which they operated, that this cultural and social context is at least as relevant to understand the meaning of their work.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. He does make such allusions: ‘Nietzsche children’, ‘the long shadow he [Nietzsche] cast over the Viennese avant-garde’, but in his restatement opts for the more indirect ‘elective affinity’ (Robin 2013a; 2013b).

  2. See also the articles on the relation between the NFP and the liberal bourgeois (Brix 1998) and the relation between the Austrian school of economics and the NFP (Leube 1998).

  3. Carl Menger wrote for a variety of liberal Austrian newspapers, before becoming professor at the university and tutor to the Crown Prince.

  4. Translation by Joachim Neugroschel.

  5. Many of these thmes are further developed in Hayek’s ‘The Trend in Economic Thinking’ (1933).

  6. There is in fact a more direct lineage from Nietzsche concept of the Übermensch through the work of Wieser to Schumpeter’s notion of the entrepreneur (see also Reinert & Reinert 2006). That lineage however is quite distinct from the more general analysis of the power of ideas as developed by the Austrians.

  7. It is in this sense that the project of the Austrian economists has much in common with Karl Polanyi’s ‘Great Transformation’ (1945). Its original title makes this even more clear ‘Origins of our Time’.

  8. The Ordo-liberals in Germany, too, are convinced that this type of determinism or fatalism is the most important intellectual enemy (Böhm et al. 1936/89).

  9. See the introductions to ‘The Road to Serfdom’ (“One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers”) and ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’ (“we may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets”).

  10. Hayek has at other times criticized Mises for his rationalism, and indeed in the same book ‘Socialism’ one can find statements which suggest that cultural norms were designed by human beings: “Human society is an issue of the mind. Social co-operation must first be conceived, then willed, then realized in action” (Mises 1922/51: 509). See also the foreword by Hayek to the Liberty Fund re-issue of Mises’s Socialism (von Hayek 1981).

  11. The Weberian-Austrian approach suggested by Boettke and Storr (2002) is in line with this broader notion of understanding approach.

  12. The causes for this are multifold and too complex to examine here. Reisch examines some of them for the reception of the Vienna Circle in Cold-War America (Reisch 2005).


  • Alter, M. (1990). Carl Menger and the Origins of Austrian economics. Boulder: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boettke, P. J., & Storr, V. (2002). Post-classical political economy: polity, society and economy in weber, mises and hayek. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 61(1), 161–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Böhm, F., Eucken, W., & Grossmann-Doerth, H. (1936/89). The Ordo Manifesto of 1936. In A. Peacock & H. Wilgerodt (Eds.), Germany’s Social Market Economy (pp. 15–26). London: Trade Policy Research Centre.

  • Brix, E. (1998). Ein Fenster nach Europa: Die Neue Freie Presse als Zeitung des liberalen Bürgertums. In J. Kainz & A. Unterberger (Eds.), Ein Stück Oesterreich (pp. 54–60). Wien: Holzhausen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Caldwell, B. (2004). Hayek’s Challenge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coen, D. R. (2007). Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Collins, R. (1998). The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crankshaw, E. (1938). Vienna: The Image of a Culture in Decline. London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dekker, E. (2014). The Viennese students of Civilization: Humility, Culture and Economics in Interwar Vienna and. Beyond: Erasmus University Rotterdam.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dekker, E. (forthcoming). Vienna Circles: Cultivating Economic Knowledge outside Academia. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics.

  • Francis, M. (1985). Introduction. In M. Francis (Ed.), The Viennese Enlightenment (pp. 1–14). Kent: Croom Helm.

    Google Scholar 

  • Franz, G. (1955). Liberalismus: Die deutschliberale Bewegung in der habsburgischen Monarchie. München: G.D.W. Callwey.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its Discontents. London: Hogarth Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hayek, F. A. (1933). The Trend of Economic Thinking. Economica, 40, 121–137.

  • Hayek, F. A. (1937). Economics and Knowledge. Economica, 4(13), 33–54.

  • Hayek, F. A. (1939). Freedom and the Economic System. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Hayek, F. A. (1944). The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

  • Hayek, F. A. (1945). The Use of Knowledge in Society. The American Economic Review, 35(4), 519–530.

  • von Hayek, F. A. (1952). The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason. Glencoe: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • von Hayek, F. A. (1960). The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hayek, F. A. von. (1947/67). Opening Address to a Conference at Mont Pèlerin. In Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (p. 148–159), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • von Hayek, F. A. (1979). Interviews with Hayek.

    Google Scholar 

  • von Hayek, F. A. (1981). Foreword. In L. von Mises (Ed.), Socialism (pp. xix–xxiv). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

    Google Scholar 

  • von Hayek, F. A. (1982). Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 3: The Political Order of a Free People. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hennecke, H. J. (2000). Friedrich August von Hayek: Die Tradition der Freiheit. Düsseldorf: Verlag Wirtschaft und Finanzen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Homans, J. (2012). Tony Judt: A Final Victory. New York Review of Books.

  • Janik, A., & Toulmin, S. (1973). Wittgenstein’s Vienna. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnston, W. M. (1972). The Austrian Mind: An Intellectual and Social History, 1848–1938. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Judt, T. (2010). Ill Fares The Land. New York: Penguin Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leube, K. R. (1998). Nicht der Kapitalismus hat versagt…: Die österreichische Schule der Nationalökonomie. In J. Kainz & A. Unterberger (Eds.), Ein Stück Oesterreich (pp. 108–117). Wien: Holzhausen.

    Google Scholar 

  • McGrath, W. J. (1967). Student Radicalism in Vienna. Journal of Contemporary History, 2(3), 183–201.

    Google Scholar 

  • Menger, C. (1883/2009). Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences. Auburn: Mises Institute.

  • Mirowski, P. (2009). Postface: Defining Neoliberalism. In P. Mirowski & D. Plehwe (Eds.), The Road from Mont-Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (pp (pp. 417–455). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Mises, L. (1931). Die psychologischen Wurzeln des Widerstandes gegen die nationaloekonomische Theorie. Schriften Des Vereins Fuer Sozialpolitik, 183(1), 275–295.

  • Mises, L. (1922/1951). Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  • Mises, L. (1919/1983). Nation, State and Economy: Contributions to the Politics and History of Our Time. New York: New York University Press.

  • Nyiri, J. C. (1986). Intellectual Foundations of Austrian Liberalism. In W. Grassl & B. Smith (Eds.), Austrian Economics. London: Croom Helm.

    Google Scholar 

  • Plener, E. (1918). Erinnerungen - Bd. 2 Parlementarische tätigkeit 1873–1891. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.

  • Plickert, P. (2008). Wandlungen des Neoliberalismus: eine Studie zu Entwicklung und Ausstrahlung der Mont Pèlerin Society. Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polanyi, K. (1945). Origins of our Time: The Great Transformation. London: Victor Gollancz.

    Google Scholar 

  • Popper, K. R. (1945). The Open Society and its Enemies, volume 1: The Spell of Plato. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reinert, H., & Reinert, E. S. (2006). Creative Destruction in Economics: Nietzsche, Sombart, Schumpeter. In W. Drechsler & J. Backhaus (Eds.), Friedrich Nietzsche 1844–2000: Economy and Society (pp. 55–86). New York: Springer Science.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reisch, G. A. (2005). How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Robin, C. (2013a). Nietzsche, Hayek, and the Austrians: A Reply to My Critics.

    Google Scholar 

  • Robin, C. (2013b). Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roth, J. (1932/1996). The Radetzky March. New York: Everyman’s Library.

  • Schorske, C. E. (1980). Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and culture. New York: Alfred Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schumpeter, J. A. (1919/1954). The Crisis of The Tax State. In A. T. Peacock, W. F. Stolper, R. Turvey, & H. E (Eds.), International Economic Papers: Translations prepared for the International Economic Association 4 (p. 5–38). London: Macmillan.

  • Schumpeter, J. A. (1943/1976). Capitalism, socialism, and democracy. London: George Allen & Unwin.

  • Timms, E. (1986). Karl Kraus, apocalyptic satirist : culture and catastrophe in Habsburg Vienna. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Timms, E. (2005). Karl Kraus: Apocalyptic Satirist. The Post-War Crisis and the Rise of the Swastika. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vaughn, K. I. (1994). Austrian Economics in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wieser, F. von. (1907). Unsere gesellschaftliche und politische Entwicklung seit 1848, teil I. Neue Freie Presse, pp. 2–3. Vienna.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Erwin Dekker.

Additional information

This article draws upon the arguments developed in my Ph.D dissertation ‘The Viennese students of Civilization’ (Dekker 2014).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dekker, E. Left luggage: finding the relevant context of Austrian Economics. Rev Austrian Econ 29, 103–119 (2016).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Classification code