He was born in 1881 in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire into a bourgeois Jewish family. He developed his extraordinary scholarship in a Vienna gymnasium (high school) and then attended the University of Vienna, eventually attaining a PhD. His great intellectual potential began to flower before World War I, but was put on hold during the war. When peace returned, despite the great hardships and problems in his native Austria, he became an internationally known and respected intellectual. But by 1934, in anticipation of the coming violence of National Socialism, he left Austria and eventually Europe for the rest of his life.
LRC readers will likely recognize this brief biographical description of Ludwig von Mises. But it also applies to the writer Stefan Zweig. These similarities, and the important differences, make Zweig’s memoirs, The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European, interesting for a follower of the Austrian School of Economics. In this essay, quoting profusely, I present the aspects from Zweig’s The World of Yesterday that I think might illuminate the environment that nurtured Mises and introduce Zweig’s libertarian thought.
The World of Yesterday
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Zweig and Mises lived in a wonderful place at a wonderful time, Vienna before the Great War.
The Romans had laid the foundation stones of that city as a castrum, a far-flung outpost to protect Latin civilization from the barbarians, and over a thousand years later the Ottoman attack on the West was repelled outside the walls of Vienna. The Nibelungs had come here, the immortal Pleiades of music shone down on the world from this city, Gluck, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann…