“Jeffrey, this is Murray. Murray Rothbard.”

By: Jeffrey M. Herbener

I was sitting in my office at Washington and Jefferson College chatting with my department chairman, Felix Livingston. It was late spring of 1988. When the phone rang, Felix motioned for me to take the call. “Hello, this is Jeff Herbener.” “Jeffrey this is Murray, Murray Rothbard.” “Dr. Rothbard…” As soon as the words left my mouth, Felix stood up, nodded his head approvingly and left me to my conversation. Murray asked me about my background, what I had been reading, and projects I was working on. Then, to my surprise, he invited me to lecture at the upcoming Mises seminar in Advanced Austrian Economics at Stanford. He wanted me to deliver the lectures designed for William Hutt, who had taken ill and regrettably passed away on June 19 six days before the conference began. Although I had been reading into the Austrian literature for a few years, I wasn’t familiar with Hutt’s work yet or his lecture topics, such as labor economics, especially at an advanced level. With just a few weeks to go before the conference, I thought it ill-advised to accept. I figured that when I refused his invitation, our conversation would end. Instead, without missing a beat, he invited me to lecture at the Introduction to Austrian Economics seminar at Dartmouth in August. I was both surprised and delighted to accept his gracious second offer.

The conference opened with a social event the evening before classes began. I met and talked with other faculty members, David Gordon, Hans Hoppe, Roger Garrison and, of course, the founder and president of the Mises Institute, Lew Rockwell. But, I couldn’t get close to Murray, who was continuously surrounded by a flock of students and supporters. Without a doubt, he was the most gregarious person I had ever known. It was amazing to see how effective he was in interacting with everyone. Never a question too basic or advanced, never a student too timid or aggressive, never monologuing, never overbearing, never flagging, Murray was truly remarkable. He left others better than he found them.

Murray gave a spellbinding lecture to open the conference and an inspirational talk to end it. His lectures were bristling with insights and delivered winsomely. Meanwhile, I had prepared a lecture on the wrong topic. I was assigned to talk about the history of thought on capital theory. Mistakenly, I thought my lecture was on the theory of capital, a topic which had been assigned to Roger. He, manfully, saved my bacon by lecturing on my topic instead of the one he had prepared. Later that day, I was walking on the campus with David and Murray and they both graciously complimented me on my lecture never mentioning that I nearly derailed the train. Despite my blunder, Murray invited me back to the next Mises University.

My favorite moment at the conference was during a Q&A session. All students and faculty were convened in a large lecture hall. A student stood up with a question which he prefaced with “my question is for anyone on the faculty panel who is not an anarcho-capitalist.” After a few moments of silence, it was clear that none of us qualified to field his question. Murray broke the silence with a brief cackle. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to detect a sense of satisfaction in his outburst.

Murray’s writings will continue to make a deep impression on generations to come. For those of us who were privileged to know him, he has blessed us further with a gift of personal inspiration. 

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