Celebrating Dr. Hans F. Sennholz on His 81st Birthday

An address to Grove City College
Grove City, Pennsylvania
February 3, 2003

Lawrence W. Reed delivered the following remarks on the Grove City campus on the occasion of the 81st birthday of Dr. Hans Sennholz, the eminent scholar of the "Austrian" school of economics under whom Reed studied.

Thank you for the honor of this opportunity to speak to the contributions of a truly great teacher, Dr. Hans F. Sennholz. His speaking and writing on behalf of liberty and free markets — voluminous in quantity and always insightful and inspirational in content — span more decades than I’ve been alive. His reputation is global, as are the current addresses of his numerous disciples. These are hallmarks and achievements well known to this audience. In the few minutes I have, I would like to offer some very personal reflections.

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It was in March 1971 that I first met and heard Dr. Sennholz speak — at a Young Americans for Freedom convention in East Brunswick, New Jersey. I was a 17-year-old high school senior who had already become enamored of freedom ideas but my plans were to attend the University of Pittsburgh beginning that fall. In spite of growing up in Beaver Falls, just an hour from here, I knew little about Grove City College.

I know that Dr. Sennholz remembers this because I’ve reminded him of it a few times over the years. I was so inspired by his speech that I cornered him afterwards and asked him, "If I can switch from Pitt to Grove City next year, will you still be there?" I was very concerned that I would transfer in and he would be off to someplace else. He assured me he’d stick around. Little did I know that I could have postponed my college education another generation and he’d still be here. After one semester at Pitt, I moved into Ketler Dormitory in January 1972 and over the course of the next three and a half years I signed up for every course he taught.

Like so many others, I came to Grove City College because of Hans Sennholz, and I can trace most of the hallmarks of my professional life to having done so.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to a teacher is what his students later do because of what he taught them. In this regard, Dr. Sennholz can be immensely proud of an enduring legacy. In all walks of life, thousands of Sennholz students are spreading the good word about liberty and free markets. Many are doing it from prominent platforms as economists, educators, and political leaders, and all of us have endless and wonderful memories of how inspired we were by the gold-plated tongue of our teacher with the German accent — an accent he once described in class as "worth its weight" in the very precious metal he taught us to respect as the world’s most reliable medium of exchange.

I’ll never forget an especially poignant Sennholzian moment. He had just held forth for 45 minutes with a spellbinding defense of free labor markets and a brilliant assault on compulsory unionism. With five minutes left in the class, a student — obviously not an economics major — raised his hand to ask a question. "Dr. Sennholz, what you say sounds appealing but the fact is, not many people think that way. So there’s got to be something wrong with what you’re saying." I recall thinking to myself, "This kid is about to find out what ‘blitzkrieg’ means."

One hundred students sat stone-faced and silent. You could almost hear Charlie Guiler drawing graphs on the chalkboard in the classroom across the hall. Then came the response — gentle but firm, and eminently quotable. "Truth," said Hans, "is not a numbers game. You can be alone and you can be right." Then a pause and the grand finale, "I may be alone, but I am right."

And of course he was. And he was also right about a lot of other things that at the time weren’t widely accepted as so. He was right about the big picture, the most paramount question of our age: Should economies be led by central planners or by the sovereign choices and decisions of free individuals? There was never a shred of doubt where Hans stood on that, and one of his greatest contributions as a teacher was to instill in his students a similar certitude on that question.

Hans always urged his econ majors to put their freedom philosophy to work in the teaching profession. He was fond of telling us that teachers don’t typically get rich but they can leave behind a better world. He used to say that we would have to choose between great wealth and immortality. I don’t know about his wealth, though I suspect he’s done just fine in that department with the great knowledge of economics he has and with Mary’s sage advice and counsel along the way. But I know that when it comes to immortality, Hans Sennholz has it by the bushel.

Happy Birthday, Hans, and thank you for all that you’ve done for me as one individual, for the thousands fortunate to sit at your feet, for this great college we all love, and for the cause of liberty we hold so dear.

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(Mackinac Center president Lawrence W. Reed graduated from Pennsylvania’s Grove City College in 1975. More information about Grove City College can be found on the college’s Web site, www.gcc.edu. Dr. Sennholz also maintains a Web site, www.sennholz.com. More on Austrian economics can be found on the Web site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, www.mises.org.)