The Austrian Economic Center’s and Hayek Institut’s very first Carl Menger Walk took place on 3 November 2021 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Menger’s Principles of Economics and to mark the 100th anniversary of Menger’s death. The Walk was all the more significant given the noticeable lack of public monuments celebrating Menger’s life and work.
Scott B. Nelson led a group of participants of the 10th Austrian Economics Conference from all over the world around the central landmarks of Vienna associated with Menger. As Menger’s life revolved around academia and research, the tour group began in the Arkadenhof of the University of Vienna, where there are plaques to Menger and his intellectual descendants, Böhm-Bawerk and Wieser, as well as lesser known plaques to his younger brother Anton and his Habilitation supervisor Lorenz von Stein.
From there they proceeded to the flat at Schottenbastei 7 where Menger and his younger brother lived in the late 1860s, when Menger was preparing his notes on what would later become his magnum opus. The location, now a school, is appropriately located right across from the Juridicum (Menger’s studies were originally in law) and around the corner from the Japanese Embassy (following his death, Menger’s massive 20,000-volume library was sold to Hitotsubashi University in Japan, where it remains today).
Café Landtmann was the next stop. Café culture was the lifeblood of intellectual exchange in late nineteenth century Vienna, and Menger partook of it as did all luminaries of the time. Landtmann was the site of an amusing argument in 1918 between Joseph Schumpeter and Max Weber, an exchange reminiscent of the Methodenstreit a few decades prior. It is insufficiently appreciated that Menger, for all of his clarity and academic precision, also had an admirable wit and incisive writing style that is on full display in his contributions to the Methodenstreit.
The group next stopped at Heldenplatz, a spot laden with historical significance. Nelson gave an overview of the liberalism of the 19th century Habsburg Empire before discussing the architectural significance of the buildings along the Ringstraße and the Ringstraße itself. Representative as it is of the Empire’s efforts to liberalize, the Ringstraße replaced the old city walls that stood for warfare and the old aristocratic martial virtues. Instead, the Empire sought to modernize and embrace the new bourgeois virtues, emphasizing thrift, industry, innovation, motion, commerce, and efficiency. This world, perched between aristocracy and bourgeoisie, is the world that Menger made his name in.
Moving deeper into the world of aristocracy, the group stopped at the inner courtyard of the Hofburg Palace. Menger’s most famous student was the Crown Prince Rudolf of Habsburg, whom he taught from 1876 to 1878. They developed a close relationship and corresponded for years thereafter until Rudolf’s tragic death at Mayerling in 1889.
From the world of quiet aristocracy to the bustling streets of Vienna: Kohlmarkt 2 – now a Burberry shop – was one of the editorial offices of the Wiener Tagblatt, a newspaper founded by Menger in 1865. While Menger had no problems conversing with nobles – he himself was Carl Menger von Wolfensgrün until he and his brothers decided to give up the title – he was a bourgeois at heart. “A truly democratic paper for the masses”, his newspaper may have lasted for only a year, but it managed in that short time to surpass many of the other long established Viennese newspapers. Much like with his teaching, Menger’s newspaper was meant to educate people in the firm Enlightenment-inspired conviction that all people are capable of learning.
The Austrian Academy of Sciences (Doktor-Ignaz-Seipel-Platz 2) houses a giant painting of Böhm-Bawerk presiding over a committee. An aged Menger is in attendance. Böhm-Bawerk was President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences at the time and had also been Finance Minister three times in his life. He essentially ended up doing what Menger thought proper economic theory was for: he was applying it to political economy.
A couple of minutes away from the Austrian Academy of Sciences is the Hayek Institut on the Grünangergasse. A few steps away from another office for Menger’s newspaper, Mises’ apartment, and the Ancora Verde, where Mises, Hayek, and many others regularly met, the Hayek Institut today is the nexus of the Austrian School and its legacy. According to Hayek, Menger once said that the man who is able to say that if he had seven sons, they should all study economics, must have been extraordinarily happy in his work. As fate would have it, Menger gave birth to an entire school that spans the globe. He must be very happy indeed. For the 10th annual Austrian Economics Conference gathered guests from all over the world – all children of Dr. Carl Menger.
Scott B. Nelson is Research and Strategy Advisor at the Austrian Economics Center and Hayek Institut. He lectures on politics and philosophy and publishes books, scholarly articles, and commentary. His last book is Tragedy and History: The German Influence on Raymond Aron’s Political Thought. His next book is on Cicero and prudence in politics.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.