[Editors note: Recently the Mises Institute received a box of documents belonging to Murray Rothbard from our friend Justin Raimondo. We will make new material available online as we work through the collection. The following is an autobiographical essay written while Murray was still a high school student. Fans of Rothbard will not only appreciate some of the personal details about his parents and upbringing, but also how his formative years clearly influenced his later work, including his critiques of public education. He also offers some of his political views he held during World War II, long before he became “Mr. Libertarian.”]
My Parents and Their Influence
In order to understand the magnitude of the influence exerted on me by my parents, it is necessary to learn something of their character and background.
My father has a very interesting and complex character, combined with a vivid background. Born near Warsaw, in Poland, he was brought up in an environment of orthodox and often fanatical Jews who isolated themselves from the Poles around them, and steeped themselves and their children in Hebrew lore. As is common with lower middle class families, there were some people who were eager to better their lot and acquire culture and western civilization. One example was my grandmother, whose ambition was confined primarily to her children, whom she imbued with her own unfulfilled cravings.
When my father immigrated to the United States, at the age of seventeen, he had only this spirit to urged him forward. He had a great handicap in that he did not know any established language, since he had spoken only Jewish in Poland. The isolation of the Jews precluded any possibility of their learning the Polish tongue. In addition, my father has little talent for languages, Despite these obstacles, he broke away from old nationalistic ties, and through sheer will and force of character, he has obtained an extensive knowledge of the English language, has no trace of an accent, and displays a vocabulary that would shame many native Americans. Furthermore, he has by dint of ability and perseverance, risen from an impoverished immigrant to a citizen of merit and responsibility. From the very moment he set foot in America he has been imbued with an intense love of this country, and feels a lasting gratitude for the opportunities and privileges accorded to him. This intense reverence for America and all it stands for sometimes tends toward an extreme nationalistic spirit.
My mother’s background, though different, is just as colorful. Her family abounded in the traditions and characteristics of the old Russian aristocracy. My grandmother’s family, especially, had reached the highest pinnacle that the Jews in Czarist Russia could have achieved, One ancestor founded the railroads in Russia, one was a brilliant lawyer, another was a prominent international banker; in short, my mother’s family was raised in luxury and wealth, My grandfather, even though lower in the Russian social ladder, was still respected and beloved as a, member of the upper middle class. Unfortunately, the kindness of his heart was his undoing, and he lost nearly everything due to his lack of business sense, and to the fact that he persistently gave away large sums of money, sometimes neglecting his family’s interest. Finally, my mother’s family was forced to immigrate to America.
For my mother it was a climactic change. She had been brought up without any necessity of facing the realities of life, and consequently she shut herself up in a dream world of books and literature, much as Keats had escaped to a dream world of beauty. Both my parents have always had a profound admiration and great powers of analysis of literature, and my intense interest in books very likely is an inherited trait; although my parents encouraged it in my childhood.
Unfortunately, the literature which influenced my mother to the greatest extent was Russian literature. To this day she has an extensive knowledge of Russian writings. This literature is morbid and depressing, and preaches a type of negative idealism, which encouraged my mother’s dream world.
As I said, the new situation was drastic for my mother. She suddenly came face to face with reality. Here was a test for the adaptability which is very necessary for an immigrant. My mother met this test well, but she did not conquer it completely, as in my father’s case. She managed to find occupation and to become accustomed to American life, but she has never fully understood or known American customs and beliefs. She is still bound to Russia and its mode of life by strong ties.
The reason for this lack of complete adaptability was largely emotional and physical. She loved teaching and its ideals dearly. Her great thirst for knowledge, however, over-taxed her limited stamina, and she was forced to give up her lofty aims, and even to lose literature, in a sense, since her resulting poor memory caused her to lose the enjoyment of books.
Consequently, she came to the United States in a despairing mood, her ambition crushed, and adopted an attitude of bitter resignation. Thus, the spark of ambition which is primary for the adaptability of an immigrant was missing.
It is truly remarkable, and immensely fortunate from my standpoint, that my parents possess intelligence and profundity of character to a great extent. One of the traits and interests which I have learned directly from my parents is an ability and intellectual pleasure in analyzing people, including myself. Very often my parents and I have long talks, where I present my analyses of different people, after which both my parents add their own comments. They have taken great care, however, although encouraging me to analyze character, not to present their opinions before mine, and so to unduly influence my judgment, Many times I frankly analyze both myself and my parents, and these efforts are always met with interest and understanding.
The moments of my life that afford me the greatest enjoyment and instruction are the long discussions which I frequently have with my parents, The mutual understanding is so strong as to be ever silently present, a mute god seen appreciatively by us all. The relationship between my parents and myself has been a constant source of wonder and admiration for me, They are a brother and sister to whom I can always come for guidance and sympathy, which are backed by tender devotion, a keen insight, and intelligence. A statement made by a waiter in the hotel where I was staying this summer all-1ays comes forcibly back to me. “Gee!” he said. “You and your father are like brothers aren’t you?” I could only nod my head in silent approval.
The discussions include every valuable topic, philosophy, literature, politics, and character analyses and self-analysis, which are a source of inspiration to all of us. Our tastes in books vary widely, and offer interesting topics for debates. I prefer American and English writers almost exclusively, but I am resolved to concentrate more on Continental literature in order to widen my scope. My mother is mainly interested in Russian writers; whereas my father has universal taste, with stress laid on English and Continental authors. To show an example of my parents’ liberalism and openmindedness, in recent years I have influenced them more than they have influenced me, opening new vistas of modern American and English writings, Specifically, my father and I have become extremely interested in John Buchan, and we have both decided to read as many of his works as possible.
My father’s mind is precise, analytical, and scientific; though he is emotional, he shuns an excess of emotionalism, Because of this paradox, he has been unwilling to read poetry, despite my persistent efforts.
When the family discussion turn to politics, my father and I take the lead, since my mother is not sufficiently interested in the subject to discuss it eagerly, and, I must confess, sometimes heatedly. My father went through all political stages in his life. According to Clemanceau’s definition, my father has both a head and a heart. Said the Old Tiger, “A man who is not a radical at twenty has no heart; he who is one at thirty has no head.” My father was a radical at twenty, but he was quick to profit by his folly, strange as it appears, I always attempt to gauge my beliefs and actions by his experience, I think it is one of the cardinal faults of youth that it never profits by the experience of others. At any rate, my father taught me the intricacies of politics without prejudice, at least as without prejudice as politics could ever hope to be. However, when I became mature enough to form my own conclusions, I was not too much surprised to find that I agreed with my father on basic political principles.
Sometimes, in my opinion, my father becomes a little imperialistic. However, my father would scorn that statement since he dislikes political labels. “Labels,” he has often said to me, “mean nothing. They are only an inept means of classification, used by unintelligent people.” Radicals use them almost exclusively, classifying people as “liberals; conservatives, reactionaries, Communists; or Fascists.” They conveniently leave no room for plain Americans, or people who believe in democracy. My father, contrary to the bigoted opinion of many unintelligent people with whom we come in contact, believes in progress and change. Change must be slow, however, or else our delicate system of free enterprise will be hurt. “There are no people who do not believe in change,” said my father once,” the only difference between them is the rate of change in which they believe,” Given a due amount of reflection, that statement appears clearly and surprisingly true.
Our attitude toward socialism is a common one. A belief in free enterprise is a basic one with my father, and has remained with me ever since I have formed ·a political philosophy. There can be no progress under a socialistic system. Under it, all incentive is lost, and initiative is: destroyed, as a result of the loss or competition. The “oh, I can always work for the government” theory will be all-pervading, and the United States which depends on growth will become stagnant. In addition, socialism inevitably leads to a great concentration of power in the government, which leads irretrievably to totalitarianism, Probably the man in America who has come nearest to representing my political beliefs is Wendell Willkie.
My parents’ disbelief in religious customs and traditions stems partly from reaction to the religious fanaticism of Old World Jews, and partly from an intelligent outlook, which if it does not deny the existence of a Deity, repudiates out-worn traditions. Antique customs are acceptable only to fanatics or people who never stop to think and examine their beliefs. Thus, I was brought up with only rare entrances to temples or synagogues and with no adherence to orthodox customs. My: mother’s parents, who are steeped in European traditions, are orthodox, but my frequent first-hand observations of their adherence to religious traditions does not cause me to change my non-religious views. Consequently, in my religious beliefs, I am a mixture of an agnostic and a reform Jew. I do not think that the human race can determine whether or not there is a Deity; certainly, if there is one, our prayers will not be more successful if we are governed by out-moded customs.
My father is the type of person who sets a goal for himself and never ceases until he reaches that goal. When he has reached, it he always sets his energies on another objective. Thus, he can never be emotionally satisfied or content, as long as there are more fields to traverse, or more possible goals. People such as my father make progress possible. However, my father is unhappy because he has never been able to climb to the top in his field, or to make any lasting contribution to science or scientific progress. His greatest hope, and my mother’s too, is to see me reach the heights in any field which I choose. The hope that their child achieves more than themselves, is, I think, typical of parents. My parents, however, have confirmed their desires by action. They have spared no expense or sacrifice to give me all the advantages that I could require. I only hope that I will be capable of fulfilling their fondest dreams, and prove that all their sacrifices were not in vain.
My parents are firm believers in a liberal home education, and have always encouraged my persistent search for knowledge. I was a very inquisitive and inquiring child; if I saw anything which puzzled me, I didn’t rest until I had received a satisfactory answer. I pestered my parents unmercifully, but they were always on hand to answer my questions. While still in my infancy, I made my first acquaintance with literature. Well, it could hardly be called literature, but it opened undreamed-of horizons for me. I was looking at an oatmeal box and saw the letters H-O. My parents explained to me what they meant, and at the age of seventeen months I mastered the alphabet. From then on, I amazed my parents by composing endless lists of poems. I was so filled with the splendor of words that verses flew from lips. When horizons of books were opened to me, I formed an intense love of reading. I read avidly and continually, gradually acquiring a grasp of literature which was advanced for my years. For example, when I was five years old, I was using the dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica intelligently. My incessant reading finally resulted in impairing my eyesight.
At the age of five, I formed my first acquaintance with the beauties of nature. My father brought home one of his business associates, Mr. Larry LeJeune. Mr. Le Jeune had a wide knowledge of nature, but he was especially versed in the characteristics of every variety of tree. We took a walk through a park, and I listened in open-eyed awe and wonder to his enchanting description of the trees around us. These commonplace objects, which had appeared to be drab and uninteresting, took on a new aspect of greatness. It is true that I never developed as great an interest in nature, as in literature, but I always think of that walk, whenever I come upon a tree.
A series of accidents has bred in me a strong fear of high places. When yet an infant, I fell out of a second-story window, miraculously unhurt. A few years later I fell off a high chair, hitting my head against the wheel. In addition, I fell from a swing and a doctor’s table. All these events has resulted in a fear of heights, which is still great today. A “keep my feet on the ground” policy is literal in my case.
In my childhood, I was not much of a social success. I was always cowed and bullied by my playmates, until I finally took recourse in books. Each succeeding year this situation became more acute. At first it was a result of my natural shyness and timidity. At the delicate age of five, we moved to Staten Island, abounding in race prejudice, which added to my troubles. I was indifferent to kindergarten since I learned nothing new there, except the noble art of rope jumping, which seemed silly and ridiculous, although the other children took great delight in it. My social maladjustment persisted through public school.
A deep honesty and conscientiousness has always marked my school work. This trait is a manifestation of the inherent honesty of my character. My mother had a strong influence in its development. From my earliest days, my mother impressed me with the value of honesty. I remember how I was greatly shocked when I found that my mother had told a lie. Although I now realize that lies are sometimes necessary to spare someone’s feelings, I still cannot reconcile myself to this fact. Honesty, in its broader sense, involves conscientiousness to a large extent, I cannot recall a time, except in the case of absence, that I have handed in an assignment late, or failed to do extra work if I thought it necessary. When I am absent, I try to make up my work as quickly as possible. My parents were like that in school, also. They always strived for accomplishment in the best way that they knew.
The unhappiest period in my life was the time when I labored under the evils of a public school system. Since I was superior to the rest of the class, I was “skipped” with disconcerting rapidity. Skipping is basically unsound because the pupil misses the valuable intellectual and social foundations acquired in the lower grades. In addition, the result of skipping is to place the pupil in a class of children much older than himself, with the consequences that the student can never adjust himself properly with the other members of the class. In my case the result was disastrous. Instead of overcoming my pre-school shyness, I was more bullied and beaten; this time by boys much older than I was. Consequently, the unhappiness which I felt in early childhood was nothing compared with the misery which I bore in public school.
Another great evil of the public school system is that it wreaks havoc on a child of superior ability. The entire method of teaching, the poor quality of the courses, the prevalent regimentation, and narrow-mindedness, all contrived to hamper me greatly. I felt myself imprisoned in a steel cage. My mind, which wanted to soar onwards, was chained to the earth, by an endless repetition of things that I knew, as well as by trifling but amazing public school restrictions. I have never been able to figure out why I had to sit with my hands folded, or why, if there was one malefactor in the group, the whole class was punished. The individual was completely forgotten in this system. No attention was given to individual needs and problems. He was swallowed up in a mass of fifty other souls. How well I remember how I chafed at the multiplication cards which the teacher held up before the class. Two times two equals four, three times two equals six; to me it all seemed a futile waste of time.
I was in the fourth grade when all the aforementioned evils developed at a great speed. Then, I was striving to break my bonds; but in a few years I might resign myself to the system, and become mentally lazy, actually no better than the others around me. The need for immediate action was apparent.
I remember with amusement my parents’ first attempt to solve my social problem. They engaged a boxing instructor for me. My parents, with characteristic thoroughness, obtained the best one they could find. I believe he was a trainer of some lightweight champion. However, it was soon apparent to all concerned that my career was not along pugilistic lines. I’m afraid that my attempt to become a boxer was a dismal failure. However, my parents soon perceived that my difficulty was more emotional than physical. They made every possible attempt to adjust my problems through the help of the school authorities. By reading their replies, it is only now that can fully understand the incompetency of the Public school faculty. In their attitude concerning me they displayed a total ignorance of any fundamental psychology. The reason I was unhappy, they said, was that I persisted in thinking and playing differently from the rest of the group. If I would only conform to the rest of the class, my adjustment would naturally follow. They concluded that the fault was all mine, and that I exaggerated my troubles, anyway. The individual teachers, in addition, were highly eccentric and used their pupils as outlets for their emotions and idiosyncrasies. One teacher, who suffered from high blood pressure, delighted in pinching and cuffing the students on general principles. Another engaged in biting sarcastic ridicule of individual students before the class. In recent years, the public school authorities have endeavored to segregate the bright children from the average. However, a pre-requisite for the success of such a plan is a large amount of ability and sympathy on the part of the teachers.
After the failure of my parents’ efforts, they determined to seek outside information. Even today, I marvel at the exhaustive research conducted by my parents, in order to decide upon the best course to follow. They have kept a file of correspondence and other data relating to that period, and it is a tribute to their tireless perseverance and thoroughness. Every conceivable source was tapped. Every means of advice was used. They sought the guidance of psychologists, friends, journalists acquainted with the subject, and student and parent associations. I distinctly remember visiting the office of Dr. John Levy, eminent psychologist in the field of child guidance, I clearly recall the actual contour of the room where I sat alone, and the unintelligible murmur of adult voices emanating from the next room. The most momentous decision that has yet affected my life was being reached. Dr. Levy recommended unequivocally that I be transferred to a private school. He advised that I go to as small a school as possible in order to satisfy my pressing needs for individual attention and emotional adjustment.
Acting on Dr. Levy’s advice, my parents decided, in the second term of the fourth grade, to place me in Riverside School. My entrance into this school opened vast new horizons before my eyes. The importance of my transfer from public to private school cannot be overemphasized. My mind at last was free from all worthless intellectual and physical restrictions. I was free to think! I finally received a great amount of individual attention, since there were only seven students in the class. The teachers always endeavored to guide and advise me in any problems that I faced. I could express my ideas in class freely, without the psychological intimidation, which oppressed me in public school. The courses, moreover, were superior, and the teachers seemed omniscient before my inexperienced eyes. Above all, in the two years that I stayed in Riverside, I became completely adjusted to the group. In them I found equals in intelligence, and consequently, similar interests. Thus, it was easy for me to cooperate and become
an indissoluble unit of the class, without, however, losing my individual identity. I discovered, with gratified wonder, that the other children liked me. I had never before sensed a friendly feeling toward me by other children. The fact that many of them were my own age also made social adjustment easy.
Toward the end of the sixth grade my fervent enthusiasm for Riverside began to wane. It had served well as a reaction to public school, but its scope was becoming too narrow. I saw that the courses and the teachers were not as excellent as I had first thought. Furthermore, I suffered from a lack of competition. A certain amount of competition is necessary to any progress, material or spiritual. With only six others in the class, competition, or any exchange of intelligent ideas, was limited.
A specific reason for leaving Riverside was that the 7th and 8th grades were combined in one class. The full value of the junior high would be lost in such an unsound combination. For these reasons, my parents and I began looking for another private school, with a higher scholastic standing and a greater number of students. My parents thoroughly investigated many private schools. I remember my mother’s account of her first visit to Birch-Wathen. She was deeply impressed and enchanted by the teachers and courses in that school. Her judgment is valuable because she has a teacher’s ability to decide on the merits of teaching methods. The class that impressed her most was an English class conducted by a Miss Pendleton, which wrote compositions on the subject of fences. My mother greatly admired the challenge to the imagination in the problem, “what do you see in a fence?” It was a source of chagrin to my mother in the next two years that I did not have Miss Pendleton as an English teacher.
I entered Birch-Wathen in the 7th grade. I remember my first day there vividly. At the foot of the stairs in the hall, I was introduced to Russell Bliss, also a new student. Instinctively, we clung to each, with the natural impulse of two children facing a new world. We walked up the stairs solemnly, led by a sympathizing teacher. The “ice was broken” by the friendly, cheerful greeting of the 8th grade teacher, Mr. Hubbard. From that day on, I have esteemed and appreciated Birch-Wathen highly.
I was completely happy in this school. I made friends quickly and found myself an integral part of the class. The class was large enough to be a strong social unit, and its superior intelligence supplied friendly competition and opportunity for political and economic debates. Probably the greatest debate ever witnessed in the eighth grade was the famous argument over the undistributed profits tax. The discussion lasted two history periods with Mr. Hubbard as referee. Both sides compiled facts and figures, plus weighty arguments to support their claim. Dave Zabel, Alan Marks, and myself denounced the tax, while Jim Denzer, Jim Heilbrun, and David Cohen supported it. Our side won convincingly, and received an overwhelming majority vote of the class. Later, when the heat of battle had died away, Jim Denzer admitted that he didn’t believe in the tax, anyway. However, I prefer to take that as an excuse for our victory.
I found Birch-Wathen in the quality of its courses and teachers far superior to Riverside. I was grateful to the method which allowed me to delve into research problems, exploring many streams of thought, all blending into the sea of the actual subject. I found that many assignments covered a large period, so that the student could compile and organize his material. I especially admired Mr. Hubbard. In my opinion, Mr. Hubbard is an example of a perfect junior high teacher. Every student graduating from the eighth grade glows with inspiration and enthusiasm due to his friendly, challenging teaching method. His favorite question was” Why?” He forced students to find out knowledge for themselves. This was manna to my inquiring mind. Another endearing part of his teaching was his irrepressible humor. With a genial twinkle of his eye, he would point to one student and suddenly shout out the name of another poor soul dozing in some other part of the room. He kept us constantly in an uproar, and we all looked forward to his classes as a source of entertainment as well as instruction. He instituted the delightful and unorthodox practice of urging a chocolate bar for everyone during lunch hour. Several times, during his history periods, we brought radios into school to listen to news reports. In addition, Mr. Hubbard has a remarkable collection of humorous incidents, throughout the country’s schools, and read some selections at the end of each year.
Suffice to say that we thought of Mr. Hubbard as the optimum in teaching. I have found that feeling true of every junior high student. However, his unique method is not as good for high school, since his failure to explain his subject is a burden to those who are not exceptional. His method, which was excellent for junior high, becomes extreme and impractical in high school.
An advantage of Birch-Wathen is that the transition from elementary school to high school is small. Naturally, more work is required in high school, and the courses are entirely changed. However, the basic system of teaching, namely, the encouragement of research and intellectual freedom and development, is still there. In addition, my graduation did not cause a departure from my happy social adjustment, but an increase in scope and interests with the same friends. I believe that the character of this class, with which I have worked for the past six years, is worthy of a brief analysis:
Our class has always been the victim of self-scorn. The tragedy of the situation is that we fail to realize our own potential value. It cannot be denied that the class, as a whole, is brilliant. The fact that we have not always shouldered enough responsibility is due in part to our innate sense of humor, which makes us laugh at everything, including ourselves. We scoff at ourselves, call ourselves stupid, and let it go at that. We close our eyes to our own value, because it is easy to do so. But the “stuff from which kings are made” is undoubtedly there. I have every reason to hope that our latent gifts will soon blossom, and become acknowledged by all.
I have not developed an outstanding preference for one subject in high school. In general, however, history and English have given me the greatest enjoyment. I remember the amazement and consternation which I caused the class when I stated my confirmed beliefs in the type of world that should emerge after the war. I was the only one in the class who believed that Germany should be kept in a perpetual state of subjection, and I was alone in my pronouncement that the Versailles treaty failed because it was too weak. I delighted in the ensuing debate with the other members of the class. I also liked to place myself in difficult historical situations, and see how I would have met those problems. In American history, for example, I decided I would have tried to settle slavery by popular sovereignty.
My interest in English is explained by my interest in literature and its analysis. In addition, I enjoy creative writing, and I believe I have improved, in recent years, in the ability to express my ideas.
Although I have been bred in a scientific tradition, and I am favorable to theoretical science, I have a dislike for laboratory work, which excludes me from that line of endeavor.
I am grateful to Birch-Wathen for the knowledge it has given me, and for the complete social adjustment which it has made possible. I didn’t know true emotional or intellectual happiness before I came to Birch-Wathen. I echo the stirring words of its Alma Mater “You have shown us the portals to rich knowledge and truth. And have given us mortals, friendships so dear to youth!”
Until the age of eleven, I spent my summers with my parents in mountain or seashore hotels, My recollection of these early summers is hazy, since we usually spent three weeks at best away from the city. In general, however, my social activities were broader and happier than they were in school. The reason probably was that any difference in intelligence was not conspicuous in summer recreation. Thus, the attitude between other children and myself was usually good. When I reached the age of eleven, my parents and I decided that, I should go to camp. My enthusiasm for this project was great, and my parents felt that I would learn to live and get along with, other people. My father, however, was rather skeptical, “I’ll try anything once,” he remarked drily.
The director of the camp asserted that he was an idealist, motivated solely by a humanitarian interest in children. He was a forceful-looking man, with a shining goatee and an imposing stature, and he managed to convince us of the, superior qualities of his camp. To be sure, this camp was not an ordinary one. It was one of the best in New York, and was recommended highly by Parents’ Magazine. My parents, who made sure of its high rating, never rush blindly into any venture. Indeed, the food was excellent, and could not be excelled anywhere. However, after the first novelty wore off, I saw that the camp’s qualities ended there. The heralded activities were almost, nil; the campers could only sit and mope all day. Mr. Robbins, the idealistic director, turned out to be an ineffectual materialist, with a blustering temper. I found that most campers lost weight solely because the bunks had the effect of a Turkish bath. However, I do owe my passion for chess to the camp. It was the only possible activity during many long hours of stagnation. The fact that no camper was sunburned offered conclusive proof that he hardly ever saw the light of day.
My father, in addition to his other qualities, is a brilliant wit. The main centers of camp life were the rec (recreation hall), the mess (dining room), and the bunks (sleeping quarters). Commenting on the camp as a whole, he said “It’s a wreck, it’s a mess, it’s the bunk!” I am convinced that camps are mainly excuses for parents who wish to rid themselves of their children during the summer. If they had their children’s interests at heart, they would not blind themselves to the glaring disadvantages of camp. “A racket,” my father termed it, and I heartily agree with him. If the best camp in New York was in such a deplorable condition, what are the conditions in camps of lower quality? I shudder to think of them. I believe that camps are only excusable when they assist poor families. In all other cases I condemn them whole-heartedly.
This disappointing summer in camp was my last, and ever since, I have had an uninterrupted succession of immensely happy summers. I gained invaluable friends during the summer, just as I developed what I hope to be lasting friendships in Birch-Wathen. My transformation from a lonely, maladjusted child to a happy, sociable one was complete. Some of my school friends decry my summer activities, which consist of an enjoyable vacation at a seaside hotel. They claim that I do nothing useful there. However, I consider it useful when I can further my own happiness, and at the same time increase the pleasure of others by social companionship. It is always useful to establish a firm relationship with society.
I have already dealt with my home, school, and summer environment. My relatives come under a special category. Many of them are definitely Communist sympathizers, or pinkish radicals. Consequently, my father frequently becomes involved in heated political debates. When they cannot help but see the logic of his arguments, they just call him a reactionary, a Republican (an abhorred word, for some reason) and hide behind the shield of those generously distribute labels. I usually take part in these discussions with vehemence and a certain amount of relish. Once, in the days of the Spanish Civil War, my parents and I visited the house of an uncle, a Communist party member. Naturally, his guests were all Communists, and were vigorous in their denunciation of Franco. I startled the assembly by asserting that the republican government of Spain was elected by a minority of the people, and quoted a letter in the Times to that effect. I was immediately bombarded on all sides, but I managed to hold my own against overwhelming odds. A favorite trick of the people, when someone quotes a respectable and reliable paper such as the Times, is to cry vehemently “Do you believe everything you read in the papers?” Then they proceed to counter with grandiose statements from tabloids such as In Fact, whose editor has been listed by Max Eastman as a front for Communist organizations.
My father’s family in general are shrewd individualists, and as such, have little thought of family loyalty. They are endowed with common sense but are unintelligent. My mother’s family, in contrast, has a strong sense of family devotion and loyalty. However, they do not have the common sense of my father’s relations, with a few exceptions, there is little intelligence among them. Indeed my mother and father represent the pinnacle of intelligence in their respective families. I know my mother’s family very well, and I usually look on with quiet amusement at their futile worries and panics. However, this feeling is mingled with a reverent admiration for their gentle nobility of character, which reminds me strongly of the weakness and courage of Louis XVI.
In my dealings with my relatives, I have learned not to get angry or indulge in heated personal arguments. From them I have learned the important value of tolerance. Tolerance also involves open-mindedness and a willingness to listen to other people’s ideas whatever they may be.
I have many varied interests and hobbies. Although I can trace the development of most of them, others evolved without my conscious knowledge, and with no definite or marked beginning. My interest in music has passed through several definite stages. At: first, at the age of ten, I enthusiastically adopted piano lessons. My reason was not any great love for music, since I was barely interested in it. I started piano lessons merely because of my intense curiosity and my desire to enter new fields of endeavor. Once I had learned the rudiments of music, and some of its characteristics, I lost interest in my musical career. My finger manipulation was poor, and I saw a new horizon of music listening open before me. Whatever I had learned in piano practice helped me to understand and evaluate music. I have been a fair judge of rhythm ever since it was drilled into me by my piano teacher. Therefore, since it was clear that I was not cut out to be a musician, I gave up piano lessons after two years, and devoted my musical activities to becoming an enthusiastic spectator.
At first I did not have much discrimination, and I accepted all types of music without attempting to formulate any special favorites. However, I was soon able to judge works of music and listen with a more critical outlook. I soon came to the conclusion that I liked swing music as well as, if not better than, classical music. The reason for my extensive interest in swing music is purely that. I obtain pleasure from hearing it. If I were able to derive inspiration from any form of music, I would be interested primarily in classical music. However, it is impossible for music to hold any inspiration for me. As a source of enjoyment, therefore, I think that swing is at least equal to classical music.
Likewise, painting has never interested me to any great extent because I can receive no inspiration from looking at a great work of art. If I tried, I could probably become expert in criticizing the technical qualities of a painting, but I could never become uplifted by it. In fact, of all the creative arts, literature is the only one that can inspire or elevate me forcibly.
In contrast to the development of my interest in music, I cannot account definitely for my devotion to sports. It did not result from any single event or start in any given period. I only know that I have become a voracious follower of sports, in all its phases and forms. Consequently, my knowledge of both major and minor sports is widespread. The public should realize the full importance of athletics in American life. Not only does it provide an interesting diversion for care-worn people, but it also serves to build up a nation’s stamina.
However, my interest for violent athletics stops with the newspaper and the sidelines; when I seek personal athletic recreation, I prefer quieter games such as table tennis and chess. I have a definite reason for my attraction to chess. Chess, aside from its entertaining features, teaches farsightedness, circumspection, ability to think and act fast, and analysis of problems. I think that the main fascination that chess holds is that the player is a general directing his forces. There are all the difficulties, strategies, and tactics of modern warfare. Chess embodies all the challenging intellectual problems of war, without its horrible bloodshed and slaughter.
My character consists of many, strange, contrasts. Although, I am devoted to reading and quiet pursuits, I have a keen enjoyment of dramatics. I have always excelled in acting, and I revel in a dramatic portrayal of moods and, ideas. In addition, when I find, any article which I particularly like, I enjoy reading it for my parents, with all the drama that I can put into my voice, although I realize that my parents probably would much prefer to read it themselves. If I were in their position, I certainly could concentrate better by reading the article myself. However, my relish is so great that I continue in my unwelcome course. I also like to sing for my parents, who bear this great torture with good grace.
I have always had a keen interest in political and economic problems, and in current events, as a source of knowledge and of discussion. I think that it is the duty of every American citizen to acquaint himself with these problems, in order to contribute intelligently to any national effort, in time of war or peace.
A Look Into the Future
As I turn my eyes from the past and present to the future, I am unappalled by the fact that my course is undecided at present. I have many fields of interest, and it is difficult to choose one for specialization. However, I know that I will do my best in any field I choose. Society can only benefit if each individual makes his greatest effort. This fact is apparent in wartime, but it applies also to peace conditions.
I do not believe that the advent of war has changed my outlook. War has only brought it into sharper focus and crystallization. I am even more determined mow to do my utmost to serve this nation.
I face college with keen interest and anticipation. I welcome the greater freedom and the necessity for self-discipline which are the characteristics of college. Some people believe that the only way to be free of parental restriction is to go to an out-of-town school. In my case, however, any misunderstandings can always be solved by, intelligent and reasonable discussion. Therefore, I am not hampered by unnecessary parental restriction, and I feel free to choose a college solely on its own merits. College becomes increasingly important in wartime, for the need for a comprehensive education of youth becomes greater. A college training enables anyone to cope, to a greater degree, with any national problems he or she is called on to face.
With all men and women striving for the common welfare, I see, in the future an America, perhaps a world, in war or in peace, sounding the call of progress, of civilization, of humanity, and taking care that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth!”
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.