Henry Hazlitt

Henry Stuart Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt
Born (1894-11-28)November 28, 1894
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died July 9, 1993(1993-07-09) (aged 98)
Nationality American
Field economics
literary criticism
School or
Austrian School
Influences Benjamin Anderson, Frédéric Bastiat, David Hume, William James, H.L. Mencken, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Herbert Spencer, Philip Wicksteed
Influenced Steve Forbes, Milton Friedman, Ron Paul, George Reisman, Murray Rothbard, Paul Samuelson, Peter Schiff, Thomas Sowell, Mark Spitznagel, Walter E. Williams, Gene Callahan

Henry Stuart Hazlitt (November 28, 1894  July 9, 1993) was an American journalist who wrote about business and economics for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The American Mercury, Newsweek, and The New York Times. He is widely cited in both libertarian and conservative circles.[1]

Early life and education

Henry Hazlitt was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He was a collateral descendant of the British essayist William Hazlitt,[2] but grew up in relative poverty, his father having died when Hazlitt was an infant. His early heroes were Herbert Spencer and William James, and his first ambition was for an academic career in psychology and philosophy. He attended New York's City College, but left after only a short time in order to support his twice-widowed mother.[3]


Early accomplishments

Hazlitt started his career at The Wall Street Journal as secretary to the managing editor when he was still a teenager, and his interest in the field of economics began while working there. His studies led him to The Common Sense of Political Economy by Philip Wicksteed which, he later said, was his first "tremendous influence" in the subject.[4] Hazlitt published his first book, Thinking as a Science, at the age of 21.

Military service

During World War I, he served in the Army Air Service. While residing in Brooklyn, he enlisted in New York City on February 11, 1918 and served with the Aviation Section of the Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps until July 9, 1918. He was then in Princeton, NJ at the US School of Military Aeronautics until October 22, when he was sent to AS Camp Dick in Dallas, Texas for a couple weeks until November 7, and he was honorably discharged from service with the rank of Private First Class on December 12, 1918. He returned to New York, residing at Washington Square Park for many years.[5]

Editor and author

In the early 1920s, he was financial editor of The New York Evening Mail, and it was during this period, Hazlitt reported, that his understanding of economics was further refined by frequent discussions with former Harvard economics professor Benjamin Anderson who was then working for Chase National Bank in Manhattan. Later, when the publisher W. W. Norton suggested he write an official biography of their author Bertrand Russell, Hazlitt spent "a good deal of time," as he described it, with the famous philosopher.[6] Lord Russell "so admired the young journalist's talent" that he had agreed with Norton's proposal,[7] but the project ended after nearly two years of work when Russell declared his intention to write his own autobiography.[6]

During the interwar decades, a vibrant period in the history of American literature, Hazlitt served as literary editor of The New York Sun (1925–1929), and as literary editor of the Left-leaning journal, The Nation (1930–1933). In connection with his work for The Nation, Hazlitt also edited A Practical Program for America (1932), a compilation of Great Depression policy considerations, but he was in the minority in calling for less government intervention in the economy. After a series of public debates with socialist Louis Fischer, Hazlitt and The Nation parted ways.[8]

In 1933, Hazlitt published The Anatomy of Criticism, an extended "trialogue" examining the nature of literary criticism and appreciation, regarded by some to be an early refutation of literary deconstruction.[7] In the same year, he became H. L. Mencken's chosen successor as editor of the literary magazine, The American Mercury, which Mencken had founded with George Jean Nathan,[9] as a result of which appointment Vanity Fair included Hazlitt among those hailed in its regular "Hall of Fame" photo feature.[2] Due to increasing differences with the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, Sr., he served in that role for only a brief time, but Mencken wrote that Hazlitt was the "only competent critic of the arts that I have heard of who was at the same time a competent economist, of practical as well as theoretical training," adding that he "is one of the few economists in human history who could really write."[10]

From 1934 to 1946, Hazlitt was the principal editorial writer on finance and economics for The New York Times, writing both a signed weekly column along with most of the unsigned editorials on economics, producing a considerable volume of work.[5] Following World War II, he came into conflict with Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, over the newly established Bretton Woods system which created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Hazlitt opposed the Bretton Woods Agreement, primarily fearing the risk of inflation. After agreeing not to write on the topic, he looked for another venue for his work, deciding on Newsweek magazine, for which he wrote a signed column, "Business Tides," from 1946 to 1966.[10]

According to Hazlitt, the greatest influence on his writing in economics was the work of Ludwig von Mises, and he is credited with introducing the ideas of the Austrian School of economics to the English-speaking layman. In 1938, for example, he reviewed the recently published English translation of Mises’s influential treatise Socialism for The New York Times, declaring it "a classic" and “the most devastating analysis of socialism yet penned."[11] After the Jewish economist's emigration to the United States from Nazi-dominated Europe in 1940, Hazlitt arranged for Mises to contribute editorials to The New York Times, and helped to secure for Mises a teaching position at New York University. Along with the efforts of his friends, Max Eastman and John Chamberlain, Hazlitt also helped introduce F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom to the American reading public. His 1944 review in The New York Times caused Reader's Digest, where Eastman served as roving editor, to publish one of its trademark condensations, bringing the future Nobel laureate's work to a vast audience.[12]

Unlike many other writers of his generation from the political right, Hazlitt never experienced a period when he was a socialist or communist, or a significant change in his classical liberal political views. He was the founding vice-president of the Foundation for Economic Education, which also acquired his large personal library in the 1980s. Established by Leonard Read in 1946, FEE is considered to be the first "think tank" for free market ideas. He was also one of the original members of the classical liberal Mont Pelerin Society in 1947.[13]

With John Chamberlain (and Suzanne La Follette as managing editor), Hazlitt served as editor of the early free market publication The Freeman from 1950 to 1952, and as sole editor-in-chief from 1952 to 1953, and its contributors during his tenure there included Hayek, Mises and Wilhelm Röpke, as well as the writers James Burnham, John Dos Passos, Max Eastman, John T. Flynn, Frank Meyer, Raymond Moley, Morrie Ryskind and George Sokolsky.[14] Prior to his becoming editor, The Freeman had supported Senator Joseph McCarthy in his conflict with President Harry Truman on the issue of communism, "undiscriminatingly" according to some critics, but upon becoming editor, Hazlitt changed the magazine's policy to one of support for President Truman.[15]

The Freeman is widely considered to be an important forerunner to the conservative National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., which from the start included many of the same contributing editors.[16] Hazlitt himself was on the masthead of National Review, either as a Contributing Editor or, later, as Contributor, from its inception in 1955 until his death in 1993. There were differences between the journals: The Freeman under Hazlitt was more secular and presented a wider range of foreign policy opinion than the later National Review.[15]

Even prior to her success with The Fountainhead, the novelist Ayn Rand was a friend of both Hazlitt and his wife, Frances, and it was Hazlitt who introduced Rand to Mises, bringing together the two figures who would become most associated with the defense of pure laissez-faire capitalism.[17] The two became admirers of Hazlitt and of one another.[18]

Hazlitt became well known both through his articles and by frequently debating prominent politicians on the radio, including: Vice President Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and U.S. Senators Paul Douglas and Hubert H. Humphrey, the future Vice President.[5] In the early 1950s, he also occasionally appeared on the CBS Television current events program Longines Chronoscope, interviewing figures such as Senator Joseph McCarthy and Congressman Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., along with coeditor William Bradford Huie.[19] At the invitation of philosopher Sidney Hook, he was also a participating member of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom in the 1950s.[20]

When he finally left Newsweek in 1966, the magazine replaced Hazlitt with three university professors: "free-market monetarist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, middle-of-the-roader Henry Wallich of Yale, and Keynesian Paul A. Samuelson of M.I.T."[5] His last published scholarly article appeared in the first volume of The Review of Austrian Economics (now, The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics) in 1987.

He was awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree at Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala.

Economics and philosophy

"The times call for courage. The times call for hard work. But if the demands are high, it is because the stakes are even higher. They are nothing less than the future of liberty, which means the future of civilization."[21]

Economics in One Lesson (1946) has been called Hazlitt's "most enduring contribution,"[21] with a million copies sold and available in ten languages,[22] it is considered an "enduring classic" in conservative, free market and libertarian circles.[23] Ayn Rand called it a "magnificent job of theoretical exposition," while Congressman Ron Paul ranks it with the works of Frédéric Bastiat and F. A. Hayek.[24] Hayek himself praised the work, as did fellow Nobel Prize laureate Milton Friedman, who said that Hazlitt's description of the price system, for example, was "a true classic: timeless, correct, painlessly instructive."[5] In his book Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell also compliments Hazlitt, and Sowell's work has been cited as "following" in the "Bastiat-Hazlitt tradition" of economic exposition.[25] In 1996, Laissez Faire Books issued a 50th anniversary edition with an introduction by publisher and presidential candidate Steve Forbes.[26]

Another of his enduring works is The Failure of the "New Economics" (1959), a detailed, chapter-by-chapter critique of John Maynard Keynes's highly influential General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, about which he paraphrased a quote attributed to Samuel Johnson, that he was "unable to find in it a single doctrine that is both true and original. What is original in the book is not true; and what is true is not original."[26] Hazlitt also published three books on the subject of inflation, including From Bretton Woods to World Inflation (1984), and two influential works on poverty, Man vs. The Welfare State (1969), and The Conquest of Poverty (1973), thought by some to have anticipated the later work of Charles Murray in Losing Ground.[27]

His major work in philosophy is The Foundations of Morality (1964), a treatise on ethics defending utilitarianism, which builds on the work of David Hume and John Stuart Mill. Hazlitt's 1922 work, The Way to Will-Power has been described as a defense of free will or "individual initiative against the deterministic claims of Freudian psychoanalysis."[7] In contrast to many other thinkers on the political right, he was an agnostic with regard to religious beliefs.[28]

In A New Constitution Now (1942), published during Franklin D. Roosevelt's unprecedented third term as President of the United States, Hazlitt called for the replacement of the existing fixed-term presidential tenure in the United States with a more Anglo-European system of "cabinet" government, under which a head of state who had lost the confidence of the legislature or cabinet might be removed from office after a no-confidence vote in as little as 30 days. (Shortly following FDR's death, presidential term limits were enacted.) His 1951 novel, The Great Idea (reissued in 1966 as Time Will Run Back) depicts rulers of a centrally-planned socialist dystopia discovering, amid the resulting economic chaos, the need to restore market pricing system, private ownership of capital goods and competitive markets.

Personal life

Henry was born to Stuart Clark and Bertha (Zauner) Hazlitt on November 28, 1894 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They resided at 819 North Broad Street in Philadelphia. The Hazlitt family was originally from England, although his paternal grandmother was from Ireland. His maternal grandparents were German immigrants. Henry's father, a clerk, died of diabetes when Henry was only five months old. His mother, Bertha, then married Frederick E. Piebes, who was engaged in manufacturing, and they resided in Brooklyn, where Henry was raised. Henry is listed on the 1905 New York state census as Henry S. Piebes, and he is listed on Frederick's will as Henry Hazlitt Piebes, Frederick's adopted son. His stepfather diedin 1907, leaving Henry to support his mother and probably leading to the ambition that enabled him to work at the Wall Street Journal while he was still a teenager.

In 1929, Hazlitt married Valerie Earle, daughter of the noted photographer and Vitagraph film director William P. S. Earle. They were married by the pacifist minister, John Haynes Holmes, but later divorced.[29] In 1936, he married Frances Kanes, the author of The Concise Bible,[30] with whom he later collaborated to produce an anthology of the Stoic philosophers, The Wisdom of the Stoics: Selections from Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius (1984). They were married until Frances' death in 1991.[31]

Hazlitt died at the age of 98 in Fairfield, Connecticut. At the time of his death, he resided in Wilton, Connecticut.


Hazlitt was a prolific writer, authoring 25 works in his lifetime.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan in his speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference (or "CPAC") named Hazlitt as one of the "[i]ntellectual leaders" (along with Hayek, Mises, Friedman, Russell Kirk, James Burnham and Frank Meyer) who had "shaped so much of our thoughts..."[32]

Ludwig von Mises said at a dinner honoring Hazlitt: "In this age of the great struggle in favor of freedom and the social system in which men can live as free men, you are our leader. You have indefatigably fought against the step-by-step advance of the powers anxious to destroy everything that human civilization has created over a long period of centuries... You are the economic conscience of our country and of our nation."[26]

The Henry Hazlitt Foundation

From 1997 to 2002 there was an organization called The Henry Hazlitt Foundation which actively promoted libertarian networking online, especially through its website Free-Market.Net. This organization was named in honor of Hazlitt because he was known for introducing a wide range of people to libertarian ideas through his writing and for helping free-market advocates connect with each other. The foundation was started after Hazlitt's death and had no official connection with his estate.



  1. Brian Doherty, Radicals for Capitalism: a Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, New York, Public Affairs (2007) pp. 33, 91–4, 97, 123, 156, 159, 162–67, 189, 198–99, 203, 213, 231, 238 and 279; George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America (1976) pp. 418–20.
  2. 1 2 "Hall of Fame", Vanity Fair, February 1934, p. 37.
  3. "Interview with Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Spring 1984. Retrieved 2011-03-08.; Greaves, Bettina Bien, "Remembering Henry Hazlitt". The Freeman. Retrieved 2011-02-17.; Rockwell, Llewellyn H., "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  4. "Interview with Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Spring 1984. Retrieved 2011-03-08.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Greaves, Bettina Bien, "Remembering Henry Hazlitt". The Freeman. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  6. 1 2 Hazlitt, Henry, "Reflections at 70," Henry Hazlitt: An Appreciation, The Foundation for Economic Education, 1989, pp. 6–9.
  7. 1 2 3 Rockwell, Llewellyn H., "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  8. Greaves, Bettina Bien, "Remembering Henry Hazlitt". The Freeman. Retrieved 2011-02-17.; Rockwell, Llewellyn H., "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  9. "The Press: Hazlitt for Mencken". Time.com (Time magazine). 1933-10-16. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  10. 1 2 Rockwell, Llewellyn H., "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  11. "Interview with Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Spring 1984. Retrieved 2011-03-08.; Greaves, Bettina Bien, "Remembering Henry Hazlitt". The Freeman. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  12. Hulsmann, Jorg Guido, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, 2007, Ludwig von Mises Institute, ISBN 978-1-933550-18-3, p. xi; Ludwig von Mises Institute, Henry Hazlitt: A Giant of Liberty, pp. 20–7; Greaves, Bettina Bien, "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.; Henry Hazlitt: an Appreciation, Foundation for Economic Education, 1989, pp. 8–9.
  13. Greaves, Bettina Bien, "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.; Henry Hazlitt: an Appreciation, Foundation for Economic Education, 1989
  14. Chamberlain, John, A Life With the Printed Word, 1982, Regnery, p.138; Hamilton, Charles H., "The Freeman: the Early Years," The Freeman, Dec., 1984, vol. 34, iss. 12.
  15. 1 2 Diggins, John P., Up From Communism, Columbia University Press, 1975, p. 217.
  16. Chamberlain, John, A Life with the Printed Word, pp. 141, 145–146.
  17. Burns, Jennifer, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, 2009, Oxford University Press, pp. 141–43; cf. Branden, Barbara, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Doubleday, 1986, pp. 168–69, 181n.
  18. See, e.g., the first issue of Rand's Objectivist Newsletter which declared Mises "the most distinguished economist of our age" and "an intransigent advocate of freedom and capitalism" (The Objectivist Newsletter, "Review: Planned Chaos by Ludwig von Mises," vol. 1, no. 1, Jan., 1962), and the second issue which declared Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson to be "a classic in the literature of freedom" and "the finest primer available for students of capitalism" (The Objectivist Newsletter, "Review: Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt," vol. 1, no. 2, Feb., 1962); Mises invited Rand to attend his seminar as an "honored guest" (Burns, Goddess of the Market, p. 177) and praised her novel Atlas Shrugged as "a pitiless unmasking of the insincerity of the policies adopted by governments and political parties" and "a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society" in a letter to Rand (dated Jan. 23, 1958, quoted in Hülsmann, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, p. 996.); and see, McConnell, Scott, 100 Voices: an Oral History of Ayn Rand, "Sylvester Petro," New American Library, 2010, pp. 165–70.
  19. Longines Chronoscope programs are at the Library of Congress's National Archives and Records cataloged as "Television Interviews, 1951–1955"; Longines Chronoscope (TV Series 1951–1955) – IMDb Archived 22 July 2007 at WebCite
  20. Hook, Sidney, Out of Step, Carroll & Graf, 1987, chapter 26.
  21. 1 2 "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  22. "Economics in One Lesson, The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics". Random House.com. Retrieved 2011-02-16.; "Economics in One Lesson, 50th Anniversary Edition". Voice For Liberty in Wichita. 1933-10-16. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  23. "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  24. "What Would George Washington Read?". The President's Books.com. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  25. Ebeling, Richard M., "Book Review: Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell," Freedom Daily, April 2001, and "Book Review: Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell,". Future of Freedom Foundation. April 2001. Retrieved 2011-03-06.; Sowell, Thomas, Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy, revised and expanded ed. Basic Books, (1st ed. 2000) ISBN 978-0-465-08145-5, see, e.g., pp. 425–26, note on Chapter 18.
  26. 1 2 3 "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
  27. Rockwell, Llewellyn H., "Biography of Henry Hazlitt". the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-16.; Murray, Charles, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980, Basic Books, 1984, ISBN 978-0-465-04231-9.
  28. Hazlitt, Henry, "Agnosticism and Morality," The New Individualist Review, Spring, 1966.
  29. "Valerie Earle Wed To Henry Hazlitt". The New York Times. May 10, 1929. Retrieved 2012-02-14.
  30. Hazlitt, Frances Kanes, The Concise Bible, Liberty Press, 1962.
  31. Uchitelle, Louis (1993-07-10). "Obituary, Henry Hazlitt". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-11.
  32. "Address by President Ronald Reagan to the Conservative Political Action Conference". the American Conservative Union. 1981-03-20. Retrieved 2012-01-29.


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