Hans Sennholz—A Personal Remembrance

June 26, 2007 | by | Topic: The DNA of GreatnessPrint Print

I first heard a lecture by Dr. Hans F. Sennholz in 1962 as a freshman economics major in his Principles class at Grove City College. I had come to Grove City because of Dr. Sennholz having been intensely interested in politics and economics and having read articles by Dr. Sennholz in The Freeman at my father’s suggestion. I was never disappointed by the choices of Grove City College and Dr. Sennholz.

That first day of class in the fall of 1962 is still as clear as yesterday in my mind. Sennholz strode into the large classroom filled with probably 75 students. He did not believe in small classes because he viewed himself as a missionary for liberty and he wanted to reach as many of the “unconverted” as possible. He also argued that large classes were a matter of “productivity”—one of his favorite themes.

There was no fancy course outline, no elaborate introduction, no list of classroom policies except that men were not allowed to wear caps in class. Dr. Sennholz held up two large volumes—Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State. He said simply: “Read these volumes and know their contents.” That German accent and his personal aura of authority left it very clear to all members of the class—there would be no disagreeing with Dr. Sennholz.

There followed, each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, approximately 40 well-constructed lectures which unfolded the wonders of economic principles to the students. For the first time, in many cases, we began to understand what markets were, how prices were formed, what interest was, why profits were necessary and how statist policies of intervention—price controls, currency debasement, restraints on foreign trade—were dangerous to liberty and destructive of prosperity.

Dr. Sennholz lectured without notes but always moving logically and clearly, often with humorous illustrations, from one point to another.He told me later, when I was teaching myself, that he always tried to observe the rule of telling students what he was about to say, then saying it, and then telling them what he had just said. That sounds redundant, but with Sennholz’s ability at recasting material in slightly different ways one never tired of listening to his presentations. His lectures were models of economy themselves. There was never excess verbiage. He set out what he called “the inexorable principles of economics.”

Interestingly, he did not encourage student questioning. That was just part of the German continental view that in class, the professor had an exalted place and therefore, he should be listened to attentively and without disagreement or interruption. However, a student could come to his office, which was in his home on Pine Street just off the campus and expect to ask as many questions as he or she wanted. That Pine Street home was the center of activity and hospitality (the latter provided by Han’s lifelong partner and love of his life, Mary Sennholz) for economics majors. We spent many happy hours there learning about economics and about Dr. Sennholz’s life and worldview.

Many of us were inspired to become teachers because of the verve and vibrancy of Sennholz’s teaching and his dedication to the moral order of freedom. Worldwide, Sennholz students hold posts of prominence in the battle for liberty whether in the classroom, in non-profit advocacy groups, or in the board rooms of foundations.

Years later, at Hillsdale College and then back at Grove City College, I had the pleasure of introducing Dr. Sennholz to new audiences at conferences—over 100 times. I usually referred to him this way: “He speaks with the incisive reason of a first-rate economist, the long-term perspective of an historian, and the fervor and conviction of an Old Testament prophet, and all this with clarity of syntax punctuated with that distinctive German accent.” He always provided a presentation that could be fully comprehended by the uninitiated, respected by the veteran economist, and which produced the will, in the listener, to defend liberty wherever it was being threatened. For his contribution to my intellectual and moral life and the lives of many thousands, I am eternally grateful. Requiescat in pace.

John A. Sparks

John A. Sparks

Dr. John A. Sparks is the retired dean of the Calderwood School of Arts & Letters, Grove City College, Grove City, Pa., and teaches constitutional history and business Law on a part-time basis. He is a member of the State Bars of Michigan and Pennsylvania and is a fellow for educational policy for The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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