On the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI this unlikeliest of anecdotes comes to us from Forbes and Mark Hendrickson.
As we mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, and the eventual start of World War I later this summer, it is fascinating the way individuals affect history and history affects individuals.
Here’s one that I doubt you’ve heard before: The founder of the Austrian school of economics, Carl Menger (1840-1921), might have altered the course of events in a way that made possible the double assassination in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Let me explain:
Franz Ferdinand might not have been the heir to the Hapsburg Empire in 1914 if his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf, had lived to be 65. However, Rudolf had committed suicide at the age of 40 a quarter-century earlier. The reason for that suicide has been the subject of speculation ever since, and the Wikipedia entry on Rudolf lists 14 productions in film and theatre that have included Rudolf as a character. The most widely accepted explanation is that Rudolf was depressed because his father was insisting that the crown prince, who was married, end his relationship with a younger woman. However, there might have been another major cause for Rudolf’s depression.
I heard this from my mentor, the late Hans Sennholz, who in turn had heard it from his mentor, Ludwig von Mises, another Austrian economist whose lifespan overlapped Menger’s by nearly four decades, although whether Mises heard this directly from Menger or from their mutual colleague, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk or a third party, I know not. The Emperor Franz Joseph I had appointed the brilliant Menger to be the crown prince’s private tutor/mentor accompanying Rudolf on extended travels across Europe. Menger was a visionary genius who foresaw a period of revolutions and wars that would involve the disintegration of the existing order. Understandably, Menger’s predictions depressed Rudolf, and perhaps contributed to his decision to end his life prematurely so as to avoid the approaching cataclysm that we know as World War I.