Mon ami, Mario…

by Frederic Sautet

I first met Mario Rizzo in 1995 while he was lecturing at a seminar in the US. I remember an evening I spent at his dinner table along with other students. I was shy and remained silent almost the entire time, listening to him talk about a variety of subjects. At the end, however, we started to chat, notably of his liking of Europe and especially of Italy and France — he has been a regular attendee of the Université d’été in Aix-en-Provence for a long time. Eventually, he encouraged me to come to NYU to study, which I did in January 1996. To make a long story short, I ended up writing my doctoral dissertation under his auspices, with the help of Pete Boettke and Israel Kirzner. I then spent another year at NYU as a post-doc.

I look back on those years with great joy. Mario and I spent a lot of time working together, but also having coffees in various cafés in the Village — “hip places” that Mario knew. It was during those conversations that I came to realize the different intellectual styles of my three mentors. Pete was the most blunt — but in a good way (in those years, he published Where Did Economics Go Wrong? the most forceful paper on the HET I have ever read). Israel and Mario, by contrast, have always been more subtle and delicate in their approach to economics. Strangely perhaps, while Mario has been one of the main critics of Israel’s work within the Austrian school, Mario is also very close to Israel in his way of proceeding with research.

One of the subjects Mario was working on at the time was Herbert Spencer. I remember the countless hours of reading and discussing Spencer’s work in his office. Mario took Spencer’s oeuvre apart; he dissected it. I learned from Mario and from Israel the virtue of precision in scholarly work, especially in Austrian economics, in which semantic exactness is singularly important. I also remember the three presentations I gave at the NYU Austrian Colloquium that Mario ran for decades. Each time, I was petrified. Each time I learned a lot and improved my dissertation papers tremendously. The Colloquium was a gem: the closest thing we all experienced to being at Mises’s seminar.

The years I spent at NYU changed my life. Mario has had an immense impact on my intellectual path. Even though I am now more Kirznerian than he is, I see Mario’s work as a cornerstone of modern Austrian economics. He has pushed the boundaries. The biggest influence Mario has had on my intellectual journey is in the way he communicated his passion for social thought. From Friedrich Hayek to Henri Bergson (and his notion of real time), Mario didn’t view economics as confined to limited topics. On the contrary, he taught us that the borders between economics (time, ignorance, and efficiency), philosophy (causation and determinism), law (torts), history (coming slavery), ethics (abstract moral order), and politics (social order) can be very thin indeed. I was also Mario’s TA in two of his classes: Society and Social Sciences: Economy and Polity (which I helped teach), and Nineteenth Century Liberal Tradition. Overall, Mario’s Political Economy approach to social thought is what I now cherish most in my work on Catholic social thought, and as a teacher at The Catholic University of America.

I never thanked Mario enough for what he did for me. So thank you, Mario, for giving me the opportunity to work with you, as well as with Israel and Pete. Thank you for the moments we spent together in New York, but also in other places, such as at Le cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris looking for the graves of Jean-Baptiste Say and of Gustave de Molinari.

Thank you, Mario, for being a mentor and a dear friend.

Bon anniversaire, Mario!


Frederic Sautet

One thought on “Mon ami, Mario…

  1. Thanks, Frederic. I don’t believe you were ever petrified presenting your work at the colloquium. At least you did not show it. Yes, I remember the many conversations we had about every possible topic (or so it seemed) including theology. But you were not a TA — you were a PRECEPTOR. I do not really know what that means. But this is what you should tell people. Two funny stories: (1) I remember intentionally trying to confuse you when you trying to improve your English. I think I told you that the singular of sheep was shep. You believed it for a short time. Unfortunately, you discovered the truth. (2) On the other hand, our students were not particularly ready to hear you pronounce Alexis de Tocqueville in French when you told them that he would be discussed next week.

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