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.
Henry Hazlitt was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He was a collateral descendant of the British essayist William Hazlitt, 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.
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.
Hazlitt published his first book, Thinking as a Science, at the age of 21. During World War I, he served in the Army Air Service in Texas. He returned to New York, residing at Washington Square Park for many years.
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.
Lord Russell “so admired the young journalist’s talent” that he had agreed with Norton’s proposal, but the project ended after nearly two years of work when Russell declared his intention to write his own autobiography.
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.
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. 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, as a result of which appointment Vanity Fair included Hazlitt among those hailed in its regular “Hall of Fame” photo feature.
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.”
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.
In 1936, he married Frances Kanes, the author of The Concise Bible, 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. The two became admirers of Hazlitt and of one another.
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.
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. At the invitation of philosopher Sidney Hook, he was also a participating member of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom in the 1950s.
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.” 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.
Hazlitt died at the age of 98.
He was awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree at Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala.