SODOM & GOMORRAH: This article is a follow up to this one about Dr. Friedrich Hayek and are part of an effort to show that libertarianism leads to anarchy and death. Dr. Ludwig von Mises is the next target. Dr. Mises is still extraordinarily popular in libertarian circles, but is little discussed in mainstream political circles. The readers of this site, however, are not likely to be mainstream so Dr. Mises warrants investigating.
This article will take Dr. Mises in roughly the same order as Dr. Hayek. However, Dr. Mises rejects progress more thoroughly than Dr. Hayek. All of it implies, for him, a value judgment that cannot be made because his arguments stem from the teachings of economics. His “Science never tells man how he should act; it merely shows how a man must act if he wants to attain definite ends.”  It is from this objective view as a disinterested scientist that Dr. Mises becomes the most interested party in the actions of his fellow human beings. We cannot determine which morals ought to be preferred, so a judgment about progressive morals makes no sense.
There is, however, a material progress. He writes that people like me “do not realize that the tremendous progress of technological methods of production and the resulting increase in wealth and welfare were feasible only through the pursuit of those liberal policies which were the practical application of the teachings of economics.”  In this one quotation we have the crux of Dr. Mises’ argument. In reading this sentence, you read the most important part of his writings, the only thing that summarizes his life’s work. When the teachings of economics are applied, it’s called liberal policy. When that liberal policy is realized, it results in material well being via technological development. That is called progress.
This should be enough to demonstrate in the mind of the reader Dr. Mises’ materialism. He will of course say “We adopt neither the ‘materialistic’ view that such a progression is good nor the ‘idealistic’ view that it is bad or at least irrelevant from a ‘higher point of view.’ Of course, it is a well-known fact that the immense majority of people consider the consequences of progress […] as the most desirable state of affairs […]”  Statements such as these are misleading; Dr. Mises is known as the “Knight of Liberalism”, proclaims himself a liberal in many places, and wrote Human Action to explore practical economics in detail. In this sense, one can respect Dr. Mises. He has identified what he is and defends his views. He stands for something. His arguments that he speaks only from the perspective of neutral science is simply a smokescreen to cover the deep convictions of this writer.
Let us uncover these convictions. Dr. Mises writes, “The program of liberalism, therefore, if condensed into a single word, would have to read: property […] All the other demands of liberalism result from this fundamental demand.”  After this critical argument, the only things that are considered persuasive to Dr. Mises are arguments rooted in economic reason. Slavery is condemned as bad for the economy. Writes Dr. Mises, “When those who recommended the abolition of involuntary servitude on general humanitarian grounds were told that the retention of the system was also in the interest of the enslaved, they knew of nothing to say in rejoinder. For against this objection in favor of slavery there is only one argument that can and did refute all others – namely, that free labor is incomparably more productive than slave labor.”  The moralists couldn’t win; the one argument that could win (his emphasis) was economic.
A similar process is undertaken when examining the Spartan King Leonidas’ sacrifice at Thermopylae: “Even Leonidas would not be worthy of the esteem in which we hold him if he had fallen, not as the defender of his homeland, but as the leader of an invading army intent on robbing a peaceful people of its freedom and possessions.”  For Dr. Mises, actions are admirable when they serve an economic motive and arguments are persuasive when they are rooted in economic reasoning.
Dr. Mises, like Dr. Hayek, holds strong views about foreign policy. He writes, “The liberal therefore demands that the political organization of society be extended until it reaches its culmination in a world state that unites all nations on an equal basis. For this reason he sees the law of each nation as subordinate to international law.”  More broadly, “His political thinking encompasses the whole of mankind.”  Dr. Mises holds no punches about how this thinking encompasses mankind. He writes that “In order to bring the interests of Europe and of the white race into harmony with those of the colored races in the colonies in regard to all questions of economic policy, the League of Nations must be given supreme authority in the administration of all those overseas territories in which there is no system of parliamentary government.”  Granted I’m quoting one of Dr. Mises’ earlier works, his 1927 Liberalism, and his views about the interests of the white races vs. the colored races may have changed in later works. A summary of Human Action, which is considered Dr. Mises’ authoritative work shows that he looks down on people who discriminate (because it hurts the economy of course) and he doesn’t, to my knowledge, even cite Liberalism in the work despite including several other books like Bureaucracy. Regardless, Dr. Mises and subsequently Ms. Greaves who writes the preface to my edition, feels content to allow the book to be printed. We are forced to understand that this is the statement of a man with imperialistic tendencies.
His racial issues aside, Dr. Mises finds no fault with the contemporary colonization of foreign territories and would like to see a world state manage them until they’ve adopted parliamentary government. It’s little gems like these that cause me no little confusion over the strong following that Dr. Ron Paul was able to accrue during the last Republican presidential primary. I partially understood the fascination with Dr. Paul who presented a thoughtful alternative to the traditional partisan fight. Dr. Paul is well read and does his best to find a consistent argument, there’s no doubt about that. But when Dr. Paul had a following of people who opposed a world state and the kind of intervention that the United States has carried out in recent years, but then in the same breath tells his audience to read Dr. Mises, I can’t help but laugh. If the formation of a world state is the work of demonic entities (as has been attested by certain Christians), then a vote for Dr. Paul is a vote for Satan.
The story of tyranny is virtually the same as for Dr. Hayek. Politics is stripped of morality, of seriousness, and of meaning. The only public policy arguments permitted are about money. People are permitted to be religious so long as their religion doesn’t interfere with their money. Self interest is supreme, because there are no groups, no sides, no identity outside the self. This self, of course, is a priori to any other argument. It is an assumption that is made to discuss human actions and is beyond discussion and debate. It is a scientific assumption, something that is assumed to be concretely true. It is, at its heart, an article of faith and from it is built the entire structure of the church of classical liberalism.
But how is this a tyranny? How specifically can I argue that allowing people to do what they want is oppressive? To allow people to be dictated only by their own whims is to make them slaves to those whims, to marginalize the spiritual existance of people in order to substitute it with material well-being is to enslave the spiritual to the material. To state that “all antiliberal doctrines – the theocratic tenets of the various religions, statist, nationalist, and socialist parties – … all promise their followers a life of plenty. They have never ventured to tell people that the realization of their program will impair their material well-being.”  is to profess a profound ignorance of the spiritual life of human beings. They are written in an age of vanity and by a man who likely never encountered a genuinely spiritual system of thought.
It is a strange thing that the free market liberals often criticize the United Nations, international law, and “welfare state liberals” for being “statists” when free market liberals created these problems.
 Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 10
 Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 8
 Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 294
 Mises, Ludwig von. Liberalism. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2005), 2
 Mises, Ludwig von. Liberalism. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 4
 Mises, Ludwig von. Liberalism. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 7
 Mises, Ludwig von. Liberalism. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 113
 Mises, Ludwig von. Liberalism. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 113
 Mises, Ludwig von. Liberalism. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 96
 Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2007), 154