1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13298/misess-vision-of-the-free-society-2/

Mises’s Vision of the Free Society

July 16, 2010 by

The importance of Mises’s economic contributions is apt to make us overlook his contributions as a social theorist and political philosopher. The republication of Liberalism helps to rectify this oversight. FULL ARTICLE by Thomas Woods


Barry Loberfeld July 16, 2010 at 10:34 am

An excellent new forward to a classic work!

Allen Weingarten July 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm

The fundamental question raised was “under what conditions is the initiation of violence to be considered legitimate?” Most of us on this blog do not justify the initiation of violence for doing what some claim to be good, such as the distribution of wealth, or providing benefits for special groups. Anarchists would virtually never justify the initiation of violence because it conflicts with their view of a just society.

However, for those of us who believe there is a role for government, I submit that *its being is justified by necessity, such as that of survival*. Here, some initiation of violence is unavoidable, if only to counter the efforts of those who would not join any government. For example, if without any government a territory would be conquered, it becomes imperative to set up a government, using force against those who would not allow it. Once the government is established, the initiation of force can be required by emergencies, such as in dealing with the onset of a plague or forest fire, and to protect the nation and its government.

Here, I have employed the principle that “Survival trumps morality, because absent survival there can be no morality.” An illustrative example is where a life raft can only support 6 of the 7 people on board, or all will die. For the sake of survival it is imperative to draw straws, forcing someone to do so. I grant that little of government today is needed for survival, but that is the sole basis on which the initiation of force can be justified.

Mashuri July 16, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Current events counter that age-old argument that government is needed to survive invasion. The people of Afghanistan, a dirt-poor and disorganized society, have so far successfully thwarted the second most powerful military in the world (USSR) and are currently doing the same with the most powerful military in all history.

michael July 17, 2010 at 10:31 am

Right. Let us stipulate that Afghanistan has not been invaded.

Play our cards right, and we could be just like them some day.

Seattle July 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Few problems with this.

First, what is “survival?” The survival of the species, the nation, or every individual? If survival of every individual is what you mean then by your logic redistribution is necessary, as it is moral to steal food from those who have to those who are starving.

Secondly, it assumes the service of survival can be provided by a State. If you have learned anything at all from reading the articles here, it’s that the state cannot provide anything. The reasons for this need not be restated here.

Finally, and this is the worst part, you assume that “survival” (whatever that means, see point #1) has an objective value outside the decisions of acting men, and thus the striving for survival ethically trumps everything else. If a man is suicidal then it is in his interest to die. Your imagined objective value of survival does not give you an ethical license to prevent him from doing this.

Donald Rowe July 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm

“absent survival there can be no morality”
I’m with you on the survival part but I think the gears of your transmission may have slipped a cog or two to get you to “if without any government a territory would be conquered, it becomes imperative to set up a government, using force against those who would not allow it”. Maybe you were supposed to taper the dose or something.

Zorg July 17, 2010 at 2:23 pm

You are claiming that it is necessary for you to initiate violence against non-aggressors
in order to induce them to protect themselves from people like you who would initiate
violence against them!

This claim is absurd not only in its logic but in its premises. The logic is broken because
you do the very thing you claim to be saving people from, and if this is to be claimed as a
universal principle then anyone can initiate violence against you or society at large saying
that they are saving you from violence, etc. If it is not a universal principle, and therefore
only certain people may initiate violence in order to “save” everyone else from violence, then
it is not an ethical principle at all. It’s just an elitist claim to power: “If I don’t rule you, you
will die and society will be destroyed. You don’t want that, do you?”

The underlying premise – that people have no interest in protecting themselves
corporately as well as individually unless you impose “protection” on them by force –
is also absurd. The need for security and defense is as strong as the need for food
and water. If people do not make provision for defense then they will likely perish
as they would if they failed to make provision for food and water. Since such
outcomes are not desired, people will make provision for defense. The argument
that an aggressive group must first seize power by force in order to insure defense
for everyone in an area is just as ridiculous as claiming that the same group must
seize power in order to force people to produce food and other goods to insure
against mass starvation and poverty. It is nothing but an age-old con game that
assures power and privilege for would-be rulers through fear-mongering and mass

However, as long as the marks believe the con, then the con will go on. The anarchist
view is simply that people are prevented from providing the needed collective security
to the extent that the state has usurped this prerogative from them. And so we are in
the same position as some reformer in a communist society would be, arguing against
the *means* of providing goods and services through forced collective farms and
industries. We try to show that it is both unethical and also inefficient and completely
unnecessary to chain society down in this way.

And one of the most important points to make is this, that when states fail at security
or collective food production or health care production or whatever else, the bad results
are not the “anarchy” that anarchists argue for! This is another myth that is constantly
perpetuated – the idea that when states fail we call their wreckage “anarchy”. That misery
and confusion and disorder should be called exactly what it is. It is the direct result of
the intentional manipulation of civil society by violent and immoral control freaks called

I’ll coin a word and call it “statarchy” – the inevitable social disorder resulting
from the widespread belief in the initiation of violence as an ethical principle and the rule
by force of some men over others.

State edicts and interventions systematically *prevent* people from fully exercising their rights
and prerogatives as free people to establish peaceful, efficient, useful institutions of civil
society, so that when state institutions fail society is left without a backup. Chaos results,
and then some other group of statists with another freshly painted ideology of mass deception
steps in yet again to “save” everyone from “anarchy”.

You will find, if you think long and hard about this, that the belief in the “right” to initiate
violence is the root cause of most social ills. To the extent that any society is able to resist
this corruption of thought and establish free and voluntary institutions that protect individual
rights, that is the extent to which that society prospers and finds peace.

Just ask yourself why you argue here that it would be necessary for you to initiate violence
against people in order to help them! Why did you not argue that since security is a good
and necessary thing that this service should be offered to people in a free territory so that
they could guard their liberty and property from violent men? Why become the evil you claim
to be fighting?

You see? You *believe* in violence and that’s why your mind automatically goes there.
You are not arguing to the initiation of violence but from it as a principle of action. But
nothing can ever justify the initiation of violence because that is the very definition of crime!

Guard July 19, 2010 at 1:38 am

Territories are not conquered until individuals are. It seems the collective defense principle is the same as every of socialist idea: transfer your risk to others by force. The welfare state can take care of me if it confiscates other people’s property. In the case of an invading army, if I fight it out with them on my own, I risk my life. If I have acceded to the formation of an army, someone else is forced to fight for me, reducing my risk. So this is a survival mechanism but a very immoral one, like tossing someone overboard to save myself in the life raft. The moral individual would dive overboard himself to save others.

Zach Bibeault July 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Great foreward. Just bought an 80s copy from a local used bookstore — need to read it soon.

Allen Weingarten July 17, 2010 at 3:22 am

Mashuri, Afghanistan as you say is “dirt-poor and disorganized” so it is not representative of a competitive society, but it atypical. In a situation like theirs there is no need to set up a government, as it already has a multitude of conflicting governments.

Seattle, “survival” occurs on several levels. America had to survive as a nation; the government had to survive as a lawful entity; its citizens had to survive physically from plagues and forest fires. This does not mean that “redistribution is necessary”, as it hampers survival. There are rare cases (such as an escapee from a concentration camp, who must immorally steal food from a farmer) where he must do so in order to survive, but that does not make theft a moral pursuit.
We disagree that the state can provide survival, as I claim that it is the very thing that justifies it.
I do not assume that “survival” has an objective value, but state that it is built into the animal kingdom, and is a prerequisite for anything that has value. Nor do I deny the right of an individual to commit suicide, especially because defending the rights of individuals is what permits a society to survive.
My outlook does not require the positions that you attribute to it. It is simply the obvious that *if anything has a value, it must survive to maintain it*.

Donald Rowe, in 1776, it was necessary to provide George Washington with the force to survive, and such force was unavoidable not only against the British, but was initiated against some American who would oppose it. Similarly, the USSR used its government in WWII to survive, in particular at Stalingrad where it engaged in quite immoral activities. I recognize that anarchists believe that nations can survive without the initiation of force, but believe that to be make believe, so as to uphold the possibility of a purely moral existence. It would have permitted the victory of fascism, and now the establishment of a Caliphate.

mpolzkill July 17, 2010 at 4:46 am

What’s “make believe” was the U.S.S.R., and now the U.S.S.A. The “Caliphate” is a step below those fantasies, as the lunatics who dream of it don’t tax anyone under the name.

Washington did not have to do what he did to survive, and millions upon millions of Russians sure could have found better ways to survive.

You mean the victory of *German* fascists. Allied fascism was victorious.

Allen Weingarten July 17, 2010 at 6:44 am

The USSR deserved to survive, if only to help the defeat of the Axis powers. Again, I deny that America could have survived by purely moral means, or that America was a fascist country. By the logical use of pure morality, it ends up that nothing deserves to exist, whether families or individuals.

Seattle July 17, 2010 at 6:22 am

Seattle, “survival” occurs on several levels. America had to survive as a nation; the government had to survive as a lawful entity; its citizens had to survive physically from plagues and forest fires.

So, by “survival” you mean “preservation.”

This does not mean that “redistribution is necessary”, as it hampers survival. There are rare cases (such as an escapee from a concentration camp, who must immorally steal food from a farmer) where he must do so in order to survive, but that does not make theft a moral pursuit.

So, preservation does not justify theft.

We disagree that the state can provide survival, as I claim that it is the very thing that justifies it.

And here we come to a very blatant contradiction: Just above you made it clear the moral imperative of preservation does not justify theft. However, theft is what the state does. In fact, that’s its only function. If the state stopped stealing it would fall apart, thus it must continue stealing to survive. Does preservation justify theft or not?

Allen Weingarten July 17, 2010 at 6:50 am

Seattle, there is no contradiction in stating that sometimes preservation justifies theft. I have given cases such as those on a raft who are forced to draw straws, and the escapee of a concentration camp who steals from a farm. These are immoral activities, but sometimes survival trumps morality. My main point is that the sole justification for immorality is when it is necessary for some form of survival.

Seattle July 17, 2010 at 9:55 am

So if 2 people are trapped in an elevator without enough oxygen to sustain both of them until help arrives (but enough to sustain 1) is it okay for one of them to kill the other?

Allen Weingarten July 17, 2010 at 7:03 am

We seek justice (which is how things ought to be), and do so by morality which is the way to obtain justice. So how can we justify immorality? The resolution to the paradox is that when survival trumps morality, it does not bring justice, but only prevents a greater injustice. Again, absent survival one cannot engage in moral behavior.

Allen Weingarten July 17, 2010 at 6:39 am

I have claimed that the sole justification for government (and its initiation of force) is survival. *This means that survival is necessary for justification, but not that it is sufficient.* There are entities that do not deserve to exist, such as tyrannies, empires, aggressors, murderers, etc. One must then decide which deserves to exist. Let me clarify my outlook.
The universe deserves to exist; man deserves to exist; republics deserve to exist. Nor does this settle matters, since there are different levels of existence which can compete with one another. For example, a nation can deserve to exist, as well as its government, as well as its people. Moreover, an individual has a biological existence, a moral existence, a psychic existence, and a career existence. Sometimes an individual (such as Immanuel Kant) can decide that it is better to perish, than to engage in immorality, however slight.
So again, when I say that “survival trumps morality” it presupposes that the entity warrants survival, and does not deny that some things deserve to perish.

Seattle July 17, 2010 at 9:58 am

And, by what criteria, do you determine which things should be and which should not? This is the problem with all objective ethics systems.

Allen Weingarten July 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Seattle, you have raised a fundamental question, which is at issue for all comprehensive human outlooks. The criteria comes down to one’s world-view, which is posited, rather than proven. As you know, Ayn Rand had a different world-view than did von Mises, which differed from that of conservatives, religionists or mystics. Nonetheless, certain basics are ordinarily taken as given in our civilization. Here I presume, although you are welcome to differ, that:

seeking truth is better than scheming; justice is better than taking advantage; adhering to principle is better than selling out; openness (corrigibility) is preferable to dogmatism; being systematic is better than being arbitrary; having character is better than having status; survival is better than surrender; life is better than death; resistance is better than appeasement; sincerity is a virtue, for one knows that he ought to recognize what he believes, rather than to pretend otherwise.

I submit that these general guides suffice to provide a common denominator for Objectivists, Austrian economists, conservatives, and religionists, to conclude that the universe, man, and republics deserve to exist.

BioTube July 17, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Except republics are, by their very nature, unjust, scheming, killing, lying, arbitrary organizations that gain appeasement through the appearance of legitimacy. There’s a reason democracy’s called “the god that failed”.

Allen Weingarten July 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm

It is said that the enemy of the good is the perfect. By viewing republics as horrific, or calling America fascist, one doesn’t differentiate between what is better or worse. Thus he would allow Hitler Germany, Stalin’s USSR, or a Caliphate, instead of the republic established by our founders.

As an aside, John Adams defined a ‘republic’ as a government in which the property of the public and of every individual was secured and protected by law. The purposes of a republic and a democracy are antithetic. The former aims at liberty (under natural law) where people lack the right to violate inalienable rights. The latter aims at whatever people want, which includes such violations.
‘A Republic is the rule of law, Democracy is the rule of men.’

Roy L Flush July 18, 2010 at 7:34 am

Simply Brilliant.

A. property 2. freedom 3. peace 4. equality 5. luxury 6. ethics 7.state 8. democracy 9. force 10. fascism J. limits Q. tolerance K. antisocial

The ability to give an individual personal socio-economic exposition on these chapters is a confirmation that one possesses a liberal education.

When one plays with a full deck, one can play a winning game regardless of the cards that are dealt.

TokyoTom July 21, 2010 at 4:11 am


I’ll need to take a look at this book; what can be covered in a book review is obviously limited.

However, I would note a few thoughts:

1. Even now, “to champion property is to invite the accusation that liberalism is merely a veiled apologia for capital”, as you note, and “The enemies of liberalism have branded it as the party of the special interests of the capitalists,” as Mises observed. This is the case not simply because people then as now do not understand how a market society functions, but for the very good reason that statism is running rampant, allowing the direct owners of capital and executives to cream profits while shifting risks to all of society.

This is undeniably the case with our financial sector, and also with the exploration and development of fossil fuel and mineral resources on land (and offshore) “owned” by government but leased to corporations. Further examples of the use of property by corporations in ways that benefit owners/executives but do identifiable harm to others are easily found; this is often coupled with the statism enabled by the growth of corporations, which growth was itself fuelled by the state grant of limited liability to the shareholders of corporations (limiting recovery not only by debtors but also by persons involuntarily injured by acts of corporations or their agents).

Unless Austrians are content to leave the criticisms of (and policy responses to) corporate excesses to socialists, Marxists and Keynesians – and to be dismissed as defenders of corprate statism – it may behoove us to raise our own voices more forcefully.

In this connection, I would note that Mises himself noted that property is imperfectly defined and leads to problems of external costs:

“Property rights as they are circumscribed by laws and protected by courts and the police, are the outgrowth of an age-long evolution. … The legal concepts of property do not fully take account of the social function of private property. There are certain inadequacies and incongruities which are reflected in the determination of the market phenomena. ….

“It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in this system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.”

2. Yes, private property greatly advances social cooperation (and may even be “the central pillar of modern civilization”), but private property is never perfect – and is supported by an array of collective institutions which order people’s market interactions – and there are many important resources that are not privately owned but which are open-access resources that must be managed collectively. I am note sure to what degree Mises has addressed such common resources, but they (and the effort to develop effective institutions to manage them) can be quite important, as was recognized by the award last year of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson:



Stephan Kinsella July 25, 2010 at 10:34 am

Tokyo: ” this is often coupled with the statism enabled by the growth of corporations, which growth was itself fuelled by the state grant of limited liability to the shareholders of corporations (limiting recovery not only by debtors but also by persons involuntarily injured by acts of corporations or their agents).”

This presupposes that passive shareholders should be liable in the first place vicariously for actions of other people (employees of the company that the shareholder has shares in). There is no reason to assume this. And in fact to impute vicarious liability on the shareholder for the torts of an employee would require such a broad theory of vicarious liability that you would make millions of people in the economy, who all have some connection to the corporation, also vicariously responsible. You can’t limit it to shareholders. Also liable, under this incredibly broad implicit theory of causation and responsibility, would be fellow employees, creditors and lenders, vendors and suppliers, customers, and so on.

You have to have a clear theory of causation–one that somehow ensnares ‘shareholders” but excludes these others. Until you produce it, you are incoherent and have no basis to assume shareholders would be responsible for actions of employees.

michael July 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

Shareholders already are liable for the sins of the corporations they hold a share of, in that they are damaged when the company is damaged. BP shareholders, for example, have been damaged greatly by recent events.

This is an excellent justification for allowing shareholder initiatives to be considered in board meetings. Yet they are still normally excluded from placing items on the corporate agenda.

If shareholders are excluded from the decision-making process, there’s no way they can be considered personally liable for corporate misdeeds by the courts.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: