1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/18257/mises-on-fascism-again/

Mises on Fascism, Again

August 30, 2011 by

Here we go again. Today, statist-nationalist Michael Lind writing in Salon seizes on one passage from Mises’s book Liberalism to argue that Mises was a crypto-authoritarian (which is a heck of an accusation for Lind, of all people, to make; Lind wrote an entire book that seeks to revive nationalism as a political ideology – even regretting that fascism discredited nationalism).

The passage from Mises as selectively quoted:

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.

And that’s where Lind ends it, failing to add Mises’s actual conclusion:

But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

The passage was part of Mises’s book that was published in 1927, just after Mussolini took power. Mises could easily discern that many people regarded Fascism as a savior, and this passage is merely acknowledging that common view. This view lasted for many years. For example, fully six years later, the New York Times Magazine published (March 19, 1933) a massive tribute to the glories of Professor Mussolini. The NYT writes:

In a period when all politicians are either dull or unwilling to break away from routine – “tradition” ; when it seems that in every Western nation the spring of imagination is dried up, Mussolini gives the impression of an ever-welling source. One may object to any for of dictatorship, but one cannot help being stimulated by the phenomenal vitality of this man who, in his role of dictator, has commanded the barren soil of Italy to produce wheat within a given time; ordered his territory to be expanded (by reclaiming swamps) without extending his fronters; and, not content with summoning new cities into existence, is changing the face of the Eternal City by diggin up the buried glories of Imperial Rome….

In order to create a new Italy he is returning to the old sources of Roman strength and domination. He wishes to resuscitate the materlal vestiges of ancient Rome because they are beautiful and invaluable, but also, andd mainly, because in so doing he hopes to revive the old virtues of the rugged men who under Iron discipline once fashhioned Roman power…. Here I had the feeling that there is no limting condition imposed on any Fascist project; a strange impression that whatever Mussolini commands is executed without being hampered by problems, practical or financial.

And so on. The NYT was hardly alone in singing hymns to Mussolini. Nearly the whole establishment was fooled by this blowhard.

Mises, on the other hand, was not fooled. He was a prophet in understanding the evil of fascism – and six years before everyone else was still heralding the glories of this Italian FDR (which is how people saw Mussolini). Yes, evil. That’s the word Mises uses, which you can easily see from the entire section, which you can and should read. The Fascists and Communists use the same “unscrupulous methods…. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.”

Mises clearly condemns this view, pointing out that it is pure historical accident that fascism is less evil than communism; both are ideologies of violence that reject liberalism – the very thing that Mises sought to defend against socialism and fascism. Communism was just more developed; Mises predicts that fascism will eventually be the same. “The great danger threatening domestic policy from the side of Fascism lies in its complete faith in the decisive power of violence. In order to assure success, one must be imbued with the will to victory and always proceed violently. This is its highest principle. What happens, however, when one’s opponent, similarly animated by the will to be victorious, acts just as violently? The result must be a battle, a civil war.”

Thank goodness for online texts and the ability of share them. Smear artists like the guy who wrote this piece in Salon can no longer get away with the nonsense. As for the rest of Lind’s piece, it is typical of this type of journalism – a deliberately uncomprehending, dishonest, and anti-intellectual screed, and from an writer who is himself an apologist for the state and its wars (even Vietnam!). Anyone curious about what libertarians believe need only to look at the homepage of Mises.org today and Danny Sanchez’s piece on social harmony.


Redmond August 30, 2011 at 9:14 am

Great post – thank goodness for the nature of the Web, back in the days of dead tree media, a Salon article like this may have never been addressed

Michael A. Clem August 30, 2011 at 9:30 am

I remember reading Lind’s “Up from Conservatism”. I wasn’t impressed with him then–I’m not impressed by him now. Unfortunately, Mises’ style of writing makes it pretty easy to take particular passages out of context and give a false impression of Mises’ views.

Jeffrey Tucker August 30, 2011 at 9:37 am

Ok but keep in mind that after a lifetime of writing and 25 or so books, and that these two sentences, written long before anyone else had a clue, are the only two ever used against Mises in these sorts of smear articles. That’s quite a record.

Mike Boyadjian August 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Jeffrey, I just wanted to say that I really respect that you can quite often be found in the comments section of these articles, answering questions or addressing the concerns of your readers.

Ryan August 30, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Jeffrey, I think the main reason you typically see these sentences cited in smear articles against Mises is because the people writing these articles have almost never read Mises. The most they probably get are out of context quotes, like the one cited by Lind, and garbled recapitulations of Mises’ writings by political/intellectual opponents. Also, I think Per Bylund below makes a great point. My impression was that Mises would very thoroughly and in the most generous way possible flesh out the argument of his opponents before dismantling it in the subsequent paragraphs. I really thought it impressive how he would almost convincingly argue the other side before expertly showing the errors in reasoning.

Per Bylund August 30, 2011 at 11:52 am

Right, Michael. I have had the same thought many times. It is the same in Human Action, where Mises at times writes a whole paragraph pretty much paraphrasing the people he completely destroys in the following page or two. But it is not always obvious at first that it is not his own view. Unless, of course, one knows Mises. So I agree, his writing style makes it easy to find specific passages that by themselves would seem to say that Mises agrees with Fascism, socialism, communism, polylogism, and whatnot.

Michael A. Clem August 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Exactly. I don’t know how many times I had to re-read a section in Human Action because I thought he was saying one thing, when he was really just paraphrasing the argument that he attacks in the next few paragraphs.

Bardhyl Salihu August 30, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Right, Per. A case in your point is my dad asking me why I’m reading a book about socialism when he saw me reading Mises’s Socialism. He thought the book glorified it because the title was standing out boldly in the cover.

I had to clarify his confusion by showing him that this is actually a critique of the ideology. So while Mises’s style may be incredibly suitable for the way he conducts his work (either critique or exposition), we may say that it’s also prone to be misquoted out of context. However, Jeffrey’s point that of all the books that Mises has written only these lines are used against him shows that this is not really Mises’s problem, but rather a case of dishonest, intellectual frauds clutching at straws in an attempt to smear him.

jon August 30, 2011 at 9:39 am

i don’t think there is any such thing as “less evil,” but there is such a thing as “producing fewer extant evils.” just semantics, of course.

Michael S Costello August 30, 2011 at 9:47 am

The rest of the paragraph by Mises: “But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.” Including that would have stymied his argument somewhat, I think.

Peter S. August 30, 2011 at 10:28 am

…which is precisely why it was left out. Can’t even quote the whole paragraph without making the argument dubious at least.

Bardhyl Salihu August 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Not to say that, the sub-chapter itself is titled “10. The Argument of Fascism,” clearly showing that he is simply paraphrasing the argument that fascists make.

Darren Olofson August 30, 2011 at 9:57 am

To accuse Mises, a Jew forced to flee the Holocaust, of fascism is about as despicable as one can get.

Michael J. Green August 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

A Jew well aware of what was happening in Germany and who assisted other Jewish scholars in finding work outside of Germany and Austria.

Enjoy Every Sandwich August 30, 2011 at 10:36 am

Mr Lind: the United Strawmen Local 645 just called–you’re working the strawmen overtime without proper compensation. You’re in violation of the union contract.

Redmond August 30, 2011 at 10:40 am


John P. August 30, 2011 at 11:41 am

What about the rest of the article? Are his other statements just as blatantly false?

El Tonno August 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Do you want to make us read the whole stuff? It is a confusing hodgepodge linking attitudes and events that the author finds personally repellent to libertarianism. Historical falsities and selective citations are put to the task, too. If need be, pickings can be had from all over history, ignoring how the interpretation of words or attitudes of people change over history. Or one can make something up (Milton Friedman was a libertarian and was personally managing Chile’s economy; no slavery in Father Lincoln’s lands) or one can just dump one’s opinion (that blowing half of GDP on state is a good idea and sign of “modernism”, who can argue with that?)

I would be more interested in finding out about the Hayek-Pinochet thing.

John August 30, 2011 at 11:52 am

I’m particularly curious about the comments about the relationship between Hayek and Pinochet. I wasn’t really aware of this.

Michael S Costello August 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm

It’s there, and a perhaps well-established and damning relationship if you look at it with 20-20 hindsight. I find that it’s hypocritical for a minarchist/anarchist to demand the degree of interventionism the US government, the Rockefeller foundation, et al. engaged in in order to combat the rise of socialism (counterpunch states that it’s keynsianism) there. It’s certainly a blemish on Hayek there for sure– to the degree he supported someone who had people ‘disappeared’ knowingly or unknowingly. Milton Friedman was there too according to the counterpunch article, but he seems to have deflected the criticism by stating that he(Friedman) was also lecturing people in the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia at the time, and isn’t implicated in their respective gulags and totalitarian overreaches.

Peter September 1, 2011 at 2:16 am

But aside from visiting a couple of times, Hayek had essentially nothing at all to do with Pinochet/Chile…

(Love your “bujin” icon, BTW…but do you have permission from soke to use it? :))

Michael S Costello August 30, 2011 at 2:11 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hayek#Chile -> A Hayek Quote from the time: “Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism. My personal impression — and this is valid for South America – is that in Chile, for example, we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government.”

Ninja August 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Democracy is just as tyrannical as any other government. Instead of a thief stealing your possessions, he can just vote other people to do it!

Barry Loberfeld August 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I actually got a reply from a leftist to my original post there. My rejoinder:

@ Kill Republicans

Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my letter. To wit…

Until a critical mass of Libertarains who think differently come forward and denounce this pro-Pincochet bias publicly and make it a contested issue, the American Libertarian movement will continue to have a “Pinochet Problem”, for better or for worse.

Since the late 60s, the libertarian movement has been opposed to support for all authoritarian regimes. In fact, that is one of the things that conservatives have attacked us for most vehemently (up to and including Ron Paul). Lind takes a relative handful and presents that as the majority.

I would think that Libertarians of all people would understand the fundamental problems with assigning collective guilt for individual crimes.

Yes, and I hope Lind would understand that, as well.

Well the obvious answer to that is it stains NIxon, Kissinger and his administration, not the institution of the Presidency, let alone “liberalism” or Big Government.

Our welfare-warfare state’s support for authoritarian regimes preceded Nixon … and succeeded him. It’s not the free market that taxes your income away to torturers.

El Tonno August 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Woah. A “Pinochet Problem”. What’s that then?

I took a gander at the comment section and I must say I feel dirty now. “Libertarian Fascism” is being decried … what? People proclaiming to be überhackers calling each other names. Little sense or rationality. George Orwell’s “300-post comment section of hate”. Fresh every day.

Daniel Hewitt August 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Several of the article’s commenters have posted the context of the Mises quote – the majority of Salonistas simply do not care.

Recall that Michael Lind is the author of the “Ludwig von Hayek” article in Salon. It was later corrected, but still speaks to his ignorance. http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2010/06/15/conservatives_economics_european/index.html

Even Krugman thinks that Lind is an ignoramus.

One of America’s new intellectual stars is a young writer named Michael Lind, whose contrarian essays on politics have given him a reputation as a brilliant enfant terrible. In 1994 Lind published an article in Harper’s about international trade, which contained the following remarkable passage:

“Many advocates of free trade claim that higher productivity growth in the United States will offset pressure on wages caused by the global sweatshop economy, but the appealing theory falls victim to an unpleasant fact. Productivity has been going up, without resulting wage gains for American workers. Between 1977 and 1992, the average productivity of American workers increased by more than 30 percent, while the average real wage fell by 13 percent. The logic is inescapable. No matter how much productivity increases, wages will fall if there is an abundance of workers competing for a scarcity of jobs — an abundance of the sort created by the globalization of the labor pool for US-based corporations.” (Lind 1994: )

What is so remarkable about this passage? It is certainly a very abrupt, confident rejection of the case for free trade; it is also noticeable that the passage could almost have come out of a campaign speech by Patrick Buchanan. But the really striking thing, if you are an economist with any familiarity with this area, is that when Lind writes about how the beautiful theory of free trade is refuted by an unpleasant fact, the fact he cites is completely untrue.


Etjon Basha August 31, 2011 at 6:12 am

That’s not exactly the feeling I got from that passage. I think that what Mises was trying to say is that, given the chaotic situation of the early ’20 in Italy, with socialists taking over factories, threatening farmers and entrepreneurs etc., it was only the fascists intervention which saved Italy form full-blown socialism, and, in doing so, spared that great civilization.
Mises is actually praising Fascism what that accomplishment, for instituting a corporatist state instead of full-blows socialism. Latter he writes that the fascists cannot succeed in fighting socialism if they rely on thugs alone, for ideas ultimately win.
But that Mises was indeed full of praise for Mussolini for his achievement, that is clear I believe and its nothing we should be ashamed of. What would I have given for an Albanian Mussolini to have broken a few socialist bones back in the day.

V September 3, 2011 at 7:01 am

Mussolini’s finance minister De Stefani guided Italy in a laissez faire direction from 1922-5. Mises’ comments are perfectly appropriate given the times.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: