The Verein fur Socialpolitik or Association for Social Policy is a central character in the early chapters of the Hulsmann Mises biography. An important thing intellectual history can do is put contextual substance back into sterile formulations of abstract principles which lack much of their conceptual significance outside of a real scientific — and social — problematic. A case in point is the notion of value free social science.
What we’ve mostly had over the last 50 years is an expending of buckets of ink with gassy conceptual investigations of — an arguments over — “value freedom”. Many of these academics seem to have no inkling that these conceptual slogans actually once had a home in a real set of social and intellectual problems. One of the biggest problems turned out to be how to think about policy claims within a professional organization dedicated to a welfare agenda advanced via state intervention. Now and again, debates within the Association devolved into muddled fights between contested visions of preferred social ends and contested visions of preferred social means. Over time folks came to realize that different sorts of arguments went to work supporting different sorts of claims. Hulsmann highlights one of these episodes — the fight over whether the government should support or restrain industrial cartels.
And the important innovation here came from Friedrich Naumann — an influential leftist social thinker — who argued against a set of proposed measures seeking to harness and restrain industrial cartels. Naumann asserted that the proposed interventions used as a social means could not achieve the social ends sought. This made the issue a theoretical and ultimately factual issue, washing away muddles though a simple clarification — if the proposed interventions were not an un-contestably desired end in and of itself, then the issue of its desirability as a means was open to economic analysis.