The intellectual climate of the decades prior and after WWII was marked by enthusiastic plans loudly proclaiming statism and comprehensive large-scale social planning as the next panacea. These were considered the means to deliver humankind from superstition, moral depravity, economic chaos and misery to unprecedented heights of rationality and unrestrained development of human potential. Individual liberty, private property, economic freedom and limited government were scorned at as reactionary artifacts of barbaric, unenlightened age.
Everyone interested in how amidst such a hostile environment a new movement for liberty could arise and thrive that consistently and convincingly argued against the omnipotent powers of government and stressed the actual nature and value of decentralized, uncoerced planning and cooperation of individuals, should read the next Chapter, Birth of a Movement.Once again, I cannot help but marvel at the outstanding merits of Prof. Hülsmann as a historian of ideas and economist. His unique ability to discern the essential elements and bring them together into one coherent picture is superbly demonstrated in the present chapter. What do we learn in it?
Many people were involved and contributed importantly to the birth and rise of a new movement for liberty, but no one did more in terms of crucial intellectual content than Ludwig von Mises.
Generous businessmen such as William Volker (of Volker Foundation), courageous politicians such as Ludwig Erhard in Germany, bright and enthusiastic young students were able to galvanize their efforts and contribute to intellectual revival of practical relevance of liberal ideas only because such men as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Wilhelm Röpke, Jacques Rueff and others provided the indispensable theoretical framework. Doctrinal and methodological differences notwithstanding that existed and still exist; each of these scholars did contribute enormously to a shift of opinion from the view that favored statism to conceptions that define a truly rational social order by its ability to leave the individual to discover for himself and develop the means to arrive at his highest potential.
First, America, although under siege from Marxism and Keynesianism, still preserved a few outstanding intellectuals who used their diverse talents ranging from political science to literature to press hard into another direction. It was crucial, though, to have economics and economists join the battle because without economics and economists no convincing and successful case for capitalism can ever be accomplished.
Why? Economics is uniquely qualified to give answers to questions about how to achieve and preserve the material basis of society which makes everything else possible, from literature to arts to many other applied science. Historically, economic problems have always been the decisive element that brought mighty empires to their knees, introduced tyrannies and unnecessary hardships by popular consent of precisely those who suffered the most. In this sense economics ranks among the foremost practical sciences, it provides vital understanding of the way the economic system works.
It was therefore no wonder that the development of sound economics and dissemination of laissez-faire policy prescriptions was given lion’s share of earlier work efforts on the part of those who wanted to see changes in opinion. The participants of the early meetings of the Mont PÃ¨lerin Society were overwhelmingly comprised by economists and the majority of topics discussed concerned directly major problems in economic theory and policy.
Still it was and is extremely important to discuss differences between various scholars on problems of theory and policy, which often concerned not just fine points but matters of principle and which from the standpoint of logical consistency and the necessity to present a united front could not be underestimated. In this regard, whenever Mises recognized and could prove that his opponents were wrong or intentionally dishonest; he was uncompromising even to the point of putting in jeopardy long-lasting personal relationships with his former students.
The birth of a new movement for liberty was anything but a smooth process, the present chapter gives a rich account of formative years of this movement. It is a must read!