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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8015/the-mainspring-of-human-progress/

The Mainspring of Human Progress

April 11, 2008 by

MIses.org is pleased to host an online edition of a book that made something of a splash about 50 years ago, and one can easily see why. It is called The Mainspring of Human Progress, and in 278 pages, it provides an overview–and a very compelling one!–of the central importance of human freedom in liberating people from poverty, famine, and death. It is striking how the author continues to remind the reader that the “state of nature” is not a blissful oneness with the creator and creation but rather a grim poverty and struggle for survival.

The author is Henry Grady Weaver, who was a General Motors executive with a real talent for writing and research. The book, written as a private research project, appeared first in 1947. He died two years later, before he could complete his true ambition of writing a book on Bastiat. The book has its own Wikipedia entry.

Leonard Read of the Foundation for Economic Education liked the book and printed under FEE’s auspices in 1953, promoting it heavily for the next 20 years. One has to admire Read’s sense of intellectual entrepreneurship here, to publish a book by an author no one had really heard of and hold it up as a great teaching tool this way. We might also note how Read might be considered a pioneer in the area of intellectual property. Check the copyright notice on this book: “Permission to reprint Mainspring, in whole or in part, is hereby granted by the publisher and copyright holder.” Wow!

The author guides the reader through a history from the ancient world and forward, and offers some challenging ideas concerning the relationship between Islam and Christianity. This is one of the few books I’ve seen that offers a strongly revisionist account of the role of Islam in the middle ages. He regards Mohammad as an advocate of individualism and peace, and the contribution of the “Saracens” as a positive one for the advance of human liberty. If you have only heard the Christian side of the Crusades, this book will come as a shock. His claim that Islam is wholly peaceful unless prodded with invasions and violence has strong relevance today, obviously.

You will find it a wonderful read, highly provocative in so many ways. I’m a bit disappointed by the final chapter on war, however, and the author’s uncharacteristically naive claim that the US in its wars has served as an “arsenal of democracy or rather, as the arsenal of freedom.” But I suppose we have to consider the time: just at the end of World War II, which public opinion admitted no other perspective. Might he have changed his mind with the Cold War? Who knows? Certainly he would have been a major skeptic of the War on Terror.

In any case, I can see now why this book was so popular and had such a big impact. Read was right to make this work part of the core of FEE’s educational project.

By the way, the book is available for 1 cent from Amazon.

{ 12 comments }

Inquisitor April 11, 2008 at 9:35 am

I’m highly skeptical of the author’s claims regarding Islam, but I’ll have to read the book to evaluate them.

David Johnson April 11, 2008 at 2:03 pm

I love this book. I first found the FEE edition years ago, and now it is close to falling apart through use. It is essentially Weaver’s recasting of Lane’s “The Discovery of Freedom”.

p.s. I too have a bit of confusion with his (and Lane’s) portrayal of Islam. It certainly isn’t the popular Islam we see today, which has regressed and joined religion to state.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche April 11, 2008 at 3:15 pm

I bought a used paperback copy for $1 from the Mises Institute store while I was in Auburn a while back. Can’t remember when exactly. But I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Alex Peak April 11, 2008 at 4:00 pm

From what I’ve read, FEE used to give out literature for free to whomever requested it. They were more concerned with keeping the remnant alive than making any long-term profit, and when Read was able to secure large sums of money–which he supposedly was quite able at doing–he would not hesitate to spend it in the pursuit of getting more materials out there. It’s of little surprise that the Foundation didn’t mind other people making their own prints, thus.

From my reading of Radicals for Capitalism, there was a strive back in those days for someone to write “the book.” It sounds from the description above that this was indeed one of those attempts.

fundamentalist April 11, 2008 at 5:05 pm

I’m sure it’s a very good book, but before you take his word on Islam, you might want to read something by Bat Ye’or, the French anthropologist. She writes that most of the “Islam is peaceful” literature comes from the British attempt to justify siding with the Ottoman’s against Russia in the Crimean war. The Brit gov wanted to contain Russia, but knew that the public would oppose siding with the Muslim Ottoman’s. After all, the Ottoman’s had been attacking Eastern Europe for several centuries and most people knew how poorly Christians were treated in Eastern Europe under Ottoman control. So the Brits started a massive propaganda campaign to convince the people that Islam is a religion of peace and that Muslims treated Christians very well, even though they knew the opposite was true. Much of the writing about peaceful Islam comes from that propaganda.

Is Islam a religion of peace? Those who say yes claim that the root word for Islam is the word for peace. But those of us who know Arabic know that the root word is submission, not peace, although they are similar. Some Muslims are peaceful and interpret Islam in a peaceful way; others are war mongers and interpret Islam as promoting violence against non-Muslims. The majority of Muslims side with whoever threatens them the most.

Cody April 12, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Finally! Someone who gets it right about Islam. The author captured the reasons why the religion spread like wildfire. Namely: freedom, low taxes, minimal government intervention. Islam even prohibits charging interest when lending money, which I’m starting to think is a way of combating fractional-reserve banking and inflation of the money supply.The comment about the Ottoman empire and modern day Islam has nothing to do with the period that Weaver described in his book. In fact, that period ended in 1492 whereas the Ottoman empire was only getting started then. The commenter’s reference to submission is true, but it means “submission to God” and not the submission of other people to them.

Bruce Koerber April 12, 2008 at 5:19 pm

To get to the salient point about Islam I will start with the U.S. Constitution. It is a covenant. Those who violate the covenant effectively destroy the intent.

The religion of Muhammad and the holy Quran is purely ethical and transforming but historical circumstances were such that the covenant established by Muhammad to preserve His religion was violated.

Can any of us say that the vulgarity of interventionism that is rampant in America is what was meant to be, as given in the Constitution? No, surely not. The same is true in Islam.

The right to interpret and intervene has been usurped by those without moral authority. Humanity is now in a struggle to unfetter itself from these oppressors.

My book Ethics of the Divine Economy (http://divineec.ipower.com/page6.html) does a good job of putting this into perspective.

Al Fin April 14, 2008 at 8:49 am

If Islam is about freedom, then Americans can get the same kind of freedom as Muslims have. Simply take away the woman’s right to vote, and re-institute slavery–as in Chad, Mauritania, Sudan etc. Instant freedom, as in Islam.

Ideology makes fools of everyone. Every. Single. One.

Bernie April 14, 2008 at 9:41 am

Thank you for making this book available as a pdf. It is the first pdf book I have completely read all the way through. There are many things to debate but the central argument from which the title comes is argued with passion and comes across well.

It is not just his take on Islam that is radical. He also presents aspects of the other biblical religions in a very unusual, and not necessarily wrong, way. The question of gods is interesting in this respect. He talks of god as being truth or as the source of truth and in this way makes the case for monotheism seem more logical.

The most interesting stuff about Islam that he says for me is how inventive and enterprising and free they were back then. If his account is correct then a great catastrophe must have happened to them beyond the crusades.

jurisnaturalist April 22, 2008 at 3:21 pm

This pdf edition is a wonderful contribution to access to freedom literature. However, you have selected an edition which does not contain John Hood’s excellent introduction, a bit of a disservice. Any way to resolve this oversight?

Al the Old Whig June 8, 2008 at 1:45 am

I read this book long before 9/11. I don’t remember much of what he said about Muslims. What I took away from the book was his take on the Judges of Israel. That template overlays what I understand when I’m reading anyone’s description of Anarcho-Capitalism. I wonder if that means that I’ve misunderstood some people.

P.M.Lawrence June 8, 2008 at 5:20 am

“In fact, that period ended in 1492 whereas the Ottoman empire was only getting started then”.

Ah… no, Cody. It had been underway in recognisable form for around two centuries by then, it was just that it was only around then that it started directly threatening the Roman Catholic parts of Europe (I’m not counting the failed Last Crusade, when they attacked the Ottomans).

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