Why Libertarians Should Read Mises
By Duncan Whitmore
In this final part of three essays exploring the importance of Ludwig von Mises’ for libertarian thought, we will examine Mises’ views on the fundamental importance of economics in society, and the meaning of this for understanding the particular nature of the state and statism in our own time. We will then conclude (in a separate post) with an annotated bibliography of Mises’ major works.
The Fundamental Importance of Economics in Society
Mises had a particularly insightful understanding of the special, foundational status of economics and the influence of economic theory in human society. In his own words:
Economics […] is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man’s human existence.
Economics deals with society’s fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen.
The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will make the proper use of the rich treasure with which this knowledge provides them or whether they will leave it unused. But if they fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.1
A wonderful answer to all the proud pragmatists who dismiss the power of ideas – including libertarianism.
Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller. It is a common error, I think, among the Radical idealists of my own party and period to suggest that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they are so sordid or so materialistic. The truth is that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they can be sentimental about any sentiment, and idealistic about any ideal, any ideal that they find lying about. Just as a boy who has not known much of women is apt too easily to take a woman for the woman, so these practical men, unaccustomed to causes, are always inclined to think that if a thing is proved to be an ideal it is proved to be the ideal. Many, for example, avowedly followed Cecil Rhodes because he had a vision. They might as well have followed him because he had a nose; a man without some kind of dream of perfection is quite as much of a monstrosity as a noseless man.
Chesterton, G. K. (2010). Heretics (297–298). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
I was over at The Last Ditch’s place and I spotted this just now. Do go, I’m going to give it a try now and then, even me.
There is a major (2 hours-plus) interview with Chris Tame (don’t worry, we don’t do boring fascist lefty Castro ranting-stuff here about “the people” and “the future”, for we want you all to be interested and involved – ed.) plus sessions with Tim Evans; Brian Micklethwait; prof Roger Scruton; Ralph, Lord Harris; Patrick Minford: Raymond Plant; Dr Robert Lefever; Kevin McFarlane; Ian Anderson; Norman Barry; Phillip Loades; and many others.