January 2020 Book of the Month: Liberalism by Ludwig von Mises

Book of The Month

“Every measure aiming at confiscating some of the assets of those who own more than the average or at restricting the rights of the owners of property is considered as liberal and progressive.  Practically unlimited discretionary power is vested in government agencies the decisions of which are exempt from judicial review.  The few upright citizens who dare to criticize this trend toward administrative despotism are branded as extremists, reactionaries, economic royalists, and Fascists.  It is suggested that a free country ought not to tolerate political activities on the part of such “public enemies.” – Ludwig von Mises[1]

The year is 1927: Ludwig von Mises publishes Liberalism, a political and economic treatise designed to enlighten the world with the virtues of capitalism, and in doing so expose the errors of socialism.  The problem is that anti-liberal governments, economists and socialists cannot discredit Mises, forcing them to ignore his work.  For almost 100 years, his work, which has the power to solve the political and economic problems of today, remains unnoticed.

Mises begins Liberalism with a brief introduction showing how liberalism allowed Western civilization to flourish from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the start of World War I (1914).  This near century of peace remains an era unknown to most, but one can grasp its progress when one considers its liberal innovation and wealth creation that culminated into the Bell Époque in Europe, the Victorian Age in Britain, and the Gilded Age in America.  Once readers understand liberalism’s history, Mises explains what liberalism is, what it is not and what this means for the future.  Mises’s genius is in his ability to take the complex and turn it into something simple, allowing the simplest of minds to feel like a genius.  Upon completion of Liberalism readers will have the ability to articulate what liberalism and socialism are, various ideologies, the history of, and the possible roles of government (i.e. the state).   Mises, unmatched in eloquence and grace, showing great respect for individual freedom, forces readers to confront a decision:  embrace liberalism because it is true, or reject it for the same reason.

Mises uses the word ‘liberalism,’ in its original context, the definition of which is still maintained in the dictionary to this day.[2]  Liberalism is the idea that is that the state should grant no special privilege to any individual, group or corporation.  Therefore, by granting no special treatment to anyone, everyone is made equal, this is known as equality.  In order to do this the state must only protect the life, liberty and property of society, and thus support the free market by staying out of the free market, (i.e. the free market is not ‘free’ if manipulated by the state).  The terms ‘libertarian’ or ‘classical liberalism’ are used today to denote what Mises knew to be ‘liberalism,’ at a time when socialists began to use the word to convey socialism.  While classical liberalism and libertarian may convey the same message, Econ Circus supports Mises’s vision of reclaiming the word ‘liberalism’ for its proper usage.

The comfort in liberalism is that a person can stand up for a belief system that can be universally applied.  Contrast this to socialism which believes in nothing, other than the will of the dictator, party or majority.  Socialism has no great writers or leaders; its history is laden with millions of deaths, yet survives today because the masses believe that no other system even exists.  A liberal can site the founding fathers, countless writers, statesmen and artists; a socialist can only site the Demagogue, or the Ocasio-Cortez for millennials, the great leader that can convince a crowd to try the methods of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin or Mao just one more time in order to make the nation great again.  Inherent in liberalism is an honesty that no other belief system has.

In 2020, liberalism remains as relevant as it was almost 100 years ago.  Liberalism is still the antithesis of socialism, it still stands for life, liberty and property, and it still favours decentralization of power and asks for no preferential treatment for any persons, groups or individuals in a society.  Liberalism can still be defined, whereas all other ideologies like populism or socialism cannot; liberalism stands for something, whereas anti-liberal does not.  It is in the universal application of liberalism that its enemies abhor, and because no one could fight against it, anti-liberals had to take the word ‘liberal’ and make it mean ‘socialist.’  One can easily confirm this by asking those around them to describe the difference between liberalism and socialism; few realize that under one system the state protects life, liberty and property, and under the other, the state confiscates it (for redistribution to the many, the few, the poor, the strong, the weak or the rich).

Mises notes that:

The socialist ideal, carried to its logical conclusion, would eventuate in a social order in which all the means of production were owned by the people as a whole. Production would be completely in the hands of the government, the center of power in society. It alone would determine what was to be produced and how, and in what way goods ready for consumption were to be distributed. [3]

Mises offers the antidote to socialism leaving the reader glad in what they have discovered.  The inquisitive mind will look into the past, to discover Bastiat, Carl Menger and Boehm-Bawerk, and then look as to who came after Mises to find Murray Rothbard, F.A Hayek, and Henry Hazlitt.  If they look deep enough they will find the entire school of Austrian economics and how for over 100 years it continues to prove wrong the ideas embraced by Keynes, Freidman, Krugman, central bankers, behaviour economists and all other economic socialists.   The ability for the Austrians to make all other economic schools obsolete is the only reason public schools, universities, mainstream economists and the media have kept these authors buried for over a century.

Econ Circus believes that upon reading Liberalism, you will have to embrace liberalism because you will never be able to go back to socialism.

[1] Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism, (Auburn, The Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000), xvii.

[2] Merriam Webster Online dictionary: Definition 2b:  “a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard.”

[3] Mises, Liberalism, 73.

Leave a Reply