Mises on the recurring attraction of socialism

In my Contemporary European Philosophy course this semester, we are reading Mises’ Liberalism. I found these remarks prescient, as his book was first published in 1927:

“Fascism can triumph today because universal indignation at infamies committed by the socialist and communists has obtained for it the sympathies of wide circles. But when the fresh impression of the crimes of the Bolsheviks has paled, the socialist program will once again exercise its power of attraction on the masses. For Fascism does nothing to combat it except to suppress socialist ideas and to persecute the people who spread them. If it wanted really to combat socialism, it would have to oppose it with ideas. There is, however, only one idea that can be effectively opposed to socialism, viz., that of liberalism.” (p. 50)

Historical memory is often short, and the same easy ideas that attract a new generation to socialism crop up again. The same phenomenon is occurring in our lifetime: the Soviet Union collapsed about twenty years ago, but young people know little of its awful history and find it easy to adopt the ideas that led to it.

We do need better history education — but Mises is right: we need to combat the ideas more effectively, especially its atavistic ethic.

Here are free online audio-book and text editions of Mises’s Liberalism.

3 thoughts on “Mises on the recurring attraction of socialism

  • February 6, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    A friend made an observation about Latin America I think can be generalized beyond it: that they’re always looking for a political messiah.

    Their politics ever careen between leftist and rightist autocracies, the contradictions and failures of one leading them to the other until the reverse happens. Though with infusions of liberal economic thinking countries like Chile are breaking out of the pattern.

    Marx and his ilk were responding to very real evils. But they catastrophically misdiagnosed their cause, hence prescription. This misdiagnosis and prescription continue to pervade modern culture with very little challenge.

    The cause of those evils was of course not property but privilege, which is only made possible by statism. Failing to understand the key role of the state in the evils they criticized, including corporatism, socialists prescribed it in undiluted dosage as the cure. The result was ultimate corporate nightmare: the totalitarian state.

    I think Rand is right in saying socialism will never lose its appeal no matter what the horrors it has and continues to produce until the nihilistic anti-self morality underpinning it is shown for what it is.

  • February 7, 2013 at 1:02 am

    PS: That’s corporatism as opposed to capitalism i.e. privilege bestowed by the state by means of regulation, protective tariffs, etc., favoring well-connected corporations as opposed to businesses that made it by uncoerced public plebiscite.

    Seeing the present state of affairs and often justly infuriated, anti-corporate activists like Michael Moore and the Wall Street Occupiers point to the corporate half of the equation, recite a long litany of often legitimate grievances – while paying little heed to the state half that enabled them, much less to the antiliberal ideas underpinning it all (there were a few voices amongst them that expressed a better understanding). Their prescription for those evils is a yet bigger dose of statism. Railing against corporate welfare the Wall Street Occupiers submitted an extravagant wish list of public programs to be bestowed by a vast, intrusive, over-arching state i.e. by compulsion funded by the bottomless pocket of the American taxpayer (who historically has always exhibited great private generosity), leaving the implication to be drawn that special interest agendas coercively imposed on society by the state are justified as long as they’re our agendas. In doing so they play into the hands of the special interests, “system” and “establishment” they fight by endorsing their basic premise. But those interests, with millions to spend on teams of lobbyists and lawyers, have proven marvelously adept at jumping on, riding and becoming the system. In 2008 they pulled off the most spectacular robbery of the American taxpayer in history.

  • February 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

    It is true, we must fight ideas with ideas. Nonetheless, I think it worth noting, “The only good Commie is a dead Commie.”

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