The Ethos of Ludwig von Mises
One of the most irritating things about being an intellectual descendent of Ludwig von Mises and fellow members of the so-called ‘Austrian School of Economics’ like its founder Carl Menger and 1974 Nobel Laureate in Economics F.A. Hayek, is having a superb understanding of the world thanks to these men’s writings, yet see mankind continuously march towards disaster in a seemingly easily predictable manner. If you are aware of these men’s ideas you will no doubt understand. But something else related to this frustration is how, even though many people pay ‘lip service’ to Mises, hardly anyone really shares his ethos or general views. Let me explain.
Mises believed that the source of the world’s problems was neither malice nor stupidity, it was just economic ignorance thus he writes “The issues of society’s economic organization are every citizen’s business. To master them to the best of one’s ability is the duty of everyone.” Since the leading intellectuals and masses were making monumental errors, he just felt like we had to reach them. He writes : “The masses follow the lead of the people we call educated. Once convince these, and the game is won.” He believed that this was the strategy needed to save mankind. Consider what he writes here:
Liberalism is rationalistic. It maintains that it is possible to convince the immense majority that peaceful cooperation within the framework of society better serves their rightly understood interests than mutual battling and social disintegration. It has full confidence in man’s reason. It may be that this optimism is unfounded and that the liberals have erred. But then there is no hope left for mankind’s future.
If mankind’s economic ignorance will lead to the eventual end of civilization, then this ignorance must be overcome, and for this to happen we must first have enough people who actually understand economics, that understand the vital need to educate, and also very importantly, that have faith that they will ultimately succeed otherwise what is the point in even trying. Mises of course adhered to all of the above and is arguably one of the few key Atlases upon which the social order stands. Not only did Mises do the most to dismantle Socialist mythology via his writings and immense influence in future free-marketeers, but he did his best to reach influential politicians and nearly single-handedly saved civilization when he persuaded Austrian politicians away from Communism in the early 1920s when the Bolshevik-Socialist revolution was rapidly expanding thus helping stop the falling dominoes in Europe. Mises recalls:
“There were few who recognized the state of affairs clearly. People were so convinced of the inevitability of Bolshevism that their main concern was securing a favorable place for themselves in the new order. The Catholic Church and its followers, the Christian Social Party, were prepared to befriend the Bolshevists with the same eagerness with which the bishops and archbishops would embrace National Socialism 20 years later.…I knew what was at stake. Bolshevism would lead Vienna to starvation and terror within a few days. Plundering hordes would take to the streets and a second blood bath would destroy what was left of Viennese culture.”.. “The most important task I undertook…was the forestalling of a Bolshevist takeover… The fact that events did not lead to such a regime in Vienna was my success and mine alone.” –Mises (Memoirs)
Mises was also a deeeep evolutionary thinker, which not only helped him make further clarifications regarding the emergence and workings of the socioeconomic order but this also helped him stay away from erroneous moralist ‘good vs. evil’ arguments. Just his chapter “Society” from his 1922 classic book ‘Socialism’ provides more evolutionary wisdom regarding the emergence of the socioeconomic order than most of what today’s “leading” intellectuals are doing.
These traits that were a part of his ‘ethos’, the deep understanding of the world, the faith and determination to teach economics as a way to prosperity, the evolutionary perspective. Things which were also shared by Hayek and Hazlitt, just do not currently seemingly exist in enough numbers to turn things around. There is plenty of economic education for the purpose of saving your finance or exposing who “the bad guys are”, but not in the Misesian way of looking at economic education as a civic duty and a way to save civilization. Most free-marketeers are ‘conservatives’ which adds a layer of moral pontification which labels “leftists” and our central planners as immoral or sinister which, again, is NOT the Misesian ethos. It is mind-blowing and kinda frustrating to see how this man did the most to save the world, his economic education is the foundation of much of what remains of free-market thinking, yet the real Mises is unknown and neglected.