Sunday, July 3, 2011

Further Recommended Reading for Andrew Leonard

Recently, I discussed the problem of the implication  made by the Slate's Andrew Leonard  that Ludwig von Mises was a racist. Leonard has acknowledged the post and now appears to concede that my view is the correct one:
I know this now, because spurred on by readers who rightly assumed that I had not read deeply into the Mises ouvre and thus had no right to mock it, and shamed by a cutting blog post at Economic Policy Journal making clear that a Mises reference to "white peoples" I had raised my eyebrows at was not in fact an indication of latent racism, I decided to tackle "Human Action."
Leonard then goes on to report, while correctly sniping at Michelle Bachmann's claim she reads Mises at the beach:
The most recent paperback edition of Mises' "Human Action" is 1128 dense pages, packed with philosophical jargon and convoluted argumentation. It is the very antithesis of what most humans would consider beach reading -- even a Kindle would be weighed down!...I am abashed. 1100 pages of Mises is a challenge I have been unable to meet. Maybe I need some more vacation time and a ticket to Bali. So far, I have only made my way through the introduction and first two chapters of "Human Action." I will preemptive concede that my understanding is still shallow.
Kudos to Leonard for his humble confession that Mises is not easy reading. Mises was a scholar of the first degree. I must say that Leonard's article is an interesting assessment of Mises, coming from someone who has read only 10% of Human Action. (Wait until Leonard makes his way through the rest of Human Action, and then The Theory of Money and Credit, Bureaucracy, Socialism and Epistemological Problems of Economics). But the over-riding theme of Leonard's article is the supposed connection between Misesians and fundamentalist Christianity. He calls it  a " political merger".

This is somewhat inaccurate. While some fundamentalists may be attracted to the writings of Mises, the attraction is not reciprocal. There is no merger. Misesians have for the most part been influenced by the great economist and libertarian scholar Murray Rothbard. This Rothbardian influence has pushed Misesians in a direction far removed from the direction of the fundamentalists. Specifically, with regard to war.

If there is a connection between fundamentalists and Misesians, beyond Bachmann's cheap political attempt to pose as a Misesian, it is the attempt by some fundamentalists to grab a snippets of Mises thought without absorbing the full context of Mises' teachings.  Rothbard, a direct student of Mises, expanded the thinking of Mises in the direction of political philosophy. In February 1973, Rothbard explained the differences in a broader sense, when he discussed the differences between conservatives and libertarians:

The libertarian position, generally, is to minimize State power as much as possible, down to zero, and isolationism is the full expression in foreign affairs of the domestic objective of whittling down State power. In other words, interventionism is the opposite of isolationism, and of course it goes on up to war, as the aggrandizement of State power crosses national boundaries into other States, pushing other people around etc. So this is the foreign counterpart of the domestic aggression against the internal population. I see the two as united.

The responsibility of trying to limit or abolish foreign intervention is avoided by many conservative libertarians in that they are very, very concerned with things like price control – of course I agree with them. They are very, very concerned about eliminating taxes, licensing, and so forth – with which I agree – but somehow when it comes to foreign policy there’s a black out. The libertarian position against the State, the hostility toward expanding government intervention and so forth, goes by the board – all of a sudden you hear those same people who are worried about government intervention in the steel industry cheering every American act of mass murder in Vietnam or bombing or pushing around people all over the world.

This shows, for one thing, that the powers of the State apparatus to bamboozle the public work better in foreign affairs than in domestic. In foreign affairs you still have this mystique that the nation-State is protecting you from a bogeyman on the other side of the mountain. There are "bad" guys out there out trying to conquer the world and "our" guys are in there trying to protect us. So not only is isolationism the logical corollary of libertarianism, which many libertarians don’t put into practice; in addition, as Randolph Bourne says, "war is the health of the State."

The State thrives on war – unless, of course, it is defeated and crushed – expands on it, glories in it. For one thing, when one State attacks another State, it is able through this intellectual bamboozlement of the public to convince them that they must rush to the defense of the State because they think the State is defending them.
In other words, if let’s say, Paraguay and Brazil are going to get into a war, each State – the Paraguayan government and the Brazilian government – is able to convince their own subjects that the other government is out to get them and loot them and murder them in their beds and so forth, so they are able to induce their own hapless subjects to fight against the other State, whereas in actual practice, of course, it is the States that have the quarrel, not the people. The people are outside the quarrels of the State and yet the State is able to generate this patriotic mass war hysteria and to call everybody up to the colors physically and spiritually and economically and therefore, of course, aggrandize State power permanently.

Most conservatives and libertarians are very familiar with – and deplore – the increase in State power in the American government in the last 50 or 70 years, but what they don’t seem to realize is that most of these increases took place in giant leaps during wartime. It was wartime that provided the crisis situation – the spark – which enabled the States to put on so-called "emergency" measures, which of course never got lifted, or rarely got lifted.
Thus, there is no way that modern day libertarians, who are mostly influenced by  Rothbard, could merge with fundamentalists, who currently support U.S. military actions around the world. Once Leonard finishes up with his reading of Mises, he needs to read Rothbard, especially The Anatomy of the State and The Betrayal of the American Right.



  1. Someone should tell Leonard about Bob Murphy's study guide. That might be helpful for him to get through it.

  2. Leonard erroneously believes that Misesians and evangelical Christians are strongly correlated/mixed/the same groups.

    But that's not true.

    First, Austro-libertarians reject the interventionist aspects of social conservatism.

    I think Leonard's logic is sloppy: Evangelical Christians = Evil Republicans = Misesians.

    But, of course, Big Government Republicans and Misesians are very far away from each other.

    Similarly, he thinks Bachmann is a Misesian (even though he doesn't think that she read him). But she is not. She is not a libertarian -that's clear from her voting record. Does she advocate an end to the drug war, etc.?

  3. I submit that there is little if any knowledge of or support for Austrian School ideas among the Republican war-mongering horde. From my experience, those people cannot find France on a map. Or Kansas.

    Since Mr. Leonard is clearly too dumb to understand "Human Action", he should start off with something easier, like Rothbard's "The Essential Von Mises":

  4. Basic method of infantry combat:
    * Ready
    * Aim
    * Fire

    Leonard's method of intellectual combat:
    * Fire
    * Aim
    * Ready (optional)
    * Change target to deflect from original miss

  5. from the comments after the Slate piece:

    "You'd need communist egalitarianism to have a functional Misesian utopia!"


  6. "The libertarian position against the State, the hostility toward expanding government intervention and so forth, goes by the board – all of a sudden you hear those same people who are worried about government intervention in the steel industry cheering every American act of mass murder in Vietnam or bombing or pushing around people all over the world."

    Huh? What libertarian world is Leonard talking about?? War increases the power of the state and lays the foundation for statism and is anathema to libertarians. He needs to read Rothbard, RP and Lew Rockwell and just skip Mises for now.

  7. Um, I would think that the fact that Mises was a liberal kind of throws a wrench into Leonard's argument.

    Disclaimer- I am not using the modern Orwellian usage of the term "liberal".

  8. Bob, I've been studying Austrian Econ for a decade, and even I have difficulty with the density and depth of Mises' "Human Action". I think it took me a year to finish it, since I had to re-read 80% of each chapter twice, or thrice in some cases.

    Someone with no understanding of Austrianism is going to have a MUCH harder time.

    I am the one who emailed Leonard and his editors about the original slander, and in his respones he was extremely cordial and genuinely interested in understanding the reason why people are so passionate in their defense of Mises.

    I'm going to email him the suggestion about Murphy's study guide. I'm actually going to order it myself!

  9. I continue to find it unfathomable how there are NO leftists (or Bachmannites for that matter) who have the slightest familiarity with even basic Austrian School concepts. Don't count on Mr. Leonard to ever get a grip on something basic like economic calculation. Or the difference between laissez faire and crony capitalism.

    Further, you cannot even shame them out of their purposeful ignorance. They are hopeless.

  10. The real connection is between evangelical fundamentalists and leftist progressives. Both believe that if only everyone followed their directives/morality, the world would be a better place or even a utopia.

  11. It's interesting that Leonard tries to make that connection when some Catholic authorities have lashed out fiercely against Mises:

  12. The real connection is between evangelical fundamentalists and leftist progressives.

    Ain't that the truth! See how often they band together on "women's issues" like pornography and prostitution.

  13. I should have included a link to Study Guide I mentioned above:

    Happy Overthrow-Your-Government Day, everyone!

  14. I don't find Mises' to be convoluted at all. He's very thorough in his deduction. That Leonard believes his argumentation to be convoluted speaks more of himself than of Mises.

  15. The guy seems to have graciously admitted his mistake, so people should cut him some slack. After all, we should not look down our nose at people. Mr. Huebert and Mr. Paul are right - we should try to bring people together by our good examples.