Saturday, September 22, 2012

CLAIM: Mises Has No Soul

Jeremy Egerer writes at American Thinker:

Three hundred pages into Ludwig von Mises' economic masterpiece, Human Action, and I've found myself stopping for air.  I'm not fatigued, as I was 300 pages into John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion; I'm not confused, like I was in the last portion of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling.  Mises is a mastermind, too interesting and fresh to find tedious (though Calvin is mostly enjoyable) and far too clear and concise to be confusing.  No, Human Action is one of the most profound books I've ever read.  My momentary pause has far less to do with Mises' difficulty, and far more to do with his spiritual emptiness: he must be read in segments because my soul buckles under the total burden of his meaninglessness. 
I believe that my reaction to Mises' work underscores my particular problem with libertarianism in general: the fact that it has little to no soul, reducing man to a rational, pleasure-seeking animal.  The central premise of Human Action, the basic theory of Mises' praxeology, is that all men are united by one logic, one universal bent toward happiness, which they seek in the most advantageous way possible.  In short, man, though capable of making poor decisions, will even in failure choose the most logical poor decision known to him; he furthermore always desires one object more than everything else at any given moment, and the object of his desire is revealed only by his logical action.

 Egerer's  analysis is simply off the wall. Here are a couple of examples of mainstream economic analysis:


This is the mainstream and yet Egerer writes:
my particular problem with libertarianism in general: the fact that it has little to no soul, reducing man to a rational, pleasure-seeking animal.
Where the hell has this guy been living? Does he have any idea how distorted from reality mainstream economics is. And how does anyone this side of Colorado's James Holmes
write in the same paragraph that
Human Action is one of the most profound books I've ever read
[Mises] must be read in segments because my soul buckles under the total burden of his meaninglessness.
After many other errors, including Egerer failing to understand why the science of economics must be wertfrei, he concludes with this doozy (my bold):

What am I to make of Mises and libertarianism, or that ideology's adherents?  In the end, though I find them destructive to Western civilization, I pity them.  They seek civilization in earthly pleasure, and meaning in meaninglessness.  I have a destiny, have a God, have glory, have unalienable rights and The Law, have incorruptible joy -- and should Pleasure ever stand between these and me, then with the Almighty's help, She will know where Her dominion ends.  Take your stand where you may; I cannot but with my whole heart reject libertarianism.
Economics studies choice and action has nothing to say about whether those choices should be "earthly pleasure" or spiritual. It's similar with libertarianism. Libertarians have no problem with those pursuing  "earthly pleasure" or spiritual, as long as there is no aggression against others.

Thus, Egerer is simply wrong and confused when he writes:
 [Mises and libertarians] seek civilization in earthly pleasure.
There is simply no basis to charge that Mises and libertarians only seek earthly pleasure. His entire article is based on misunderstanding Mises and libertarians.

(ht Christopher Barcelo)


  1. Funny conclusion such a schooled man has come to...Does he have a PHD in Opposite. My soul guides me to happiness. It is when I act contrary to my souls' desire that I am unhappy.

    1. Try a PhD in stupidity. Maybe he's just mentally ill or illiterate?

      This dumb ass actually think it's all about "earthly pleasure"? I guess he prefers mass murder, gulags, and a police state to freedom, prosperity, and a stable society?

      Geez....what a complete idiot.

  2. Surprisingly [not], Rothbard addressed this nonsense long ago.

  3. Guess I won't be reading any Egerer! Anyone who could label Human Action meaningless is merely spouting mindless defamations in the service of lies, and can't be trusted. An easy read Human Action is not. It stays out of spiritual speculation and works on a purely rational basis. It is packed with trenchant, soulful observations on the nature of humanity and truth, that make it a delight to read slowly.

    As his confusing of libertarian and libertine is just the usual smear we hear from statists and theocrats. Disgusting.

    1. Libertarianism doesn't necessarily imply libertine but it is an indisputable fact that libertines are attracted to libertarianism because it is compatible.

      One need only look at the venom towards Hoppe based on his statements in Democracy: The God that Failed"

      "There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They--the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism--will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order." (p. 218)

      The attacks directed toward Hoppe, of course, came from libertarians, or should I say -- libertines disguised as such.

    2. Anon @ 4:30. Your quote from Hoppe does not support your statement that "it is an indisputable fact that libertines are attracted to libertarianism because it is compatible." The quote merely demonstrates that Hoppe thinks that democrats, communists, homosexuals, environmentalists, etc. should be removed from society (A quote that doesn't appear to be congruent with the non-aggression axiom.)

      Nonetheless, although it doesn't support your point at all, it is interesting. I wonder whether it is taken out of context. Why would tree-worship be incompatible with libertarianism?

    3. One more point. You're last line, "the attacks directed toward Hoppe, of course, came from libertarians, or should I say -- libertines disguised as such" makes an undemonstrated claim. Namely that these libertines are disguised as libertarians. Can you justify that claim? Libertarianism and libertinism are not mutually exclusive positions. Libertarianism begins with the non-aggression axiom. Libertinism is about the rejection of moral constraints. One could be both.
      The main point is that even though one could be both, it does not follow with one IS both.

    4. "I wonder whether it is taken out of context. Why would tree-worship be incompatible with libertarianism?"

      What Hoppe is saying is that people have the right to discriminate in their communities as to who they allow in through the sale of property, etc. In particular, "in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin", people would have to do certain things. He further argues that those opposed to private property and its familial associative order would be removed from a libertarian community, which would presumably have covenants that to live in that society is to agree to not be a communist, democrat, etc.

    5. The people imposing all of these rules would have to buy all the property in the community first and have the money to do so, otherwise what Hoppe is describing is a government.

    6. Walter Block refutes that and criticizes Hoppe--rightly so--for conflating personal values with libertarian principles in the journal of Libertarian studies vol 22:


      I respect Hoppe for his systematic, rigorous contributions, but he slipped up here, falling prey as many do to mixing the personal with the political, and contradicting his own premise and is not something Rothbard would assert either.

    7. Actually, Hoppe is correct. If one is to have something resembling a society that is to perpetuate itself and prosper for more than a short period of time, those communities would be concerned with such behaviors as hedonism, tree-worship, homos, communists, etc.

      It is always interesting when libertarians object to certain types of discrimination within the utopian communities that are postulated.

      Matt Tanous is entirely correct.

  4. This "spiritual emptiness" charge is totally ridiculous. Egerer needs to step back and think for a moment-- what exactly is so "spiritual" about Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, or Fox News? (Many of us would argue the opposite). Does greater statism enhance spiritual life for society, or does it undermine it? What sort of spiritual trajectory have we been on as the State has expanded its reach? Has the rise of the so-called Religious Right been a force for good, or evil--or more to the point, what has it really accomplished since it came on the scene some three decades ago?

    Egerer I don't think gave much in the way of deep thought to his piece. He had his mind made up before he read Mises, and in his piece he is just repeating long-running (false) stereotypes of libertarianism popular with conservatives like himself that dismiss libertarianism as morally nihilistic, hedonistic, pro-drugs, pro-abortion, etc.

  5. A private, voluntary, exclusive religious community with strict vetting of the inhabitants and visitors is a product that could be provided by the market. It is state interference in the form of anti-discrimination laws and mandatory government schooling that impedes the creation of such communities.

    1. The "product" already exists and is found in the various Hutterite communities with their internal laws and punishments or other such Mennonite-related derivatives. These communities have succeeded for generations and continue to this day.

    2. A few pertinent points were left out of the article:

      Are any of these disputed among libertarians?

      "Mises' work makes virtue and vice distinguishable only by outcome,"

      or this:

      "They seek civilization in earthly pleasure"

      and then there's this gem:

      "Yes, men may individually stand for meaningful things: as Bastiat reasoned, the state's refusal to subsidize farming doesn't imply that it is against grain. But grain is very different from unalienable rights. Grain doesn't need a firm metaphysical foundation for farming to exist; unalienable rights require a specific Deity."

    3. See the later post of Rothbard's response to Irving Kristol. Libertarianism is not an ethical or metaphysical philosophy, it is a political philosophy. Whether something is virtue or vice is beyond the purview of any political philosophy.

      To say that Libertarians seek "civilization in earthly pleasures," is nonsense. Many libertarians are devout men of faith. What binds libertarians is their simple commitment to the non-aggression principle in political philosophy. While this may require tolerance of non-violent hedonism, it certainly does not compel hedonism, nor does it make hedonism even a plank in the libertarian platform.

    4. "Are any of these disputed among libertarians?"

      All three. Mises has nothing to say on vice, libertarians can (and often do) seek non-material or spiritual ends through means, and unalienable rights are grounded in the nature of man - which could be created by God, but the mere existence of it, regardless of God's existence, is enough to logically derive the rights.

    5. @Matt Tanous Sept 25, 2012 4:36 PM

      "and unalienable rights are grounded in the nature of man - which could be created by God, but the mere existence of it, regardless of God's existence, is enough to logically derive the rights."

      Non-religious views of the "nature of man" are often exmplified in the views of such atheists as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitches and Daniel Dennet, all of which are much closer to the "survival of the fittest" mentality of Darwinism.

      Again, Rothbard's attempt at natural rights falls far short of the historical case as exemplified in Aquinas and others, for, as in the case of Aquinas, not only do we have the rights, BUT THEY ARE FOR A SPECIFIC PURPOSE, necessitates such things as same-gender acts as being violations of said rights.

      Which libertarian have you heard argue such a point?

      "Natural rights is nonsense on stilts." - Jeremy Bentham

  6. It's more instructive to read the parade of neocon idiots commenting on the article. They don't realize that their adept political analyses conducted with their neocon friends while drinking beer and watching football probably lack the cogent intellectualism of monkeys at the zoo flinging their poo at the onlookers.

    They belittle Ron Paul, saying he would do nothing to turn America away "from the brink." Somehow, however, their "more of the same" solutions are just fucking brilliant.

    Then they lambast libertarians for being "arrogant." Perhaps so, but this is a quandary for libertarians. It's difficult not to appear arrogant to people who would be indignant over the arrogant intellectual superiority demonstrated by my dogs licking their own asses.

    1. It's hard not to appear arrogant when your neocon and socialist opponents are completely brain dead.

      "Somehow, however, their "more of the same" solutions are just fucking brilliant."

      Exactly. How the hell is "more of the same" supposed to fix it when "more of the same" caused it in the first place? Interview With a Zombie time!

    2. Hey, I talk politics all the time when drinking beer and watching football. I read LRC, Economicpolicyjournal, Don't lump me in with them!

    3. "Interview With a Zombie time!"


  7. Call me stupid, but isn't Human Action supposed to be a positivist account of human nature, not a normative moral philosophy? Wouldn't that, by default, take the "soul" out of the book? Calvin's Institutes (perhaps the dullest book I've ever started) is pure normative, and Kirkegaard is existential. Comparing these guys to Mises is like complaining about Robert Frost's lack of mathetical rigor. As a Christian, I'm still waiting to hear this biblical evidence that moves me from Anarchy to proper Christian violence against my neighbors.

  8. Part of the problem here is that he is reading Calvin and Mises. Calvin is obviously spiritual and not concerned with economic man so much as he is with his origins, purpose and destiny.

    Having read a bit of both, the problem with Human Action (or libertarianism for that matter), is that it does not take into consideration the nature of man nor his purpose in life. The last few centuries have been a battle between the legacies of two men - Calvin and Rousseau. One need only to look at the state of our society to see whose ideas are winning.

    Christianity contains positive teachings as well as negative - Love your neighbor as yourself and do not steal. Libertarianism contains no such positive basis, and is soley interested in the NAP. One can argue from Rothbard's semi-natural law perspective that it may be better to work with people in order to have a more ordered and prosperous but the motives are entirely different.

    I am a Christian and am interested in Austrian economics because I believe it is a good explanation of how people think and how economics work. Libertarianism, as a political theory, has some merit but can't escape from the lack of concern for "the big questions."

    1. The point is that you can't use force to solve "the big questions." You can't advance God's principles by proxying the implementation of those principles to a government or any institution of force. You MAY create something that, on the surface, appears to be more moral (and even defining moral is a problem), but at best it's a facade -- an evil facade.

      Libertarianism is a tool to advance freedom for freedom's sake. Tools don't have "concerns" beyond accomplishing the job they are made for. Adherents of libertarianism don't buy into your belief that your "moral superiority" and belief that you can force mankind into a better state gives you the right to do so. Your right to socially engineer is limited to your own life and property; that limits the damage you can do to others.

  9. Egerer appears to be a shill for the evangelical wing of the GOP. They are very emotional and less factual in their analysis of politics and economics. Everett claims to have read John Calvin. Did he skip the section on the total depravity of man? Yes, man, when left to his own devices, is hedonistic. He will pursue that which is most expedient to obtaining comfort, power, wealth, and pleasure while performing the least amount of work necessary to achieve those desired ends. This is the nature of the masses. This is the mass psychological train of thought, and Mises understands this, which is why his works are written with this in mind. Economics is the study of human action, how the masses will react to political and monetary policy. It does not seek to determine the morality of said action. That is a matter of theology, ethics, and religious philosophy. Mises understood that if a tax on the income of a nation were to be raised from 0% to 50% , that the people of that nation would henceforth be less inclined to pursue income and more inclined to pursue leisure than they would have before the tax was raised. Egerer perhaps believes that the general response by the masses to such a tax increase would be to pursue income all the more in order to contribute to the betterment of society. Egerer is the man who wants the state to impose biblical morality on the people. Egerer is like those who sought to stone the adulteress. Shouldn't we rather, while recognizing the sin for what it is, say to him "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." And then say to the sinner, "go and sin no more." That is the example of Jesus, and it is a libertarian position that he took while not condoning or promoting the act of sin. Isn't that what drug decriminalization is all about? Seeking to help and reform sinners instead of punishing them at taxpayer's expense? Libertarianism is closer to Christian thought than conservatism.

    1. I am not that familiar with Egerer but it is interesting that he claims to be a former "Radical libertarian" which may be the reason he takes so much heat from libertarians.

      Your statements regarding Mises's understanding of total depravity prove far more than you are willing to admit I think. I agree with your comments regarding man's pursuits - if he is "totally depraved". Which section of Mises' work describes those who are NOT in such a state and thus are not going to pursue those same desires because they now have different motives?

      I am no fan of "conservatism", but Jesus acknowledge that lust was sinful, as were many other "thought crimes", whereas libertarianism would say there is nothing inherently wrong with these things because they do not violate the NAP.

      Christianity would agree with libertarianism on the NAP but there is more to Christianity than the NAP.

      Regarding imposition of morality, there has to be some moral foundation for laws, whether in your anarchist community or a national government.

  10. It is always interesting to read the sophistry that people such as Egerer employ to convince others that freedom is a bad thing.

  11. I'm not a trained economist, but I do have an electrical engineering degree and I have to say that the two examples of mathematical masturbation posted by Bob are pretty funny. The math isn't difficult at all, the equations look imposing simply because they contain nothing but variables and can't be reduced any further. I'm guessing that none of these terms are known nor can they be accurately estimated without a lot of politically biased guesswork. It's been said that the field of psychology has never been much more than a tool of the state. The record of Keynesian economics in that regard is MUCH worse, and I honestly believe that much of the apparent complexity is intentionally introduced to convince the proles that they can't possibly understand financial matters. Economics should be left to the Top Men.

    1. Bob isn't saying they're difficult. He's illustrating the irony of this guy's claims that Mises reduces man to an unthnking animal by contrasting Mises with these examples of mainstream economic analysis which reduce man to mere equations.

    2. "I'm guessing that none of these terms are known nor can they be accurately estimated without a lot of politically biased guesswork."

      Worse, many of the terms are things like "price levels" which don't even rationally exist.

  12. No soul? Jeremy Egerer should listen to Ron Paul channel Mises. All there is to the man is soul.

  13. The premise of praxeology is that man acts to better his situation. Aristotle and Aquinas would have said no different, except that they phrase it as "all men act for the good," which is equivalent to "all men act to attain happiness." They then go on to define happiness as the exercise and perfection of virtue (for Aristotle) and the contemplation of God (for Aquinas).

    Mises, starting from the same place, is looking at a different question: what logically follows from the fact that all men act for the good? What universal and timeless laws can we uncover about human action as such? In his writings he says in several places that praxeology is not about which ends to choose, but only about what are the formal consequences of acting for ends. This may not be the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but it is very useful. That much is evident from the gigantic messes that men have created for themselves through ignorance of or contempt for the truths that praxeology reveals.

    It would be more accurate to say, rather than that the last centuries have been a battle between Calvin and Rousseau, that Rousseau is just a secularized version of Calvin. Calvin is a theocratic totalitarian, and Rousseau is a secular one. Both will force men to be free (or holy, for the former). And it is not surprising that Calvin should be so--having rejected the power of sacraments bestowed by the Church to uplift men's moral life, his only hope is to have the power of the State force goodness upon them. But if the State, not the Church, is to make men holy, what role, really, is there for God and grace? Rousseau "n'a pas besoin de cet hypothese." (Yes, I know he's not the one who said this.) Murray Rothbard has uncovered the same dynamic in the derivation of secularized American Progressivism from pre-millenial pietism.

    Libertarianism is a political philosophy only. It is neither an economic nor a spiritual doctrine. In a world of scarcity, people will come into conflict over the use of resources, since man's desires are unlimited, and his means are not. The problem of politics is when and for whom is violence permitted in the resolution of conflict. The Non-Agression Principle answers both questions. Violence is only permitted against agressors, and the rule applies to everyone, including the minions of the State. Contrast this with the Hobbesian idea that the State has a monopoly on violence due to the (mythical) consent of all.

    The Non-Agression Principle, however, is itself grounded in the fundamental rational basis of all ethics, one's self-ownership and ownership of what has been aquired through homesteading, production, gift, and exchange. To say that there is a rational basis for ethics does not rule out that there might be supernatural bases as well, any more than Aristotle's successful proof for the existence of God (Book I of the Metaphysics) would rule out the need for Revelation.

    Libertarianism and Praxeology do not imply one another, but they dovetail nicely. Just as the Non-Agression Principle guides the use of violence in such a way that conflicts can be resolved with the greatest attention to peace and social cooperation, so Praxeology shows that free exchange, that is, exchange where violence is not present, maximizes its benefits for the participants, and advances social welfare overall.

    If "libertines" are attracted to Libertarianism it is simply because they don't want there to be laws against the particular vices they cherish. But there is no real compatibility, because the libertine, as such, is fully capable of coercing people to "accept" his way of life (much as the hangers-on of the "Free Speech Movement" went on to create Political Correctness), while the genuine libertarian, whatever his commitment to temperance may be, acknowledges that anyone who doesn't accept his way of life is fully justified in ostracizing or segregating said libertarian from his own social milieu.

    1. @Steve on Mare Island:
      "Rousseau is just a secularized version of Calvin."

      Poppycock! Rousseau rejected Calvin's views early on and the radicals that setup the goddess reason and led to the slaughter in the French Revolution were in no way a secularized versino of Calvin's views.

      Rousseau - man is basically good
      Calvin - man is totally depraved

      The downstream implications of the two conditions above should be far-reaching enough to show that these two men were polar opposites!

      "Calvin is a theocratic totalitarian, and Rousseau is a secular one. Both will force men to be free (or holy, for the former)."

      You obviously know nothing about Calvin. . .then again, most libertarians that discuss religion begin with "theocratic totalitarians. . ." so I am not surprised.

      "And it is not surprising that Calvin should be so--having rejected the power of sacraments bestowed by the Church to uplift men's moral life, his only hope is to have the power of the State force goodness upon them."

      Where in the world do you get these ideas? You surely can't find them in the Institutes and they're not indicative of Calvinism or Christianity.

      Calvin, like most of Christian history, believed that man's only hope is not state-enforced morality, but regeneration by God!

      "Murray Rothbard has uncovered the same dynamic in the derivation of secularized American Progressivism from pre-millenial pietism."

      Rothbard does a good job with economics, but has glaring weaknesses when it comes to historical theology or religious matters. Not a good guide IMHO. . .

  14. He also completely confuses economics and politics.

    While decrying the "soulless" nature of economics, he then concludes that he is not a libertarian.

    Yet not once does he dispute the Non-Aggression Axiom.

    Personally, I think Mr. Egerer is just deeply confused.