Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3: The Theory of Violence and the Theory of Contract - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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3: The Theory of Violence and the Theory of Contract - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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The Theory of Violence and the Theory of Contract
It is only slowly and with difficulty that the idea of Law triumphs. Only slowly and with difficulty does it rebut the principle of violence. Again and again there are reactions; again and again the history of Law has to start once more from the beginning. Of the ancient Germans Tacitus relates: “Pigrum quin immo et iners videtur sudore adquirere quod possis sanguine parare.”10 (It seems feckless, nay more, even slothful, to acquire something by toil and sweat which you could grab by the shedding of blood.) It is a far cry from this view to the views that dominate modern economic life.
This contrast of view transcends the problems of ownership, and embraces our whole attitude to life. It is the contrast between a feudal and a bourgeois way of thought. The first expresses itself in romantic poetry, whose beauty delights us, though its view of life can carry us away only in passing moments and while the impression of the poetry is fresh.11 The second is developed in the liberal social philosophy into a great system, in the construction of which the finest minds of all ages have collaborated. Its grandeur is reflected in classical literature. In Liberalism humanity becomes conscious of the powers which guide its development. The darkness which lay over the paths of history recedes. Man begins to understand social life and allows it to develop consciously.
The feudal view did not achieve a similarly closed systematization. It was impossible to think out, to its logical conclusion, the theory of violence. Try to realize completely the principle of violence, even only in thought, and its anti-social character is unmasked. It leads to chaos, to the war of all against all. No sophistry can evade that. All anti-liberal social theories must necessarily remain fragments or arrive at the most absurd conclusions. When they accuse Liberalism of considering only what is earthly, of neglecting, for the petty struggles of daily life, to care for higher things, they are merely picking the lock of an open door. For Liberalism has never pretended to be more than a philosophy of earthly life. What it teaches is concerned only with earthly action and desistance from action. It has never claimed to exhaust the Last or Greatest Secret of Man. The anti-liberal teachings promise everything. They promise happiness and spiritual peace, as if man could be thus blessed from without. Only one thing is certain, that under their ideal social system the supply of commodities would diminish very considerably. As to the value of what is offered in compensation opinions are at least divided.12
The last resort of the critics of the liberal ideal of society is to attempt to destroy it with the weapons it itself provides. They seek to prove that it serves and wants to serve only the interests of single classes; that the peace, for which it seeks, favours only a restricted circle and is harmful to all others. Even the social order, achieved in the constitutional modern state, is based on violence. The free contracts on which it pretends to rest are really, they say, only the conditions of a peace dictated by the victors to the vanquished, the terms being valid as long as the power from which they sprang continues, and no longer. All ownership is founded on violence and maintained by violence. The free workers of the liberal society are nothing but the unfree of feudal times. The entrepreneur exploits them as a feudal lord exploited his serfs, as a planter exploited his slaves. That such and similar objections can be made and believed will show how far the understanding of liberal theories has decayed. But these objections in no way atone for the absence of a systematic theory for the movement against Liberalism.
The liberal conception of social life has created the economic system based on the division of labour. The most obvious expression of the exchange economy is the urban settlement, which is only possible in such an economy. In the towns the liberal doctrine has been developed into a dosed system and it is here that it has found most supporters. But the more and the quicker wealth grew and the more numerous therefore were the immigrants from the country into the towns, the stronger became the attacks which Liberalism suffered from the principle of violence. Immigrants soon find their place in urban life, they soon adopt, externally, town manners and opinions, but for a long time they remain foreign to civic thought. One cannot make a social philosophy one’s own as easily as a new costume. It must be earned—earned with the effort of thought. Thus we find, again and again in history, that epochs of strongly progressive growth of the liberal world of thought, when wealth increases with the development of the division of labour, alternate with epochs in which the principle of violence tries to gain supremacy—in which wealth decreases because the division of labour decays. The growth of the towns and of the town life was too rapid. It was more extensive than intensive. The new inhabitants of the towns had become citizens superficially, but not in ways of thought. And so with their ascendancy civic sentiment declined. On this rock all cultural epochs filled with the bourgeois spirit of Liberalism have gone to ruin; on this rock also our own bourgeois culture, the most wonderful in history, appears to be going to ruin. More menacing than barbarians storming the walls from without are the seeming citizens within—those who are citizens in gesture, but not in thought.
Recent generations have witnessed a mighty revival of the principle of violence. Modern Imperialism, whose outcome was the World War with all its appalling consequences, develops the old ideas of the defenders of the principle of violence under a new mask. But of course even Imperialism has not been able to set in opposition to liberal theory a complete system of its own. That the theory according to which struggle is the motive power of the growth of society should in any way lead to a theory of co-operation is out of the question—yet every social theory must be a theory of co-operation. The theory of modern Imperialism is characterized by the use of certain scientific expressions such as the doctrine of the struggle for existence and the concept of the race. With these it was possible to coin a multitude of slogans, which have proved themselves effective for propaganda but for nothing else. All the ideas paraded by modem Imperialism have long since been exploded by Liberalism as false doctrines.
Perhaps the strongest of the imperialist arguments is an argument which derives from a total misconception of the essence of the ownership of the means of production in a society dividing labour. It regards as one of its most important tasks the provision of the nation with its own coal mines, own sources of raw material, own ships, own ports. It is clear that such an argument proceeds from the view that natural ownership in these means of production is undivided, and that only those benefit from them who have them physically. It does not realize that this view leads logically to the socialist doctrine with regard to the character of ownership in the means of production. For if it is wrong that Germans do not possess their own German cotton plantations, why should it be right that every single German does not possess his coal mine, his spinning mill? Can a German call a Lorraine iron ore mine his any more when a German citizen possesses it than when a French citizen possesses it?
So far the imperialist agrees with the socialist in criticism of bourgeois ownership. But the socialist has tried to devise a closed system of a future social order and this the imperialist could not do.
[10. ]Tacitus, Germania, p. 14.
[11. ]A fine poetic mockery of the romantic longing, “Where thou art not, there is happiness,” is to be found in the experience of Counselor Knap in Andersen’s “The Galoshes of Fortune.” Publisher’s Note: (New York: Doubleday, 1974).
[12. ]Wiese, Der Liberalismus in Vergangenheit und Zukunft (Berlin, 1917), pp. 58 ff.