Front Page Titles (by Subject) 7: Social Regression - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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7: Social Regression - 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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Social evolution—in the sense of evolution of the division of labour—is a will-phenomenon: it depends entirely on the human will. We do not consider whether one is justified in regarding every advance in the division of labour and hence in the intensification of the social bond, as a rise to a higher stage; we must ask whether such a development is a necessary phenomenon. Is an ever greater development of society the content of history? Is it possible for society to stand still or retrogress?
We must reject a priori any assumption that historical evolution is provided with a goal by any “intention,” or “hidden plan” of Nature, such as Kant imagined and Hegel and Marx had in mind; but we cannot avoid the inquiry whether a principle might not be found to demonstrate that continuous social growth is inevitable. The first principle that offers itself to our attention is the principle of natural selection. More highly developed societies attain greater material wealth than the less highly developed; therefore they have more prospect of preserving their members from misery and poverty. They are also better equipped to defend themselves from the enemy. One must not be misled by the observation that richer and more civilized nations were often crushed in war by nations less wealthy and civilized. Nations in an advanced stage of social evolution have always been able at least to resist a superior force of less developed nations. It is only decaying nations, civilizations inwardly disintegrated, which have fallen a prey to nations on the up grade. Where a more highly organized society has succumbed to the attack of a less developed people, the victors have in the end been culturally submerged, accepting the economic and social order, and even the language and faith of the conquered race.
The superiority of the more highly developed societies lies not only in their material welfare but also quantitatively in the number of their members and qualitatively in the greater solidity of their internal structure. For this, precisely, is the key to higher social development: the widening of the social range, the inclusion in the division of labour of more human beings and its stronger grip on each individual. The more highly developed society differs from the less developed in the closer union of its members; this precludes the violent solution of internal conflict and forms externally a closed defensive front against any enemy. In less developed societies, where the social bond is still weak, and between the separate parts of which there exists a confederation for the purposes of war rather than true solidarity based on joint work and economic co-operation—disagreement breaks out more easily and more quickly than in highly developed societies. For the military confederation has no firm and lasting hold upon its members. By its very nature it is merely a temporary bond which is upheld by the prospect of momentary advantage, but dissolves as soon as the enemy has been defeated and the scramble for the booty sets in. In fighting against the less developed societies the more developed ones have always found that their greatest advantage lay in the lack of unity in the enemy’s ranks. Only temporarily do the nations in a lower state of organization manage to co-operate for great military enterprises. Internal disunity has always dispersed their armies quickly. Take for example the Mongol raids on the Central European civilization of the thirteenth century or the efforts of the Turks to penetrate into the West. The superiority of the industrial over the military type of society, to use Herbert Spencer’s expression, consists largely in the fact that associations which are merely military always fall to pieces through internal disunity.36
But there is another circumstance which advances further social development. It has been shown that it is to the interest of all members of society that the social range should be extended. For a highly developed social organism it is by no means a matter of indifference whether or not nations outside its range continue to lead a self-sufficient existence on a lower plane of social evolution. It is to the interest of the more advanced organism to draw the less advanced into the area of its economic and social community, even though its persistence in remaining on a lower plane makes it politically and militarily innocuous, and even though no immediate advantages are likely to accrue from the occupation of its territory, in which, presumably, the natural conditions of production are unfavourable. We have seen that it is always an advantage to widen the range of workers in a society that divides labour, so that even a more efficient people may have an interest in co-operating with a less efficient. This is what so often drives nations of a high social development to expand their field of economic activity by absorbing hitherto inaccessible territories. The opening up of the backward regions of the Near and Far East, of Africa and America, cleared the way for a world-wide economic community, so that shortly before the World War we were in sight of realizing the dream of an œcumenical society. Has the war merely interrupted this development for a brief period or has it utterly destroyed it? Is it conceivable that this development can cease, that society can even retrogress?
This problem cannot be approached except in connection with another: the problem of the death of nations. It is customary to talk of nations aging and dying, of young and old communities. The comparison is lame—as are all comparisons—and in discussing such things we are well advised to discard metaphorical phrases. What is the core of the problem that here presents itself?
It is clear that we must not confuse it with another not less difficult problem, the problem of the changes of the national quality. A thousand or fifteen hundred years ago the Germans spoke a different language from that of today, but we should not think of saying, on that account, that German medieval culture was “dead.” On the contrary we see in the German culture an uninterrupted evolutionary chain, stretching (without mentioning lost monuments of literature) from the “Heliand,” and Otfried’s Gospels to the present day. We do indeed say of the Pomeranians and Prussians, who in the course of centuries have been assimilated by the German colonists, that they have died out, yet we shall hardly maintain that as nations they grew “old.” To carry through the simile one would have to talk of nations that had died young. We are not concerned with national transformation; our problem is different. Neither does the decay of states come into the question, for this phenomenon sometimes appears as a sequence to the aging nations and sometimes independently of it. The fall of the ancient state of Poland had nothing to do with any decay of Polish civilization or of the Polish people. It did not stop the social development of Poland.
The facts which are present in practically all the examples brought forward of the aging of a culture are: a decline in population, a diminution of welfare, and the decay of the towns. The historical significance of all these phenomena becomes clear as soon as we conceive of the aging of nations as the retrogression of the social division of labour and of society. The decline of the ancient world for instance, was a social retrogression. The decline of the Roman Empire was only a result of the disintegration of ancient society which after reaching a high level of division of labour sank back into an almost moneyless economy. Thus towns were depopulated and thus, also, did the population of the countryside diminish and want and misery set in simply because an economic order working on a lower level in respect of the social division of labour is less productive. Technical skill was gradually lost, artistic talent decayed, scientific thought was slowly extinguished. The word which most aptly describes this process is disintegration. The Classical culture died because Classical society retrogressed.37
The death of nations is the retrogression of the social relation, the retrogression of the division of labour. Whatever may have been the cause in individual cases, it has always been the cessation of the disposition to social co-operation which actually effected the decline. This may once have seemed an incomprehensible riddle to us, but now that we watch with terror the process at work in our own experience we come nearer to understanding it, though we still fail to recognize the deepest, most ultimate causes of the change.
It is the social spirit, the spirit of social co-operation, which forms, develops, and upholds societies. Once it is lost, the society falls apart again. The death of a nation is social retrogression, the decline from the division of labour to self-sufficiency. The social organism disintegrates into the cells from which it began. Man remains, but society dies.38
There is no evidence that social evolution must move steadily upwards in a straight line. Social standstill and social retrogression are historical facts which we cannot ignore. World history is the graveyard of dead civilizations, and in India and Eastern Asia we see large-scale examples of civilization at a standstill.
Our literary and artistic cliques whose exaggerated opinion of their own trifling productions contrast so vividly with the modesty and self-criticism of the really great artists, say that it does not matter much whether economic evolution continues so long as inner culture is intensified. But all inner culture requires external means for its realization, and these external means can be attained only by economic effort. When the productivity of labour decays through the retrogression of social co-operation the decay of inner culture follows.
All the older civilizations were born and grew up without being fully conscious of the basic laws of cultural evolution and the significance of division of labour and co-operation. In the course of their development they had often to combat tendencies and movements inimical to civilization. Often they triumphed over these, but sooner or later they fell. They succumbed to the spirit of disintegration. Through the social philosophy of Liberalism men became conscious of the laws of social evolution for the first time, and for the first time clearly recognized the basis of civilization and cultural progress. Those were days when hopes for the future ran high. Unimagined vistas seemed to be opening up. But it was not to be. Liberalism had to meet the opposition of militaristic-nationalist and, above all, of socialist-communist doctrines which tended to bring about social dissolution. The nationalist theory calls itself organic, the socialist theory calls itself social, but in reality both are disorganizing and anti-social in their effect.
Of all accusations against the system of Free Trade and Private Property, none is more foolish than the statement that it is anti-social and individualistic and that it atomizes the body social. Trade does not disintegrate, as romantic enthusiasts for the autarky of small portions of the earth’s surface assert; it unites. The division of labour is what first makes social ties: it is the social element pure and simple. Whoever advocates the economic self-sufficiency of nations and states, seeks to disintegrate the ecumenical society; whoever seeks to destroy the social division of labour within a nation by means of class war is anti-social.
A decline of the ecumenical society, which has been slowly forming itself during the last two hundred years under the influence of the gradual germination of the liberal idea, would be a world catastrophe absolutely without parallel in history as we know it. No nation would be spared. Who then would rebuild the shattered world?
[36. ]The romantic-militarist notion of the military superiority of the nations which have made little progress in Capitalism, completely refuted afresh by the World War, arises from the view that what tells in a fight is man’s physical strength alone. This, however, is not completely true, even of the fights of the Homeric Age. Not physical but mental power decides a fight. On these mental powers depend the fighters’ tactics and the way he is armed. The A B C of the art of warfare is to have the superiority at the decisive moment, though otherwise one may be numerically weaker than the enemy. The A B C of the preparation for war is to set up armies as strong as possible and to provide them with all war materials in the best way. One has to stress this only because people are again endeavouring to obscure these connections, by trying to differentiate between the military and economic-political causes of victory and defeat in war. It always has been and always will be the fact, that victory or defeat is decided by the whole social position of the combatants before their armies meet in battle.
[37. ]On the decline of Ancient Greek Civilization see Pareto, Les Systèmes Socialistes (Paris, 1902), Vol. I, pp. 155 ff.
[38. ]Izoulet, La Cité moderne, pp. 488 ff.