Front Page Titles (by Subject) 8: Private Property and Social Evolution - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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8: Private Property and Social Evolution - 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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Private Property and Social Evolution
The division of individuals into owners and non-owners is an outcome of the division of labour.
The second great sociological achievement of Classical Political Economy and the “individualistic” social theory of the eighteenth century was to recognize the social function of private property. From the older point of view property was always considered more or less a privilege of the Few, a raid upon the common stock, an institution regarded ethically as an evil, if sometimes as an inevitable one. Liberalism was the first to recognize that the social function of private ownership in the means of production is to put the goods into the hands of those who know best how to use them, into the hands, that is, of the most expert managers. Nothing therefore is more foreign to the essence of property than special privileges for special property and protection for special producers. Any kind of constraint such as exclusive rights and other privileges of producers, are apt to obstruct the working of the social function of property. Liberalism fights such institutions as vigorously as it opposes every attempt to limit the freedom of the worker.
The owner takes nothing away from anyone. No one can say that he goes short because of another’s abundance. It is flattering the envious instincts of the masses to give them a calculation of how much more the poor man would have to dispose of, if property were equally distributed. What is overlooked is the fact that the volume of production and of the social income are not fixed and unchangeable but depend essentially upon the distribution of property. If this is interfered with, there is danger that property may fall into the hands of those not so competent to maintain it, those whose foresight is less, whose disposal of their means is less productive; this would necessarily reduce the amount produced.39 The ideas of distributive Communism are atavistic, harking back to the times before social relations existed or reached their present stage of development, when the yield of production was correspondingly much lower. The landless man of an economic order based on production without exchange is quite logical in making the redistribution of fields the goal of his ambition. But the modern proletarian misunderstands the nature of social production when he hankers after a similar redistribution.
Liberalism combats the socialist ideal of transferring the means of production to the hands of organized society with the argument that socialist production would give a lower yield. Against this the Socialism of the Hegelian school seeks to prove that the evolution of history leads inevitably to the abolition of private ownership in the means of production.
It was the view of Lassalle that “the course of all legal history consists, generally speaking, in an ever greater limitation of the property of the individual, and in placing more and more objects outside private ownership.” The tendency to enlarge the freedom of property which is read into historical evolution is only apparent. However much the “idea of the increasingly rapid reduction of the sphere of private property as a principle working in the cultural and historical development of law could be held to be paradoxical,” yet, according to Lassalle it survived the most detailed examination. Unfortunately Lassalle produced no details of the examination of this idea. According to his own words he “honoured it (the idea) with a few very superficial glances instead.”40 Neither has anyone since Lassalle’s time undertaken to provide a proof. But even if the attempt had been made, this fact would by no means have demonstrated the necessity of the development in question. The conceptual constructions of speculative jurisprudence steeped in the Hegelian spirit serve at best to exhibit historical tendencies of evolution in the past. That the evolutionary tendency thus discovered must necessarily continue to develop is a thoroughly arbitrary assumption. Only if it could be shown that the force behind evolution was still active would the hypothetical proof which is needed be adduced. The Hegelian Lassalle did nothing of the kind. For him, the matter is disposed of when he realizes “that this progressive reduction of the sphere of private property is based on nothing else than the positive development of human liberty.”41 Having fitted his law of evolution into the great Hegelian scheme of historical evolution, he had done all that his school could ask.
Conflict as a Factor in Social Evolution
[39. ]“The laws, in creating property, have created wealth, but with respect to poverty, it is not the work of the laws—it is the primitive condition of the human race. The man who lives only from day to day, is precisely the man in a state of nature.... The laws, in creating property, have been benefactors to those who remain in the original poverty. They participate more or less in the pleasures, advantages and resources of civilized society,” Bentham, Principles of the Civil Code, ed. Bowring (Edinburgh, 1843), Vol. I, p. 309.
[40. ]Lassalle, Das System der erworbenen Rechte, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1880), Vol. I, pp. 217 ff:
[41. ]Lassalle, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 222 ff.