Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3: Conflict and Competition - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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3: Conflict and Competition - 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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Conflict and Competition
The social theories which are based on natural law start from the dogma that human beings are equal. Since all men are equal, they are supposed to have a natural claim to be treated as members of society with full rights, and, because everybody has a natural right to live, it would be a violation of right to try to take his life. Thus are formulated the postulates of the all-inclusiveness of society, of equality within society, and of peace. Liberal theory, on the other hand, deduces these principles from utility. To Liberalism the concepts man and social man are the same. Society welcomes as members all who can see the benefit of peace and social collaboration in work. It is to the personal advantage of every individual that he should be treated as a citizen with equal rights. But the man who, ignoring the advantages of peaceful collaboration, prefers to fight and refuses to fit himself into the social order, must be fought like a dangerous animal. It is necessary to take up this attitude against the anti-social criminal and savage tribes. Liberalism can approve of war only as a defence. For the rest it sees in war the anti-social principle by which social co-operation is annihilated.
By confusing the fundamental difference between fighting and competition, the anti-liberal social theories sought to discredit the liberal principle of peace. In the original sense of the word, “fight” means the conflict of men and animals in order to destroy each other. Man’s social life begins with the overcoming of instincts and considerations which impel him to fight to the death. History shows us a constant retreat from conflict as a form of human relations. Fights become less intense and less frequent. The defeated opponent is no longer destroyed; if society can find a way of absorbing him, his life is spared. Fighting itself is bound by rules and is thus somewhat mitigated. Nevertheless war and revolution remain the instruments of destruction and annihilation. For this reason Liberalism never ceases to stress the fact that they are anti-social.
It is merely a metaphor to call competition competitive war, or simply, war. The function of battle is destruction; of competition, construction. Economic competition provides that production shall be carried on in the most rational manner. Here, as everywhere else, its task is the selection of the best. It is a fundamental principle of social collaboration which cannot be thought out of the picture. Even a socialist community could not exist without it in some form, though it might be necessary to introduce it in the guise, say, of examinations. The efficiency of a socialist order of life would depend on its ability to make the competition sufficiently ruthless and keen to be properly selective.
There are three points of comparison which serve to explain the metaphorical use of the word “fight” for competition. In the first place it is clear that enmity and conflict of interests exist between the opponents in a fight as they do between competitors. The hate which a small shopkeeper feels for his immediate competitor may be no less in degree than the hate which a Moslem inspired in a Montenegrin. But the feelings responsible for men’s actions have no bearing on the social function of these actions. What the individual feels does not matter as long as the limits set by the social order inhibit his actions.
The second point of comparison is found in the selective function of both fighting and competition. To what extent fighting is capable of making the best selection is open to question; later we shall show that many people ascribe anti-selective effects to wars and revolutions.53 But because they both fulfil a selective function one must not forget that there is an essential difference between fighting and competition.
The third point of comparison is sought in the consequences which defeat lays on the vanquished. People say that the vanquished are destroyed, not reflecting that they use the word destruction in the one case only figuratively. Whoever is defeated in fight is killed; in modern war, even where the surviving vanquished are spared, blood flows. People say that in the competitive struggle, economic lives are destroyed. This, however, merely means that those who succumb are forced to seek in the structure of the social division of labour a position other than the one they would like to occupy. It does not by any means signify that they are to starve. In the capitalist society there is a place and bread for all. Its ability to expand provides sustenance for every worker. Permanent unemployment is not a feature of free capitalism.
Fighting in the actual original sense of the word is anti-social. It renders co-operation, which is the basic element of the social relation, impossible among the fighters, and where the co-operation already exists, destroys it. Competition is an element of social collaboration, the ruling principle within the social body. Viewed sociologically, fighting and competition are extreme contrasts.
The realization of this provides a criterion for judging all those theories which regard social evolution as a fight between conflicting groups. Class struggle, race conflicts, and national wars cannot be the constructive principle. No edifice will ever rise from a foundation of destruction and annihilation.
[53. ]See p. 290 of this work.