Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1: The Categorical Imperative as a Foundation for Socialism - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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1: The Categorical Imperative as a Foundation for Socialism - 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 Categorical Imperative as a Foundation for Socialism
Engels called the German Labour Movement the heir to the German classical philosophy.41 It would be more correct to say that German (not only Marxian) Socialism represents the decadence of the school of idealist philosophy. Socialism owes the dominion it won over the German mind to the idea of society as conceived by the great German thinkers. Out of Kant’s mysticism of duty and Hegel’s deification of the State it is easy to trace the development of socialist thought; Fichte is already a socialist.
In recent decades the revival of Kantian criticism, that much praised achievement of German philosophy, has benefited Socialism also. The Neo-Kantians, especially Friedrich Albert Lange and Hermann Cohen, have declared themselves socialists. Simultaneously Marxians have tried to reconcile Marxism with the New Criticism. Ever since the philosophical foundations of Marxism have shown signs of cracking, attempts to find in critical philosophy support for socialist ideas have multiplied.
The weakest part of Kant’s system is his ethics. Although they are vitalized by his mighty intellect, the grandeur of individual concepts does not blind us to the fact that his starting-point is unfortunately chosen and his fundamental conception a mistaken one. His desperate attempt to uproot Eudaemonism has failed. In ethics, Bentham, Mill, and Feuerbach triumph over Kant. The social philosophy of his contemporaries, Ferguson and Adam Smith, left him untouched. Economics remained foreign to him. All his perception of social problems suffers from these deficiencies.
In this respect, Neo-Kantians have made no better progress than their master. They, too, lack insight into the fundamental social law of the division of labour. They only see that the distribution of income does not correspond to their ideal, that the largest incomes do not go to those whom they consider the most deserving, but to a class they despise. They see people poor and in want, but do not try to discover whether this is due to the institution of private property or to attempts to restrict it. And they promptly condemn the institution of private ownership itself, for which they—living far away from the troubles of business—never had any sympathies. In social cognition they remain bound to the external and symptomatic. They tackle all other problems without a qualm, but here timidity restrains them. In their embarrassment, they betray their underlying bias. In social philosophy it is often difficult for thinkers who are otherwise quite open-minded to avoid all resentment. Into their thoughts obtrudes the recollection of those more prosperous than themselves; they make comparisons between their own value and the lack of it in others on the one hand, and their own poverty and the wealth of others on the other. In the end anger and envy, rather than reason, guide their pen.
This alone explains why such lucid thinkers as the Neo-Kantians have not yet clearly thought out the only salient problems in social philosophy. Not even the rudiments of a comprehensive social philosophy are to be found in their works. They make numerous unfounded criticisms of certain social conditions, but omit to discuss the most important systems of sociology. They judge, without having first made themselves familiar with the results of economic science.
The starting-point of their Socialism is generally the sentence: “Act in such a way that you use your being, equally with the being of anyone else, always as a purpose, never merely as a means.” In these words, says Cohen, “the most profound and powerful meaning of the categoric imperative is expressed; they contain the moral programme of the modern age and of all future world history.”42 And from that to Socialism, he seems to infer, is no great distance. “The idea of the purpose preference of humanity becomes transformed into the idea of Socialism by the definition of every individual as ultimate purpose, an end in himself.”43
It is evident that this ethical argument for Socialism stands or falls by the assertion that in the economic order based on private ownership in the means of production all men, or some men, are means and not purpose. Cohen considers this to be completely proved. He believes that in such a social order two classes of men exist, owners and non-owners, of whom only the first lead an existence worthy of a human being, while the second merely serve. It is easy to see where this notion comes from. It rests on popular ideas on the relations of rich and poor, and is supported by the Marxian social philosophy, for which Cohen professes great sympathy without, however, making his views about it clear.44 Cohen completely ignores the liberal social theory. He takes it for granted that this is untenable, and thinks that it would be a waste of time to criticize it. Yet only by refuting the liberal views of the nature of society and the function of private property could he justify the assertion that in a society based on private ownership in the means of production men serve as means, not as ends. For liberal social theory proves that each single man sees in all others, first of all, only means to the realization of his purposes, while he himself is to all others a means to the realization of their purposes; that finally, by this reciprocal action, in which each is simultaneously means and end, the highest aim of social life is attained—the achievement of a better existence for everyone. As society is only possible if everyone, while living his own life, at the same time helps others to live, if every individual is simultaneously means and end; if each individual’s well-being is simultaneously the condition necessary to the well-being of the others, it is evident that the contrast between I and thou, means and end, automatically is overcome. This, after all, is just what the simile of the biological organism is supposed to make us perceive. In the organic structure no parts are to be regarded only as means and none only as ends. According to Kant the organism is a being “in which everything is end and reciprocally also means.”45 Now Kant was thoroughly familiar with the nature of the organic, but he did not see—and in this he lagged far behind the great sociologists who were his contemporaries—that human society is formed according to the same principle.
The teleological view, which differentiates means and end, is permissible only in so far as we make the will and action of individual men or individual human associations the subject of investigation. It ceases to have any meaning as soon as we go further and look at the effects of this action in society. For every individual who acts there exists an ultimate purpose, the purpose which Eudaemonism enables us to understand; in this sense one may say that every man is an end to himself and an end in himself. But as an observation applied to the whole of society, this mode of expression is without any cognitive value. Here we cannot speak of purpose with more justification than of any other phenomenon of nature. When we ask whether, in society, this or that is end or means, we mentally substitute for society—that is, for the structure of human co-operation held together by the superiority of the division of labour over isolated labour—a structure welded together by one will, and then ask what is the aim of this will. This is animistic thought, it is not in any way sociological or scientific.
Cohen’s special argument for the abolition of private property reveals the obscurity in which he still labours with regard to this fundamental problem of social life. Things, he says, have value. Persons, however, have no value. They have dignity. The market price of the value of labour is incompatible with the dignity of the person.46 This leads us into the abyss of Marxian phraseology and the doctrine of the “commodity-character” of labour and its objectionableness. This is the phrase which found its way into the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain in the form of a demand for the acceptance of the basic principle; “that labour should not be regarded merely as an article of commerce.”47 Enough, however, of these scholastic trivialities.
After this we need not be surprised to find repeated in Cohen all those catchwords which for thousands of years have been brought to bear against the institution of private property. He rejects property because the owner, by getting control over an isolated action, becomes in fact the owner of the person.48 He rejects property because it withdraws from the worker the produce of his labour.49
Clearly the argument for Socialism presented by the Kantian school always leads us back to the economic concepts of the various socialistic writers; above all to Marx and the “academic” socialists who followed in his steps. They have no arguments other than economic and sociological arguments, and these prove to be untenable.
[41. ]Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie, 5th ed. (Stuttgart, 1910), p. 58.
[42. ]Cohen, Ethik des reinen Willens, Berlin, 1904, pp. 303 ff.
[43. ]Ibid., p. 304.
[44. ]“The direct purpose of capitalist production is not the production of goods but of surplus value, or of profit in its developed form; not of the product but of the surplus product.... In this view the workers themselves appear as what, in the capitalist production, they are—mere means of production, not ends in themselves, not purpose of production.” Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert (Stuttgart, 1905), Part 2, pp. 333 ff. That the workers play a role in the economic process as consumers also, Marx never understood. Publisher’s Note: Only a part of the work by Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert (Stuttgart, 1905) has been translated into English in the book titled Theories of Surplus Value: Selections, translated from the German by G. A. Bonner and Emile Burns (New York: International Publishers, 1952), 432 pp.
[45. ]Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (Works, Vol. VI), p. 265. Publisher’s Note: In English, Critique of Judgment. In Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement. Part II. Critique of Teleological Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952).
[46. ]Cohen, Ethik des reinen Willens, p. 305. See also Steinthai, Allgemeine Ethik, pp. 266 ff.
[47. ]Art. 427 of the Treaty of Versailles and Art. 372 of the Treaty of Saint Germain.
[48. ]Cohen, Ethik des reinen Willens, p. 572.
[49. ]Ibid., p. 578.