Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2: The Duty of Work as a Foundation for Socialism - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
2: The Duty of Work 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Duty of Work as a Foundation for Socialism
“If any would not work, neither should he eat,” says the Second Epistle of the Thessalonians, which was ascribed to the Apostle Paul.50 This admonition to work is directed to those who want to live on their Christianity at the expense of the working members of the congregation; they are to support themselves without burdening their fellows.51 Torn out of its context, this has long been interpreted as a rejection of unearned income.52 It contains a most succinctly expressed moral precept which is continually being advocated with great vigour.
The train of thought which has led people to this principle can be followed in a saying of Kant: “Man may be as ingenious as he will, yet he cannot force Nature to accept other laws. Either he must work himself or others for him, and his labour will rob others of as much of their happiness as he needs to increase his own above the mean.”53
It is important to note that Kant cannot base the indirect rejection of private property which lies in these words otherwise than on a utilitarian or eudaemonistic view. The conception from which he proceeds is that through private property more work is laid on some, while others are allowed to idle. This criticism is not proof against the objection that private ownership and the differences in the amount of property do not take anything from anyone, that, rather, in a social order where neither were permitted so much less would be produced, that the per capita quota of the product of labour would amount to less than what the propertyless worker receives as income in a social order based on private property. It collapses as soon as one disproves the statement that the leisure of the possessors is bought by the extra efforts of those without possessions. Such ethical judgments against private property also show clearly that all moral evaluation of economic functions rests ultimately on a view of their economic achievements—on that and nothing else. To reject on “moral grounds” only an institution not considered objectionable from the utilitarian standpoint is, if we look more closely, not the aim of ethical considerations. Actually, in all such cases the only difference of opinion is a difference of opinion about the economic function of such institutions.
That this fact has been overlooked is because those who tried to refute ethical criticism of private property have used the wrong arguments. Instead of pointing out its social significance they have usually been content to demonstrate the right of ownership or to prove that the owner, too, is not inactive, since he has worked to acquire his property and works to maintain it, and other arguments of this nature. The unsoundness of all this is obvious. It is absurd to refer to existing law when the problem is what the law should be; to refer to work which the owner does or has done when the problem is, not whether a certain kind of work should or should not be paid for, but whether private property in the means of production is to exist at all, and, if it exists, whether inequality of such ownership can be tolerated.
Therefore, from the ethical point of view, one is not permitted to ask whether a certain price is justified or not. Ethical judgment has to choose between a social order resting on private ownership in the means of production and one based on common ownership. Once it has arrived at this decision—which, for eudaemonistic ethics, can be based only upon an opinion of what each of the two imagined forms of society would achieve—it cannot proceed to call immoral single consequences of the order it has selected. That which is necessary to the social order it has chosen is moral, and everything else is immoral.
[50. ]II Thessalonians, III, 10. On the letter not being Paul’s see Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum, Vol. I, PP. 95 ff.
[51. ]Against this Paul, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (IX, 6-24), favours on principle the Apostle’s claim to live at the cost of the congregation.
[52. ]Todt (Der radikale deutsche Sozialismus und die christliche Gesellschaft, 2nd ed. (Wittenberg, 2878), pp. 306—19, is a good example of how, out of this and similar passages, people try to justify from the New Testament modern catchwords of the anti-liberal movement.
[53. ]Kant, “Fragmente aus dem Nachlass,” Collected works, ed. Hartenstein, Vol. VIII (Leipzig, 1868), p. 622.