Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2: Violence and Authority - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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2: Violence and Authority - 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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Violence and Authority
The attitude of mind which sees in private property a privilege of the owners is an echo from former periods in the history of property. All property ownership began with appropriation of ownerless things. The history of property passed through a period in which forcible dispossession of the owners was the rule. It is safe to say that the ownership of any piece of ground property can be traced back to seizure by violence. This has of course no application to the social order of Capitalism, as property here is constantly being acquired in the process of market competition. But as the liberal principles have nowhere—in Europe at least—been put into practice in their entirety, and as everywhere, especially in landed property, very much of the old taint of violence survives, the tradition of the feudal owners is still upheld: “Ich lieg und besitze” (I occupy and possess). Criticism of property rights is met with violent abuse. This is the policy the German Junkers adopted against Social Democracy—with what success is well known.34
Partisans of this order can say nothing in justification of private ownership in the means of production but that it is upheld by force. The fight of the strong is the only fight they can enforce. They boast of their physical force, rely on their armed equipment, and consider themselves entitled to despise any other argument. Only when the ground begins to tremble under their feet, do they produce another argument by taking their stand upon acquired rights. Violation of their property becomes an illegality which must be avoided. We need waste no words in exposing the weakness of this point of view in the struggle against a movement that wants to found new rights. It is quite powerless to change public opinion if that opinion has condemned property. Its beneficiaries recognize this with horror and turn in their distress to the Church, with the odd request that the Church shall keep the misera plebs (wretched masses) modest and humble, fight covetousness and turn the eyes of the propertyless from earthly goods to heavenly things.35 Christianity is to be kept alive so that the people shall not become covetous. But the demand thus made to the Church is monstrous. It is asked to serve the interests, generally assumed to be harmful to the community, of a number of privileged persons. It is obvious that the true servants of the Church have revolted against this presumptuous demand, while enemies of the Church have found it an effective weapon in their war of liberation against religion. What is surprising is that ecclesiastical enemies of Socialism, in their efforts to represent Socialism as a child of Liberalism, of the free school, and of atheism, have taken up just the same attitude towards the work which the Church performs in maintaining existing property relations. Thus the Jesuit Cathrein says: “If one assumes that with this life all is finished, that to man is given no greater destiny than to any other mammal that wallows in the mire, who then will ask of the poor and oppressed, whose life is a constant struggle for existence, that they should bear their hard fate with patience and resignation, and look on while others clothe themselves in silk and purple and have regular and ample meals? Does not the worker too carry in his heart the indestructible impulse towards perfect happiness? If he is robbed of every hope of a better world beyond, by what right is he prevented from seeking his happiness as far as possible on earth and so demanding imperatively, his share of the earth’s riches? Is he not just as much man as his employer? Why should some just manage to exist in want and poverty while others live on the fat of the land, when from their point of view there is no reason why the good things of this world should belong to some rather than to others? If the atheistic-naturalistic standpoint is justified, so also is the Socialist demand: that worldly goods and happiness should be distributed to all as equally as possible, that it is wrong for some to live a life of idle enjoyment in palaces while others live in miserable cellars and attics, barely able in spite of the most strenuous efforts to earn their daily bread.”36 Assuming matters to be just as Cathrein imagines them—that private property is a privilege of the owners, that the others are poorer in proportion as these are rich, that some starve because others carouse, that some live in miserable little rooms because others live in lordly places—does he really believe that it could possibly be a work of the Church to maintain such conditions? Whatever one may read into the Church’s social teaching, one cannot suppose that its founder or his supporters would have approved of its being used to bolster up unjust social institutions that are obviously disadvantageous to the greater part of humanity. Christianity would long since have vanished from the earth, were it that for which, in common with many of its bitterest enemies, Bismarck and Cathrein mistook it: a bodyguard for a social institution injurious to the masses.
The socialist idea can be suppressed neither by force nor by authority, for both are on the side of Socialism and not of its opponents. If guns and machine-guns are brought into action today they will be in the ranks of Socialism and Syndicalism, and not opposed to them. For the great mass of our contemporaries are imbued with the spirit of Socialism or of Syndicalism. Whatever system is set in authority at the present time, it can certainly not be Capitalism, for the masses do not believe in it.
[34. ]The Junker is not concerned with the maintenance of private property as disposal over the means of production, but rather with maintaining it as title to a special source of income. Therefore State Socialism has easily won him over. It is to secure him his privileged income.
[35. ]This, for example, was Bismarck’s view. See his speech in the Landtag of June 15th, 1847 in Fürst Bismarcks Reden, edited by Stein, Vol. I, p. 24.
[36. ]Cathrein, Der Sozialismus, 12th and 13th eds. (Freiburg, 1920), pp. 347 ff.