Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 15: Philosophical Interpretations of History - Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution (LF ed.)
Return to Title Page for Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution (LF ed.)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
chapter 15: Philosophical Interpretations of History - Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution (LF ed.) 
Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution, ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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.
Philosophical Interpretations of History
Philosophies of History and Philosophical Interpretations of History
The attempts to provide a philosophical interpretation of history must not be confused with any of the various schemes of philosophy of history. They do not aim at the discovery of the end toward which the process of human history is tending. They try to bring into relief factors that play a momentous part in determining the course of historical events. They deal with the ends individuals and groups of individuals are aiming at, but they abstain from any opinion about the end and the meaning of the historical process as a whole or about a preordained destiny of mankind. They rely not upon intuition but upon a study of history. They try to demonstrate the correctness of their interpretation by referring to historical facts. In this sense they can be called discursive and scientific.
It is useless to enter into a discussion about the merits and demerits of a definite brand of philosophy of history. A philosophy of history has to be accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole. No logical arguments and no reference to facts can be advanced either for or against a philosophy of history. There is no question of reasoning about it; what matters is solely belief or disbelief. It is possible that in a few years the entire earth will be subject to socialism. If this occurs, it will by no means confirm the Marxian variety of philosophy of history. Socialism will not be the outcome of a law operating “independently of the will of men” with “the inexorability of a law of nature.” It will be precisely the outcome of the ideas that got into the heads of men, of the conviction shared by the majority that socialism will be more beneficial to them than capitalism.
A philosophical interpretation of history can be misused for political propaganda. However, it is easy to separate the scientific core of the doctrine from its political adaptation and modification.
Environmentalism is the doctrine that explains historical changes as produced by the environment in which people are living. There are two varieties of this doctrine: the doctrine of physical or geographical environmentalism and the doctrine of social or cultural environmentalism.
The former doctrine asserts that the essential features of a people’s civilization are brought about by geographical factors. The physical, geological, and climatic conditions and the flora and fauna of a region determine the thoughts and the actions of its inhabitants. In the most radical formulation of their thesis, anthropogeographical authors are eager to trace back all differences between races, nations, and civilizations to the operation of man’s natural environment.
The inherent misconception of this interpretation is that is looks upon geography as an active and upon human action as a passive factor. However, the geographical environment is only one of the components of the situation in which man is placed by his birth, that makes him feel uneasy and causes him to employ his reason and his bodily forces to get rid of this uneasiness as best he may. Geography (nature) provides on the one hand a provocation to act and on the other hand both means that can be utilized in acting and insurmountable limits imposed upon the human striving for betterment. It provides a stimulus but not the response. Geography sets a task, but man has to solve it. Man lives in a definite geographical environment and is forced to adjust his action to the conditions of this environment. But the way in which he adjusts himself, the methods of his social, technological, and moral adaptation, are not determined by the external physical factors. The North American continent produced neither the civilization of the Indian aborigines nor that of the Americans of European extraction.
Human action is conscious reaction to the stimulus offered by the conditions under which man lives. As some of the components of the situation in which he lives and is called upon to act vary in different parts of the globe, there are also geographical differences in civilization. The wooden shoes of the Dutch fishermen would not be useful to the mountaineers of Switzerland. Fur coats are practical in Canada but less so in Tahiti.
The doctrine of social and cultural environmentalism merely stresses the fact that there is—necessarily—continuity in human civilization. The rising generation does not create a new civilization from the grass roots. It enters into the social and cultural milieu that the preceding generations have created. The individual is born at a definite date in history into a definite situation determined by geography, history, social institutions, mores, and ideologies. He has daily to face the alteration in the structure of this traditional surrounding effected by the actions of his contemporaries. He does not simply live in the world. He lives in a circumscribed spot. He is both furthered and hampered in his acting by all that is peculiar to this spot. But he is not determined by it.
The truth contained in environmentalism is the cognition that every individual lives at a definite epoch in a definite geographical space and acts under the conditions determined by this environment. The environment determines the situation but not the response. To the same situation different modes of reacting are thinkable and feasible. Which one the actors choose depends on their individuality.
The Egalitarians’ Interpretation of History
Most biologists maintain that there is but one species of man. The fact that all people can interbreed and produce fertile offspring is taken as evidence of the zoological unity of mankind. Yet within the species Homo sapiens there are numerous variations which make it imperative to distinguish subspecies or races.
There are considerable bodily differences between the members of various races; there are also remarkable although less momentous differences between members of the same race, subrace, tribe, or family, even between brothers and sisters, even between nonidentical twins. Every individual is already at birth different bodily from all other specimens, is characterized by individual traits of his own. But no matter how great these differences may be, they do not affect the logical structure of the human mind. There is not the slightest evidence for the thesis developed by various schools of thought that the logic and thinking of different races are categorially different.
The scientific treatment of the inborn differences between individuals and of their biological and physiological inheritance has been grossly muddled and twisted by political prepossessions. Behavioristic psychology maintains that all differences in mental traits among men are caused by environmental factors. It denies all influence of bodily build upon mental activities. It holds that equalizing the outer conditions of human life and education could wipe out all cultural differences between individuals, whatever their racial or family affiliation might be. Observation contradicts these assertions. It shows that there is a degree of correlation between bodily structure and mental traits. An individual inherits from his parents and indirectly from his parents’ ancestors not only the specific biological characteristics of his body but also a constitution of mental powers that circumscribes the potentialities of his mental achievements and his personality. Some people are endowed with an innate ability for definite kinds of activities while others lack this gift entirely or possess it only to a lesser degree.
The behavioristic doctrine was used to support the program of socialism of the egalitarian variety. Egalitarian socialism attacks the classical liberal principle of equality before the law. In its opinion the inequalities of income and wealth existing in the market economy are in their origin and their social significance not different from those existing in a status society. They are the outcome of usurpations and expropriations and the resulting exploitation of the masses brought about by arbitrary violence. The beneficiaries of this violence form a dominating class as the instrument of which the state forcibly holds down the exploited. What distinguishes the “capitalist” from the “common man” is the fact that he has joined the gang of the unscrupulous exploiters. The only quality required in an entrepreneur is villainy. His business, says Lenin, is accounting and the control of production and distribution, and these things have been “simplified by capitalism to the utmost till they have become the extraordinarily simple operations of watching, recording, and issuing receipts, within the reach of anybody who can read and write and knows the first four rules of arithmetic.”1 Thus the “property privileges” of the “capitalists” are no less superfluous and therefore parasitic than the status privileges of the aristocratic landowners were on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. In establishing a spurious equality before the law and preserving the most iniquitous of all privileges, private property, the bourgeoisie has duped the unsuspecting people and robbed them of the fruits of the revolution.
This doctrine, already dimly present in the writings of some earlier authors and popularized by Jean Jacques Rousseau and by Babeuf, was transformed in the Marxian class-struggle doctrine into an interpretation of the whole process of human history from the point of view of usurpation. In the context of the Marxian philosophy of history the emergence of status and class distinctions was a necessary and historically inevitable result of the evolution of the material productive forces. The members of the dominating castes and classes were not individually responsible for the acts of oppression and exploitation. They were not morally inferior to those they held in subservience. They were simply the men inscrutable destiny singled out to perform a socially, economically, and historically necessary task. As the state of the material productive forces determined each individual’s role in the consummation of the historical process, it was their part to carry out all they accomplished.
But quite a different description of the march of human affairs is provided by those writings in which Marx and Engels deal with historical problems or with political issues of their own time. There they unreservedly espouse the popular doctrine of the inherent moral corruption of the “exploiters.” Human history appears as a process of progressive moral corruption that started when the blissful conditions of primeval village communities were disrupted by the greed of selfish individuals. Private ownership of land is the original sin which step by step brought about all the disasters that have plagued mankind. What elevates an “exploiter” above the level of his fellow men is merely villainy. In the three volumes of Das Kapital unscrupulousness is the only quality alluded to as required in an “exploiter.” The improvement of technology and the accumulation of wealth that Marx considered prerequisite for the realization of socialism are described as a result of the spontaneous evolution of the mythical material productive forces. The “capitalists” do not get any credit for these achievements. All that these villains do is to expropriate those who should by rights have the fruits of the operation of the material productive forces. They appropriate to themselves “surplus value.” They are merely parasites, and mankind can do without them.
This interpretation of history from the egalitarian point of view is the official philosophy of our age. It assumes that an automatic process of historical evolution tends to improve technological methods of production, to accumulate wealth, and to provide the means for improving the standard of living of the masses. Looking back upon conditions in the capitalistic West as they developed in the last century or two, statisticians see a trend of rising productivity and blithely surmise that this trend will continue, whatever society’s economic organization may be. As they see it, a trend of historical evolution is something above the level of the actions of men, a “scientifically” established fact which cannot be affected by men and by the social system. Hence no harm can result from institutions—such as the contemporary tax legislation—which aim at ultimately wiping out the inequalities of income and wealth.
The egalitarian doctrine is manifestly contrary to all the facts established by biology and by history. Only fanatical partisans of this theory can contend that what distinguishes the genius from the dullard is entirely the effect of postnatal influences. The presumption that civilization, progress, and improvement emanate from the operation of some mythical factor—in the Marxian philosophy, the material productive forces—shaping the minds of men in such a way that certain ideas are successively produced contemporaneously in them, is an absurd fable.
There has been a lot of empty talk about the nonexistence of differences among men. But there has never been an attempt to organize society according to the egalitarian principle. The author of an egalitarian tract and the leader of an egalitarian party by their very activity contradict the principle to which they pay lip service. The historical role played by the egalitarian creed was to disguise the most abject forms of despotic oppression. In Soviet Russia egalitarianism is proclaimed as one of the main dogmas of the official creed. But Lenin was deified after his death, and Stalin was worshiped in life as no ruler has been since the days of the declining Roman Empire.
The egalitarian fables do not explain the course of past history, they are out of place in an analysis of economic problems, and useless in planning future political action.
The Racial Interpretation of History
It is a historical fact that the civilizations developed by various races are different. In earlier ages it was possible to establish this truth without attempting to distinguish between higher and lower civilizations. Each race, one could contend, develops a culture that conforms to its wishes, wants, and ideals. The character of a race finds its adequate expression in its achievements. A race may imitate accomplishments and institutions developed by other races, but it does not long to abandon its own cultural pattern entirely and to substitute an imported alien system for it. If about two thousand years ago the Greco-Romans and the Chinese had learned about each other’s civilizations, neither race would have admitted the superiority of the other’s civilization.
But it is different in our age. The non-Caucasians may hate and despise the white man, they may plot his destruction and take pleasure in extravagant praise of their own civilizations. But they yearn for the tangible achievements of the West, for its science, technology, therapeutics, its methods of administration and of industrial management. Many of their spokesmen declare that they want only to imitate the material culture of the West, and to do even that only so far as it does not conflict with their indigenous ideologies or jeopardize their religious beliefs and observances. They fail to see that the adoption of what they disparagingly call the merely material achievements of the West is incompatible with preserving their traditional rites and taboos and their customary style of life. They indulge in the illusion that their peoples could borrow the technology of the West and attain a higher material standard of living without having first in a Kulturkampf [“battle of cultures”] divested themselves of the world view and the mores handed down from their ancestors. They are confirmed in this error by the socialist doctrine, which also fails to recognize that the material and technological achievements of the West were brought about by the philosophies of rationalism, individualism, and utilitarianism and are bound to disappear if the collectivist and totalitarian tenets substitute socialism for capitalism.
Whatever people may say about Western civilization, the fact remains that all peoples look with envy upon its achievements, want to reproduce them, and thereby implicitly admit its superiority. It is this state of affairs that has generated the modern doctrine of race differences and its political offshoot, racism.
The doctrine of race differences maintains that some races have succeeded better than others in the pursuit of those aims that are common to all men. All men want to resist the operation of the factors detrimental to the preservation of their lives, their health, and their well-being. It cannot be denied that modern Western capitalism has succeeded best in these endeavors. It has increased the average length of life and raised the average standard of living unprecedentedly. It has made accessible to the common man those higher human accomplishments—philosophy, science, art—which in the past were everywhere, and today outside the countries of Western capitalism still are, accessible only to a small minority. Grumblers may blame Western civilization for its materialism and may assert that it gratified nobody but a small class of rugged exploiters. But their laments cannot wipe out the facts. Millions of mothers have been made happier by the drop in infant mortality. Famines have disappeared and epidemics have been curbed. The average man lives in more satisfactory conditions than his ancestors or his fellows in the noncapitalistic countries. And one must not dismiss as merely materialistic a civilization which makes it possible for practically everybody to enjoy a Beethoven symphony performed by an orchestra conducted by an eminent master.
The thesis that some races have been more successful than others in their efforts to develop a civilization is unassailable as a statement about historical experience. As a résumé of what has happened in the past it is quite correct to assert that modern civilization is the white man’s achievement. However, the establishment of this fact justifies neither the white man’s racial self-conceit nor the political doctrines of racism.
Many people take pride in the fact that their ancestors or their relatives have performed great things. It gives some men a special satisfaction to know that they belong to a family, clan, nation, or race that has distinguished itself in the past. But this innocuous vanity easily turns into scorn of those who do not belong to the same distinguished group and into attempts to humiliate and to insult them. The diplomats, soldiers, bureaucrats, and businessmen of the Western nations who in their contacts with the colored races have displayed overbearing effrontery had no claim at all to boast of the deeds of Western civilization. They were not the makers of this culture which they compromised by their behavior. Their insolence which found its expression in such signs as “Entrance forbidden to dogs and natives” has poisoned the relations between the races for ages to come. But we do not have to deal with these sad facts in an analysis of racial doctrines.
Historical experience warrants the statement that in the past the efforts of some subdivisions of the Caucasian race to develop a civilization have eclipsed those of the members of other races. It does not warrant any statement about the future. It does not permit us to assume that this superiority of the white stock will persist in the future. Nothing can be predicted from historical experience with a likelihood that can be compared with the probability of predictions made in the natural sciences on the basis of facts established by laboratory experiments. In 1760 a historian would have been right in declaring that Western civilization was mainly an achievement of the Latins and the British and that the Germans had contributed little to it. It was permissible at that time to maintain that German science, art, literature, philosophy, and technology were insignificant compared to the accomplishments of the members of some other nations. One could fairly contend that those Germans who had distinguished themselves in these fields—foremost among them the astronomers Copernicus1 and Kepler and the philosopher Leibniz—could succeed only because they had fully absorbed what non-Germans had contributed, that intellectually they did not belong to Germany, that for a long time they had no German followers, and that those who first appreciated their doctrines were predominantly non-German. But if somebody had inferred from these facts that the Germans are culturally inferior and would rank in the future far below the French and the British, his conclusion would have been disproved by the course of later history.
A prediction about the future behavior of those races which today are considered culturally backward could only be made by biological science. If biology were to discover some anatomical characteristics of the members of the non-Caucasian races which necessarily curb their mental faculties, one could venture such a prediction. But so far biology has not discovered any such characteristics.
It is not the task of this essay to deal with the biological issues of the racial doctrine. It must therefore abstain from analysis of the controversial problems of racial purity and miscegenation. Nor is it our task to investigate the merits of the political program of racism. This is for praxeology and economics.
All that can be said about racial issues on the ground of historical experience boils down to two statements. First, the prevailing differences between the various biological strains of men are reflected in the civilizatory achievements of the group members. Second, in our age the main achievements in civilization of some subdivisions of the white Caucasian race are viewed by the immense majority of the members of all other races as more desirable than characteristic features of the civilization produced by the members of their respective own races.
The Secularism of Western Civilization
An almost universally accepted interpretation of modern civilization distinguishes between the spiritual and material aspects. The distinction is suspect, as it originated not from a dispassionate observation of facts but from resentment. Every race, nation, or linguistic group boasts of its members’ achievements in spiritual matters even while admitting its backwardness in material matters. It is assumed that there is little connection between the two aspects of civilization, that the spiritual is more sublime, deserving, and praiseworthy than the “merely” material, and that preoccupation with material improvement prevents a people from bestowing sufficient attention on spiritual matters.
Such were, in the nineteenth century, the ideas of the leaders of the Eastern peoples who were eager to reproduce in their own countries the achievements of the West. The study of Western civilization made them subconsciously despise the institutions and ideologies of their native countries and left them feeling inferior. They re-established their mental equilibrium by means of the doctrine that depreciated Western civilization as merely materialistic. The Rumanians or Turks who longed for railroads and factories to be built by Western capital consoled themselves by exalting the spiritual culture of their own nations. The Hindus and the Chinese were of course on firmer ground when referring to the literature and art of their ancestors. But it seems not to have occurred to them that many hundreds of years separated them from the generations that had excelled in philosophy and poetry, and that in the age of these famous ancestors their nations were, if not ahead of, certainly not second in material civilization to any of their contemporaries.
In recent decades the doctrine that belittles modern Western civilization as merely materialistic has been almost universally endorsed by the nations which brought about this civilization. It comforts Europeans when they compare the economic prosperity of the United States with present-day conditions in their own countries. It serves the American socialists as a leading argument in their endeavor to depict American capitalism as a curse of mankind. Reluctantly forced to admit that capitalism pours a horn of plenty upon people and that the Marxian prediction of the masses’ progressive impoverishment has been spectacularly disproved by the facts, they try to salvage their detraction of capitalism by describing contemporary civilization as merely materialistic and sham.
Bitter attacks upon modern civilization are launched by writers who think that they are pleading the cause of religion. They reprimand our age for its secularism. They bemoan the passing of a way of life in which, they would have us believe, people were not preoccupied with the pursuit of earthly ambitions but were first of all concerned about the strict observance of their religious duties. They ascribe all evils to the spread of skepticism and agnosticism and passionately advocate a return to the orthodoxy of ages gone by.
It is hard to find a doctrine which distorts history more radically than this antisecularism. There have always been devout men, pure in heart and dedicated to a pious life. But the religiousness of these sincere believers had nothing in common with the established system of devotion. It is a myth that the political and social institutions of the ages preceding modern individualistic philosophy and modern capitalism were imbued with a genuine Christian spirit. The teachings of the Gospels did not determine the official attitude of the governments toward religion. It was, on the contrary, this-worldly concerns of the secular rulers—absolute kings and aristocratic oligarchies, but occasionally also revolting peasants and urban mobs—that transformed religion into an instrument of profane political ambitions.
Nothing could be less compatible with true religion than the ruthless persecution of dissenters and the horrors of religious crusades and wars. No historian ever denied that very little of the spirit of Christ was to be found in the churches of the sixteenth century which were criticized by the theologians of the Reformation and in those of the eighteenth century which the philosophers of the Enlightenment attacked.
The ideology of individualism and utilitarianism which inaugurated modern capitalism brought freedom also to the religious longings of man. It shattered the pretension of those in power to impose their own creed upon their subjects. Religion is no longer the observance of articles enforced by constables and executioners. It is what a man, guided by his conscience, spontaneously espouses as his own faith. Modern Western civilization is this-worldly. But it was precisely its secularism, its religious indifference, that gave rein to the renascence of genuine religious feeling. Those who worship today in a free country are not driven by the secular arm but by their conscience. In complying with the precepts of their persuasion, they are not intent upon avoiding punishment on the part of the earthly authorities but upon salvation and peace of mind.
The Rejection of Capitalism by Antisecularism
The hostility displayed by the champions of antisecularism to modern ways of life manifests itself in the condemnation of capitalism as an unjust system.
In the opinion of the socialists as well as of the interventionists the market economy impedes the full utilization of the achievements of technology and thus checks the evolution of production and restricts the quantity of goods produced and available for consumption. In earlier days these critics of capitalism did not deny that an equal distribution of the social product among all would hardly bring about a noticeable improvement in the material conditions of the immense majority of people. In their plans equal distribution played a subordinate role. Prosperity and abundance for all which they promised was, as they thought, to be expected from the freeing of the productive forces from the fetters allegedly imposed upon them by the selfishness of the capitalists. The purpose of the reforms they suggested was to replace capitalism by a more efficient system of production and thereby to inaugurate an age of riches for all.
Now that economic analysis has exposed the illusions and fallacies in the socialists’ and interventionists’ condemnation of capitalism, they try to salvage their programs by resorting to another method. The Marxians have developed the doctrine of the inevitability of socialism, and the interventionists, following in their wake, speak of the irreversibility of the trend toward more and more government interference with economic affairs. It is obvious that these makeshifts are designed merely to cover their intellectual defeat and to divert the public’s attention from the disastrous consequences of the socialist and interventionist policies.
Similar motives prompt those who advocate socialism and interventionism for moral and religious reasons. They consider it supererogatory to examine the economic problems involved, and they try to shift the discussion of the pros and cons of the market economy from the field of economic analysis to what they call a higher sphere. They reject capitalism as an unfair system and advocate either socialism or interventionism as being in accord with their moral or religious principles. It is vile, they say, to look upon human affairs from the point of view of productivity, profits, and a materialistic concern about wealth and a plentiful supply of material goods. Man ought to strive after justice, not wealth.
This mode of argumentation would be consistent if it were openly to ascribe inherent moral value to poverty and to condemn altogether any effort to raise the standard of living above the level of mere subsistence. Science could not object to such a judgment of value, since judgments of value are ultimate choices on the part of the individual who utters them.
However, those rejecting capitalism from a moral and religious point of view do not prefer penury to well-being. On the contrary, they tell their flock they want to improve man’s material well-being. They see it as capitalism’s chief weakness that it does not provide the masses with that degree of well-being which, as they believe, socialism or interventionism could provide. Their condemnation of capitalism and their recommendation of social reforms imply the thesis that socialism or interventionism will raise, not lower, the standard of living of the common man. Thus these critics of capitalism endorse altogether the teachings of the socialists and interventionists without bothering to scrutinize what the economists have brought forward to discredit them. The only fault they find with the tenets of the Marxian socialists and the secular parties of interventionism is their commitment to atheism or secularism.
It is obvious that the question whether material well-being is best served by capitalism, socialism, or interventionism can be decided only by careful analysis of the operation of each of these systems. This is what economics is accomplishing. There is no point in dealing with these issues without taking full account of all that economics has to say about them.
It is justifiable if ethics and religion tell people that they ought to make better use of the well-being that capitalism brings them; if they try to induce the faithful to substitute better ways of spending for the objectionable habits of feasting, drinking, and gambling; if they condemn lying and cheating and praise the moral values implied in purity of family relations and in charity to those in need. But it is irresponsible to condemn one social system and to recommend its replacement by another system without having fully investigated the economic consequences of both.
There is nothing in any ethical doctrine or in the teachings of any of the creeds based on the Ten Commandments that could justify the condemnation of an economic system which has multiplied the population and provides the masses in the capitalistic countries with the highest standard of living ever attained in history. From the religious point of view, too, the drop in infant mortality, the prolongation of the average length of life, the successful fight against plagues and disease, the disappearance of famines, illiteracy, and superstition tell in favor of capitalism. The churches are right to lament the destitution of the masses in the economically backward countries. But they are badly mistaken when they assume that anything can wipe out the poverty of these wretched people but unconditional adoption of the system of profit-seeking big business, that is, mass production for the satisfaction of the needs of the many.
A conscientious moralist or churchman would not consider meddling in controversies concerning technological or therapeutical methods without having sufficiently familiarized himself with all the physical, chemical, and physiological problems involved. Yet many of them think that ignorance of economics is no bar to handling economic issues. They even take pride in their ignorance. They hold that problems of the economic organization of society are to be considered exclusively from the point of view of a preconceived idea of justice and without taking account of what they call the shabby materialistic concern for a comfortable life. They recommend some policies, reject others, and do not bother about the effects that must result from the adoption of their suggestions.
This neglect of the effects of policies, whether rejected or recommended, is absurd. For the moralists and the Christian proponents of anticapitalism do not concern themselves with the economic organization of society from sheer caprice. They seek reform of existing conditions because they want to bring about definite effects. What they call the injustice of capitalism is the alleged fact that it causes widespread poverty and destitution. They advocate reforms which, as they expect, will wipe out poverty and destitution. They are therefore, from the point of view of their own valuations and the ends they themselves are eager to attain, inconsistent in referring merely to something which they call the higher standard of justice and morality and ignoring the economic analysis of both capitalism and the anticapitalistic policies. Their terming capitalism unjust and anticapitalistic measures just is quite arbitrary since it has no relation to the effect of each of these sets of economic policies.
The truth is that those fighting capitalism as a system contrary to the principles of morals and religion have uncritically and lightheartedly adopted all the economic teachings of the socialists and communists. Like the Marxians, they ascribe all ills—economic crises, unemployment, poverty, crime, and many other evils—to the operation of capitalism, and everything that is satisfactory—the higher standard of living in the capitalistic countries, the progress of technology, the drop in mortality rates, and so on—to the operation of government and of the labor unions. They have unwittingly espoused all the tenets of Marxism minus its—merely incidental—atheism. This surrender of philosophical ethics and of religion to the anticapitalistic teachings is the greatest triumph of socialist and interventionist propaganda. It is bound to degrade philosophical ethics and religion to mere auxiliaries of the forces seeking the destruction of Western civilization. In calling capitalism unjust and declaring that its abolition will establish justice, moralists and churchmen render a priceless service to the cause of the socialists and interventionists and relieve them of their greatest embarrassment, the impossibility of refuting the economists’ criticism of their plans by discursive reasoning.
It must be reiterated that no reasoning founded on the principles of philosophical ethics or of the Christian creed can reject as fundamentally unjust an economic system that succeeds in improving the material conditions of all people, and assign the epithet “just” to a system that tends to spread poverty and starvation. The evaluation of any economic system must be made by careful analysis of its effects upon the welfare of people, not by an appeal to an arbitrary concept of justice which neglects to take these effects into full account.
[1 ]Lenin, State and Revolution (New York, International Publishers, 1932), pp. 83 f.
[1 ]We need not go into the question whether Copernicus was a German or a Pole. See Mises, Omnipotent Government, p. 15.