Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3: The Historical Role of War and Conquest - Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, vol. 2 (LF ed.)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
3: The Historical Role of War and Conquest - Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, vol. 2 (LF ed.) 
Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, in 4 vols., ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). Vol. 2.
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 Historical Role of War and Conquest
Many authors glorify war and revolution, bloodshed and conquest. Carlyle and Ruskin, Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, and Spengler were harbingers of the ideas which Lenin and Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini put into effect.
The course of history, say these philosophies, is not determined by the mean activities of materialistic peddlers and merchants, but by the heroic deeds of warriors and conquerors. The economists err in abstracting from the experience of the short-lived liberal episode a theory to which they ascribe universal validity. This epoch of liberalism, individualism, and capitalism; of democracy, tolerance, and freedom; of the disregard of all “true” and “eternal” values; and of the supremacy of the rabble is now vanishing and will never return. The dawning age of manliness requires a new theory of human action.
However, no economist ever ventured to deny that war and conquest were of utmost importance in the past and that Huns and Tartars, Vandals and Vikings, Normans and conquistadors played an enormous part in history. One of the determinants of the present state of mankind is the fact that there were thousands of years of armed conflicts. Yet, what remains and is the essence of human civilization, is not the legacy inherited from the warriors. Civilization is an achievement of the “bourgeois” spirit, not of the spirit of conquest. Those barbarian peoples who did not substitute working for plundering disappeared from the historical scene. If there is still any trace left of their existence, it is in the achievements they accomplished under the influence of the civilization of the subdued peoples. Latin civilization survived in Italy, France, and the Iberian peninsula in defiance of all barbarian invasions. If capitalist entrepreneurs had not succeeded Lord Clive and Warren Hastings, British rule in India might one day have become such an insignificant historical reminiscence as are the one hundred and fifty years of Turkish rule in Hungary.
It is not the task of economics to enter into an examination of the endeavors to revive the ideals of the Vikings. It has merely to refute the statements that the fact that there are armed conflicts reduces its teachings to nought. With regard to this problem there is need to emphasize again the following:
First: The teachings of catallactics do not refer to a definite epoch of history, but to all actions characterized by the two conditions private ownership of the means of production and division of labor. Whenever and wherever, in a society in which there is private ownership of the means of production, people not only produce for the direct satisfaction of their own wants but also consume goods produced by other people, the theorems of catallactics are strictly valid.
Second: If apart from the market and outside of the market there is robbing and plundering, these facts are a datum for the market. The actors must take into account the fact that they are threatened by murderers and robbers. If killing and robbing become so prevalent that any production appears useless, it may finally happen that productive work ceases and mankind plunges into a state of war of every man against every other man.
Third: In order to seize booty, something to be plundered must be available. The heroes can only live if there are enough “bourgeois” to be expropriated. The existence of producers is a condition for the survival of conquerors. But the producers could do without the plunderers.
Fourth: There are, of course, other imaginable systems of a society based on the division of labor besides the capitalist system of private ownership of the means of production. Champions of militarism are consistent in asking for the establishment of socialism. The whole nation should be organized as a community of warriors in which the noncombatants have no other task than that of supplying the fighting forces with all they need. (The problems of socialism are dealt with in the fifth part of this book.)