Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3.: German Nationalism within an Etatist World - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
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3.: German Nationalism within an Etatist World - Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War 
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, edited with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Indiana, 2011).
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German Nationalism within an Etatist World
German nationalism differs from that of other European countries only in the fact of the people’s believing itself to be the strongest in Europe. Pan-Germanism and its heir, Nazism, are the application of general nationalist doctrines to the special case of the most populous and most powerful nation, which is, however, in the unlucky position of being dependent on imported foodstuffs and raw materials.
German nationalism is not the outcome of innate Teutonic brutality or rowdyism. It does not stem from blood or inheritance. It is not a return of the grandsons to the mentality of their Viking ancestors; the Germans are not the descendants of the Vikings. The forefathers of the Germans of our day were German tribes (who did not participate in the invasions which gave the last blow to ancient civilization), Slavonic and Baltic tribes of the northeast, and Celtic aborigines of the Alps. There is more non-German than German “blood” in the veins of present-day Germans. The Scandinavians, the genuine scions of the Vikings, have a different type of nationalism and apply different political methods from those of the Germans. No one can tell whether the Swedes, if they were as numerous as the Germans are today, would in our age of nationalism have adopted the methods of Nazism. Certainly the Germans, if they had not been more numerous than the Swedes, would not have succumbed to the mentality of world conquest.
The Germans invented neither interventionism nor etatism, with their inevitable result, nationalism. They imported these doctrines from abroad. They did not even invent the most conspicuous chauvinistic adornment of their own nationalism, the fable of Aryanism.
It is easy to expose the fundamental errors, fallacies, and paralogisms of German nationalism if one places oneself on the sound basis of scientific praxeology and economics and the practical philosophy of liberalism derived from them. But etatists are helpless when trying to refute the essential statements of Pan-Germanism and Nazism. The only objection they can consistently raise to the teachings of German nationalism is that the Germans were mistaken when they assumed they could conquer all other nations. And the only weapons they can use against Nazism are military ones.
It is inconsistent for an etatist to object to German nationalism on the ground that it means coercion. The state always means coercion. But while liberalism seeks to limit the application of coercion and compulsion to a narrow field, etatists do not recognize these restrictions. For etatism coercion is the essential means of political action, indeed the only means. It is considered proper for the government of Atlantis to use armed men—i.e., customs and immigration officers—in order to hinder the citizens of Thule from selling commodities on the markets of Atlantis or from working in the factories of Atlantis. But if this is so, then no effective logical argument can be brought forward against the plans of the government of Thule to defeat the armed forces of Atlantis and thus to prevent them from inflicting harm on the citizens of Thule. The only working argument for Atlantis is to repulse the aggressors.
We can see this essential matter clearly by comparing the social effects of private property and those of territorial sovereignty. Both private property and territorial sovereignty can be traced back to a point where somebody either appropriated ownerless goods or land or violently expropriated a predecessor whose title had been based on appropriation. To law and legality no other origin can be ascribed. It would be contradictory or nonsensical to assume a “legitimate” beginning. The factual state of affairs became a legitimate one by its acknowledgment by other people. Lawfulness consists in the general acceptance of the rule that no further arbitrary appropriations or violent expropriations shall be tolerated. For the sake of peace, security, and progress, it is agreed that in the future every change of property shall be the outcome of voluntary exchange by the parties directly concerned.
This, of course, involves the recognition of the appropriations and expropriations effected in the past. It means a declaration that the present state of distribution, although arbitrarily established, must be respected as the legal one. There was no alternative. To attempt to establish a fair order through the expropriation of all owners and an entirely new distribution would have resulted in endless wars.
Within the framework of a market society the fact that legal formalism can trace back every title either to arbitrary appropriation or to violent expropriation has lost its significance. Ownership in the market society is no longer linked up with the remote origin of private property. Those events in a far-distant past, hidden in the darkness of primitive mankind’s history, are no longer of any concern for our present life. For in an unhampered market society the consumers decide by their daily buying or not buying who should own and what he should own. The working of the market daily allots anew the ownership of the means of production to those who know how to use them best for the satisfaction of consumers. Only in a legal and formalistic sense can the owners be considered the successors of appropriators and expropriators. In fact, they are the mandataries of the consumers, bound by the laws of the market to serve the wants or whims of the consumers. The market is a democracy. Capitalism is the consummation of the self-determination of consumers. Mr. Ford is richer than Mr. X because he succeeded better in serving the consumers.
But all this is not true of territorial sovereignty. Here the fact that once in a remote past a Mongolian tribe occupied the country of Tibet still has its full importance. If there should one day be discovered in Tibet precious resources that could improve the lot of every human being it would depend on the Dalai Lama’s discretion whether the world should be allowed to make use of these treasures or not. His is the sovereignty of this country; his title, derived from a bloody conquest thousands of years ago, is still supreme and exclusive. This unsatisfactory state of things can be remedied only by violence, by war. Thus war is inescapable; it is the ultima ratio; it is the only means of solving such antagonisms—unless people have recourse to the principles of liberalism. It is precisely in order to make war unnecessary that liberalism recommends laissez faire and laissez passer, which would render political boundaries innocuous. A liberal government in Tibet would not hinder anyone from making the best use of the country’s resources. If you want to abolish war, you must eliminate its causes. What is needed is to restrict government activities to the preservation of life, health, and private property, and thereby to safeguard the working of the market. Sovereignty must not be used for inflicting harm on anyone, whether citizen or foreigner.
In the world of etatism sovereignty once more has disastrous implications. Every sovereign government has the power to use its apparatus of coercion and compulsion to the disadvantage of citizens and foreigners. The gendarmes of Atlantis apply coercion against the citizens of Thule. Thule orders its army to attack the forces of Atlantis. Each country calls the other aggressor. Atlantis says: “This is our country; we are free to act within its boundaries as we like; you, Thule, have no right to interfere.” Thule answers: “You have no title but earlier conquest; now you take advantage of your sovereignty to discriminate against our citizens; but we are strong enough to annul your title by superior force.”
Under such conditions there is but one means to avoid war: to be so strong that no one ventures aggression against you.