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Mises on cosmopolitan cooperation and peace (1927)

The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was no advocate of “Germany or Austria First”. He preferred instead a “cosmopolitan and ecumenical” liberalism and humanism:

The ultimate ideal envisioned by liberalism is the perfect cooperation of all mankind, taking place peacefully and without friction. Liberal thinking always has the whole of humanity in view and not just parts. It does not stop at limited groups; it does not end at the border of the village, of the province, of the nation, or of the continent. Its thinking is cosmopolitan and ecumenical: it takes in all men and the whole world. Liberalism is, in this sense, humanism; and the liberal, a citizen of the world, a cosmopolite.

For the liberal, there is no opposition between domestic policy and foreign policy, and the question so often raised and exhaustively discussed, whether considerations of foreign policy take precedence over those of domestic policy or vice versa, is, in his eyes, an idle one. For liberalism is, from the very outset, a world-embracing political concept, and the same ideas that it seeks to realize within a limited area it holds to be valid also for the larger sphere of world politics. If the liberal makes a distinction between domestic and foreign policy, he does so solely for purposes of convenience and classification, to subdivide the vast domain of political problems into major types, and not because he is of the opinion that different principles are valid for each.

The goal of the domestic policy of liberalism is the same as that of its foreign policy: peace. It aims at peaceful cooperation just as much between nations as within each nation. The starting point of liberal thought is the recognition of the value and importance of human cooperation, and the whole policy and program of liberalism is designed to serve the purpose of maintaining the existing state of mutual cooperation among the members of the human race and of extending it still further. The ultimate ideal envisioned by liberalism is the perfect cooperation of all mankind, taking place peacefully and without friction. Liberal thinking always has the whole of humanity in view and not just parts. It does not stop at limited groups; it does not end at the border of the village, of the province, of the nation, or of the continent. Its thinking is cosmopolitan and ecumenical: it takes in all men and the whole world. Liberalism is, in this sense, humanism; and the liberal, a citizen of the world, a cosmopolite.

Today, when the world is dominated by antiliberal ideas, cosmopolitanism is suspect in the eyes of the masses. In Germany there are overzealous [77] patriots who cannot forgive the great German poets, especially Goethe, whose thinking and feeling, instead of being confined by national bounds, had a cosmopolitan orientation. It is thought that an irreconcilable conflict exists between the interests of the nation and those of mankind and that one who directs his aspirations and endeavors toward the welfare of the whole of humanity thereby disregards the interests of his own nation. No belief could be more deeply mistaken. The German who works for the good of all mankind no more injures the particular interests of his compatriots—i.e., those of his fellow men with whom he shares a common land and language and with whom he often forms an ethnic and spiritual community as well—than one who works for the good of the whole German nation injures the interests of his own home town. For the individual has just as much of an interest in the prosperity of the whole world as he has in the blooming and flourishing of the local community in which he lives.

About this Quotation:

When Mises wrote these words in his book Liberalism (1927) the German speaking world was being torn apart by ultra-nationalist “German Firsters”, also known as Nazis, and communist thugs who fought each other in the streets. This soon led to increased votes for the Nazi Party (37% of the vote in the 1932 elections) and soon after to Hitler being appointed Reichskanzler. Thus, Mises was swimming very much against the current by espousing these views of international cosmopolitanism, social cooperation, ecumenism, humanism, in a word “liberalism.” He would eventually be forced to flee Austria to seek refuge in neutral Switzerland, with his recently finished German-language version of what would become his magnum opus in his bags (Nationalökonomie: Theorie des Handels und Wirtschaftens which was rewritten and expanded into the English-language Human Action (1949)). He left behind his papers and books in his Vienna apartment which were confiscated by the Russian Red Army at the end of the war and taken to Moscow. No doubt to be read by mystified Communist Party apparatchiks who would have reacted in completely disbelief to his arguments about the impossibility of rational economic calculation under socialism. If anyone had a reason to be pessimistic and bitter it was the laissez-faire, cosmopolitan, classical liberal Ludwig von Mises in 1927. But instead, he wrote this optimistic paean to peace and international cooperation.

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