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Mises states that it is the division of labor which makes man truly “social” or “communal” (1922)

Ludwig von Mises rejects the claim of the socialists that only under socialism or communism can man be truly “social”. In his view mankind is “social” as soon as cooperation and the division of labor enter the picture:

Society is co-operation; it is community in action.

To say that Society is an organism, means that society is division of labour. To do justice to this idea we must take into account all the aims which men set themselves and the means by which these are to be attained. It includes every inter-relation of thinking and willing man. Modern man is a social being, not only as one whose material needs could not be supplied in isolation, but also as one who has achieved a development of reason and of the perceptive faculty that would have been impossible except within society. Man is inconceivable as an isolated being …

Even where creatures such as ants and bees come together in “animal communities,” all movements and changes take place instinctively and unconsciously. Instinct may very well have operated at the beginning and in the earliest stages of social formation also. Man is already a member of a social body when he appears as a thinking, willing creature, for the thinking man is inconceivable as a solitary individual. “Only amongst men does man become a man” (Fichte). The development of human reason and the development of human society are one and the same process. All further growth of social relations is entirely a matter of will. Society is the product of thought and will. It does not exist outside thought and will. Its being lies within man, not in the outer world. It is projected from within outwards.

Society is co-operation; it is community in action.

To say that Society is an organism, means that society is division of labour. To do justice to this idea we must take into account all the aims which men set themselves and the means by which these are to be attained. It includes every inter-relation of thinking and willing man. Modern man is a social being, not only as one whose material needs could not be supplied in isolation, but also as one who has achieved a development of reason and of the perceptive faculty that would have been impossible except within society. Man is inconceivable as an isolated being, for humanity exists only as a social phenomenon and mankind transcended the stage of animality only in so far as co-operation evolved the social relationships between the individuals. Evolution from the human animal to the human being was made possible by and achieved by means of social cooperation and by that alone. And therein lies the interpretation of Aristotle’s dictum that man is the πσλιτιχὸν (the living body politic).

About this Quotation:

This quotation comes from the second truly great book Ludwig von Mises wrote, Socialism (1922) - the first was The Theory of Money and Credit (1912). The Bolshevik Revolution was in full swing and already economists could see the chaos and damage that communist central planning was creating. In this passage Mises returns to a common classical liberal notion that human being are naturally social creatures, that society is made up of a series of interlocking exchanges (Destutt de tracy), and that all voluntary exchanges are social relationships between individuals. The twist Mises gives to these insights is to see the division of labor as the connecting tissue which binds these social relations together. Thus free markets are “social” institutions at a very fundamental level. Reading further in his book shows that he also thinks that attempts to introduce closer social ties between people by coercion, as the Bolsheviks were doing in Russia, would end up destroying society and community, and thus undermine precisely what the socialists and communists were trying to establish.

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