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Gems in Mises’s Notes and Recollections

Summary:
There are some great gems in Mises's memoir.  I was looking for 1 small item, but I ended up spending most of the day reading a book I had not read I wage since the 1980s in any serious way.  Mises is a proud man, and a man with great conviction.  But there are so many things crystal clear to anyone who will read this book.  His opposition to violence and militarism is evident throughout, as is his embrace of true radical liberalism.  He warned his friend Otto Bauer of the coming violent backlash -- he did NOT embrace that violent backlash against the Social Democrats.  Look at his depiction of the "Home Guard" those rose up in opposition. Otto Bauer lead Social Democrats of Red Vienna, who had engaged in street violence to "control the streets" ... Mises had challenged his friend

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There are some great gems in Mises's memoir.  I was looking for 1 small item, but I ended up spending most of the day reading a book I had not read I wage since the 1980s in any serious way.  Mises is a proud man, and a man with great conviction.  But there are so many things crystal clear to anyone who will read this book.  His opposition to violence and militarism is evident throughout, as is his embrace of true radical liberalism.  He warned his friend Otto Bauer of the coming violent backlash -- he did NOT embrace that violent backlash against the Social Democrats.  Look at his depiction of the "Home Guard" those rose up in opposition. Otto Bauer lead Social Democrats of Red Vienna, who had engaged in street violence to "control the streets" ... Mises had challenged his friend with saying what will you do when another party rises up to challenge you for command of the streets --- Bauer said, that is impossible because nobody would ever challenge the proletariat. Mises's observation was as follows: "I watched with horror this development that indeed was unavoidable. It was obvious that Austria was moving toward civil war." ... "The formation of the Home Guard introduced a new type of individual into politics. Adventurers without education and desperados with narrow horizons became the leaders, because they were good at drill and had a loud voice to give commands. Their bible was the manual of arms; their slogan, “authority.” These adventurers—petty Il Duces and Fu ̈hrers—identified democracy with Social Democracy and therefore looked upon democracy “as the worst of all evils.” Later they clung to the catch-word, “corporate state” (“Sta ̈ndestaat”). Their social ideal was a military state in which they alone would command [be the man on horseback]."

This military state is everything Mises is against, just as much as the socialist command economy. In fact, if you read him carefully, the impossibility of the socialist command economy leads to the establishment of the military state economy.  We learn in his memoirs that Carl Menger shared with him this disregard for the military state, and also saw promise in true liberalism. But this also resulted in Menger's despair over the development of economic science in the German language community.  It is Menger, not Mises, who describes German economic ideas as "the logical development of Prussian police science."  I had forgotten that phrase -- PRUSSIAN POLICE SCIENCE -- but I think it is a beautiful one that captures so much that is wrong with the development of economics in the 20th century under the influence of the utilitarians, the social engineers and the elitists (as Buchanan would put it).  Economics is not meant to be the handmaid to the police state, it is meant to shed light on the spontaneous coordination of free individuals within the marketplace and how alternative institutional arrangements either promote or hinder the ability to these individuals to realize productive specialization and peaceful social cooperation.  This Prussian police science version of economics is "seeing like a state" synoptic view, whereas the Misesian view is "seeing like a citizen" and the quest for human understanding of the self-governing democratic society of true radical liberalism.

But let me conclude with this gem from Mises about the spread and success of scientific ideas -- a comment I think I have at times under appreciated, and other times believe he was extremely naive as a thinker to believe.  In short, I would like to believe what he says, but I don't think that is how the world works.  At some level it is obviously true, you cannot orchestrate a scientific revolution.  On the other hand, science takes place within specific institutions of the organization of inquiry and ordinary incentives to play a role and vertical and horizontal relationships matter just as much in many instances as scientific genius and/or scholarly brilliance.

At this point it may be necessary to correct a misunderstanding cre- ated by the term, “Austrian School of Economics.” Neither Menger nor Bo ̈hm-Bawerk desired to found a “school” in the sense this term is customarily used in university circles. In their seminars the true Austrians never sought to make young students their blind disciples, and then to provide them with professorships. They knew that through books and economic instruction they could promote an understanding of economic problems and thus render important services to society. But they also knew that economists could not be reared. As pioneers and creative thinkers they were fully aware that scientific progress can- not be organized and innovation created, according to plan. They never attempted to propagandize their theories. Truth will prevail by its own force if man has the ability to perceive it. If he lacks this ability, it will be useless by dubious means to extract lip service from people who cannot comprehend the content and significance of a doctrine.

Anyway, I recommend a re-read of Mises's Notes and Recollections, written during a dark period of his life, he nevertheless shines through as an inspiring intellectual who faced down brutal inhumanity and petty discrimination throughout his life, and never let it deter his quest for understanding and the his relentless development of the sciences of human action.

Peter Boettke
Peter Joseph Boettke (January 3, 1960) is an American economist of the Austrian School. He is currently a University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University; the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, Vice President for Research, and Director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU.

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