Posts Tagged ‘Ludwig von Mises’

D.G. Ritchie’s Philosophical Justification for State Interference

December 18, 2018

Okay, this is going to be a long extract, but bear with it. It all needs to be said. One of the arguments I’ve seen Libertarians use to defend their ideology of a minimal state and absolute laissez-faire free enterprise and zero state welfare, is that liberals and socialists don’t have any philosophical arguments to justify their position beyond pointing to the practical, positive effects. I’ve seen this line stated by one of the more notorious Libertarians, Vox Day. Not only is Day a supporter of the miserable and immiserating economics of vons Hayek and Mises, but he has extreme right-wing views on feminism and race. You can tell just how far right he is by the fact that he calls Donald Trump ‘the God Emperor’ and refers to Anders Breivik, the man who called 70 odd children at a Norwegian Young Socialists’ camp, a saint. He really is despicable.

In fact, the philosophers of the New Liberalism, which appeared in Britain in the 1880s, like T.H. Green, D.G. Ritchie, J.A. Hobson and L.T. Hobhouse, produced philosophical defences of state interference to justify the new change in direction taken by the Liberals. These had broken with the stance of the old Radicals, who were firmly against state legislation. Instead, these philosophers argued that state interference, rather than reducing human freedom, actually enlarged it by empowering the individual. Ritchie, in the piece below, attacks the simplistic notion of the state versus personal liberty expressed by Herbert Spencer, the founder of Social Darwinism, and provides a philosophical justification for collective ownership not just in nationalization but also municipalization. In his The Principles of State Interference of 1891 he wrote

Underlying all these traditions and prejudices there is a particular metaphysical theory-a metaphysical theory which takes hold of those persons especially who are fondest of abjuring all metaphysics; and the disease is in their case the more dangerous since they do not know when they have it. The chief symptom of this metaphysical complaint is the belief in the abstract individual. The individual is thought of, at least spoken of, as if he had a meaning and significance apart from his surroundings and apart from his relations to the community of which he is a member. It may be quite true that the significance of the individual is not exhausted by his relations to any given set of surroundings; but apart from all these he is a mere abstraction-a logical ghost, a metaphysical spectre, which haunts the habitations of those who have derided metaphysics. The individual, apart from all relations to a community, is a negation. You can say nothing about him, or rather it, except that it is not any other individual. Now, along with this negative and abstract view of the individual there goes, as counterpart, the way of looking at the State as an opposing element to the individual. The individual and the State are put over against one another. Their relation is regarded as one merely of antithesis. Of course, this is a point of view which we can take, and quite rightly for certain purposes; but it is only one point of view. It expresses only a partial truth; and a partial truth, if accepted as the whole truth, is always a falsehood. Such a conception is, in any case, quite inadequate as a basis for any profitable discussion of the duties of Government.

It is this theory of the individual which underlies Mill’s famous book, Liberty. Mill, and all those who take up his attitude towards the State, seem to assume that all power gained by the State is so much taken from the individual, and conversely, that all power gained by the individual is gained at the expense of the state. Now this is to treat the two elements, power of the State and power (or liberty) of the individual, as if they formed the debit and credit sides of an account book; it is to make them like two heaps of a fixed number of stones, to neither of which you can add without taking from the other. It is to apply a mere quantitative conception in politics, as it that were an adequate ‘category’ in such matters. the same thing is done when society is spoken of as merely ‘an aggregate of individuals.’ The citizen of a State, the member of a society of any sort, even an artificial or temporary association, does not stand in the same relation to the Whole that one number does to a series of numbers, or that one stone does to a heap of stones. Even ordinary language shows this. We feel it to be a more adequate expression to say that the citizen is a member of the body politic, than to call him merely a unit in a political aggregate…

Life Mr. Spencer defines as adaptation of the individual to his environment; but, unless the individual manages likewise to adapt his environment to himself, the definition would be more applicable to death.

It must not be supposed that we wish to blind ourselves to the many real difficulties and objections which there are in the way of remedying and preventing evils by direct State action. If assured that the end is good, we must see that the means are sufficient and necessary, and we must be prepared to count the cost. But, admitting the real difficulties, we must not allow imaginary difficulties to block the way. In the first place, as already said, State action does not necessarily imply the direct action of the central government. Many things may be undertaken by local bodies which it would be unwise to put under the control of officials at a distance. ‘Municipalisation’ is, in many cases, a much better ‘cry’ than ‘Nationalisation’. Experiments may also be more safely tried in small than in large areas, and local bodies may profit by each other’s experience. Diffusion of power may well be combined with concentration of information. ‘Power’, says J.S. Mill, ‘may be localized, but knowledge to be most useful must be centralized.’ Secondly, there are many matters which can more easily be taken in hand than others by the State as presently constituted. Thus the means of communication and locomotion can in every civilized country be easily nationalized or municipalized, where this has not been done already. With regard to productive industries, there may appear greater difficulty. But the process now going on by which the individual capitalist more and more gives place to enormous joint-stock enterprises, worked by salaried managers, this tendency of capital to become ‘impersonal,’ is making the transition to management by government (central or local) very much more simple, and very much more necessary, than in the days of small industries, before the ‘industrial revolution’ began. The State will not so much displace individual enterprise, as substitute for the irresponsible company or ‘trust’ the responsible public corporation. Thirdly, and lastly, be it observed that the arguments used against ‘government’ action, where the government is entirely or mainly in the hands of a ruling class or caste, exercising wisely or unwisely a paternal or ‘grandmotherly’ authority-such arguments lose their force just in proportion as government becomes more and more genuinely the government of the people by the people themselves. The explicit recognition of popular sovereignty tends to abolish the antithesis between ‘the Man’ and ‘the State’. The State becomes, not ‘I’ indeed, but ‘we.’ The main reason for desiring more State action is in order to give the individual a greater chance of developing all his activities in a healthy way. The State and the individual are not sides of an antithesis between which we must choose; and it is possible, though, like all great things, difficult for a democracy to construct a strong and vigorous State, and thereby to foster a strong and vigorous individuality, not selfish nor isolated, but finding its truest welfare in the welfare of the community. Mr. Spencer takes up the formula ‘from status to contract’ as a complete philosophy of history. Is there not wanting a third and higher stage in which there shall be at once order and progress, cohesion and liberty, socialistic-but, therefore, rendering possible the highest development of all such individuality as constitutes an element in well-being? Perhaps then Radicalism is not turning back to an effete Toryism, but advancing to a further and positive form, leaving to the Tories and old Whigs and to Mr. Spencer the worn-out and cast-off credd of its own immaturity.

In Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock, eds., The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes (Oxford: OUP 1956), pp. 187-90.

Libertarianism was discredited long ago, when 19th century governments first started passing legislation to clear slums and give the labouring poor proper sanitation, working hours and education. Its philosophical justification came later, but I think also effectively demolished it. The people promoting it, such as the Koch brothers in America, are big businessmen seeking to re-establish a highly exploitative order which allowed industry to profit massively at the expense of working people. It became popular through aligning itself with left-wing ideas of personal liberty that emerged in the 1960s, such as the drug culture, and in the ’90s produced the illegal rave scene. In the form of Anarcho-Capitalism, it also appealed to some of those who were attracted to anarchism, while attacking the communist elements in that philosophy. Its adherent also try to justify it by calling it Classical Liberalism.

But it’s still just the same old reactionary ideology, that should have finally gone out with end of the Nineteenth Century. I think that as more people become trapped in poverty as a result of its policies, it’ll lose whatever popularity it once had. And perhaps then we can back to proper political theories advocating state intervention to advance the real, practical liberty of working people.


Democratic Socialist on the Von Mises Institute’s Lies About the Pinochet Coup

November 5, 2017

I’ve blogged several times about the Von Mises Institute. They take their name from Ludwig Von Mises, one of the founders, along with Von Hayek, of modern libertarianism.

And they’re a deeply, deeply unpleasant lot. They hate the welfare state, demand the complete privatisation of every state enterprise or service, and are thoroughly racist. Von Mises’ himself was a member of Dollfuss’ austrofascist government, before fleeing to America when the Nazis invaded. He was instrumental in setting up the Chicago School, which included Milton Friedman, the father of Monetarism, and which provided the economic doctrines for Pinochet’s disgusting regime in Chile. Von Mises, like Friedman, used to go down there to see how their doctrines were working out under the old dictator.

During the Cold War they used to publish pseudo-scientific racist and eugenicist literature, arguing that Blacks were mentally inferior to Whites, and that there was no point in setting up a welfare state, as you’d just be wasting your money keeping alive the biologically unfit. Which means Blacks, as well as poor Whites. Or indeed, anyone who isn’t rich and White. More recently they’ve been pushing the lie that the American Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about tariff control and states’ rights. Which is rubbish, because the leaders of the Confederacy said they were going to war to defend slavery.

In this video, Democratic Socialist, who sounds Antipodean to my ears, tears apart the lies in an article about the Pinochet coup by George Reisman in the Institute’s wretched journal.

Reisman claims that Pinochet was absolutely correct to overthrow the government of the Marxist president, Salvador Allende, because Allende was planning to overturn democracy and incarcerate and kill millions in concentration. Pinochet did not do any of this himself. If he had lived in Germany, he would have stopped Hitler coming to power, and would similarly have overthrown the Russian Revolutionaries under Lenin.

This is all hogwash.

Democratic Socialist uses the Pinochet Coup to demonstrate that it seems to bear out Trotsky’s comments that Fascism is the highest stage of capitalism, when it is challenged by the workers. He begins by stating that capitalism is the system under which the means of production are owned privately by a group, which then forms the working class. It needs a state apparatus to defend itself from being attacked and taken over by the exploited workers. This is followed by footage of Hitler’s ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’, Nick Robins-, sorry, Josef Goebbels, ranting about how Hitler had saved Germany from the threat of Bolshevism. Just as Pinochet claimed he had saved Chile from Communism.

In fact, Allende had been democratically elected and his government had been in power for three years when Pinochet overthrew him. Allende himself never imprisoned anyone, did not shut down any opposition radio stations or newspapers, nor set up a single concentration camp.

But Pinochet certainly did. He imprisoned thousands of Chilean left-wingers. If you read the text shown in the video, it gives the number of people imprisoned by the b*stard as 3,000. Reisman claims that these victims were not innocents. They were. One of them was Victor Jara, a popular singer and musician. Apart from imprisoning and torturing members of the Chilean left, he also used football stadiums as the venues for their execution.

As for preventing Hitler from coming to power, Democratic Socialist points out that both Hitler and Pinochet had the backing of the capitalist class, and both claimed they were saving their countries from Marxism. This is accompanied with footage showing troops in coal-scuttle helmets doing a kind of goose-step. They could be Nazi storm-troopers, but they’re not. Democratic Socialist doesn’t point this out, but they’re actually Chilean soldiers. Pinochet was a fan of Adolf Hitler, and deliberately modelled the uniforms of the Chilean army on those of Nazi Germany. And to anyone from the Right, who wants to dismiss this as coming from a tainted left-wing source, I didn’t get it from a left-wing newspaper. It came from an article in the Daily Mail years ago. So definitely not from a left-wing source!

Democratic Socialist also puts Reisman right about the possibility that Pinochet would have saved Russia from Communism. Well, that was what the Russian Civil War was about, when the Whites tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks. They had thousands of little Pinochets, but were defeated as they faced an army of armed revolutionaries, not unarmed, innocent civilians.

He then goes on to demolish the claim that Pinochet stepped down voluntarily in 1988. He didn’t. He was forced out by the other members of his vile junta after he lost a referendum. Pinochet himself was planning to overturn it.

And unsurprisingly, Reisman claims that Pinochet’s economic reforms benefitted ordinary Chileans. They didn’t. They simply plunged them into even worse poverty.

Democratic Socialist also compares Pinochet’s regime with Castro’s revolution in Cuba. Pinochet overthrew a democratically elected government, and imprisoned and tortured innocents. Castro, by contrast, overthrew the Bautista dictatorship, which was also supported by the capitalists, and which had killed thousands of political opponents.

He also takes issue with the claim that capitalism has not killed anyone, or is not responsible for the same number of deaths as global communism. He shows this to be untrue by citing the figures for the famines in China and India created by capitalism, and of the horrific punishments inflicted by capitalist regimes when their workers aren’t productive enough.

He ilustrates the last with pictures of Black Africans with missing limbs. These are from the poor indigenous people of Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, when it was the personal possession of King Leopold in the late 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. These people were forced to cultivate and produce rubber for the king. If they were unable to meet their quotas, they were flogged or had their hands and feet hacked off. If you want to see the photos for yourself, along with some of the other grim depictions of slavery and the slave trade through the ages, try Susan Everett’s Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. It’s a big coffee table book, rather than academic text, but it does cover slavery throughout history, including the ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian and Chinese migrant workers.

This is very much the type of pernicious lies which the Republicans and the Libertarian wing of the Tory party over here have been trying to spread about Pinochet’s regime in Chile. Thatcher was very much part of the Libertarian wing of the Tory party, and she was very much a friend and admirer of the old b*stard, when he came over here for medical treatment. Or to evade arrest after a left-wing government took charge of the country.

And far from Allende destroying democracy and setting up concentration camps, part of what made him so dangerous to the Americans was that he was democratically elected and was not destroying democracy in Chile. This undermined the right-wing attempts to present Communism as a threat.

The Communist regimes have been responsible for massive repression and famine across much of the world, from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Mao’s China. I wouldn’t like to say that capitalism has killed more people than Communism, but it has certainly produced millions of deaths. For example, capitalist ideas about the sanctity of free trade were partly responsible for a horrific famine in India, which carried off millions. See the book Late Victorian Holocausts, which is shown in one of the pictures in the video above.

Reichwing Watch on the Links between Libertarianism and Fascism

July 4, 2017

Reichwing Watch is a YouTuber, who puts extremely interesting and pertinent videos about the racist and Libertarian right in America. In this short clip, he shows the very strong similarities between modern right-wing Libertarian and Fascism, simply by putting extracts from the speeches and comments by Libertarians like Ron Paul, Ayn Rand, Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Alt-Right vlogger Stefan Molyneaux with Adolf Hitler and Nazi propaganda films.

Both Libertarians and Hitler shared a hatred of the state and a concern for the ‘race’ or ‘volk’, as well as a bitter rejection of parliamentary democracy, majority rule, humanitarianism and Socialism. Instead, they embraced Social Darwinism and the preservation of capitalism and private property.

The clips include Ron Paul stating that the Founding Fathers stood for individual liberty, not democracy, and decrying democracy as dangerous. This is followed by quotes from Hitler about the destructive nature of democracy on the ‘volk’, and how the man is always more important than the majority. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, described as a Libertarian theorist, stated that in a Libertarian state there would be no room for democrats and Socialists, and both would have to be isolated and expelled. There are also quotes from Ron Paul attacking majority rule, Stefan Molyneux stating that most Libertarians are Whites, and therefore peace will is threatened by demographic trends which means that they will be overtaken by Blacks as the most numerous racial group in America. Which is juxtaposed with Hitler stating, ‘We stand only for peace’.

Ayn Rand, her eyes bugging, talks about how humanitarianism is a threat, followed by Adolf saying much the same. There’s a clip from the Nazi propaganda movie, Die Erbe (‘Inheritance’) in which a group of white-coated scientists watch two beetles fighting, in order to demonstrate the ‘survival of the fittest’. Which is followed by another Libertarian arguing in a debate that freedom means that society shouldn’t be required to take care of the weakest.

Interspersed with these clips are comments from Noam Chomsky, observing that the existence of private property, owned and managed by an elite group, is a form of dictatorship.

This is a very effective reply to the argument you hear from the Right, and particularly the American Right, that Socialism, and by extension, state intervention as a whole, is Fascistic, ’cause the Nazis claimed to be ‘National Socialists’. This point of view was stated very firmly a little while ago by Jonah Goldberg in his book, Liberal Fascism.

This shows that the reverse is also true. Libertarianism, which claims to be a right-wing form of anarchism, also shares very strong ideological links to Fascism and Nazism. Which perhaps isn’t surprising, considering that Von Mises, one of the founders of Libertarianism and ‘Austrian Economics’, served as a minister in Engelbert Dolfuss’ ‘astrofascist’ government before the Nazi annexation of Austria, when he fled to America. Both Libertarianism and Fascism are reactions against socialism, and the extension of liberty to minority groups. This meant the organised working class, women and ethnic minorities, who were attacked as the internal enemies of the racial group.

In the 1980s Libertarianism, or Anarcho-Capitalism, was presented very much as a form of anarchism. But now it’s becoming very clear that it’s a form of Fascism in its elitism, racism and anti-Socialism.

Chicago University Bans Alt-Lite Speaker for Incitement to Violence

May 18, 2017

There’s a grim piece by Simon Murdoch on Hope Not Hate’s site today, reporting that DePaul University in Chicago has cancelled an event by Gavin McInnes because of a speech McInnes gave at one of the unis in New York urging his supporters to use violence against left-wing protestors. The article also discusses the formation of a militant ‘Alt-Knight’ organisation by another member of the same far-right grouping, which also shows how the Alt-Right and its ‘soft’ counterpart, the Alt-Lite, are becoming just another form of the Klan.

McInnes is the co-founder of Vice and a host on Rebel Media, a far right platform. In his speech at New York University, McInnes told his audience

“We’re the only ones fighting these [protesters] and I want you to fight them, too […] When they go low, go lower. Mace them back, throw bricks at their head. Let’s destroy them.”

Last year, 2016, he also founded Proud Boys, a fraternal order for men, ‘who are unapologetic about creating the modern world.’ Initiation into the organisation consists of four stages, the last of which is a physically violence confrontation with the Left. McInnes told Metro that this means involvement in ‘a major fight for the cause’, saying “You get beat up, kinck [sic] the crap out of antifa”.

He also told Metro that “not only would [he] love to speak” with those who protest in disagreement of his views, but that he will also “get violent and beat the f–k out of everybody”.

Members of the Proud Boys were involved in the violence at Berkeley, which erupted when Anne Coulter was due to speak there. The order also has a more ‘militant’ wing, founded by Kyle Chapman, who goes by the name of ‘Based Stick Man’, with McInnes’ approval. This calls itself the ‘Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights’. Chapman himself was arrested after fighting a member of the public at a rally in Berkeley. Before that, he had also been arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon at a Trump rally.

It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear members of the far-right advocate violence against their opponents on the Left. It’s always been there, ever since Hitler founded the SA and then SS as the official paramilitary wings of the Nazi party, the squadristi of Fascist Italy, and the ‘Biff Boys’ of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Quite apart from the skinhead boot boys, who form the thuggish hard core of post-War Fascism in Britain, North America and Europe.

As for the Alt-Knights, the Hope Not Hate article states that it refers back to the ‘Alt-Lite’ movement of which McInnes and Chapman are members. Well, perhaps. But it also seems to be a nod to a much older, violently racist organisation: the KKK. The Klan’s full title, or at least one of them, was ‘The Invisible Empire of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’.

The Alt-Right has been described as the Klan with keyboards. Now it seems that the similarities with the KKK are becoming ever stronger and more blatant every day. The other day The Young Turks commented on a torchlight vigil organised by supporters of the Confederacy to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee by the town council of Charlottesville, Virginia. Among those protesting was Richard Spencer, the White nationalist, anti-Semitic founder of the Alt-Right. The protestors chanted ‘You will not replace us’, ‘Russia is our friend’, and ‘Blood and Soil’.

The presenters of the video, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, state that the comments by the protestors that it wasn’t a racist issue, is contradicted by Spencer’s presence. They also demolish attempts by the supporters of Confederacy, who have tried arguing instead that the American Civil War wasn’t about slavery. They point out that instead of northern liberals not understanding history, it’s really southern Conservatives, as if you look at everything the leaders and defenders of the Confederacy wrote, they made it clear that it was about defending slavery.

This is a sharp refutation of some of the propaganda coming out of organisations like the Von Mises Institute, named after another Austrian free trade economist, who scarpered to America to escape the Nazis, while sharing their hostility to socialism and the organised working class. This outfit has also tried to argue that the Civil War was really about trade tariffs between the South and the rest of the US.

What they don’t comment on, but which makes the racist overtones of the protest very clear, is one of the slogans the crowd chanted. ‘Blood and soil’, or ‘Blut und Boden’ in German, was one of the watchwords of the Nazi party. It was based on the pseudoscientific doctrine that national characteristics were determined by the environment and landscape of a people’s racial homeland.

Observers of Trump’s rise last year remarked on the Fascistic violence that broke out against people of colour and left-wing protestors at the Orange Generalissimo’s rallies. Trump himself in one speech actually urged his supporters to beat his opponents, promising to pay their legal bills if they did.
This development shows just how deeply rooted is violence in the far-right organisations that back him. And they also show how close these organisations are to the older traditions of violent racism in Nazi and Fascist paramilitary organisations and the weird regalia and ritual of the KKK.

Sam Seder Attacks Economist Review Defending Slavery

February 22, 2016

This is unbelievable. In this segment from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, Seder rants about a negative review in the Economist attacking Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. The reviewer criticised Baptist’s book for being one-sided. All the Blacks in the book were victims, he complains, and all the Whites were villains. Seder is understandably and rightly outraged by this statement, and goes off on a long rant about how luck Blacks were to be enslaved, when they could simply have been kept in the slave ships and not landed in America, or been eaten by lions back in Africa, rather than captured and sold. It seems that many others were offended too, as the review was pulled from the Economist’s website.

Now depending on how their masters treated them, slaves could enjoy quite a high standard of living. Archaeologists researching Benjamin Franklin’s slaves’ quarters found remains of violins, pipes, and good quality china, as well as quite a varied diet, which included fish. And the defenders of slavery pointed out that the standard of living of their slaves was better than the miserable industrial workers in the north, the ‘factory slaves’, who were free in name only. You can even find examples of slave owners, who risked punishment under the law for trying to give their slaves some education, teaching them to read, for example.

None of which detracts from how monstrous and horrendous slavery actually was. The slave was legally just a mere chattel, subject to extreme punishment for even minor offences, who by law was banned from mixing with Whites. It was the appalling conditions in which slaves were kept, sold and exploited that motivated so many people in America, Britain, Canada and across the world to protest against slavery and demand its abolition. Just how deeply traumatised slaves were simply by the condition of slavery itself can be seen by the fact that, in general, very few former slaves described what their lives were like to their free children and grandchildren. Years ago there was a piece in the Observer about the reparations movement. One of the leaders of the movement explained that it wasn’t just about getting reparations for slavery, it was also to recover some of the lost history. They were afraid that with their grandparents’ generations dying off, Blacks would lose contact with the last people, who had had contact with the slaves. They complained that their slave forebears had never talked to them about what it was like when they were slaves.
I can’t say I’m surprised. People who go through deeply traumatic experiences tend not to talk about them. They just want to forget and move on. Old soldiers, for example, rarely talked about what they did in combat. It was too shocking, too horrific. Similarly, people, who have been raped or sexually assaulted generally don’t want to talk about the experience. They’re too deeply shamed, even though they were not responsible for their assault. So it seems entirely natural to me that a generation of Black Americans, raised in servitude, should have gone through their lives as free people determined not to speak about the condition of degradation they had been born into.

The Economist is, of course, one of the main upholders of capitalist economic orthodoxy. There seems to be very much a movement on the libertarian Right at the moment to try and play down the importance of slavery as a dark smear on American history. Guy Debord’s Cat has several very interesting pieces on how the intellectual heirs of Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises and von Hayek are trying to rewrite the American Civil War to avoid slavery as its major cause. They’re trying to make out it was due to some kind of trade controversy over tariffs. Together with the deeply racist beliefs of Donald Trump’s supports, it shows how frightening reactionary the American Far Right is.