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Liberalism
Ludwig von Mises

4
Liberalism and the Political Parties

6. Liberalism as the "Party of Capital"

Thus, it is easily seen that liberalism cannot be put into the same class with the parties of special interests without denying its very nature. It is something radically different from them all. They are out for battle and extol violence; liberalism, on the contrary, desires peace and the ascendancy of ideas. It is for this reason that all parties, however badly disunited they may otherwise be, form a united front against liberalism.

The enemies of liberalism have branded it as the party of the special interests of the capitalists. This is characteristic of their mentality. They simply cannot understand a political ideology as anything but the advocacy of certain special privileges opposed to the general welfare.

One cannot look on liberalism as a party of special interests, privileges, and prerogatives, because private ownership of the means of production is not a privilege redounding to the exclusive advantage of the capitalists, but an institution in the interest of the whole of society and consequently an institution that benefits everyone. This is the opinion not only of the liberals, but even, up to a certain point, of their opponents. When the Marxists champion the view that socialism cannot be made a reality until the world is "ripe" for it, because a social system never becomes extinct before "all the productive forces have developed for which it is broad enough," they concede, at least for the present, the social indispensability of the institution of private property. Even the Bolsheviks, who only a little while ago propagated with fire, sword, and the gallows their interpretation of Marxism?that is, that "ripeness" had already been achieved?now have to admit that it is still too early. If, however, even if it is only for the moment, conditions are such that capitalism and its juridical "superstructure," private property, cannot be dispensed with, can one say of an ideology that considers private property the foundation of society that it serves only to promote the selfish interests of the owners of capital against the interests of everyone else?

To be sure, if the antiliberal ideologies treat private property as indispensable, whether just for the present or forever, they believe, nevertheless, that it must be regulated and restricted by authoritarian decrees and similar acts of intervention on the part of the state. They recommend, not liberalism and capitalism, but interventionism. But economics has demonstrated that the system of interventionism is contrary to purpose and self-defeating. It cannot attain the ends that its advocates intend it to attain. Consequently, it is an error to suppose that besides socialism (communal property) and capitalism (private property) still a third system of organizing social cooperation is thinkable and workable, namely, interventionism. Attempts to put interventionism into effect must, of necessity, lead to conditions that run counter to the intentions of their authors, who are then faced with the alternative either of abstaining from all acts of intervention, and thereby leaving private property on its own, or of replacing private property by socialism.

This too is a thesis that liberal economists are not alone in maintaining. (Of course, the popular idea that economists are divided along party lines is altogether mistaken.) Marx too, in all his theoretical discussions, saw only the alternatives of socialism or capitalism and had nothing but derision and contempt for those reformers who, imprisoned in "petty-bourgeois thinking," reject socialism and, at the same time, still want to remodel capitalism. Economics has never even attempted to show that a system of private property regulated and restricted by government intervention would be practicable. When the "socialists of the chair" wanted to prove this at any cost, they began by denying the possibility of scientific knowledge in the economic field and ultimately ended by declaring that whatever the state does must surely be rational. Since science demonstrated the absurdity of the policy that they wished to recommend, they sought to invalidate logic and science.

The same is true of the proof of the possibility and practicability of socialism. The pre-Marxist writers had labored in vain to provide it. They could not do so, nor were they able in any way to attack the validity of the weighty objections to the practicability of their utopia that their critics based on the findings of science. Around the middle of the nineteenth century the socialist idea seemed already to have been effectively disposed of. Then Marx made his appearance. He did not, to be sure, adduce the proof?which, indeed, cannot be adduced?that socialism is realizable, but he simply declared?of course, without being able to demonstrate it?that the coming of socialism is inevitable. From this arbitrary assumption and from the axiom, which seemed to him self-evident, that everything occurring later in human history represents an advance over what came earlier, Marx drew the conclusion that socialism is therefore more perfect than capitalism and so there could naturally be no doubt as to its practicability. Consequently, it is altogether unscientific to concern oneself with the question of the possibility of a socialist society or even to study the problems of such a social order at all. Whoever wanted to try it was ostracized by the socialists and excommunicated by public opinion, which they controlled. Heedless of all these?to be sure, only external?difficulties, economics occupied itself with the theoretical construction of a socialist system and demonstrated irrefutably that every type of socialism is unworkable because economic calculation is impossible in a socialist community. The advocates of socialism have scarcely ventured to make any reply to this, and what they have advanced in rebuttal has been altogether trivial and devoid of significance.

What was proved by science theoretically was corroborated in practice by the failure of all socialist and interventionist experiments.

Hence, it is nothing but specious propaganda designed to rely for its effectiveness on the lack of judgment of the thoughtless to assert, as people do, that the defense of capitalism is purely an affair of the capitalists and the entrepreneurs, whose special interests, as opposed to those of other groups, are furthered by the capitalist system. The "have's" do not have any more reason to support the institution of private ownership of the means of production than do the "have-not's." If their immediate special interests come into question, they are scarcely liberal. The notion that, if only capitalism is preserved, the propertied classes could remain forever in possession of their wealth stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of the capitalist economy, in which property is continually being shifted from the less efficient to the more efficient businessman. In a capitalist society one can hold on to one's fortune only if one perpetually acquires it anew by investing it wisely. The rich, who are already in possession of wealth, have no special reason to desire the preservation of a system of unhampered competition open to all; particularly if they did not themselves earn their fortune, but inherited it, they have more to fear than to hope from competition. They do have a special interest in interventionism, which always has a tendency to preserve the existing division of wealth among those in possession of it. But they cannot hope for any special treatment from liberalism, a system in which no heed is paid to the time-honored claims of tradition advanced by the vested interests of established wealth.

The entrepreneur can prosper only if he provides what the consumers demand. When the world is afire with the lust for war, the liberal seeks to expound the advantages of peace; the entrepreneur, however, produces artillery and machine-guns. If public opinion today favors capital investment in Russia, the liberal may endeavor to explain that it is as intelligent to invest capital in a land whose government openly proclaims as the ultimate goal of its policy the expropriation of all capital as it would be to dump goods into the sea; but the entrepreneur does not hesitate to furnish supplies to Russia if only he is in a position to shift the risk to others, whether it be to the state or to some less clever capitalists, who allow themselves to be misled by public opinion, itself manipulated by Russian money. The liberal struggles against the trend towards commercial autarky; the German manufacturer, however, builds a factory in the eastern province, which excludes German goods, in order to serve this market while under the protection of the tariff. Clear-thinking entrepreneurs and capitalists may view the consequences of an antiliberal policy as ruinous for the whole of society; but in their capacity as entrepreneurs and capitalists they must seek, not to oppose it, but to adjust themselves to the given conditions.

There is no class that could champion liberalism for its own selfish interests to the detriment of the whole of society and the other strata of the population, simply because liberalism serves no special interest. Liberalism cannot count on the help that the antiliberal parties receive from the fact that everyone who seeks to win some privilege for himself at the expense of the rest of society attaches himself to them. When the liberal comes before the electorate as a candidate for public office and is asked by those whose votes he solicits what he or his party intends to do for them and their group, the only answer he can give is: Liberalism serves everyone, but it serves no special interest.

To be a liberal is to have realized that a special privilege conceded to a small group to the disadvantage of others cannot, in the long run, be preserved without a fight (civil war): but that, on the other hand, one cannot bestow privileges on the majority, since these then cancel one another out in their value for those whom they are supposed to specially favor, and the only net result is a reduction in the productivity of social labor.

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