Theory and History
One of Mises's most important books, this gives a comprehensive treatment of his approach to historical method, History, unlike economics, is not a deductive science. It deals with particular events, not universal laws. However, it explains these events in part through the application of praxeological laws. (Here Mises approximates the familiar "covering law" view of Carl Hempel, with a very different view of the type of law used in historical explanation.)
Historical explanations are by no means limited to the application of praxeology. Also involved is the use of common sense psychology, which Mises, borrowing a term from George Santayana, calls thymology. In historical explanations, the use of ideal types is crucial. Here the historian imagines how someone would act if he were governed by specific motives, using the tools of praxeology and common-sense psychology to do this. How, e.g., would someone act if he were a pure entrepreneur? The models thus derived are then employed to explain past events: the actions of concrete historical persons will at best approximate one of these ideal types.
Mises is firmly committed to methodological individualism. He opposes attempts to reify abstractions, e.g., as found in Marxist and Hegelian philosophies of history. The book includes a comprehensive analysis of Marxism, criticizing in particular Marx's use of the development of the forces of production as the key element in his account of historical change. Marx fails to see that it is individuals who bring about changes in these forces: the latter cannot be assigned an autonomous power of its own.
Mises, once more illustrating a leitmotif of his long career, opposes romanticism in historical explanation, which he views as anti-rational. Nationalist ideologies, e.g., are to be principally explained as a means of securing economic privileges by some at the expense of others: here the influence of academics opposing sound economics is crucial. Appeals to national "souls" or other non-rational values are vigorously rejected. Mises applies his principles comprehensively: he briefly criticizes the notion that ancient epics were composed by an anonymous spirit of the people" rather than individual authors.
Although himself strongly committed to the free market and classical liberalism, Mises believes that value judgments must be sharply separated from factual judgments. He rejects the view expressed by Leo Strauss that the use of certain words in our language inevitably carries with it a commitment to values of a particular type.
Ludwig von Mises:
An Annotated Bibliography