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Nation, State, and Economy
Ludwig von Mises


1. Liberal or Pacifistic Nationalism

That politics should be national is a modern postulate.

In most countries of Europe the princely state had replaced the estate system of the Middle Ages from the beginning of modern times. The political conception of the princely state is the interest of the ruler. The famous maxim of Louis XIV, L'?tat c'est moi, expresses most briefly the conception that was still alive at the three European imperial courts until the recent upheavals. It is no less clear when Quesnay, whose doctrines nevertheless already lead into the new conception of the state, precedes his work with the motto Pauvre paysan, Pauvre royaume; pauvre royaume, pauvre roi. It is not enough for him to show that on the well-being of the peasant that of the state also depends; he still considers it necessary to show that the king also can be rich only when the peasant is. Only then does the necessity appear proved of taking measures to raise the well-being of the peasants. For the object of the state is precisely the prince.

Against the princely state there then arises in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the idea of freedom. It revives the political thought of the republics of antiquity and of the free cities of the Middle Ages; it links up with the monarchomachs' hostility to princes; it patterns itself on the example of England, where the crown had already suffered a decisive defeat in the seventeenth century; it fights with the entire armament of philosophy, of rationalism, of natural law, and of history; it wins over the great masses through literature, which puts itself entirely at its service. Absolute kingship succumbs to the attack of the movement for freedom. In its place appears here parliamentary monarchy, there a republic.

The princely state has no natural boundaries. To be an increaser of his family estate is the ideal of the prince; he strives to leave to his successor more land than he inherited from his father. To keep on acquiring new possessions until one encounters an equally strong or stronger adversary?that is the striving of kings. For fundamentally, their greed for lands knows no boundaries; the behavior of individual princes and the views of the literary champions of the princely idea agree on that. This principle threatens, above all, the existence of all smaller and weaker states. That they are nevertheless able to maintain themselves is attributable only to the jealousy of the big ones, which anxiously watch that none should become too strong. That is the conception of European equilibrium, which forms coalitions and breaks them up again. Where it is possible without endangering the equilibrium, smaller states are destroyed; an example: the partition of Poland. Princes regard countries no differently from the way an estate owner regards his forests, meadows, and fields. They sell them, they exchange them (e.g., for "rounding off" boundaries); and each time rule over the inhabitants is transferred also. On this interpretation, republics appear as unowned property that anyone may appropriate if he can. This policy did not reach its high point, by the way, until the nineteenth century, in the Enactment of the Delegates of the Holy Roman Empire of 1803, in Napoleon's establishments of states, and in the decisions of the Congress of Vienna.

Lands and peoples are, in the eyes of princes, nothing but objects of princely ownership; the former form the basis of sovereignty, the latter the appurtenances of landownership. From the people who live in "his" land the prince demands obedience and loyalty; he regards them almost as his property. This bond that binds him with each one of his subjects should, however, also be the only one that joins the individual persons into a unit. The absolute ruler not only regards every other community between his subjects as dangerous, so that he tries to dissolve all traditional comradely relations between them that do not derive their origin from state laws enacted by him and is hostile to every new formation of community, perhaps through clubs; he also will not allow the subjects of his different territories to begin to feel themselves comrades in their role as subjects. But, of course, in seeking to tear apart all class ties to make subjects out of nobles, the bourgeoisie, and peasants, the prince atomizes the social body and thereby creates the precondition for the rise of a new political sentiment. The subject who has grown unaccustomed to feel himself a member of a narrow circle begins to feel himself a person, a member of his nation, and a citizen of the state and of the world. The way opens up for the new outlook on the world.

The liberal theory of the state, hostile to princes, rejects the princes' greed for lands and chaffering in lands. First of all, it finds it a matter of course that state and nation coincide. For so it is in Great Britain, the model country of freedom, so in France, the classical land of the struggle for freedom. That seems such a matter of course that no further word is wasted on it. Since state and nation coincide and there is no need to change this, there is no problem here.

The problem of state boundaries first appeared when the power of the idea of freedom gripped Germany and Italy. Here and in Poland there stands behind the despicable despots of the present day the great shadow of a vanished unified state. All Germans, Poles, and Italians have a great political goal in common: the liberation of their peoples from the rule of princes. That gives them first unity of political thinking and then unity of action. Across state boundaries, guarded by customs guards and gardeess, the peoples stretch their hands in unity. The alliance of the princes against freedom is confronted by the union of peoples fighting for their freedom.

To the princely principle of subjecting just as much land as obtainable to one's own rule, the doctrine of freedom opposes the principle of the right of self-determination of peoples, which follows necessarily from the principle of the rights of man.[14] No people and no part of a people shall be held against its will in a political association that it does not want. The totality of freedom-minded persons who are intent on forming a state appears as the political nation; patrie, Vaterland becomes the designation of the country they inhabit; patriot becomes a synonym of freedom-minded.[15] In this sense the French begin to feel themselves a nation when they break the despotism of the Bourbons and when they take up the struggle against the coalition of monarchs who threaten their just won freedom. The Germans, the Italians become nationally minded because foreign princes, joined in the Holy Alliance, hinder them from the establishing a free state. This nationalism directs itself not against foreign peoples but against the despot who subjugates foreign peoples also. The Italian hates above all not the Germans but the Bourbons and Habsburgs; the Pole hates not the Germans or Russians but the Czar, the King of Prussia, and the Emperor of Austria. And only because the troops on which the rule of the tyrants rests are foreign does the struggle also adopt a slogan against foreigners. But even in battle the Garibaldians shouted to the Austrian soldiers: Passate l'Alpi e tornerem fratelli.[16] ["Go back across the Alps, and we'll become brothers again."] Among themselves the individual nations fighting for freedom get along marvelously. All peoples hail the struggle for freedom of the Greeks, the Serbs, and the Poles. In "Young Europe" the freedom fighters are united without distinction of nationality.

The nationality principle above all bears no sword against members of other nations. It is directed in tyrannos.

Therefore, above all, there is also no opposition between national and citizen-of-the-world attitudes.[17] The idea of freedom is both national and cosmopolitan. It is revolutionary, for it wants to abolish all rule incompatible with its principles, but it is also pacifistic.[18] What basis for war could there still be, once all peoples had been set free? Political liberalism concurs on that point with economic liberalism, which proclaims the solidarity of interests among peoples.

One must also keep that in mind if one wants to understand the original internationalism of the socialist parties since Marx. Liberalism, too, is cosmopolitan in its struggle against the absolutism of the princely state. Just as the princes stand together to defend themselves against the advance of the new spirit, so the peoples also hold together against the princes. If the Communist Manifesto calls on the proletarians of all countries to unite in the struggle against capitalism, then that slogan is consistently derived from the asserted fact of the identity of capitalistic exploitation in all countries. It is no antithesis, however, to the liberal demand for the national state. It is no antithesis to the program of the bourgeoisie, for the bourgeoisie, too, is in this sense international. The emphasis lies not on the words "all countries" but on the word "proletarians." That like-thinking classes in the same position in all countries must combine is presupposed as a matter of course. If any point at all can be perceived in this exhortation, it is only the point made against pseudo-national strivings that fight every change in traditional arrangements as an infringement on warranted national individuality.

The new political ideas of freedom and equality triumphed first in the West. England and France thus became the political model countries for the rest of Europe. If, however, the liberals called for adoption of foreign institutions, then it was only natural that the resistance mounted by the old forces also made use of the age-old device of xenophobia. German and Russian conservatives also fought against the ideas of freedom with the argument that they were foreign things not suitable for their peoples. Here national values are misused for political purposes.[19] But there is no question of opposition to the foreign nation as a whole or to its individual members.

So far as relations among peoples are concerned, therefore, the national principle is above all thoroughly peaceful. As a political ideal it is just as compatible with the peaceful coexistence of peoples as Herder's nationalism as a cultural ideal was compatible with his cosmopolitanism. Only in the course of time does peaceful nationalism, which is hostile only to princes but not to peoples also, change into a militaristic nationalism. This change takes place, however, only at the moment when the modern principles of the state, in their triumphant march from West to East, reach the territories of mixed population.

The significance of the nationality principle in its older peaceful form becomes especially clear to us when we observe the development of its second postulate. First of all, the nationality principle includes only the rejection of every overlordship and so also of every foreign overlordship; it demands self-determination, autonomy. Then, however, its content expands; not only freedom but also unity is the watchword. But the desire for national unity, too, is above all thoroughly peaceful.

One of its sources, as already mentioned, is historical remembrance. From the dismal present the glance turns back toward a better past. And this past shows a unified state, not in such splendid pictures for every people as for the Germans and the Italians, but, for most, attractive enough.

But the idea of unity is not merely romanticism; it is also important for political reality. In unity strength is sought to overcome the alliance of the oppressors. Unity in a unified state offers the peoples the highest assurance of maintaining their freedom. And there, too, nationalism does not clash with cosmopolitanism, for the unified nation does not want discord with neighboring peoples, but peace and friendship.

So we also see, then, that the idea of unity cannot exert its state-destroying and state-creating power where freedom and self-government already prevail and seem assured without it. To this day Switzerland has scarcely been tempted by that idea. The least inclination to secession is shown by the German-Swiss, and very understandably: they could only have exchanged freedom for subjugation in the German authoritarian state. But the French also, and on the whole also the Italians, have felt themselves so free in Switzerland that they felt no desire for political unification with their fellows in nationality.

For the national unified state, however, yet a third consideration is at work. Without doubt the stage of development of the international division of labor already reached today required an extensive unification of law and of communication and transportation facilities in general, and this demand will become all the more pressing the more the economy is further reshaped into a world economy. When economic contacts were still in their earliest stages, on the whole scarcely extending beyond the boundaries of a village, the splitting of the earth's surface into innumerable small legal and administrative districts was the natural form of political organization. Apart from military and foreign-policy interests, which, after all, did not press everywhere for union and for formation of great empires?and even where they were at work in this direction in the age of feudalism and still more in the age of absolutism, they did not always lead to formation of national states?there were no circumstances that demanded unification of law and administration. That became a necessity only to the extent that economic relations began to reach out more and more beyond the boundaries of provinces, of countries, and finally of continents.

Liberalism, which demands full freedom of the economy, seeks to dissolve the difficulties that the diversity of political arrangements pits against the development of trade by separating the economy from the state. It strives for the greatest possible unification of law, in the last analysis for world unity of law. But it does not believe that to reach this goal, great empires or even a world empire must be created. It persists in the position that it adopts for the problem of state boundaries. The peoples themselves may decide how far they want to harmonize their laws; every violation of their will is rejected on principle. Thus a deep chasm separates liberalism from all those views that want forcibly to create a great state for the sake of the economy.

Yet political realism must first still reckon with the existence of states and with the difficulties that they pit against the creation of supranational law and freedom of international transactions. It is with envy, therefore, that the patriots of nations fragmented into many states regard the nationally unified peoples. They want to follow their example. They view things with different eyes than do liberal doctrinaires. In the Germany of the German Confederation, the necessity of unification of law and the administration of justice, of communication and transportation facilities, and of the entire administration was recognized as urgent. A free Germany could also have been created through revolutions within the individual states; for that, unification would not have first been necessary. In favor of the unified state, however, there speaks in the eyes of political realists not only the necessity of setting an alliance of the oppressed against the alliance of the oppressors in order to achieve freedom at all[20] but also the further necessity of holding together in order to find in unity the strength to preserve freedom. Even apart from that, the necessity of trade is pressing for unity. It will no longer do to permit the fragmentation in law, in monetary systems, in communications and transportation, and in many other fields, to continue. In all these fields the times require unification, even beyond national boundaries. Already the peoples are beginning to make preliminary preparations for world unity in all these matters. Does it not seem obvious to achieve in Germany, to begin with, what the other peoples have already achieved?to create a German civil law as precursor of the coming world law, a German penal law as a preliminary stage for world penal law, a German railroad union, a German monetary system, a German postal system? All that, however, the German unified state is to assure. The program of the men of freedom, therefore, cannot limit itself to the "auction of thirty princes' crowns" (Freiligrath); even if only because of the stage of economic development, it must call for the unified state.

Thus the striving for the unified state already contains the kernel of the new interpretation of the nationality principle, which leads from the peaceful liberal nationality principle to militant power-policy nationalism, to imperialism.


[14] Cf. Sorel, Nouveaux essais d'histoire et de critique (Paris: 1898), pp. 99 ff.

[15] Cf. Michels, "Zur historischen Analyse des Patriotismus," Archiv f?r Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, vol. 36, 1913, pp. 38 ff., 402 f.; Pressens?, "L'id?e de Patrie," Revue mensuelle de l'?cole Anthropologie de Paris, vol. 9, 1899, pp. 91 ff.

[16] Cf. Robert Michels, "Elemente zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Imperialismus in Italien," Archiv f?r Sozialwissenschaft, vol. 34, 1912, p. 57.

[17] Cf. Seipel, Nation und Staat (Vienna: 1916), pp. 11 f. footnote; Meinecke, loc. cit., pp. 19 f.

[18] Cf. Michels, "Patriotismus," loc. cit., p. 403.

[19] Cf. Schultze-Gaevernitz, Volkswirtschaftliche Studien aus Russland (Leipzig: 1899), pp. 173 ff.; Bauer, Nationalit?tenfrage, loc. cit., pp. 138 ff.

[20] Think of Schleswig-Holstein, the left bank of the Rhine, etc.

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