Books / Digital Text
Preface to the English-Language Edition
The social order created by the philosophy of the Enlightenment assigned supremacy to the common man. In his capacity as a consumer, the "regular fellow" was called upon to determine ultimately what should be produced, in what quantity and of what quality, by whom, how, and where; in his capacity as a voter, he was sovereign in directing his nation's policies. In the precapitalistic society those had been paramount who had the strength to beat their weaker fellows into submission. The much decried "mechanism" of the free market leaves only one way open to the acquisition of wealth, viz., to succeed in serving the consumers in the best possible and cheapest way. To this "democracy" of the market corresponds, in the sphere of the conduct of affairs of state, the system of representative government. The greatness of the period between the Napoleonic Wars and the first World War consisted precisely in the fact that the social ideal after the realization of which the most eminent men were striving was free trade in a peaceful world of free nations. It was an age of unprecedented improvement in the standard of living for a rapidly increasing population. It was the age of liberalism.
Today the tenets of this nineteenth-century philosophy of liberalism are almost forgotten. In continental Europe it is remembered only by a few. In England the term "liberal" is mostly used to signify a program that only in details differs from the totalitarianism of the socialists. In the United States "liberal" means today a set of ideas and political postulates that in every regard are the opposite of all that liberalism meant to the preceding generations. The American self-styled liberal aims at government omnipotence, is a resolute foe of free enterprise, and advocates all-round planning by the authorities, i.e., socialism. These "liberals" are anxious to emphasize that they disapprove of the Russian dictator's policies not on account of their socialistic or communistic character but merely on account of their imperialistic tendencies. Every measure aiming at confiscating some of the assets of those who own more than the average or at restricting the rights of the owners of property is considered as liberal and progressive. Practically unlimited discretionary power is vested in government agencies the decisions of which are exempt from judicial review. The few upright citizens who dare to criticize this trend toward administrative despotism are branded as extremists, reactionaries, economic royalists, and Fascists. It is suggested that a free country ought not to tolerate political activities on the part of such "public enemies."
Surprisingly enough, these ideas are in this country viewed as specifically American, as the continuation of the principles and the philosophy of the Pilgrim Fathers, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the authors of the Constitution and the Federalist papers. Only few people realize that these allegedly progressive policies originated in Europe and that their most brilliant nineteenth-century exponent was Bismarck, whose policies no American would qualify as progressive and liberal. Bismarck's Sozialpolitik was inaugurated in 1881, more than fifty years before its replica, F.D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Following in the wake of the German Reich, the then most successful power, all European industrial nations more or less adopted the system that pretended to benefit the masses at the expense of a minority of "rugged individualists." The generation that reached voting age after the end of the first World War took statism for granted and had only contempt for the "bourgeois prejudice," liberty.
When, thirty-five years ago, I tried to give a summary of the ideas and principles of that social philosophy that was once known under the name of liberalism, I did not indulge in the vain hope that my account would prevent the impending catastrophes to which the policies adopted by the European nations were manifestly leading. All I wanted to achieve was to offer to the small minority of thoughtful people an opportunity to learn something about the aims of classical liberalism and its achievements and thus to pave the way for a resurrection of the spirit of freedom after the coming debacle.
On October 28, 1951, Professor J. P. Hamilius of Luxembourg ordered a copy of Liberalismus from the publishing firm of Gustav Fischer in Jena (Russian Zone of Germany). The publishing firm answered, on November 14, 1951, that no copies of the book were available and added: "Die Vorr?te dieser Schrift mussten auf Anordnung beh?rdlicher Stellen restlos makuliert werden." (By order of the authorities all the copies of this book had to be destroyed.) The letter did not say whether the "authorities" referred to were those of Nazi Germany or those of the "democratic" republic of East Germany.
In the years that elapsed since the publication of Liberalismus I have written much more about the problems involved. I have dealt with many issues with which I could not deal in a book the size of which had to be limited in order not to deter the general reader. On the other hand, I referred in it to some matters that have little importance for the present. There are, moreover, in this book various problems of policy treated in a way which can be understood and correctly appreciated only if one takes into account the political and economic situation at the time in which it was written.
I have not changed anything in the original text of the book and did not influence in any way the translation made by Dr. Ralph Raico and the editing done by Mr. Arthur Goddard. I am very grateful to these two scholars for the pains they took in making the book available to the English-reading public.
Ludwig von Mises
New York, April, 1962