Mises Wire

The Division of Labor as the Source of Grundnorms and Rights

The Division of Labor as the Source of Grundnorms and Rights

In a previous post, I argued that empathy is the source of rights. The idea is that any norms that are abided by in society are necessarily norms that are self-undertaken by a community of people who share that value. Civilized people value various grundnorms, which are compatible only with the libertarian private property principles (or so we libertarians believe; this is at the root of Hoppe's argumentation ethics and my estoppel defenses of libertarian rights, discussed in New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory).

But why do civilized people adopt the various libertarian-related grundnorms, such as peace, prosperity, reluctance to engage in unjustified violence? I think that it is the trait of empathy. Empathy for others is what gives rise to a general reluctance to engage in violent interaction--at least, without a good reason (justification). It is what leads to the "civilized" predisposition---hence the desire for most people--not criminals or outlaws, but civilized people--to find justifications for force, and to engage in it only when they satisfy themselves that despite their prima facie reluctance, it is justified in this type of case. (My view is that the person who is most reluctant, and has the highest standards or thresholds to be satisifed for justifying proposed or desired violence, are just libertarians. And that the most consistent among them recognize that the only good justification to be found is for force that is in response to aggression, or initiated force; and the most hyper-consistent among them are the anarchists. In short, the most "true" libertarians are those who oppose all aggression.)

But why is there empathy? Why do most of us place some value on others' well-being? I ventured in the previous post that "evolution is probably what led to this trait, as a psychological matter, but that is not that significant to me. So, in a sense, if we must find a 'source' of rights, I would say--it is empathy."

At the time, I overlooked the significance of a Mises quote called to my attention in the comments by Gil Guillory. Gil's notes Mises's "contention ... that the Ricardian Law of Association gives rise to cooperation and that empathy grows out of cooperation, not the other way around. So, if we are insisting on a source of rights, and we follow Mises in this regard, then it is the self-interested motivation to cooperate that is the source of rights."

Now I was listening recently to the absolutely riveting 10-part Economy, Society, and History lectures (audio here) delivered by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in 2004. (These lectures set forth the preliminary outlines of Hoppe's forthcoming major book, tantalizingly mentioned in this interview; his paper On The Origin Of Private Property And The Family is described on his site as being the "abstract of a long chapter within the framework of a major book project.") In lecture 3, "Money and Monetary Integration: The Growth of Cities and the Globalization of Trade," starting at around 5:30, Hoppe mentions various passages of Mises related to those noted by Guillory.

According to Hoppe, Mises points out that psychologists and sociologists often explain the origin of the division of labor in some kind of instinct to "truck and barter," as did Adam Smith. But Mises says we do not need to assume this; we can assume that everyone hates everyone else, and still explain why the division of labor emerges.

After Mises explains why the division of labor will arise, he quotes from Mises (Hoppe, lecture 3, around 13:47) here:

If and as far as labor under the division of labor is more productive than isolated labor, and if and as far as man is able to realize this fact, human action itself tends toward cooperation and association; man becomes a social being not in sacrificing his own concerns for the sake of a mythical Moloch, society, but in aiming at an improvement in his own welfare. Experience teaches that this condition--higher productivity achieved under the division of labor--is present because its cause--the inborn inequality of men and the inequality in the geographical distribution of the natural factors of production--is real. Thus we are in a position to comprehend the course of social evolution.

And at 15:03, Hoppe explains that Mises derives a very important insight from this. Contrary to those like Adam Smith who stipulate some kind of inborn sympathy among mankind as the ultimate case of the division of labor, Mises reverses this and says that it is precisely because of the higher productivity of the division of labor, which makes us dependent on each other, based on our recognition that we all benefit from this dependency on others, that we then develop, so to speak, sympathetic feelings toward others. In other words, sympathy results from, but is not the cause of, the division of labor. He then quotes Mises:

there can emerge between members of society feelings of sympathy and friendship and a sense of belonging together. These feelings are the source of man's most delightful and most sublime experiences. They are the most precious adornment of life; they lift the animal species man to the heights of a really human existence. However, they are not, as some have asserted, the agents that have brought about social relationships. They are fruits of social cooperation, they thrive only within its frame; they did not precede the establishment of social relations and are not the seed from which they spring.

and, from this section:

The mutual sexual attraction of male and female is inherent in man's animal nature and independent of any thinking and theorizing. It is permissible to call it original, vegetative, instinctive, or mysterious; there is no harm in asserting metaphorically that it makes one being out of two. We may call it a mystic communion of two bodies, a community. However, neither cohabitation, nor what precedes it and follows, generates social cooperation and societal modes of life. The animals too join together in mating, but they have not developed social relations. Family life is not merely a product of sexual intercourse. It is by no means natural and necessary that parents and children live together in the way in which they do in the family. The mating relation need not result in a family organization. The human family is an outcome of thinking, planning, and acting. It is this very fact which distinguishes it radically from those animal groups which we call per analogiam animal families.

I.e., it is the recognition of the advantages of the division of labor that makes stable family relationships rather than people breaking up and going their own way. And, as Mises notes in this section:

The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man's reason is capable of recognizing this truth. But for these facts men would have forever remained deadly foes of one another, irreconcilable rivals in their endeavors to secure a portion of the scarce supply of means of sustenance provided by nature. Each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors. No sympathy could possibly develop under such a state of affairs.

Some sociologists have asserted that the original and elementary subjective fact in society is a "consciousness of kind." [1] Others maintain that there would be no social systems if there were no "sense of community or of belonging together." [2]One may agree, provided that these somewhat vague and ambiguous terms are correctly interpreted. We may call consciousness of kind, sense of community, or sense of belonging together the acknowledgment of the fact that all other human beings are potential collaborators in the struggle for survival because they are capable of recognizing the mutual benefits of cooperation, while the animals lack this faculty. However, we must not forget that the primary facts that bring about such consciousness or such a sense are the two mentioned above. In a hypothetical world in which the division of labor would not increase productivity, there would not be any society. There would not be any sentiments of benevolence and good will.

I think Hoppe is right. This is an important insight of Mises. Sympathy (and empathy) arise from the division of labor. Since rights stem from empathy, the division of labor is the source of rights. Q.E.D.

All Rights Reserved ©
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Support Liberty

The Mises Institute exists solely on voluntary contributions from readers like you. Support our students and faculty in their work for Austrian economics, freedom, and peace.

Donate today
Group photo of Mises staff and fellows