Tag Archives: Ludwig von Mises

Ryan, and Mises, and Rand! Oh, my!

11 Aug

From the FB page of my graduate student Dan McCool

Paul Ryan: “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

Ludwig von Mises to Ayn Rand: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”

Update (9:15 pm)

Another FB friend, Kevin Fathi, points me to this letter from Cornell political scientist Ted Lowi to the New York Times, reminiscing about what Hayek said about Rand:

Back in 1961, Friedrich A. Hayek was visiting Cornell, and he graciously accepted my invitation to speak to my political economy class. His comments were not on the free market but rather on the rule of law. Afterward, he took questions, which were mostly about Ayn Rand and “Atlas Shrugged.” The leading questions were “What was Rand really like?” and “What is your evaluation of ‘Atlas Shrugged’?”

Hayek’s responses took on the style of a confession. “Although I tried seriously to read the book, I failed, because there was no romance in it,” he said. “I tried even more diligently to read that fellow John Galt’s hundred-page declaration of independence, and I knew I’d be questioned on all that, but I just couldn’t get through it.”

As for Rand, he said he had met her only once, quite recently, at a party given in their honor — “and you should never have two lions at the same party.” The host eagerly brought the two together for the introduction. Here are the results, to the best of my memory: “We had a very brief exchange. She swelled in anger and spun away, remaining only long enough to say, ‘You are a compromiser.’ ” Twenty-five years later, Stephen Newman, a professor of political science at York University in Canada, innocently provided the explanation for Rand’s animosity with the title of his book: “Liberalism at Wits’ End.”

Update (10:30 pm)

Dan McCool’s brother Jason gives us a pictorial representation.

When Hayek Met Pinochet

18 Jul

 

In case you missed my five-part series on Hayek in Chile, here are the links:

  1. Hayek von Pinochet: In which we learn what our protagonist had to say about one of history’s tyrants.
  2. But wait, there’s more: Hayek von Pinochet, Part 2: In which we learn what our protagonist had to say about South Africa and what Ludwig von Mises had to say about fascism.
  3. Friedrich del Mar: In which we ask the question: Did Hayek make the decision to convene a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Viña del Mar?
  4. The Road to Viña del Mar: In which we answer the question: Did Hayek make the decision to convene a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Viña del Mar?
  5. Viña del Mar: A Veritable International of the Free-Market Counterrevolution: In which we learn what Hayek’s associates had to say about Pinochet’s Chile and its lessons for Reagan’s America.

Or, as the song says:

When an irresistible force such as you
Meets and old immovable object like me
You can bet as sure as you live
Something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give,
Something’s gotta give.

When an irrepressible smile such as yours
Warms an old implacable heart such as mine
Don’t say no because I insist.
Somewhere, somehow,
Someone’s gonna be kissed.

So en garde who knows what the fates have in store
From their vast mysterious sky?
I’ll try hard ignoring those lips I adore
But how long can anyone try?

Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight it with all of our might,
Chances are some heavenly star spangled night
We’ll find out as sure as we live
Something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give,
Something’s gotta give.

Postscript: Jesse Walker, an editor at Reason, is one of the few libertarians to grapple with some of this material. Have a read. And, in case you missed it, here’s Greg Grandin on Allende, explaining what the right thought was so dangerous about the democratically elected Marxist president of Chile.

Friedrich Del Mar*: More on Hayek, Pinochet, and Chile

11 Jul

In my first post about Hayek and Pinochet, I quoted a statement that I had written in the Nation in 2009 and had repeated in my book The Reactionary Mind:

Hayek admired Pinochet’s Chile so much that he decided to hold a meeting of his Mont Pelerin Society in Viña del Mar, the seaside resort where the coup against Allende was planned.

The Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) was a group of intellectuals and activists that Hayek helped found after World War II to advance the cause of the free market. In recent years, it has become the subject of some great new scholarship; judging by the fall catalogs it looks likely to be an even hotter topic in the future. Hayek was president of the MPS from 1947 to 1961 and honorary president after that.

I had learned about the meeting in Viña—and Hayek’s role therein—from Naomi Klein and Greg Grandin.

Once my Hayek von Pinochet post came out, a Hayek enthusiast began questioning—among other things—my claim about Hayek’s role in the Viña meeting on Twitter.

Truth is: this was the first time I had heard anyone question the claim about Hayek and Viña, but I decided to follow it up.

I emailed a past president of the MPS, who informed me that a regional meeting such as this one would have been proposed by local members of the Society to the Board, which would have had to have given its approval. My informant wasn’t sure if Hayek was on the board in 1981—honorary presidents, he said, weren’t usually on the board—and he also told me that the Chileans to whom I might pose some questions were “not around.”

So far, so nothing. I emailed a few scholars about the meeting, but didn’t hear back from them.

Then I stumbled across this 1979 letter from Hayek to Joaquin Reig, an MPS regular from Spain who wanted to organize a regional meeting in Madrid. In the letter, Hayek makes plain his preferences for the meeting’s location:

I believe I mentioned to you that I would rather like to have the meeting take place at Salamanca, but that may be, as you pointed out, impracticable. But I want still strongly to urge that we have there a one day public meeting entirely devoted to “The Spanish Origins of Economic Liberalism!”

For several years, Hayek had been growing increasingly excited about the possibility that “the basic principles of the theory of the competitive market were worked out by the Spanish scholastics of the 16th century.” For reasons still obscure to me, he seemed positively ecstatic about the notion that “economic liberalism was not designed by the Calvinists but by the Spanish jesuits.” (In his History of Economic Analysis, Schumpeter also had argued “that the very high level of Spanish sixteenth-century economics was due chiefly to the scholastic contributions.” But it didn’t seem to transport him in the way it did Hayek.)

Hayek insisted that the conference be shipped for a day 132 miles northwest of Madrid in order “to celebrate at Salamanca”—the university town where this specific branch of early modern natural law theory was formulated—”the Spanish origins of liberal economics.”

He got his way: the MPS members dutifully got into their buses and, like medieval penitents following their shepherd, made their pilgrimage to the birthplace of free-market economics. According to one participant:

A particular memory was of a small group accompanying Hayek descending from the newer Gothic Cathedral down a circular stairs to the older Romanesque Cathedral and encountering a small group accompanying Lord Lionel Robbins ascending the stairway. Hayek and Robbins engaged in a conversation, and then the respective parties continued their tours of the cathedrals.

Clearly, whether he was in or out of office, Hayek’s voice held sway at the Society.

But still no word on Hayek and Viña.

Then earlier today I got a copy of this cache of documents, the originals of which are housed in the archives at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, where the papers of both Hayek and the MPS reside.

The documents don’t establish who came up with the idea—or initiated the effort—of holding the 1981 MPS meeting at Viña.  An announcement stamped December 1980 merely states:

At a recent General Meeting at the Hoover Institution, our Society decided to hold a Regional meeting in Chile in November of 1981. Preliminary arrangements have already been made for this Meeting with the cooperation of distinguished economists and business leaders of the country.

In regard to those arrangements our President Dr. Chiaki Nishiyama has approved the nomination of an Executive Committee for the Regional Meeting, made up as follows: Paulo Ayres (Brazil), Ramón Díaz (Uruguay), Alberto Benegas Lynch Jr. (Argentine[sic]), Carlos Cáceres (Chile) and Pedro Ilbáñez (Chile) as President; Hernán Cortes acting as the Committee’s Secretary.

Hayek’s name appears nowhere on this announcement—except on the letterhead (“Honorary President”). The announcement does add that “leading Members of Mont Pelerin are assiting [sic] us in organizing the meeting, deciding on the programme and inviting the main speakers and discussants.” But it doesn’t specify who those leading members are.

But then I found this follow-up announcement, dated June 1981:

Final arrangements for the event were approved at a recent meeting of the Executive Committee for the Regional meeting attended by our President Dr. Chiaki Nishiyama and our Honorary President, Professor Friedrich von Hayek.

So it seems that Hayek did attend the meeting that approved the “final arrangements” for the Viña conference. So much for the Hayek enthusiast who also had tweeted at me:

Whether Hayek formally voted at that meeting or not remains unclear. Given his interventions two years earlier in the Salamanca affair, however, it’s hard to conclude that he didn’t play a significant role. At a minimum, he didn’t veto the meeting place, which he could easily have done. And he most likely had a hand in those final arrangements, which included the adoption of a program and a tentative list of speakers.

The list is of interest in its own right. It’s a veritable who’s who of mid- to late-century conservatism and libertarianism: William F. Buckley (on “Freedom of Expression and Misinformation of the Western World”); George Gordon Tullock and George Stigler (on “Decentralization and Municipal Autonomy”); James Buchanan (“Direct or Indirect Taxation. New Approach to Taxation Policies”); Martin Anderson (“Social Security, A Road to Socialism?”), with Thomas Sowell as a discussant; Irving Kristol (“Ethics and Capitalism”); Milton Friedman (“Monetary System for a Free Society”); and Friedrich von Hayek (“Democracy, Limited or Unlimited?”)

In the end, several of these tentative’s,  including Hayek and Buckley, proved to be no’s. On the final agenda, however, some new names appeared. One of them was Gary Becker—with a “t” next to his name. Tentative.

In the last few months, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing battle with the libertarians about their lack of interest in workplace freedom. The operating assumption of those conversations seems to be that however indifferent libertarians are to coercion in the private sphere, when it comes to the state, they’re the real deal. Yet here we have some of the leading lights and influences of the movement —Tullock and Buchanan were listed as “confirmed” speakers; not sure yet what happened with Becker—convening in the very place where the Pinochet regime launched its bloody rule.

There is a large discourse on the left of intellectuals and activists trying to come to terms with their erstwhile support for Stalinism and revolutionary tyranny. Indeed, a great deal of 20th century intellectual history is driven by that discourse, with entire literatures devoted to the Webbs in Russia, Sontag in Vietnam, Foucault in Iran. Yet where is the comparable discourse on the right of intellectuals coming to terms with their (or their heroes’) support for Pinochet, Salazar, and the like? With the exception of John Gray, I can’t think of a single apostate from—or adherent of—the right who’s engaged in such a project of self-examination: not breast-beating or mea culpas, but really looking at the relationship between their ideas and their actions. Now there’s a road to serfdom that’s yet to be mapped.

I’ve now ordered a whole bunch of additional documents from the Hoover Institute.  I’ll keep you posted on what I find. In the meantime…

* The title of this blog comes from Tim Barker.

 

Update (12:15 pm)

Because sharp and smart readers like Kevin Vallier have misinterpreted this, I wanted to clarify something about my post.  In bringing up the Salamanca story, I was not trying to make the case that there was any connection between Hayek’s interest in Spanish Scholasticism and his support for Pinochet. I was trying to establish a very different point: despite not being the head of the Mont Pelerin Society, Hayek could and did intervene in decisions about where its regional meetings were held.  Sorry if that was unclear.

Probing Tyler Cowen, or: When Libertarians Get Medieval on Your Vagina

20 Feb

In case you were wondering why I spent so much time nattering on about Ludwig von Mises’s retrograde views of women—and a great many libertarians did—here’s why: Those views haven’t gone away.

Responding to the Virginia legislation that requires all women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound—as Dahlia Lithwick points out, because most abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, most of the women affected by this bill would be forced to have a probe stuck up their vaginas, as that’s how ultrasounds in the first trimester are done—libertarian luminary Tyler Cowen tweeted the following:

All of a sudden requiring consumers to be informed is extremely unpopular on the “pro-regulation side.”

Is Cowen serious? If he is, he’s radically uninformed about the basic facts of biology and women. It’s not like women don’t know what’s going on inside of their uteruses; they are, after all, getting an abortion. Or perhaps Cowen, like many in the anti-abortion movement, thinks women don’t know what they’re doing when they abort their fetuses. Either way, it’s paternalistic.

But ah, my libertarian friends will say, that’s the point: we on the left make similar paternalistic assumptions about consumers all the time. Cowen’s just making a joke to point out our hypocrisy.

But if that’s the joke, it doesn’t quite work. Even if we assume that informing consumers is the purpose of the legislation—all the evidence, as Lithwick points out, suggests that women don’t need the information; nor are their choices influenced by the information when they get it—there’s the tricky matter of the “instruments”: Is the left really in the business of forcing consumers to get information by sticking probes up their various orifices?

Whether he’s serious or not, Cowen’s tweet suggests that when it comes to the specifics of women’s autonomy—not generic autonomy, but women’s autonomy—he doesn’t quite get it. And in not getting it, as I suggested in my post on Mises, he shows that his is not a project of universal liberty.

In response to my Mises piece, several libertarians said to me: Who cares what Mises thought about women? Those are just the views of everyone’s crazy uncle. We care about Mises—if we care about him at all—because of what he said about markets, not women. And today’s libertarian is just not like that.

Well, my friends, sometimes he is.

(h/t Elias Isquith for pointing me to the original Cowen tweet.)

Epilogue

This bit from Lithwick’s piece caught my eye:

During the floor debate on Tuesday, Del. C. Todd Gilbert announced that “in the vast majority of these cases, these [abortions] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” (He has since apologized.) Virginia Democrat Del. David Englin, who opposes the bill, has said Gilbert’s statement “is in line with previous Republican comments on the issue,” recalling one conversation with a GOP lawmaker who told him that women had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” (I confirmed with Englin that this quote was accurate.)

That notion “once-probed, always-probed” sounds an awful lot like the notion of implicit sexual consent that dates back to the 18th century and that justified marital rape in this country until the 1980s. As I write in my book:

Until 1980, for example, it was legal in every state in the union for a husband to rape his wife. The justification for this dates back to a 1736 treatise by English jurist Matthew Hale. When a woman marries, Hale argued, she implicitly agrees to give “up herself in this kind [sexually] unto her husband.” Hers is a tacit, if unknowing, consent “which she cannot retract” for the duration of their union. Having once said yes, she can never say no. As late as 1957—during the era of the Warren Court—a standard legal treatise could state, “A man does not commit rape by having sexual intercourse with his lawful wife, even if he does so by force and against her will.” If a woman (or man) tried to write into the marriage contract a requirement that express consent had to be given in order for sex to proceed, judges were bound by common law to ignore or override it. Implicit consent was a structural feature of the contract that neither party could alter. With the exit option of divorce not widely available until the second half of the twentieth century, the marriage contract doomed women to be the sexual servants of their husbands.

Resonances like these are why I sometimes suggest that modern conservatism is just a neoliberal gloss on medieval domination.

Update (February 21, 10:45 am)

Folks have been posting about this issue all weekend.  Turns out a lot more libertarian types are willing to go where Cowen goes—and then some.  Check out Scott Lemieux’s take on Megan McCardle. And though Dana Loesch is not, as far as I know, a self-identified libertarian, she is quite tight with the Tea Party, which styles itself as libertarian. Here’s what she said (in keeping with the once probed, always probed theme):

LOESCH: That’s the big thing that progressives are trying to say, that it’s rape and so on and so forth. [...] There were individuals saying, “Oh what about the Virginia rape? The rapes that, the forced rapes of women who are pregnant?” What? Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.

Love for Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises

15 Feb

From Marx…

In On the Jewish Question, Marx famously critiques liberal theorists of religious freedom on the grounds that they merely wish to emancipate the state from religion. Assuming—wrongly, it turns out—that the 19th century state, or at least the American state, had indeed been fully emancipated from religion (e.g., there was no official state religion, no specific confessional requirement for the exercise of political rights, etc.), Marx notes that the American people are nevertheless quite religious. This leads him to the observation that “to be politically emancipated from religion is not to be finally and completely emancipated from religion, because political emancipation is not the final and absolute form of human emancipation.” We may be free of religion at the level of the state, but we are not free of it in our everyday life (like most Enlightenment thinkers, Marx thinks of religion as a defect). To be truly free of it, we need to emancipate ourselves from religion, to shift our focus from the state to society itself, to get past the distinction between our public lives and private selves. Not just in matters of religion, as it turns out, but in other areas as well.

President Obama’s recent “compromise” over contraception—where religious-based employers like Catholic universities and hospitals are required to provide insurance coverage that includes free birth control but are not required to pay for it, leaving insurers to eat the costs; churches and other explicitly religious institutions will remain exempt from the provision—makes me wonder if we’re not moving in the reverse direction.

98% of sexually active Catholic women essentially reject the Church’s position on contraception. In this respect at least, society has emancipated itself from religion. Even so, the state allows its policies to be dictated by the Church elders. And judging by the growing Republican discontent with even this compromise, the state’s capitulation to religion and religious sensibilities could get worse. Keep in mind, as Katha Pollitt points out, that we are not talking about isolated sects like the Amish, which don’t depend on all manner of tax subsidies and public monies for their operations; these are large-scale institutions that would not exist in their current form were it not for the state’s ongoing support.

…to Mises

Speaking of conservatives, the birth control debate recently led Mike Konczal back to Ludwig von Mises’ classic 1922 text Socialism. Mises was a pioneering economist of the Austrian School, whose political writings have inspired multiple generations of libertarian activists in America and elsewhere. Mike took a special interest in the fourth chapter of Socialism, “The Social Order and the Family,” in which Mises has some retrograde things to say about women and feminism. This led Mike to conclude prematurely that Mises was against birth control, which he wasn’t, but as I make clear in the comments thread, Mike’s larger point—that Mises was not in favor of women’s sexual autonomy; nor, for that matter, was he in favor of other kinds of autonomy that would free women from the dominion of their husbands—still stands.

All this back and forth about the text prompted Brian Doherty, author of a wonderful history of libertarianism, to waspishly comment that, well, who really gives a shit what Mises may or may not have thought about women and birth control. Libertarians care about liberty; all the rest is commentary.

Mises does go on to address “natural barriers” that socialists want to overturn, and doubtless some of his own personal opinions about what those natural barriers might be would differ from moderns, liberal or conservative, which is exactly why [Konczal’s] entire implied point doesn’t make any sense to begin with. Those concerns are far more matters of opinion, not political philosophy, and in no sense should bind even those who have sworn fealty to Mises’ general views on economics and liberty. (For example, I’m quite the Misesian in most questions of politics and economics, but can imagine an intelligent conservative argument that the “rationalization of the sexual passions” is in some sense harmed by birth control, though not in the specific procreational sense he is addressing specifically.)

But let’s address the larger point, if there is one, besides that atop all of our heads for even talking about this: That polemical points can rightly be earned laying some judgment, whether real or imagined, of an intellectual founding father or influence on a political movement or tendency on to the backs of its younger followers–either to mock them or to insist that, no, this is really what their intellectual mission is: not to promote liberty, but to work for whatever Ludwig Von Mises liked or didn’t like.

It is interesting, for those interested in intellectual history, that Mises saw free love as part of some larger socialist mission to destroy the family. But for the libertarian the relevant question is, is this voluntary or not, does this infringe on anyone’s life, liberty, or property or not? “Anything that’s peaceful,” baby, as Leonard Read, one of Mises’ great popular disciples in America, wrote.

Thus, there’s a libertarian case to be made against forcing anyone to cover any specific medical care, birth control or whatever, in the insurance deals they make with their clients. But it has nothing to do with whether Ludwig von Mises was comfortable with free love, or birth control, or with catheters, or blood transfusions, or any other specific medical procedure that might or might not become a political controversy when the government tried to force people to sell insurance only on the condition that that insurance cover that procedure or medication’s use.

Set aside the strangeness of someone who’s written—for what were obviously more than antiquarian reasons—one of the best intellectual histories of libertarianism, in which Mises plays a not insignificant role, telling us that intellectual history, and Mises’s role in it, doesn’t much matter.

Also set aside Doherty’s declaration by fiat that Mises’s views on women are just “matters of opinion,” which can be discarded as so much ancient prejudice, rather than genuine “political philosophy.” (This chapter on Robert Nozick in Susan Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family should make any reasonably literate political writer leery of the notion that a libertarian’s views on women are somehow contingent or incidental and separable from their larger worldview. In Mises’s case, it’s doubly important to remember that he saw his chapter on women as one part of his campaign against socialism, an effort in which he styled himself the lonely leader of a small, heterodox band.

Socialism is the watchword and the catchword of our day. The socialist idea dominates the modern spirit. The masses prove of it. It expresses the thoughts and feelings of all; it has set its seal upon our time. When history comes to tell our story it will write above the chapter “The Epoch of Socialism.”

Mises did not think his views on women were refractions of the age; he thought they were the dissonant wisdom of someone who had thought long and hard, against the dominant view, about such issues. And given that many socialists were making feminist arguments and gaining ground across Europe—Remember Red Vienna? It wasn’t all economics, you know—I’m not sure Mises was entirely wrong in his self-understanding.)

Finally set aside, as one commenter on Mike’s thread pointed out, the fact that many of Mises’s views persist in later libertarian arguments.

The real reason Mises’s arguments about women are so relevant, it seems to me, is that in the course of making them he reveals something larger about the libertarian worldview: libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Here’s Mises describing the socialist program of “free love”:

Free love is the socialists’ radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration for the women. Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children, which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions….The family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free.

Sounds like a libertarian paradise, right? Society is dissolved into atomistic individuals, obstacles to our free choices are removed, everyone has the same rights and duties. But Mises is not celebrating this ideal; he’s criticizing it.  Not because it makes people unfree but because it makes people—specifically, women—free. The problem with liberating women from the constraints of “social and economic conditions” is that…women are liberated from the constraints of social and economic conditions.

Now Doherty will reply, well, that’s just Mises’s view of feminism, who cares, we libertarians stand for freedom. But the underlying logic of Mises’s argument—in which the redistributive state is criticized not for making men and women slaves or equals but for making them free—cannot be so easily contained. It can easily be applied to other realms of social policy—labor unions, universal health care, robust public schools, unemployment benefits, and the like, which the left has always seen as the vital prerequisites of universal freedom—suggesting that the real target of the libertarian critique may be the proposition that Mises articulates here so well: that all men—not just the rich or the well born—and all women will in fact be liberated from the constraints of their “social and economic conditions.”

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