Thursday, October 24, 2019

The "Libertarian" Von Mises

Baron von Mises is often presented as a liberal but in fact he was an opponent of political democracy who favoured an authoritarian political regime, as exposed by Quinn Slobodian in his book Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism.

In his review of it in the 19 August edition of the London Review of Books Alexander Zevin, basing himself on Slobodian, notes:
In July 1927, the acquittal of three right-wing militia members for the murder of a war veteran and a child in a working-class district set off a general strike and demonstrations. Protesters put the Palace of Justice to the torch, and the police fired into the crowd, leaving 89 dead. ‘Friday’s putsch has cleansed the atmosphere like a thunderstorm,’ Mises wrote. ‘The street fight ended in complete victory for the police.’ He believed Mussolini’s victory had for the moment ‘saved European civilisation. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.’ Talk of workers’ ‘right to the street’ or of ‘universal, equal and direct voting rights’ was often, he believed, cover for ‘terror and intimidation’. By contrast, he insisted to a group of German industrialists in 1931 that ‘the capitalistic market economy is a democracy, in which every penny constitutes a vote.’ Elected by means of what he called a ‘consumer plebiscite’, the rich depended on the ‘will of the people as consumers’, even when their wealth was inherited, since it could ‘be preserved only by those who keep on earning it anew by satisfying the wishes of consumers’. In 1934 Mises joined the Patriotic Front, launched the year before to rally support for the Catholic conservative and nationalist regime of Engelbert Dollfuss, which banned the Nazi and Communist Parties and forged an alliance with Italy. In February, Dollfuss moved against the socialists, putting down a fitful uprising of workers in Linz, shelling Karl Marx Hof in Vienna, expelling the Social Democrats from parliament and passing a new corporatist constitution.

So, Von Mises’s opposition to socialism was not just on theoretical grounds but involved active support for moves to put down and destroy the workers movement in his native country while he lived there. And his followers follow the same path. They support and have supported all kind of reactionaries. right-wingers,  and anti-communist governments and leaders.

In his book "Liberalism," published in 1927 after Mussolini had seized power in Italy, Mises wrote:
It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”

Friedrich von Hayek, who was, along with von Mises, one of the patron saints of modern libertarianism, was a supporter of the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. He was so impressed that he even recommended Chile to Thatcher as a model to complete her free-market revolution. Hayek glimpsed in Pinochet the avatar of true freedom, who would rule as a dictator only for a "transitional period," only as long as needed to reverse decades of state regulation. In a letter to the London Times he defended the junta, reporting that he had "not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende." Of course, the thousands executed and tens of thousands tortured by Pinochet’s regime weren’t talking.

The Mises Institute is devoted to the propagation of Austrian economics, better known as "anarcho-capitalism" (what Austrian economists claim is “classical liberalism”), which seeks a full and final erosion of government. The Mises Institute certainly practices what it preaches when it comes to marrying hard-right ideologies with libertarianism. Several Mises Institute scholars have had long-standing ties to white nationalist and anti-immigrant hate groups.

Steven Horwitz, a Koch-funded professor at Ball State University, called the Mises Institute “a fascist fist in a libertarian glove.”

Those who defend Von Mises by the Adam Smith Institute does not deny that  he supported Fascism in Italy and Austria but merely seeks to explain this as him seeing fascism as a temporary measure to save free-market capitalism (called “civilisation”) from not only Bolshevism but also even reformist Social Democracy. Quite a few capitalists and other of their apologists took up this position at the time, only to find that once they had surrendered control of political power to some dictator they were unable to get it back and re-introduce free-market capitalism. That took a world war.

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