Was Mises a fascist?

Anyone who has bothered to read Ludwig von Mises immediately knows that the answer is no. However, because of a few out of context quotations from his book, Liberalism, every few years he is attacked as one. The most recent offender is Michael Lind, making such ridiculous arguments I wonder if Poe’s law applies to Salon.

He quotes Mises:

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.

Now this quotation looks bad. Mises literally writes that fascism has saved European civilization. However, it is important to consider the context within which Mises was writing. The Soviet Union was about a decade old and had already starved 3-10 million people under war communism. The output of heavy industry had fallen to 20 percent of 1913. Communist parties were all over Europe and close to power.

Mises, out of all people, stood to be most horrified by this. He wrote the most penetrating critique of communism, warning of the impossibility of rationally allocating resources without prices. Prices were only meaningful with private property and market transactions. Fascism, on the other hand, was a new phenomenon. Hitler hadn’t taken power in Europe. Fascists had not started any wars. They had not yet committed genocide.

Hindsight is 20-20. Perhaps it is too much to expect Mises to be knowledgeable about the future evils of fascism — wait, no it isn’t. Mises was a genius. Let’s quote the entire passage rather than the two sentences Michael Lind does.

So much for the domestic policy of Fascism. That its foreign policy, based as it is on the avowed principle of force in international relations, cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization requires no further discussion. To maintain and further raise our present level of economic development, peace among nations must be assured. But they cannot live together in peace if the basic tenet of the ideology by which they are governed is the belief that one’s own nation can secure its place in the community of nations by force alone.

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming 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. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

So, not only does Mises dislike fascism in 1927, he also fully realizes the threat to European peace that it is. He takes the likelihood of what fascism will lead to as so obvious it “requires no further discussion.” Viewing fascism as anything more than an “emergency makeshift” would be a “fatal error.”

Reading the full passage it is clear that Mises had a nuanced and amazingly prescient understanding of fascism. Forced to choose between two of the greatest evils of the 20th century, he chose the fascists, fully recognizing where they would lead if they retained power and warning against it.

Now, unlike Michael Lind I try to be reasonable. I read passages in full, and do not selectively quote to obscure meaning. That being said, based on my reading of Liberalism I am forced to conclude Mises was a time traveler. It is the only possible explanation of such brilliance.

As a bonus, if you’re interested in what Mises wrote about the domestic policy of fascism:

Many people approve of the methods of Fascism, even though its economic program is altogether antiliberal and its policy completely interventionist, because it is far from practicing the senseless and unrestrained destructionism that has stamped the Communists as the archenemies of civilization. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil.

One comment

  1. So, in the end, you’re proving the sentence right: “a fascist is a scared liberal”. Mises “disliked” fascism, but he was so frightened of communism that he saw it as a good alternative for the time being, although perhaps not in the long run. I agree on that.


Sound off

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s