Libertarianism, A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarian Thought

Discussion Questions du Jour

Suppose socialism had never become anything more than an intellectual movement, i.e., that no actual regime came to power calling itself socialist and putting into place policies and institutions it believed were socialist.  What would classical liberalism/libertarianism look like today if that had been the way history unfolded?  How much of the content, rhetoric, and self-conception of modern libertarianism is the result of the battle with socialism?

Without socialism, might libertarianism be more “leftist” as a result of not aligning with conservatives against state socialism?  Without socialism, might libertarianism have never developed the more sophisticated understanding of the market it gained from things like the socialist calculation debate?

I come with questions, not answers.

Published on:
Author: Steve Horwitz
  • Casey Jones

    In my opinion, most government work the same. Some do a much better job of not being barbaric than others, but they all work the same. Thankfully, we have had the “benefit” of seeing socialism in practice as well as other variations of big government. I don’t think I’d be a libertarian if it was something else, and it probably would be in the scenario presented here. More freedom, that just seems so right to me.

  • Ross Levatter

    Well, even if socialism had been nothing “more than an intellectual movement,” that could have served to generate the socialist calculation debate. Mises, being an a priorist, presumably based his argument on socialist theory, not on the failure of war communism. The more basic question, perhaps, is what if socialism had not existed even as an intellectual movement? What if no one had ever argued against voluntary exchange and the resulting inequalities that develop from free trade? Would we have as good a grasp on the benefits of the system if no one had ever claimed it had flaws?

  • David Johnson

    In this country at least, the more dangerous ideology was progressivism, not socialism. The consequences would have been mostly the same for libertarianism. American culture was too individualistic to eve let actual socialism gain much of a foothold, but progressivism fit neatly into the American experience of progress and improvements. “We can improve mankind himself!” was the promise.

  • martinbrock

    Libertarianism is certainly was more “left” than “right” in history much more than a century old, and the earliest historical “libertarians” are also historical “socialists”. Proudhon and Tucker and others accepted both labels, because they understood “society” as an emergent order antithetical to statutory order. Socialist rule stood in contrast to state rule rather than being a usurpation or vast expansion of state rule.

    A dialogue between state socialists and libertarians certainly influenced the development of libertarian theory, as in the socialist calculation debate. Hayekian emergent order (and the earlier “invisible hand”) might have developed regardless, but the socialist calculation argument disputes the assumptions of state planners, so it could hardly exist except as a critique of state planning.

    I agree with Ross that Mises’ argument was directed more at a theoretical socialism than at the realities of state socialism as practiced in the Soviet Union for example. I’m not saying that Mises missed the mark, but he might have constructed his argument without any large scale socialist experiment to critique in reality.

    Modern libertarian arguments often counter egalitarian arguments rather than central planning arguments, while earlier libertarian arguments are themselves egalitarian counterpoints to earlier state policies. Early libertarians didn’t expect a free society to be less equal than the state-imposed order they opposed. They expected it to be more equal, even if they opposed an economic equality imposed by a state.

    • Fallon

      Mises purposely concentrated on theoretical arguments. Though, advances in apriorism is indeed often inspired by real situations like Lenin’s war communism. Mises’ biographer, Guido Hulsmann, writes the following on Mises’s initial 1920 presentation of the impossibility of calculation under socialism argument:

      “Mises knew in detail socialism’s abysmal record, but he focused his criticism on theory, not history. Advocates could always dismiss past failures as irrelevant to the viability of a future socialist commonwealth, but Mises challenged the very possibility of their plans ever succeeding.”

      Given that Misesean apriorism does indeed concern reality– there is something inherent and universal about man using means to ends– the distinction with Hayek must be qualified.* Hayek criticized central planning based on his theory of knowledge, not on the necessity of competing properties for the formation of prices. Hayek’s argumentation is not on the same basis as Mises’s. Apparently, Hayek believed that prices conveyed information about market conditions. For Mises, prices were past phenomena formed from anticipations about the future. One could say that prices are the more result of market conditions, not the other way around. Actors decide to make an exchange before the price is formed.

      There is much more to this. But it looks like Hayek ‘missed the mark’ where Mises was right.

      *Rationalism a la Misesean apriorism in economics is rejected by many classical liberals/libertarians. Bryan Caplan and Tyler Cowen are two big names. Hayek thought, and I am not exactly sure about this yet, that apriorism was only valid at a fundamental individual subjective level; meaning that social phenomena require empiricism. If so, this is a huge break from Mises…

      • martinbrock

        Hayek’s theory of knowledge incorporated competitive, market price formation as a conduit of economic information, so I’m not sure that his formulation is so different really.

        • Fallon

          No, Mises and Hayek were not the same. Please explain how prices convey current information per Hayek where Mises insisted, correctly, that prices are past phenomena and ought to be dealt with as such. Their conflation is a terrible mistake.

          No, Mises was not an empiricist. Reality is so utterly complex that one can never observe it in such a way as to derive economic reasoning. Aprioristic methodology is empirical in the sense that it recognizes contingency and emergence. If there is no money in play, then theories of money will remain on the shelf. Do not confuse Mises’s social rationalism with the positivism of mathematical economists or the associated equilibrium constructs that presuppose knowledge about the future. Mises was adamant about these differences. Some even argue that Hayek never refuted socialism but only presented practical issues.

          Hayek liked Popper. Mises did not. Falsificationism, problematic enough for natural sciences, is not even relevant for economics.

          • martinbrock

            Of course, they weren’t the same.

            Prices convey expectations of the future, and markets respond rapidly to changing expectations. Market efficiency does not presuppose knowledge of the future. It only says that market price formation is roughly a Martingale process.

            “Current information” describes an infinitesimal slice of time and hardly means anything. The idea that prices reflect current information rather than historical information does not suppose that prices do not emerge from historical information. It only supposes that price formation is a Markov process, that price changes are “memoryless”, that nothing like hysteresis affects them. These technical assumptions imply no sweeping conclusions about empiricism vs. rationalism.

            It’s absurd to say that Mises rejected empiricism generally. He couldn’t possibly posit something like the Austrian Business Cycle Theory without it. Mises didn’t consider the observable consequences of Keynsian stimulus or price controls are irrelevant.

            “Mises did not like Popper” is nonsense.

          • Fallon

            Mises agreed with Popper on falsification as preferable to the Vienna Circle’s verificationism: for the natural sciences. Mises explicitly rejected both verificationism and falsificationism in economics, an apriori science. Mises:

            “If one accepts the terminology of logical positivism and especially
            also that of Popper, a theory or hypothesis is “unscientific”
            if in principle it cannot be refuted by experience. Consequently,
            all a priori theories, including mathematics and praxeology, are
            “unscientific.” This is merely a verbal quibble. No serious man
            wastes his time in discussing such a terminological question.
            Praxeology and economics will retain their paramount significance
            for human life and action however people may classify and
            describe them.” (Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science)

            Really, this is not even a controversial facet. I have already answered the question on empiricism. Mises’s theoretical framework is not a hypothesis to be tested nor is it based on aimed to have predictive results. Nor should it be.

          • martinbrock

            Testable hypotheses can be constructed within Mises’ framework, and Mises himself constructs them.

          • Fallon

            Martin, I appreciate your comments. Not this time though.

      • Steven Horwitz

        This attempt to separate Mises and Hayek’s arguments about socialist planning is simply ignorant of what they actually wrote and the audiences they were writing to. They were making almost the identical argument but stressing different aspects of the problem because they were speaking to different audiences at different times.

        See my argument about this issue here:

        You might also see similar arguments by Kirzner, Boettke, and Yeager. Serious scholars in the history of economic thought understand this issue. Folks trying to score points for Mises often don’t.

        • Fallon

          Thanks Steve. Yet the scholars Guido Hulsmann, Hans Hoppe and Joe Salerno contradict you. In fact it is Kirzner, say these Mises Institute guys, that made entrepreneurs’ actions determinative via prices, prices that convey knowledge about current conditions. At the very least– prices are past phenomena, right? If they do say anything, there is still a historical judgment as to what that may be.

          • Steven Horwitz

            Did you read my article? When you have, then we can talk. Tell me where I’m wrong. I’m happy to be corrected.

          • Fallon

            Okay, Prof. Horwitz. I read your paper. I have comments and many questions. Due diligence would mean much more attention to detail and outside reading, of course. I will follow with a new comment heading altogether. Thanks again. In add, I do not wish to alienate you with my criticism. I have much to learn in this and eye my own responses as tentative. Cheers.

        • Fallon

          From Hulsmann’s disggregation of Mises and Hayek, “Knowledge, Judgment, and the Use of Property”:

          “2. Commenting on Hayek’s article ‘The Present State of the Debate’ (in Collectivist Economic Planning, F. A. Hayek, ed. [London: Routledge, 19351, p. 2 1 I), Mises says: “Hayek has shown that
          the use of equilibrium for economic calculation presupposes knowledge of the future valuations of the consumers. However, he has seen in this merely a problem of the practical application of the
          equations, not a fundamental and unsurmountable obstacle for their practical use.”

          Did Mises misunderstand Hayek, too?

          • Steven Horwitz

            Hulsmann does not understand Hayek. I also don’t think he understands Mises very well. Chew on that for awhile. You need to be reading better scholars than Hulsmann and Hoppe. Yeah, I’m looking for trouble tonight.

          • Fallon

            Okay, deal. I have your paper now. Except, you avoided Mises’s own statement about Hayek. Are you saying Mises did not understand Hayek? It sure looks like Hayek/Robbins conceded that socialism is possible theoretically, but that e.g. Abba Lerner’s market socialism (Hayek’s audience, as you say) would have severe trouble getting relevant knowledge into the equations. Mises, I understand, said contra Hayek that even if the planners had all relevant info they still could not calculate. It is the oneness of the system. Even if Hayek and Mises were both right, Mises’s line looks more fundamental.

            No last words here, however.

          • Fallon

            Oh, lookin’ for trouble? Alright then. I will check with the opposing gang. Usual rules? Down by the docks. 12 a.m. No knives, no
            below the belt, and…. no Keynesians.

        • Fallon

          I had a quick laugh. Remembering that I admonished another commenter for demonstrating the “argument from authority” fallacy, I now wonder how that would play out with you– since, well, you are an authority. Should this status preclude you from participation?

  • matt b

    In other words: socialism- good for libertarianism, bad for people.

  • matt b

    In my experience, libertarians, for the historical reasons Steve outlined, are far friendlier towards the political Right and that’s problematic as hell. I think this is where the caricature of libertarians as a bunch of wealthy white men has some validity. For example, you hear libertarians who say Obama is “the gravest threat to liberty” we’ve ever had yet when you have the coerced childbirth party, the Republicans, trying to deny women their right to chose, trying to deport peaceful migrants, trying to deny gays equality, and supporting restrictions on sexual expression in pornography that gets very little attention from the “Obama must be stopped” people. For them, liberty does not seem to go beyond their wallets.

    • good_in_theory

      There’s also the actual demographics behind the caricature…

      • matt b

        Thanks for that link.



      The “coerced childbirth” bit is of course not an argument, but rhetoric, and not very clever at that. Furthermore, it seems to assume, with its jibe at “Republicans,” that all reasonable libertarian must hold the view that the abortion of a healthy fetus up to the actual moment of delivery is a fundamental right. After all, holding such a last-minute abortion to be immoral, and prohibiting it, would constitute “coerced childbirth,” right? However, Ron Paul (and Rand) take a pro-life stand, and here, FYI, is Matt Zwolinski defending this view as “reasonable”: (see the exchange towards the end). I guess Matt is one of those wacko nut-jobs who believe that the abortion issue might be a little more complicated than you seem to grasp. PS: I agree with him.

      • liberty

        The “coerced childbirth” point is with reference, I should think, to the social cons who are against contraception and ALL abortion – not just late term abortions.


          There are, of course, extreme position on all sides. The vast majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle, and I don’t see why libertarians should be any different. Unless, however, you have a knockdown argument from basic libertarian principles to an extreme pro-choice stance. As Matt indicated in the comments I referenced, such an argument is hard to come by.

          • matt b

            I wanted to mention this in my last post but forgot to ask. I checked your link but couldn’t find Matt’s comment. What exactly did he say was “reasonable”? And the majority of Americans support a women’s right to choose… until you get to so-called partial birth abortion which, no doubt, is problematic. I’m not sure why you assumed I was some absolute “if it’s a few hours before the baby is born no problem at all” pro-choicer.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You have to click on the “show more comments” link. Sorry if I misunderstood you.

          • matt b

            It’s okay. Happy I could make myself clear. Still haven’t found that comment yet. I’m going to look again right now. I’d be interested to see that exchange for sure.

      • matt b

        You’re confusing a lot of things. A description of fact is not an argument nor is it intended to be an argument. When I say Democrats favor “coerced participation in a state retirement program” that is also a description of fact. So when I say the Republicans support “coerced childbirth” which is objectively what being pro “life” amounts to that’s just a fact. Not an argument. Not a clever attack line. A fact. Now you can say they are correct just like you can say the Democrats are correct to favor “coerced participation in a state retirement program” or incorrect but the facts are what the facts are. Beyond that, I don’t consider Rand Paul to be a libertarian. He’s a conservative with a few libertarian positions. Ron Paul has a far better claim but as Ilya Somin and others have demonstrated quite exhaustively he holds a number of positions that are actually quite problematic from a libertarian perspective. Now, as commentator liberty noted, I was in fact referring to “social cons who are against contraception and ALL abortion.” If I had said “Abortion is as clear as the right to have consensual sex or smoke pot” then sure you would have a basis for lecturing me about a failure to appreciate moral complexities and nuances. But I never said that.


          You and I have, I guess, different understandings of what constitutes a “fact.” Had you said that many Republicans favor restrictions on abortion rights that most libertarians object to, I would accept this as a fact. On the other hand, “coerced childbirth” is a polemic, since it applies on its face to all abortion restrictions; those prohibiting it as a women goes into labor and, less controversially, those done after the fetus has acquired moral status. Why not simply call those in favor of limits on abortion rights, “absolutely pro-life,” “moderately pro-life” or whatever the context demands?

          I suggest you refer, if you have not already, to Matt Z’s comments about treating opposing arguments (with which you strongly disagree) carefully and with a little charity. I don’t think Matt specifically addressed “coerced childbirth,” but his interlocutor
          was using a very similar phrase. I could with as much justification and accuracy, were I on the other side, refer to those who disagree with me as being “in favor of taking human life,” and also call that a “fact.” Both labels presuppose, without argument, the correctness of a certain moral view.

          • matt b

            It is polemical but still factual. Any abortion restrictions whatsoever involve coercion. That does not tell us, in and of itself, whether such restrictions are unjustified. Indeed, unless you’re a hard libertarian, coercion can be considered defensible in more than a few cases and abortion may be one of them. What are your views here? When do you think the fetus obtains moral status? I’m kind of sympathetic to Gary Johnson’s position which is to have no restrictions until the point of viability. At that point I become much less morally comfortable with abortion.

            I think you’re quite wrong here. Saying abortion takes a life is question begging. Saying it is coercion is not. Similarly, saying progressive taxation is theft is question beginning but saying it is coercive is not.

            We would have to take a closer look at the polling but the fact is that Republican politicians take just that position. From Paul Ryan to even supposed social moderate Chris Christie they say from the moment the sperm hits the egg we’ve got a third person in the room and abortion should be prohibited The party’s platform calls for a constitutional amendment to enshrine this as policy forbidding states from opting for a different one. So yes maybe not all that many everyday Republicans are that far right but the party’s politicians are, even if only for show.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Permit me to repeat: The “coerced childbirth” label is question beggging unless the law in question prohibits a woman from voluntarily getting an abortion before the fetus acquires moral status. Only if the woman elects to delay the abortion to that point, would “coercion” apply. I do not support unlimited abortion rights, yet I do not support “coerced childbirth.” Do you really think this is a contradiction?

            Viability can’t possibly be right, because as soon as science creates an artificial womb, then a fertilized egg has moral status. Ability to feel pain is much closer to the truth, I think.

          • matt b

            So Mark why don’t we end it on this as I’m still a little confused: if you were a policymaker where do you draw the line? Like 3 months in and then abortion is illegal or sooner? And what are your thoughts on stem cells?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            My preliminary answer on when the fetus has moral status is when it can experience pain–but I am no sort of expert on when that occurs. Maybe around 28 weeks: [I am using “pain” here as a proxy for the experience of some sort of consciousness]. At that point, I would support a general prohibition, subject to certain exceptions. If you consult the philosophical literature there may be more convincing answers.

            Re: stem cells: Sorry, but I don’t have well-considered opinions on many topics, and that’s one. Sometimes I can’t even decide what to have for lunch.

          • matt b

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is very refreshing when someone does not pretend that they have an answer for everything. I think your pain equals an important degree of moral status argument has a great degree of intuitive pull. I just thought you were a total no abortion ever libertarian from the first response but upon talking it seems our views are fairly closely aligned.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Thanks. Over the years I have changed my views quite substantially on many important issues. Its hard for me to believe the things I supported in the past; things that currently strike me as crazy or immoral. I’m not great at this myself, but I try to keep in mind that political/moral issues can be complicated and not amenable to pat answers. Therefore, I try to respect opposing views even when I strongly disagree. Like I said, I’m not great at this, but I try.

          • matt b

            Mark this “Its hard for me to believe the things I supported in the past; things that currently strike me as crazy or immoral.” is the intellectual equivalent of your friend saying they have some awesome gossip to share with you and that it’s juicy but not sharing it 🙂 Pray tell, what did you used to believe that you now judge to be “crazy or immoral.” God knows, my list is long. I used to be a socialist and then I moved onto pure “you’re a moral idiot if you disagree” NAP libertarianism. I might look at these posts a year from now and cringe but whatever.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I regret to inform you that I am not going to wash my intellectual dirty linen in public. If you really are that curious, feel free to contact me in private, and I will give you a bit of my ideological biography.

  • famadeo

    By comparison, sure. However there has never been any explicit concern for egalitarianism within libertarianism to my knowledge -and if anything were to define the left more than anything else it would be that concern. Social stratification to some extent or another is still considered natural among even the “thickest” -for lack of a better word- libertarians.

    • martinbrock

      Equality has always concerned libertarians. The question is: “Equality of what?”

      • famadeo

        I don’t quite dissagree but once you bring up “freedom from coercion” I have to ask exactly what you mean by coercion. I must confess that I cringe when I hear libertarians bring it up as they do ad nauseam because that concern is context-insensitive. The fact that there’s no coercion in a given scenario where a choice is made doesn’t mean there are no disparities of power that influence such a choice. Voluntary choice is not the same as free choice. This is where I find libertarians lack profundity in analysis, though I don’t know your particular position on the matter.

        • martinbrock

          Coercion is my imposition of my will upon you. It’s my forcible insistence that my decision governs your behavior.

          Disparities in power imply coercion in my way of thinking. What other “power” could you mean?

          Property rights are coercive. No central authority should impose any system of propriety beyond an obligation not to kill or physically restrain a person without his consent. A free association may adopt any property rights that members accept and defend limited natural resources for the exclusive use of members as long as the association leaves as much and as good of the resources of nature for others.

          This idea is basically anarcho-communism in my way of thinking, but it’s a mistake to equate anarcho-communism with strictly communal property or a strictly egalitarian division of produce. A free association of Rothbardians organizing the fruits of their labor and natural resources according to strictly individualistic, Rothbardian property rights within their territory is consistent with anarcho-communism.

          Imposing any other order on Rothbardians violates their right of self-determination, their right to decide their own behavior, to be free of coercion, and by the same token, imposing Rothbardian proprieties on strictly egalitarian communitarians violates rights of the egalitarians.

          • famadeo

            It’s a mistake to equate violence with power. Power can circulate and create influence without violence. I.E. imposing one’s will can occur without force and can thusly generate disparities of power. If freedom is the concern it’s necesary to widen the scope of critique.

          • martinbrock

            I’ll agree to call influence “powerful”, but I wouldn’t say that influencing someone imposes anything. Influence is what you try to do when you have no power to impose.

            I don’t know how you want to widen the scope. If Rothbardians (or Egalitarians) are very influential and if a growing group of Rothbardians is very productive, would you forcibly seize products of their labor and limited natural resources for your own purposes without laboring yourself under the constraints that they freely accept?

            Do you want to have your cake and eat the Rothbardians’ cake too? Why? If you want what they have, why not just join or emulate them? That’s what influence is all about, right? Why would a powerfully influential group be a problem for your as long as the group may only influence and may not impose?

          • famadeo

            Yes, your position is quite clear, but you are missing the point. When I say influence I don’t mean “you can emulate me if you want but if not, that’s OK”. I mean that the exercize of power is not always easy to detect. To be concrete, one can adopt certain norms, behaviours, perspective, etc. simply because of the presence of a certain culture or social arangement to which such norms respond. You did not choose to adopt this certain normalcy and yet you were not forced into it either.

            Thea reason I insist on bringing this up is so I can illustrate the fact that freedom is not measured but absence of coercion. There are numerous factors that contribute to an individual’s de facto unfreedom. That’s why two different arangements cannot be judged equaly simply because they were both chosen voluntarily.

          • martinbrock

            If you adopt social norms without a gun to your head (without a credible threat of substantial harm if you refuse), then you freely choose to adopt the norms. What else does “free choice” mean?

            My choices aren’t free of values my parents instilled in me any more than they’re free of my genes or the Earth’s gravity, but they are still my choices. They aren’t my parent’s choice or my minister’s choice or any politician’s choice, regardless of how indoctrinated or brainwashed you think me. They are my choices, and I am ultimately responsible for them. If I’m only an automaton programmed by my parents, I’m still an individual choosing.

            “Freedom” cannot meaningfully describe a choice independent of any influence outside of my own head, because no such choice exists or could possibly exist. In my way of thinking, “freedom” describes the absence of a gun to my head, and that’s all. If you effectively indoctrinate me from birth to be a homophobic, religious fundamentalist, without threatening to harm me for refusing the indoctrination, then the choices of a homophobic, religious fundamentalist are my free choices.

            If you prefer “voluntary” to “free” in this context, so be it, but the distinction seems pointless to me. A volition as “free” as you imagine does not exist can and cannot exist.

          • famadeo

            In that context, those values/norms are not *chosen*, they’re simply transered or asimilated. No choice, no force.

            “A volition as ‘free’ as you imagine does not exist can and cannot exist.”

            How do you think I “imagine” it? I’m aware that nothing can reach absolute metaphysical proportions. That doesn’t meant there might not be room for improvement. You can find yourself in a position where you must choose between starving to death and working for $10 a month. But you can also find yourself in more favorable circumstances where the spectrum of choices is much wider. In both cases, you’re able to choose. Does it mean you are equally free in both? That’s the problem with relying solely on volition as a barometer.

          • martinbrock

            If you believe that values assimilated from one’s parents and others are not “chosen”, then you have a meaningless notion of “choice”. No one is born with values, and no one creates his own values out of nothing.

            If you must choose between starvation and working for $10 a month, I suppose you work for $10 a month. In more favorable circumstances, your options are more favorable, but I’m not sure what that has to do with choosing your values.

            Yes, you’re equally free in both cases. In my way of thinking, “freedom” does not describe your range of options. It describes an absence of constraints on your choices imposed forcibly by other people. Gravity does not constrain your “freedom” in this sense. Physicists speak of “free particles”, but libertarian “freedom” describes something else.

            If a narrow range of options makes someone unfree, no one is ever free. I can’t flap my arms and fly. My grandchildren may have personal flying vehicles, but I don’t have one. My great-grandchildren may have communications devices implanted in their heads and literally read one another’s minds, but I can’t read anyone’s mind.

            Everyone is a slave to his incredibly limited circumstances, compared with what he can imagine, but no one says that we aren’t free for this reason. That’s just not how the word is commonly used, and using it this way seems pointless to me.

          • famadeo

            Like I said, I’m not referring to a freedom of absolute metaphysical proportions. Again, that doesn’t mean one can’t compare.

            “but I’m not sure what that has to do with choosing your values.” Nothing. That was a different point. Let’s try to simplify this matter: does being brainwashed not constitute a constraint? If it does, doesn’t it mean you are less free than you would be otherwise? Bare in mind no force is necesarily invovled.

            Your conception of freedom as mere absense of force is question-begging at the very least. What you are referring to, strickly speaking, is called negative freedom. Unless you want to argue against positive freedom, the range of choices *does* matter.

          • martinbrock

            If my narrow range of choices is not a consequence of another person’s forcible imposition, how do I expand my range of choices? Violate laws of nature? If such a violation isn’t necessary to expand my range of choices, in what sense is my range of choices narrow?

            Distinguish brainwashing from a learning process leading to someone’s acceptance an ideology that you don’t like.

          • famadeo

            “If my narrow range of choices is not a consequence of another person’s forcible imposition, how do I expand my range of choices?”

            God, the possibilities are endless. Maybe it’s as simple as moving to a more favorable area, I don’t know. It’s certainly not clear, a-priori at least, that force is necesarily involved.

            “Distinguish brainwashing from a learning process leading someone to accept an ideology that you don’t like.”

            I’m aware that there is a distinction to be made. You’re missing the point entirely. Unless you want to argue that brainwashing doesn’t ever occur at all, frankly, I couldn’t’ve made this clearer: Is brainwahsing or is it not a constraint on freedom? It’s as simple as that.

          • martinbrock

            If you can improve your circumstances by moving to another area, your options are less narrow than they appear in your current area. If someone forcibly holds you in your current area, I’d say you aren’t free, but if only the rain holds you there, you’re completely free of forcible imposition until the weather changes. We can discuss the weather if you want, but libertarianism is my politics, not my meterology.

            Again, I need you to define brainwashing. Accepting an ideology after indoctrination is not being brainwashed. It’s how everyone always accepts any ideology.

          • famadeo

            “We can discuss the weather if you want, but libertarianism is my politics, not my meterology.” I don’t understand you. It would occur to me, if you are held by bad weather, you are not free to leave and explore better options. Doesn’t seem like a controversial notion of freedom.

            “Again, I need you to define brainwashing.” No you don’t. We just need to agree that brainwashing exists. It doesn’t matter if we don’t agree as to what we identify as brainwashing. Is it or is it not a constraint?

          • martinbrock

            Again, physicists speak of “free particles”, i.e. particles not bound by a particular force, but when I use “freedom” in a political context, I’m not discussing gravity. Yes, in another context, I can be a slave to the Earth’s gravity, and I have no problem with metaphors of this sort, but to be clear, when I discuss “freedom” in a political sense, I mean an absence of other people with guns and such, not a force of nature.

            Before you make the point, I understand that people are products of nature, but English speakers conventionally distinguish the “natural” from the “artificial”, despite the fact that “artificial” means man-made and humanity itself is a product of nature. All statutes are artifacts. All decisions of judges are artifacts. All criminal indictments are artifacts. All guns, carried by officials of the state or otherwise, are artifacts. When I use “freedom” in a political context, I refer to these artifacts.

            I do need you to define brainwashing. I can’t agree that something exists without knowing what it is.

            If you mean that someone forcibly compels me to have something implanted in my head that influences my thinking or even compels me forcibly to sit in a room for hours listening to someone preach at me, then I agree that this brainwashing constrains freedom in the political sense.

            On the other hand, if no one compels me to sit in a room listening to someone preach, then any indoctrination I receive from the preacher is not a constraint on my freedom. It is an exercise of my freedom.

            Free people are not people who think like me.

          • famadeo

            I’m getting weary of this. Every time I question your narrowly negative (strictly speaking) conception of freedom you invoke gravity and whatnot to make me seem unreasonable. Positive freedom does *not* imply metaphysical absolutism. This shouldn’t be hard to understand.

            “I do need you to define brainwashing. I can’t agree that something exists without knowing what it is.”

            Do you agree that *something* can constitute brainwashing? How about nazi propaganda? Does assimilating those values necesarily constitute force? Wouldn’t you be less free under such influence?

          • martinbrock

            I hate to be tiresome, but you mentioned bad weather. Is gravity so different?

            I emphasize political freedom while acknowledging that the word “freedom” has broader usage. I just don’t see how the broader usage is relevant here. So what if a thunderstorm interferes with my plans? I can’t do much about thunderstorms, and I don’t consider myself any less “free” in a political sense. If a man with a gun interferes with my plans, this interference with my freedom seems fundamentally different and worth discussing.

            I just gave you two examples of what I’d call brainwashing. Do you want to respond?

            Nazi propaganda interferes with liberty only insofar as Nazis forcibly compel people to listen to them preach. People free to listen to Nazis and to agree with what they hear. People should not then be free forcibly to impose their national socialist ideals on others in my way of thinking, but they aren’t slaves to Nazis just because they chose to listen and fell under the spell.

        • les kyle Nearhood

          I do not think that constant whining about power differentials is very profound. The world is not perfect and any attempt to create a perfect utopia, with an equitable power structure will no doubt result in various forms of horror and mayhem. Libertarianism at least does not try to create any such structure.

  • Juan Manuel Perez

    A question related to this one is how conservatism itself would have evolved had there been no socialism. Would conservatism have remained opponents of capitalism? Would they have adopted a philosophy like Catholic social teaching and reinvent themselves not as the party of the landed aristocracy and the Church but the party of the paternalistic welfare state?

    Horwitz ignores one thing: During the nineteenth century seldom was there a wide franchise. As the nineteenth century progressed, for example, in England, the franchise was widened. As long as the franchise remained limited States could ignore demands for things like regulated work hours or social insurance because that neglect did not cost statesmen their offices? What would be the liberals’ stance towrds democracy and the franchise?

    • les kyle Nearhood

      Most people who approach things from the left would see those things you mention as unalloyed good. The expansion of the franchise, and the resultant pressure to create social legislation. But I see a dark side to it. In my view all populist democracy is doomed to failure as people vote themselves goodies at the expense of others, and vote for coercion on other matters on a national scale. The more “republican” a system is and the less “democratic” then the more chance that minority rights will be enforced. (not always, but generally).

  • Sean II

    I have no trouble accepting the idea that socialism – in word and deed – has been a tremendous stimulant to libertarian thought. Seems obvious enough.

    But even granting that, we musn’t forget what Dr. Evil said when asked if he needed a great adversary to become a truly great villain: “Er, no. Not really. I think I’d be better off, you know, just winning.”

    As for the first part of your question: “Without socialism, might libertarianism be more “leftist” as a result of not aligning with conservatives against state socialism?”

    The answer is that without socialism, leftism wouldn’t be what it is. It would be something else, something we can’t presently describe. Who can guess whether libertarianism would look anything like it? We’d be different without them, but they would just be totally unrecognizable.

  • TB

    maybe it would be more leftist, because absent the welfare state supports for the “failures” of capitalism; the indigent, the widow, the handicapped, there would be all kinds of room for even libertarians actively to concern themselves with discussing the ways these problems could be solved on a voluntary basis.

  • liberty

    If it had never been implemented nationally, the movement for libertarian policy might have been smaller; it might also not have allied with the neo-con and social-con right. There are pluses and minuses, I should think. However, we also would not have Sovietology, which is unfortunately not widely read and used by Austrians and other libertarian-leaning scholars, or by economic historians. This is a shame. Comparative political and economic systems and economic history, properly done (not mere statistical comparison, which is largely useless), are as important as theory.

  • jebaldwin

    It would look like Bakunin, circa 1870

  • Fallon

    Since this is a blog comment, I will dispense with formalities and get right to it. I have your paper, Dr. Horwitz, “Monetary Calculation and the Unintended Extended Order: The Misesian Microfoundations of the Hayekian Great Society,” and gave it a B. I will explain. Further, I will try to keep comments short and efficient. I can provide much more detail if need be.

    First, off. Continuity, Mises to Hayek? Doubtful.

    -You say that it is the task of Miseseans to provide the microfoundations
    of Hayek’s Great society. That is a presentist argument. Rather, it is the primary
    task of Misesean apriorists to discover what is apodictically universal about human
    action. There are Miseseans and Hayekians that share same and very different “visions” for society.

    -Besides, to prove Mises-Hayek compatibility in general, wouldn’t
    you need evidence that Mises accepted the importation into economics the
    findings of WVO Quine and Karl Popper to the degree that Hayek did post-calculation debate?

    -Hayek did not even write on economics for most of his post war career, and you admit that similarities between Hayek and Mises are ‘not so obvious in later Hayek’.

    -David Gordon interprets Quine as rejecting synthetic apriori

    -Though, to be fair, Mises did affirm spontaneous order. But
    in what way? Did Mises also accept “evolutionary thinking” in regards to social thought?

    At any rate, this quotation is from your paper:

    “As with so much else of Hayek’s work, the roots of his later arguments can be found in the socialist calculation debate literature of the 1930s and 40s. Hayek’s concern with spontaneous order and the institutional order certainly begins to emerge in those papers, but they also have a clear role for the entrepreneur and intentional human action more generally. As Boettke (1995) has argued, Hayek’s work in the calculation debate begins by assuming the accuracy of Mises’s (1920) argument about the necessity of private property for pricing and rational resource allocation. Hayek therefore spends little time rehearsing that element of the issue, choosing instead to address the various “market socialist” alternatives. Because the market socialists were also trained economists, Hayek had to respond to them in more technical and narrow terms than Mises’s more grand statement (Boettke 1998).” (Horwitz, Monetary Calculation…)

    So of the roots of Hayek’s later work can be found early on— then it must mean that echoes of his early work can be found in his later work. Well then, was his Hayek’s compatibilities with Quine and Popper apparent in the calculation debates of the 1930s? Then even during Hayek’s hard core economics writing you could see a sharp difference with Mises. I will Prof. Larry White finish this for me:

    “While sharing the subjectivist and methodological dualist positions of Menger
    and Mises, Hayek diverges from them on matters of epistemology. In particular,
    Hayek has distanced himself from Mises’ apriorism by accepting the philosopher
    of science Karl Popper’s principle that the hallmark of any scientific theory
    is its openness to empirical falsification. In “Economics and Knowledge” Hayek defers to Mises on the a priori validity of the “Pure Logic of Choice” (praxeology) applied to individual plans, but argues that praxeology cannot explain interactive social processes without empirical or “ideal type” assumptions concerning the way in which individuals acquire knowledge, form expectations, and learn from their social experiences. Such empirical assumptions are to Hayek’s view particularly necessary for an economist who wishes to assert that market equilibrium will tend to come about. It is only by asserting the existence of a tendency toward equilibrium “that economics ceases to be an exercise in pure logic and becomes an empirical science.”

    Hayek splits with Mises when moving from the individual to social context. Hayek gets empiricist (or a Popperian form of it) just when Mises sticks to his rationalist guns. David Gordon, former student of Hayek, agrees with White here. This does not bode well for the homogenization effort. I blame Wieser. Again, much more to write on the continuity issue. More to follow on other things when I get a chance: ideal types, Gadamer, Hans Hoppe…. Thanks.

    • Fallon

      Sorry, messy editing. I wonder if trying to be efficient is worth it.

      This part I cleaned-up a little:

      “So if the roots of Hayek’s later work can be found early on— then it
      must mean that echoes of his early work can be found in his later work.
      Ok. Was Hayek’s compatibilities with Quine and Popper apparent in the calculation debates of the 1930s? That would mean that even during Hayek’s hard core economics writing you could see a sharp difference
      with Mises. I will let Prof. Larry White finish this for me:”

  • Fallon

    Ideal Types.

    My comments on Dr. Horwitz’s “Monetary Calculation and the Unintended Extended Order: The Misesian Microfoundations of the Hayekian Great Society”, continued.

    If Hayek uses your version of “ideal types” then it is here also that Hayek differs from Mises. At any rate, it looks like you have Mises wrong here too. You write:

    “As Koppl (2002:47–48) emphasizes, the more anonymous the interaction, the more abstract is the ideal type. Using a different set of terms, we might say that abstract ideal types are “thin” in the sense that they focus on a very particular form of behavior that is common to many individuals. Koppl, following Schutz, refers to this as a “highly objective” ideal type. For example, the ideal type “English speaker” is one we use all the time. Upon meeting someone new, the moment we recognize their ability to speak English, we begin to form a series of expectations about them and can orient our behavior accordingly. Just that piece of abstract information enables a good deal of social cooperation and coordination. One way of reading Mises’s Human Action is that his a priori praxeological truths apply to the abstract “human actor.” Any human capable of intentionality can have his or her abstract behavior rendered intelligible by praxeology. It is the theory of human action in the abstract. When we go to explain historical events, or look at more
    specific types of human action, we have to make use of “thicker” ideal types that are no longer a priori but empirically informed.” (Horwitz, MC…)

    It is my impression that Mises avoided Max Weber’s use of the “ideal type” concept when it came to apriori deduction from the human action axiom. No doubt, Mises did
    use a version of Weber’s ideal type: for historical analysis. You seem to suggest that ideal types equate Misesean method—“thin” for deductive components, and “thick” for historical, empirical phenomena. This looks like creeping empiricism—of the Hayekian variety? Either way, your take on ideal types for praxeological and historical purposes does not fit Mises’s consistent rationalism. Mises:

    “Ideal types are specific notions employed in historical research and in the representation of its results. They are concepts of understanding. As such they are entirely different from praxeological categories and concepts and from the concepts of the natural sciences.” (Ch2, Sec.9, HA)

    Bigger stuff to follow when I get a chance. Gadamer maybe.

  • Fallon

    Reply to Dr. Horwitz, continued. Yessir. if you are done laughing at my previous responses, please continue for some more fun.


    Your penchant for mixing Gadamer with Mises raises more questions than answers. These problems were evident from your 1998 “Money, Money Prices…” paper. If Gadamer means examining “embedded knowledge” and “background context” to flush out a still illusive understanding of text, how does this square with Mises’s rationalism? Is the human action axiom certain for all times and places (relative to this evolutionary- billions years epoch) or relegated to the particular time, environment, the “audience”, and internal asymmetry within Mises? If anything is really knowable at all? Even to Mises himself? Excuse me if I do not even hope to understand hermeneutics.

    You write in this recent paper:

    “What makes our current actions possible is the accumulated experience that has created the mental maps and models that guide us at a more general level. Explicit human knowledge must always be understood against a background of embedded knowledge. The same argument is true of both knowledge and action. It might still be possible for us to “act” in the absence of the “background,” but it would be substantially more difficult and less effective.”

    Mises, contrary to this Gadamer riff, assumed a “logical structure of the mind”, a fundamental given independent of knowledge and experience. “Man acts.” Man consciously uses scarce means to attain ends. Mises identifies this uniqueness in humans like a marine biologist does a dolphin’s sonar apparatus. It looks like a different epistemological basis to start with: “Man acts because of embedded knowledge and accumulated experience.” It is not necessary to be “effective” in order to act. To think in terms of effective and less effective misunderstands the praxeological concept.

    Your 1998 paper “Money, Money…” is loaded with Gadamer. Is infusing Austrian econ with philosophy such a good idea? It could easily be interpreted as saying that Mises’s original 1920 calculation argument, since it was in part aimed at Marxists, must be primarily be read in that context; its meaning can only be sought through understanding the background. So if the background changes—so does the meaning? I suppose this Gadamer angle would apply to the later 1930s battles over calculation involving Hayek against trained technocrats? This seems to be what both you and Boettke insist. And that differences in background and audience simultaneously explains why ‘we are really seeing two sides of the same coin per Mises-Hayek on calculation.’ It seems in places you want to impose this continuity rather than prove it. And it certainly doesn’t help Hayekians with clarity—a problem you point out concerning phraseology, e.g. prices “conveying knowledge”. More for this, later.

    A reader, now wise to this inside game must ask at every line: is this hermeneuticized? Is Prof. Horwitz obfuscating Mises’s rationalism and throwing a bone to some variant of a post-modern historicism? Can there even be such a thing? What did Gadamer mean by ‘historically effected consciousness’ anyway?

    Ok. More Gadamer.

    Prof. Horwitz, the Gadamer inspired money prices = language analogy
    does not help the homogenization case. That is, if you want to prove that Hayek
    concurs with Hulsmann, Salerno and Mises on prices as historical phenomena. Language’s ‘background” and ‘embedded’ presumptions are by far easier to understand than prices. Language can give words to emotions and values directly- even if they are lost in translation. Past exchange ratios? Not so much. Entrepreneurs still have it all to do in terms of judgment relative to language proper.

    And yes, you seem to accurately describe Mises’s ideas
    on prices and the necessity of property. But then, still, to merely say ‘that
    is what Hayek really meant’ proves nothing. I also noticed that you merely cite Boettke’s speculation on this. It may be that he has great support for this assertion in his own work. But since this topic is of particular concern for the ‘90s plus
    calculation debate, of which your recent paper was aimed at resolving, this
    support should be front and center in your paper. If it is there, I missed it.