Category Archives: ludwig von mises

Orwell the Libertarian?

In 2011 I committed to work my way through the Orwell corpus, both books by and on him. I’ve read Selden’s biography, Hitch’s Why Orwell Matters, and then a slew of books by the man himself like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Homage to CataloniaThe Clergyman’s Daughter, Coming Up for Air, a pile of collected essays, and more. As one with libertarian leanings, there is a lot that I find congruent in Orwell’s writings. Of course, he was a socialist, so there are areas where I have strong disagreements with him. But his strong anti-totalitarianism makes any libertarian smile; that’s why he tends to be well-received in such circles.

I recently listened to a podcast by the Ludwig von Mises Institute on Orwell by Jeff Riggenbach that gave Orwell a decent placement in the libertarian tradition. Riggenbach claims that Orwell’s posthumously published “Such, Such Were the Joys,” forms the basis for his anti-totalitarian writings like Nineteen Eighty-Four. I tend to disagree. Orwell famously lambasted his teachers from St. Cyprian’s where he attended public school. But recent biographers have indicated that Orwell’s fellow students, like Cyril Connolly didn’t share in Orwell’s distaste. My theory is that Orwell wrote “Such, Such Were the Joys” as a partly fictionalized story of totalitarianism, using the genres of memoir and historical fiction. It’s probably why the essay was never published by Orwell himself–it was likely something he toyed with, but never took seriously. So instead of “Such, Such Were the Joys” forming the basis of later writings, it was his experiences of totalitarianism in places like Burma and Spain that had Orwell re-evaluate his public school days, if only to communicate his fears in a medium that may have interested his society; it is worth remembering that Orwell wrote about the popularity of “boys’ weeklies,” and may have wanted to tap into that market as well.

Just a thought…

Here’s the podcast:

http://mises.org/Services/MediaEmbed.aspx?MediaId=5072

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Libertarianism – A Question

I really appreciate the writings of those who are labelled libertarian. Although they come from different schools of thought, I’ve been helped by books like The Law by Frederic Bastiat, The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek, Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I believe in small government, the right of an individual to own their property, low taxation, no government intervention in the market and other such libertarian ideals.

But I do so as a Christian.

Paul in Romans 13 gives us an explanation of the purpose of government: it is a minister of God to protect citizens from wrong-doing (v. 3). I am not an anarcho-capitalist (though I have sympathies), because v. 1 tells me to be subject to the authorities God has put in place. However, when it comes to God’s law vs. the law of the state, I echo Peter’s words in Acts 5:29 that it is better to serve God rather than man–hence why the Christian sometimes is called to civil disobedience. In terms of private property, the eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal”; this presupposes the ownership of property that can be stolen. The bible also speaks to charity and the welfare state (1 John 3:13-18) as well as honest financial dealings and inflation (Deut. 25:13-16Prov. 16:11).

Many other libertarian ideas find their support in the bible—I recommend Greg Bahnsen’s lectures Economic Ethics as a great place for more info—but my point here is that my views are not determined by an arbitrary appeal to myself as the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Rather, the scriptures provide for me an unchanging, external, objective, universal, moral standard—something indispensable for a person to avoid being arbitrary or subject to the whims of convention in their ethics, view of reality and knowledge.

So, my question to libertarians who do not believe in God or that his Word is truth is this: by what standard do you determine your economic/political values? Do you determine them by your own autonomous faculties of reason? If so, does this not leave you open to the charge of being arbitrary? Are they determined by societal convention? If so, what of changes in the whims of society? Or what if society chooses to follow a path that you know to be wrong (say, cannibalism)?

The biblical worldview is necessary to make sense of ethical norms (just as it is for reality and knowledge). It makes sense of how markets work (a chance universe, not guided by God makes market predictability absurd), why theft and inflation is wrong (if survival of the fittest, then why not steal?), why no one–including governments–has ownership over another (we are only subject to God, not humans). In my opinion, the great thinkers like Mises or Rothbard, who have much good to teach us, ultimately can’t account for the views that they espouse. And, to be frank, when they do offer up good economic ideas, they do so by breaking with their presuppositions and borrowing from the bible’s. They’ve climbed up on the branch of the Christian worldview and cut if off in the hopes that the branch wouldn’t fall.

If a libertarian can’t account for their own ethical norms, why be a libertarian? Why be a socialist, a communist, a hedonist, a materialist, a Marxist, or a typical-sports-watching-beer-guzzling-North-American for that matter? Without the biblical worldview, everything in this world is meaningless and absurd.

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Gary North: Calling and Career As An Austrian School Scholar

Economist Gary North discusses economics, Mises, the Austrian school, professional calling in life and the power of technology to convey necessary information. This was delivered to students at Mises University, part of the Mises Institute in July 2009. Very enjoyable.

Here is a link to the article by Leonard Read that he references called “I, Pencil
And here is the link to A.J. Nock’s “Isaiah’s Job

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Liberty and Economics

For my libertarian friends, and other who may be interested, I thought I would post this documentary on the life of the father of Austrian Economics, Ludwig von Mises. In my opinion, he’s the most important economist of the twentieth century. But I’m an amateur, so what do I know!

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Philosophy of Ludwig von Mises

This morning I had a conversation with a friend whom I haven’t seen in years. He asked me how my Greek exam went, I asked him how his PhD was going, etc. He had studied history and sociology in university so his background has always generated good conversation between us. When I was closer friends with him he was a committed evangelical, now he doesn’t even attend church.
We got onto the topic of capitalism. A while ago I had mentioned to him that I was reading Hayek; and somehow that crept into today’s conversation. He doesn’t like Hayek, his writings are “bullcrap.”
It was a good conversation in many ways. He kept assuring me that Christianity and capitalism are not compatible. Jesus Christ did not own private property and told everyone to give to the poor. Marxism (although my friend explained that he’s not a Marxist, per se) is much more compatible. The setting up of a welfare state to help those less fortunate is a better way, it inheres the Christian ethos of “doing good unto others.” If fact, capitalism, through globalisation, is the world’s greatest killer.
Having read of late the writings of Bastiat, Hazlitt, Mises, Hayek, North, Rose, Rothbard, Opitz, etc., I would likely differ with my friend not only on my economic ideals, but also with my understanding of economic history. Surely I’m only a novice when it comes to this plane in the history of thought, but I know what I’ve read.
Does capitalism, by definition, mean that there is no room for caring for others?
I’ve been reading some of
Victor Davis Hanson’s work lately and have been struck by the unique place in history that we find ourselves in. The capitalist machine of the United States has been going in to Middle Eastern “thugocracies” and removing the autocrats in power. Yet, instead of making Afghanistan or Iraq a part of U.S. dominion, the Americans are in fact helping to rebuild their societies, with their own people. We see no looting by American-led forces, as we might have in other countries, in other times. Rather we see Western soldiers seeking to respect the people they are liberating.
Compare this attitude with Mao Tse-Tung and his armies who decimated 70 million of his own people – in peace time. Or Stalin and the Soviet gulag that saw millions more killed than the holocaust. And of course the National Socialism of fascist (and communist, in my opinion) Germany.
I would argue that recent history has shown that capitalism does not by definition call for the destruction of those who find themselves in a lesser estate. Conversely, communism/Marxism/socialism does. At least that’s what history tells me.
But I do agree with my friend on one point (although I don’t think he was making it intentionally). That is that any system, whether it be capitalism, communism, socialism, imperialism, or whatever, will not work if it is not predicated on the Christian Scriptures. Libertarianism, if not held back by common grace, should lead to anarchism (can anyone give me a consistent reason why it shouldn’t?). Communism, if not held back by common grace, should lead to absolute totalitarianism. Only a worldview that is consistently grounded in the Bible can a) make sense of economic order and b) provide the moral grounding to make the system not only work, but work in a way that all in a society will benefit from it.
I’ve linked to an article from The Freeman that outlines the basic economic philosophy of Ludwig von Mises. To my knowledge, Mises was an atheist, albeit a great economist who levelled devestating and lasting critiques of socialism/communism/fascism. Interestingly the article is written by a Christian named Edmund Opitz who has appropriated Misesian thought within a Christian worldview, and I think has displayed that libertarian economics, based upon a Christian worldview, is the only system that will bring true freedom to all peoples. Primarily because it will be based upon the gospel of Christ that is a gospel of freedom – freedom from sin and death.
My friend has stopped going to church because Christians are all a bunch of capitalists who don’t care about social welfare. I pointed him to the historical facts of men like William Wilberforce who have wrought great social change through the gospel, who were capitalists. What about Christians of today, are we really not into social welfare? Do we not care about the underpriveleged? Do the inner-city missions of Tenth Presbyterian, Philadelphia, or Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis mean nothing? What about the work of Capitol Hill Baptist, Washington? Or the Samaritan’s Purse? Or Grace Community Church, Los Angeles? I would argue, based on older and recent history that Christians are the ones who have provided the best social services for the underpriveleged – and they’re the only ones who have reason to – because they have been regenerated by the Spirit and no longer live under the dominion of a sin-nature. Christians are the one’s with a moral point of reference – God’s revelation.
I was recommended to read the works of Giorgio Agamben and Slavoj Zizek to see how a synthesis between socialist political thought and Christianity is possible. I’ll check them out, but I must admit that I am highly skeptical. If the Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutierrez had anything to say, it was that socialism and Christianity do not mix well together. But I should at least give these writers a chance.
Any thoughts by beloved readers???

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Filed under capitalism, economics, f a hayek, friends, gary north, libertarianism, ludwig von mises, marxism, the freeman