Review: Mises, Theory and History

While there is much good in this volume, I have some reservations (which I will list in my conclusion). Still, it is very lucid.

Values are subjective, but not relative.  Subject simply means “from the knowing subject.”  Thus Mises can write that “any scientific treatment of the problems of value judgements must take into full account the fact that these judgments are subjective and changing” (von Mises 24).

Mises holds to a utilitarian version of natural law.  By itself it isn’t that bad, but it is utilitarian to the extent that he knows he really can’t give a justification for it.  This is evident in his treatment of justice: “the ultimate yardstick of justice is conduciveness to the preservation of social cooperation….Social utility is the only standard of justice. It is the sole guide to legislation” (36).  Strong words, indeed.

Mises’s section on determinism is misleading.  He is seeking the Christian doctrine of providence and the self-contained God who is the concrete universal, for he wants to deny pure randomness.  Mises wants to uphold determinism but reject materialism (52).

Dismantling Marx

Marx had said that “material, productive forces” is the agent of change in society.  However, as von Mises points out, he never told us what these are (73). How do you get technical knowledge from a material superstructure?  Mises lists three problems with this idea:

1) a technological invention is not merely material; it is the product of a mental process.
2) a mere designing of a technological invention is not sufficient to produce it.
3) the utilization of machines presupposes the social cooperation under the division of labor.

Is Wealth Really Concentrated in the hands of a few?

To a certain extent, maybe. But this ignores the most obvious fact about corporations: the bigger the corporation the more widely its stock shares are distributed (79).

Criticisms

He had an awful section on medieval Christianity.  He tried to engage in exegesis and was clearly out of his league (29-30). Further, this is probably a Mises volume that you could skip and not miss anything. If you are the type who is interested in Mises, then you will probably read *Human Action,* anyway. Or at least *Socialism.* You get the same destruction of Marxism there without the extra material where he fights forgotten early 20th century fellow humanists.

 

 

 

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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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