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Smearing Hayek and Mises

Another day, another anti-libertarian screed.  This time it’s over at Salon, where Michael Lind tries to smear all libertarians as a bunch of democracy hating, autocracy apologizing fascists.  The invocation of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek as the leading cheerleaders for fascism is especially odd since, you know, they actually wrote stuff quite to the contrary.  Will Wilkinson does a superb job of refuting Lind’s ridiculous claims while pointing out what Mises and Hayek actually wrote:

…Mr Lind apparently was not content to settle for anything less than a sweeping condemnation of the entire libertarian tradition. So he plunges in after the big Austrian fish, Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek, attempting to establish their antagonism to democracy by way of establishing a sympathy for fascism. The problem is that Mises and Hayek were among the 20th century’s most principled and pugnacious opponents of fascism, as well as articulate advocates of liberal democracy. This presents Mr Lind with a very large problem that he attempts to solve by noting that both men at various times believed communism to be a form of anti-liberal collectivism even more virulent and deadly than fascism. But despising communism more than fascism does not in any sense amount to a rejection of democracy, so it’s not clear what Mr Lind thinks he is doing, especially since Mises and Hayek were not circumspect about their opinions on fascism or democracy.

…The third volume of Hayek’s monumental “Law, Legislation, and Liberty”, is an extended defence of constitutionally-limited liberal democracy. In this passage, Hayek defends Mises’ not-exactly romantic brief for democracy as the best means for keeping government roughly aligned with the sentiments of the governed:

“[E]ven a wholly sober and unsentimental consideration which regards democracy as a mere convention making possible a peaceful change of the holders of power should make us understand that it is an ideal worth fighting for to the utmost, because it is our only protection (even if in its present form not a certain one) against tyranny. Though democracy itself is not freedom (except for that indefinite collective, the majority of ‘the people’) it is one of the most important safeguards of freedom. As the only method of peaceful change of government yet discovered, it is one of those paramount though negative values, comparable to sanitary precautions against the plague, of which we are hardly aware while they are effective, but the absence of which may be deadly.”

Got that? Democracy is “an ideal worth fighting for the utmost”, “our only protection…against tyranny”, “one of the most important safeguards of freedom”. That is not a bad review! Comparing democracy to “sanitary precautions against the plague” lacks a certain romance, but you’ve got to admit that its hard to think of an endorsement stronger than “multitudes may die without it”.

Here’s Mises on fascism, by the way.

“The fundamental idea of these movements—which, from the name of the most grandiose and tightly disciplined among them, the Italian, may, in general, be designated as Fascist—consists in the proposal to make use of the same unscrupulous methods in the struggle against the Third International as the latter employs against its opponents. The Third International seeks to exterminate its adversaries and their ideas in the same way that the hygienist strives to exterminate a pestilential bacillus; it considers itself in no way bound by the terms of any compact that it may conclude with opponents, and it deems any crime, any lie, and any calumny permissible in carrying on its struggle. The Fascists, at least in principle, profess the same intentions.”

Almost as bad as communists! This was first published in 1927, by the way, well before Hitler’s wholehearted embrace of exterminationist tactics. Mises’ prescience is remarkable. Anyway, some fascist.

Lind also fails to grasp the difference between the classical liberalism of Mises and Hayek and the modern day libertarianism of Murray Rothbard.  Wilkinson concludes:

But when it comes to the classical liberalism of Mises and Hayek, Mr Lind either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s willing to shamelessly misrepresent their views about democracy, to practically invert them, in order to grind his anti-libertarian ax. He completely botches his piece by failing to see the large substantive philosophical disagreement between Mises and Hayek’s brand of classical-liberalism and Hans Herman Hoppe and Patri Friedman’s brand of libertarianism. I would argue that the differences are so great that Mises and Hayek don’t really count as “libertarian” at all, as that label is usually applied today. A competent, useful article on this topic might seek to explain why so many of today’s libertarians seem to reject Mises and Hayek’s argument that democracy is a life-or-death matter and an utter necessity for a liberal social order of peaceful cooperation, even if there are serious problems inherent in democratic politics.

Plenty more push-back from Jason Kuznicki, Walter Olson, Damon W. Root, and Roderick Long.

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  1. September 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm

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