Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Salvaging (Classical) Liberalism

Look…I know I have done more than my share of bashing liberalism, primarily along the lines of the idea that it views religion – specifically Christianity – as irrelevant to liberty or even an enemy of liberty.  We see today the inevitable end result of such thinking.  Liberty without God leads to hell – the hell of all of the isms of the last century and the abolition of man in this century.

The problem is most defenders of classical liberalism do such a rotten job of defending it.  Various forms of… “we just didn’t try hard enough”, or “look at the material progress,” or “modern dentistry.”  None of these get the classical liberal juices flowing again.  To say nothing of those who say that we haven’t done enough to get rid of religion yet.  Who are they kidding?

I will help them out.  Actually, Ludwig von Mises will help them out.  Do you want to salvage classical liberalism, and attempt to do so without God and without Christianity as it developed in the West?  Try this:

It has already been pointed out that a country can enjoy domestic peace only when a democratic constitution provides the guarantee that the adjustment of the government to the will of the citizens can take place without friction.

Now, don’t get all tangled up in your shorts about this “will of the citizens” stuff.  Give Mises a chance to develop his point.

[The liberals of an earlier age] believed…that to assure lasting peace it was sufficient to replace the rule of dynastic princes by governments dependent on the people.

Not enough.  It has only grown worse, and Hans Hoppe has ably explained why.

It must always be possible to shift the boundaries of the state if the will of the inhabitants of an area to attach themselves to a state other than the one to which they presently belong has made itself clearly known.

Malleable boundaries.  It isn’t the lines on the map that are important; it is the desire of those who live within any of these boundaries that matters:

The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with.

In this you will see why many classical liberals and many libertarians don’t like this idea.  They see liberalism as the highest political form devised.  They see their project as a universalizing one.  So, why allow any group of people to escape?  Those who wish to escape don’t know what’s good for them – they are, after all, deplorable.

Mises will get even more granular:

If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done.

He sees the stumbling block a technical one.  Precisely why is not clearly explained (or I may just not understand the explanation).  But I think it is something more than, or other than, technical.  People want to live in community with like-minded people.  I suspect very few people would choose a political unit comprised solely of themselves.

This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars.

Crimea, the Donbass, Taiwan, Nagorno Karabagh, the State of Jefferson.  Problems peacefully solved if such rights were respected.

I haven’t heard Jordan Peterson offer this solution.  I haven’t heard Steven Pinker offer this solution.  As for Sam Harris?

“At that point Hunter Biden literally could have had the corpses of children in his basement, I would not have cared.”

Better murdered children than consider to allow a plebiscite, dissolution, and reorganization.  Based on the actions of today’s liberals, Harris does not stand alone.


The solution offered by Mises may not be perfect, but it is infinitely better than the current state of affairs.  It is also infinitely better than any of the impotent and even immoral pleadings of today’s classical liberal apologists.

And it is the only way to salvage the liberal experiment.


  1. Mises' liberalism may not be perfect in itself, but it allows for the best case political order to arise and exist. It would allow a private law society or private state to establish itself and secede from the parent liberal democratic or public state. Mises' liberalism is the perfect launching off point for the transition to a true order of liberty.

    Sure it would also allow some radical libertine or even overtly Satanic or pagan communes to branch off as well, and conservatives may have a hard time accepting this, but I don't think these would have much longevity; it is the state that has fostered the acceptance of these undesirable groups, and in its absence their numbers would dwindle, especially with the return of heavy handed social discrimination. The important thing is that this secessionary model would allow for the conservative way of life to prosper out from under the umbrella of these sorts of people, who incidentally are much better at rising through the ranks of the public state.

    Mises was truly the 'last knight of liberalism' but also the best, with Acton, Tocqueville, Bastiat, and Molinari close behind (probably forgetting some other good ones).

    1. I had known of these passages my Mises for some time, but I am glad published it again recently. It reminded me that there is a way for liberalism to flourish, and Mises understood this.

      Yes, some communities will be less than wholesome. Libertarian communities (and Mises's vision offers the best method of achieving such) will not always look libertarian to those outside of it. Certainly the community I would choose to live in would not adhere to the "anything peaceful" notion.

  2. Mises was a classical liberal but more importantly he was a classical thinker. Ok, not completely as he was a utilitarian, but he grew up and was educated in a very conservative society, Austria being a monarchy and Catholic. From that, his ideas should sound attractive to most Americans.

    1. Mises grew up in a very conservative, Catholic, monarchy. His ideas should sound attractive to most Americans. How did you come to that conclusion? From the way you described his upbringing, I would think most Americans would exhibit "The Scream" instead.

    2. He was educated in a classical education system in a thoroughly conservative context. Conservatism in Europe was marked by an acceptance of hierarchy, monarchy, and Christianity. Even though some of his ideas drifted from those influences they were generally bound by them. Reading Human Action you can tell that much of his thinking was Aristotelian/Thomist, at least the way he thought. He believed in universal, objective truth. He was confident about it. He defined universal truth through Aristotelian induction and deduction.

      The Founders were educated in a similar system and much of what conservatives think of as true politically comes from that body of thought. American conservatives also hold many things in common with classical liberalism, of which Mises was definitely one.

  3. Not exactly germane to the post's specific topic, but it's interesting to see Bionic of all people speaking a good word about classical liberalism, and it brings something to mind.

    I've been mulling over the idea (often expressed here) that the Enlightenment thinkers failed to predict the results of their attempt to put men's reason at the center of everything. I think a better way of putting it is that they failed to check their own assumptions about man's place in the cosmic order.

    Having been brought up in very Progressive environs, I'm quite familiar with the notion that existence is what "we" collectively make of it. In this worldview, understanding something is having power over it, including the power to change it.

    This is fine as long as we're talking about things that are of a "lower order" than human consciousness. A water pump - it's very useful to understand how one works, you can even build one with relatively simple materials. A modern computer - also comprehensible, but so complicated that it requires a high degree of specialization in knowledge, tooling, et c. And so on.

    At some point, a system becomes so complex that it becomes impossible for any one person or even organization to keep up with it, let alone control it. The human individual is very high on the scale of things difficult to comprehend and control. Human society, even more so.

    Most Progressive thinkers, from the Enlightenment down to the present day, lack this awareness. They're like teenagers who recently experienced a massive short-term boost in knowledge, understanding, and capacity - and foolishly extrapolate from that to believe that the whole world will soon be in their grasp.

    They lacked the humility and insight of Mises, who acknowledged that human systems are too complex to be understood by humans themselves in mechanistic fashion, and came up with the method of aprioristic methodological individualism to study human society within our means. It coexists peacefully with the HARD FACT that there are things in this world from which we ourselves sprang, and are quite beyond our reach - possibly permanently. Things that should thus be respected, even if grudgingly.

    Mises was the capstone of the Enlightenment and (classical) liberalism, having finally realized the way things should have been approached from the beginning. And yet his was the branch of the Enlightenment that lost out to the teenage-minded determinists, desperate to look good next to the cool kids in the physical sciences. This mindless adulation made it very difficult to bridge the gap with religion, especially since the physical sciences were the point where reason differed most starkly from traditional religious views.

    Not that religion is blameless in the whole affair. I look at how the Catholic Church responded to the rising tide of rationalism (at least, how it looks to me): rather than bending to the difficult task of incorporating the worthy side of modern science into its own teachings and views, and judiciously resisting the not so meritorious part, its leading lights apparently decided that reason was not so relevant to religion after all, and embraced the feels instead.

    1. "Mises was the capstone of the Enlightenment and (classical) liberalism, having finally realized the way things should have been approached from the beginning."

      Very well said.

      "And yet his was the branch of the Enlightenment that lost out to the teenage-minded determinists, desperate to look good next to the cool kids in the physical sciences."

      Perhaps not just to look cool but also because it opened the door to unearned authority and wealth?

    2. It seems to me that the "silly child" and "evil genius" sides of the Progressive mindset can't really be separated in a Jekyll & Hyde way.

      The likes of Marx, for example, seemed to earnestly believe that his ideas were the future of socialism and the world, while also quarreling and scheming his way to power.

      Since everyone is looking out for himself in some fashion, or else he'd be dead, I prefer to focus on the "dumb as a rock" side of Progressive delusions. Wasn't there a discussion about this here at some point?