Straw Mises

by Don Boudreaux on May 11, 2014

in Myths and Fallacies

Here’s a letter to Salon:

The only thing that Michael Lind gets right in his profile of my brilliant and humane colleague Bryan Caplan is that Bryan is indeed an increasingly influential thinker (“Libertarians’ scary new star,” May 10).  Everything else in Lind’s essay - namely, Lind’s caricature of libertarian thought and scholarship – is, to steal a line from Mr. Lind, appallingly dumb.

Consider, for example, Lind’s out-of-context quotation the libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises in a way that makes Mises appear to have been a fan of fascism.  The two sentences that Lind quotes are from Mises’s 1927 book, Liberalism - a celebrated study of the merits of classical-liberal free market policies and government nonintervention - and they appear in a section of the book that is highly critical of fascism.  Here’s a longer quotation from that same section of Mises’s book: “Many people approve of the methods of Fascism, even though its economic program is altogether antiliberal and its policy completely interventionist, because it is far from practicing the senseless and unrestrained destructionism that has stamped the Communists as the archenemies of civilization.  Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil.  For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.”*

These are emphatically not the words of a scholar who supported fascism.  Therefore, Mr. Lind’s misrepresentation of Mises reveals that Mr. Lind is either appallingly dumb or appallingly devious.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism (1927 [1985]), p. 49.

Put differently, for Lind to accuse Mises of being pro-fascist because Mises offered reasons for why fascists got a great deal of popular support in Europe in the 1920s would be akin to accusing the “Progressive” Thomas Frank of being pro-Republican because Frank offers reasons for why Republicans get a great deal of support in the U.S. today.

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