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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 7 of the 2006 Liberty Fund edition of Ludwig von Mises’s 1956 volume, The Anti-capitalistic Mentality (available free-of-charge on-line here):

In a society based on caste and status, the individual can ascribe adverse fate to conditions beyond his own control.

DBx: Yes, and insofar as society is marked by caste and status, such ascription is largely correct. The tighter and more restrictive are the bonds of caste and status, the less scope each individual has over his or her own fate.

When the discussion is explicitly about a society in which individuals are classified according to caste and status – an example, of course, is the Jim Crow American south – a too-typical assumption is that everyone in the favored caste or with favored status benefits at the expense of those in the disfavored caste or with disfavored status. It’s true that harm is unambiguously inflicted on those who are disfavored, but it’s not true that everyone in the favored caste, or with favored status, gains. When, for example, the commercial engagements that blacks in the American south were permitted to carry on with whites were severely restricted, the gains that blacks would have reaped from this commerce were denied to blacks. Obviously so. But so, too, were whites denied the opportunity to benefit from engaging in peaceful commerce and cooperation with blacks. To deny this latter reality is to unintentionally presume that blacks had nothing of value to contribute through the market to whites – a presumption clearly absurd and bigoted.

Both kinds of persons – persons in ‘high’ castes and persons in ‘low’ castes – have, as a consequence of the caste or status system, less agency over their lives. And so both kinds of persons have less of their lives under their control than would be the case in a liberal system in which relationships are governed by contract and consent rather than by caste or by status.

What we are witnessing today, at least in America, is the sad reality of people actively seeking to be considered – indeed, in many cases, even to be formally classified – as members of ‘low’ castes.

In a society still infused with genuinely liberal sentiments (as American society is), sympathies run warm for everyone regarded as being victimized by conditions beyond their control. And when the society in which such sympathies run warm is also materially prosperous (as liberal societies tend to be), those who think of themselves as being of ‘high’ caste understandably want to bestow special favors – including material ones – on those persons who are believed to be of ‘low’ caste.

Under these conditions, being of ‘low’ caste becomes an advantage. Those of ‘low’ caste are relieved of the often challenging obligation to take personal responsibilities for their lives. These individuals can then enjoy the emotional gratification of blaming others for their fate. Persons perversely proud and boastful of possessing status as ‘low’ caste demand – and accurately predict that they will receive – special favors and support from those who flagellate themselves for being members of an oppressive ‘high’ caste.

Perversely, ‘low’ caste becomes ‘high’ caste, and ‘high’ caste becomes ‘low’ caste. And as is always the case when caste and status reign – and, thus, when the role of individual contract and consent is restricted – the scope for voluntary social cooperation shrinks. Society becomes not only materially poorer, but spiritually poisoned, less tolerant, and more belligerent. Civilization retreats.


Ludwig von Mises was born on this date 141 years ago.