Human Action: Austrian Sociology, Lecture 1 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
Austrian Sociology, Lecture 1 Human Action by Ludwig von Mises Chapter VIII, pp.143-153 David Gordon Mises Academy March 19, 2013
Origin of Society• Mises is a social rationalist. He thinks that society arises from rational action among human beings.• He doesn’t mean by this that a group of people get together and say, “let’s form a society”.• Rather, people recognize the benefits of cooperation.
Cooperation• People recognize that instead of fighting with each other, they can benefit by peaceful exchange.• If people exchange goods and services instead of trying to produce everything by themselves, they benefit from the division of labor.• The benefits of the division of labor and peaceful exchange don’t have fixed limits. They can be extended indefinitely.
The Nature of Society• Society isn’t an independent entity that exists apart from the individuals in it. If we say that society or the nation acts, this just means that particular persons act.• Mises calls this view methodological individualism.
Sympathy• One theory of the origin of society is that human beings sympathize with each other. This draws them together into society.• Mises doesn’t accept this theory. He says that human sympathy is the outcome, not the cause, of society.• Once people see the benefits of cooperation and exchange, the will tend to sympathize with those who cooperate with them. But rational pursuit of self-interest comes first.
Consciousness of Kind• A related explanation of the origin of society is that human beings have a “consciousness of kind.”• This phrase comes from the Columbia University sociologist Franklin Giddings. Mises may have heard of it through his student Eric Voegelin, who was impressed by Giddings.• Mises accepts this only if the phrase is taken to mean recognition of the benefits of social cooperation.
An Objection• Mises says that society results from the actions of individuals. But aren’t individuals born into previously existing society?• Mises admits this, be he says this doesn’t show that society exists apart from persons. Rather, individuals are socialized by persons who are already alive when they are born.
A Fundamental Division• One of Mises’s most important contributions in Part II of HA is a division he establishes between theories of society.• The division is between theories that view society as nothing but individuals and their relations and theories that view society as an independent entity that exists apart from individuals.
Division Continued• Mises’s contribution is what he says about the theories that claim society exists independently of individuals.• Mises thinks that if you say this, then there is a fundamental conflict between what individuals want to do and the requirements of society.• People have to be forced to follow social dictates. They don’t follow social rules because it is in their interest to do so.
Theology of Society• If people have to be forced to do what society requires, the questions come up: Who is going to force them? How do these people know what society requires?• Mises thinks that these questions can only be answered by postulating a superhuman or divine origin of society. A priestly caste has privileged access to God’s requirements.
Theology Continued• Mises rejects this approach as unscientific. A scientific theory must appeal only to human reason.• Mises has a very broad view of which theories count as divine origin accounts. He considers Marxism to be one such account, because it assumes that the forces of production develop independently of human decisions.
The EnlightenmentMises interprets the Enlightenment as a battlefor the rationalistic view of society against thedivine origin theory.He doesn’t think that all of the supporters of therational or individualist view were atheists.Adam Smith and Bastiat believed in God, butthey maintained the individualistic view ofsociety.
Ethics• Mises extends his division between individualistic, self-interested theories of social origins and theological theories to ethics.• Ethical theories can be divided into those based on individual self-interest and those based on the demands of some non-human source. Mises calls these theories heteronomous. This is different from Kant’s use of that term.
Self- Interest theories of Morality• The view that Mises supports claims that morality is in everybody’s long-term self-interest. E.g., it’s better for everybody if we live in a society where physical aggression is prohibited.• This doesn’t imply that individuals will always act morally. People don’t always do what is in there long run interest and coercion is sometimes needed to enforce moral obligations.
Anarchism• Mises thinks that anarchists ignore this point. They think that people will cooperate without any enforcement mechanism to get them not to aggress and to keep agreements.• Mises wasn’t thinking of libertarian anarchists, who want competing protection agencies. He had in mind people like Prince Kropotkin who take a very rosy view of human nature.
Democracy• Mises has an unusual argument for political democracy.• All government rests on popular consent. There is no such thing as a long term unpopular government.• If a government no longer suits the people, it will be overthrown.• Democracy makes peaceful change of government possible.
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