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    Wednesday
    Dec042013

    Not a utilitarian

    One of the problems I have with the economic ideas of Ludwig von Mises is that he was basically a utilitarian. Don't get me wrong, Mises brilliantly defended capitalism and economic freedom against the onslaught of socialism and interventionism, and I agree with 99% of what he wrote, but he did it from a utilitarian perspective. In his book Liberalism, after promoting the benefits of classical liberalism, Mises writes:

    This is, of course, a very cool and dispassionate plea for peace and democracy. It is the outcome of a utilitarian philosophy. It is as far from the mystical mythology of the divine right of kings as it is from the the metaphysics of natural law or the natural and imprescriptable rights of man. It is founded upon considerations of common utility. Freedom, democracy, peace, and private property are deemed good because they are the best means for promoting human happiness and welfare. Liberalism wants to secure to man a life free from fear and want, That is all.

    I'm less cool and dispassionate when proclaiming that the principles of classical liberalism are based on individual rights which precede the State and can't be legitimately violated by the State. From what we know about human beings, the basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (including the right to own the fruits of your labor, ie, property) are vital to human flourishing, and no other human can legitimately deny these rights. These rights are violated, of course, and therein lies the problems that have caused so much suffering throughout the ages. The Enlightenment led many human beings out of bondage to rulers into liberty, and we've dealt with all the reactions to and complications of liberty since.

    It's a mistake to say that the principles of classical liberalism, freedom, democracy, peace, private property, are simply the best means -- they are vital beyond question. This isn't a debate in which one side makes better points at times, so we switch from classical liberalism to socialism to interventionism in a mixed economy, trying each "best" way until enough people realize another way might be better. Yes, we always experiment in dynamic societal relationships, but it has to be within the inpenetrable boundaries of individual rights, or it doesn't promote human flourishing, but, rather, leads to domination of the few over the many and loss of liberty. History shows this over and over.

    I understand that Mises was a very rational man, and he was saying basically the same thing, but with utilitarianism there's a loophole for would-be dictators who have the "best" way. First, our rights have to be protected, period, then society should be free to create whatever arrangements that are freely chosen and don't violate the basic rights of others.

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