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Quotes from Mises' Socialism: Ethical Apriorism

Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis by Ludwig von Mises

All ethical ends are merely a part of human aims. This implies that on the one hand the ethical aim is a means, in so far as it assists in the human struggle for happiness, but that on the other hand it is comprised in the process of valuation which unites all intermediate aims into a unitary scale of values and grades them according to their importance. The conception of absolute ethical values, which might be opposed to economic values, cannot therefore be maintained.

Of course one cannot discuss this point with the ethical apriorist or the intuitionist. Those who uphold the Moral as ultimate fact, and who rule out scientific examination of its elements by referring to a transcendental origin, will never be able to agree with those who are dragging down the concept of Right into the dust of scientific analysis. Ethical ideas of duty and conscience demand nothing less than the blindest submission.[2] A priori ethics, claiming unconditional validity for its norms, approaches all earthly relations from the outside and aims at transmuting them into its own form with no concern whatever for the consequences. Fiat iustitia, pereat mundus (let justice be done even though the world be destroyed) is its motto, and it is when it becomes honestly indignant about the eternally misunderstood plea, "the end justifies the means," that it is most sincere.


This position of social ends in the system of individual ends is perceived by the individual's reason, which enables him to recognize aright his own interests. But society cannot always trust the individual to see which are his true interests. If it left everyone to judge of his own it would expose itself to the caprice of every foolish, sick, and weak-willed person, leaving him free to put its very existence into question, thus imperilling the continuity of development. This is what led to the creation of powers of social coercion which, vis-à-vis the individual, appear as external constraints because they demand imperative obedience. And here we see the social significance of the State and the Law. They are not something outside the individual, demanding from him actions which run counter to his own interests, forcing him to serve alien purposes. They merely prevent the misguided, asocial individual, blind to his own interests, from injuring his fellow men by a revolt against the social order.

It is therefore absurd to maintain that Liberalism, Utilitarianism and Eudemonism are "inimical to the State." They reject the idea of Etatism, which under the name State adores as God a mysterious being not comprehensible to human understanding; they dissent from Hegel, to whom the State is "divine will"; they reject the Hegelian Marx and his school who have replaced the cult of "State" with the cult of "Society"; they combat all those who want the State or "Society" to perform tasks other than those corresponding to that social order which they themselves believe the most proper to the end in view. Because they favour private ownership in the means of production they demand that the State coercive apparatus shall be directed to maintain this, and they reject all proposals intended to restrict or abolish private property. But never for a moment do they think of "abolishing the State." The liberal conception of society by no means omits the apparatus of the State; it assigns to this the task of safeguarding life and property. Anybody who calls opposition to State railways, State theatres, or State dairies "enmity to the State" must be deeply enmeshed indeed in the realistic (in the scholastic sense) conception of the State.

Occasionally society can prevail against the individual even without coercion. Not every social norm requires that the most extreme coercive measures shall at once be put into force. In many things, morals and custom can wring from the individual a recognition of social aims without assistance from the sword of justice. Morals and customs go further than State law in so far as they protect more extensive social aims. In this respect, there may be a difference in extent between them, but no incompatibility of principle. Essential contrasts between the legal order and moral laws occur only where the two derive from different conceptions of the social order, that is, where they appertain to different social systems. The contrast is then dynamic, not static.

The ethical valuation "good" or "evil" can be applied only in respect of ends towards which action strives. As Epicurus said: "Αδιχια ου χαθ εαυτην χαχον" ("Vice without injurious consequences would not be vice.")[4] Since action is never its own end, but rather the means to an end, we call an action good or evil only in respect of the consequences of the action. It is judged according to its place in the system of cause and effect. It is valued as a means. And for the value of the means the valuation of the end is decisive. Ethical, like all other, valuation proceeds from valuation of ends, of the ultimate good. The value of an action is the value of the end it serves. Intention, too, has value in so far as it leads to action.

Unity of action can exist only when all ultimate values can be brought into a unitary scale of values. If this were not possible, man would always be finding himself in a position where he could not act, that is, work as a creature conscious of his striving towards a goal; he would have to abandon the issue to forces beyond his control. Conscious scaling of values precedes every human action. The man who chooses to attain A while renouncing B, C, D, etc., has decided that in the given circumstances the attainment of A is more valuable to him than the attainment of the others.

Philosophers had been arguing about this ultimate Good for a long time before it was settled by modern investigation. At the present day Eudemonism is no longer open to attack. In the long run all the arguments which philosophers from Kant to Hegel brought against it were unable to dissociate the concept Morality from that of Happiness. Never in history has more intellect and ingenuity been expended in defending an untenable position. We are lost in admiration of the magnificent performance of these philosophers. We might almost say that what they have done to prove the impossible elicits more admiration than the achievements of the great thinkers and sociologists who have made Eudemonism and Utilitarianism a permanent possession of the human mind. Certainly their efforts were not in vain. Their gigantic struggle for anti-eudemonistic ethics were necessary to expose the problem in all its wide ramifications and so enable a conclusive solution to be reached.

Since the tenets of intuitionist ethics, which are irreconcilable with scientific method, have been deprived of their very foundations, anyone who recognizes the eudemonistic character of all ethical valuation is exempt from further discussion of ethical Socialism. For such a one the Moral does not stand outside the scale of values which comprises all values of life. For him no moral ethic is valid per se. He must first be allowed to inquire why it is so rated. He can never reject that which has been recognized as beneficial and reasonable simply because a norm, based on some mysterious intuition, declares it to be immoral—a norm the sense and purpose of which he is not entitled even to investigate.[5] His principle is not fiat iustitia, pereat mundus, (let justice be done, though the world perish), but fiat iustitia, ne pereat mundus (let justice be done, lest the world perish).

If nevertheless it appears not entirely superfluous to discuss separately the arguments of ethical Socialism, this is not merely because it counts many adherents, but, what is more important, because it provides an opportunity of showing how eudemonistic ideas lie concealed in every train of priori-stic-intuitive ethical thought, and how this system can be traced back, in every one of its utterances, to untenable notions of economic conduct and of social co-operation. Every ethical system built up on the idea of duty, even though it exhibits itself as strictly as Kant's, is finally obliged to yield so much to Eudemonism that its principles can no longer be maintained.[6] In the same way every single requirement of aprioristic-intuitive ethics displays ultimately an eudemonistic character.

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Ron Paul: Natural Rights must be adopted on utilitarian grounds

"The interventionist’s reliance on the appeal of Santa Claus, “utilitarianism,” and an ostensibly high-minded concern for the downtrodden can only be countered by a more truly utilitarian defense of
the free market and the concept of natural rights—which allows the
non-interventionists to take the true moral high ground. In the
absence of a natural rights argument, a moral vacuum exists, into
which the socialists rush, winning every time. They have won
throughout the 20th century, while the concept of God-given rights
has been almost obliterated. Austerity for the benefit of the next generation won’t get enough votes in a democratic political system. Combine it with a moral argument for natural rights, and the chances of
success are greatly enhanced."


Its interesting that Ron Paul doesn't feel the need to attack Mises on natural rights head-on(although he may very well believe in natural rights), but rather Ron Paul seems to reject the ipse dixit defense of natural rights that Rothbard and an-caps on this site in favor of a utilitarian defense of them and using government to uphold them. He almost admits that they are arbitrary, even while adhering to them as subjectively moral(to him).

This is a must read pamphlet for anyone who wants to really understand Ron Paul. He is very much a consummate politician/statesman that views political philosophy "as-applied" in the real world.

Ventura 2012

Very interesting! I need to

Very interesting! I need to read this.