2011-09-06

Ludwig von Mises on War

I'd like to remind my readers that the United States of America, among many other nations, is currently engaged in war .It seems incomprehensible, but I believe we have now been at war so long that people no longer consider it an important part of their daily business. That the US government is actively engaged in spending money for the purposes of killing enemy combatants is hardly a second thought in the regular thoughts of most of us.

And yet, in my opinion, it is extremely important that we continue to understand that ours is a nation at war. At war. Killing people.

Near the beginning of Ludwig von Mises' Liberalism: The Classical Tradition, we find a description of the libertarian case against warfare:
The liberal critique of the argument in favor of war is fundamentally different from that of the humanitarians. It starts from the premise that not war, but peace, is the father of all things. What alone enables mankind to advance and distinguishes man from the animals is social cooperation. It is labor alone that is productive: it creates wealth and therewith lays the outward foundations for the inward flowering of man. War only destroys; it cannot create. War, carnage, destruction, and devastation we have in common with the predatory beasts of the jungle; constructive labor is our distinctively human characteristic. The liberal abhors war, not, like the humanitarian, in spite of the fact that it has beneficial consequences, but because it has only harmful ones.
The profundity of these observations cannot be overstated. Many Keynesian economists of Paul Krugman's ilk like to claim that World War II ended the Great Depression; they also like to cover up the fact that their prescription of "more government spending" in fact, in reality, in actuality renders itself as more money spent on war.

That government spending always feeds and propagates the war machine (or "military-industrial complex," or whatever the leftist professors are calling it these days) is a central tenet of the Misesian world view. A socialist government grows; war follows. This is a logical chain of events, to Mises.

It should come as no surprise to any of us, then, that we find ourselves in a world in which we stand on an ever-shrinking isthmus of civil liberty, with an ocean of war threatening to swallow us on one side and an ocean of socialism threatening to swallow us on the other.

But note in the quote above: War cannot create. It can only destroy what the free men and women produce during times of peace.

Mises goes on to write:
How harmful war is to the development of human civilization becomes clearly apparent once one understands the advantages derived from the division of labor. The division of labor turns the self-sufficient individual into the [political animal] dependent on his fellow men, the social animal of which Aristotle spoke. Hostilities between one animal and another, or between one savage and another, in no way alter the economic basis of their existence. The matter is quite different when a quarrel that has to be decided by an appeal to arms breaks out among the members of a community in which labor is divided. In such a society each individual has a specialized function; no one is any longer in a position to live independently, because all have need of one another's aid and support. Self-sufficient farmers, who produce on their own farms everything that they and their families need, can make war on one another. But when a village divides into factions, with the smith on one side and the shoemaker on the other, one faction will have to suffer from want of shoes, and the other from want of tools and weapons. Civil war destroys the division of labor inasmuch as it compels each group to content itself with the labor of its own adherents.
Mises at once provides an argument against both war and anarchy. Only through enduring peace can any of us organize our activities in a productive and beneficial manner. If the threat of war and instability lingers over our heads like a Sword of Damocles then nobody can ever really plan any kind of long-term business prospect.

Did somebody say The Great Recession?