The Quotable Mises

If you have ever been down to the Ludwig von Mises Institute website, you might have noticed this box on the bottom-right where quotes by von Mises appear. They are from a collection – The Quotable Mises (html, and pdf) – created by picking up quotes from his many books and articles and categorizing them according to the subjects they pertain to. In some ways its similar to the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Mises has written many books and innumerable articles on philosophy, political philosophy and the political economy – always pushing for freedom for the individual and advocating reason. I have always wondered what it is that motivates people to spend their life fighting against a system that they know is not going to go down within their lifetime, and this question is one of the causes of my cynicism. Though he doesn’t talk about the motives, Mises has this to say-

From time to time I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. I have always looked for evidence of a change in ideology. But I never actually deceived myself; my theories explain, but cannot slow the decline of a great civilization. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.

A few select quotes from the first few sections.
On Action-

In the land of the lotus-eaters there is no action. Action arises only from need, from dissatisfaction. It is purposeful striving towards something. Its ultimate end is always to get rid of a condition which is conceived to be deficient—to fulfill a need, to achieve satisfaction, to increase happiness.

On America-

There is no use in deceiving ourselves. American public opinion rejects the market economy, the capitalistic free enterprise system that provided the nation with the highest standard of living ever attained. Full government control of all activities of the individual is virtually the goal of both national parties.

On Antitrust-

Those politicians, professors and union bosses who curse big business are fighting for a lower standard of living.

On Capitalism and Socialism-

Capitalism needs neither propaganda nor apostles. Its achievements speak for themselves. Capitalism delivers the goods.
The issue is always the same: the government or the market. There is no third solution.
If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.

On Dictators-

Every dictator plans to rear, raise, feed, and train his fellow men as the breeder does his cattle. His aim is not to make the people happy but to bring them into a condition which renders him, the dictator, happy. He wants to domesticate them, to give them cattle status. The cattle breeder also is a benevolent despot.

Finally, on the paternalism related to drugs-

It is an established fact that alcoholism, cocainism, and morphinism are deadly enemies of life, of health, and of the capacity for work and enjoyment; and a utilitarian must therefore consider them as vices. But this is far from demonstrating that the authorities must interpose to suppress these vices by commercial prohibitions, nor is it by any means evident that such intervention on the part of a government is really capable of suppressing them or that, even if this end could be attained, it might not therewith open up a Pandora’s box of other dangers,no less mischievous than alcoholism and morphinism. . . . For if the majority of citizens is, in principle, conceded the right to impose its way of life upon a minority, it is impossible to stop at prohibitions against indulgences, in alcohol, morphine, and cocaine, and similar poisons. Why should not what is valid for these poisons be valid also for nicotine, caffeine, and the like? Why should not the state generally prescribe which foods may be indulged in and which must be avoided because they are injurious? . . . More harmful still than all these pleasures, many will say, is the reading of evil literature.

There are plenty more where these came from, and every quote carries with it a reference to the page number of the book from which it has been sourced. A must read.

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  • Pramod Biligiri  On December 8, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I had never seen this section of their site. Thanks!

    I feel the same way he does, regarding the “historian of decline”. It feels strange to see all governments of the world walk slowly over the cliff, with the people cheering on.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On December 9, 2008 at 3:56 am

    I hope the state of the society – its decline – hasn’t made you cynical. I have to say though that I simply don’t understand how people can remain optimistic in the face of so much malice. Perhaps the answer lies in not caring about it to the point where it begins to deeply affect you.

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