In continuation

From Mises’ memoirs that I wrote about yesterday, about the pessimism that took over people who knew what was coming. The following is from chapter 7 where Mises writes about how governments, whatever their nature, are always controlled – de facto – by the majority-

My experiences during wartime turned my attention toward a problem that has become more important to me day by day; indeed, I want to call it the principle and fundamental problem of our culture.

He alone who fully understands economic theory can comprehend the great questions of economic and social policy. He alone who masters the most difficult tasks of economics can determine where capitalism, socialism, or interventionism constitute suitable systems of social cooperation. Political decisions, however, are not made by economists, but by public opinion, that is, the general public. The majority determines what should happen. This is true of all systems of government. Even absolute kings and dictators must govern in accordance with the demands of public opinion.

There are schools of thought that simply do not want to recognize these problems. The contention of orthodox Marxism is that the dialectical process of historical development unconsciously guides man on the essential path; that is, the path that leads to his salvation. Another variety of Marxism is of the persuasion that the class can never err. Race mysticism maintains the same concerning race: the characteristics of the race intuit the finding of right solutions. Religious mysticism, even where it appears in worldly garb, for example, the führer principle, relies on God: He will never forsake His children, but protect them from evil through revelation or by sending them a blessed Shepherd. But experience spares us these escapes. It shows us that there are different doctrines and different opinions, even within various classes, races, and nations; it shows us that different men vie for leadership with different agendas, and that different churches come forth to proclaim the Word of God. One would have to be blind to claim that the question of whether interest rates can be permanently reduced by credit expansion could be answered by an appeal to the dialectics of history, an unerring class consciousness, racial or national characteristics, God’s Word, or a führer’s order.

Liberals of the eighteenth century were filled with a boundless optimism that said, Mankind is rational, and therefore right ideas will triumph in the end. Light will replace darkness; the efforts of bigots to keep people in a state of ignorance in order to rule them more easily cannot prevent progress. Enlightened by reason, mankind is moving toward ever-greater perfection. Democracy, with its freedom of thought, speech, and of the press guarantees the success of the right doctrine: let the masses decide; they will make the most appropriate choice.

We no longer share this optimism. The conflict of economic doctrines makes far greater demands on our ability to make judgments than did the conflicts encountered during the period of enlightenment: superstition and natural science, tyranny and freedom, privilege and equality before the law.

The people must decide. It is indeed the duty of economists to inform their fellow citizens. But what should happen if economists do not measure up to the dialectic task and become pushed aside by demagogues, or if the people lack the intelligence to grasp their teachings? With the awareness that men like J.M. Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Harold Laski, and Albert Einstein could not comprehend the problems of economics, must not the attempt to guide the masses in the proper direction be considered hopeless?

One is mistaken and fails to understand what is involved if one expects help to come in the form of a new election system or from some improvement in public education. Proposed changes to the election system would result in a portion of the masses’ being denied the right to vote for legislators and other administrators. This offers no solution, for when an administration put into place by a minority has no popular support it is not sustainable over the long term. If it refuses to yield to public opinion, it will be overthrown by revolution. The advantage of the democratic system consists in the fact that it makes possible a peaceable alignment of the government system and its personnel with the will of the people. This, in turn, guarantees the continuance of uninterrupted and untroubled social cooperation within the state. Concerns taken up here are not just those having to do with democracy. Indeed, they are much more than that: they are concerns that exist under all circumstances and under every conceivable form of government.

It has been said that the problem lay within the realms of public education and public information. But we are badly deceived if we believe that the right opinions will claim victory through the circulation of books and journals and with more schools and lectures; such means can also attract followers of faulty doctrines. Evil consists precisely in the fact that the masses are not intellectually enabled to choose the means leading to their desired objectives. That ready judgments can be foisted onto the people through the power of suggestion demonstrates that the people are not capable of making independent decisions. Herein lies the great danger.

Thus had I arrived at the hopeless pessimism that had long pervaded the best minds of Europe.

In the next chapter, writing about Ignaz Seipel, a Christian Socialist Party leader, he says-

The statesman distinguishes himself from the demagogue in that he prefers that which is right over that which brings him acclaim.

And in the final chapter, on the collapse of Austria, he writes about the stupidity of European politicians and nations, especially England-

At any rate, the powers had no intention of confronting Hitler. From March of 1933 on, the fate of Austria lay entirely in the hands of the Italians. Had Italy not been prepared to intervene, Hitler, in 1934, would have intervened in Austria’s battle against the insurgency of Austrian Nazis and German “tourists.” When English policies concerning the Ethiopian question drove Italy into the arms of Hitler, the fate of Austria was sealed.

There are no words strong enough to describe the absurdity of English politics between the two wars. The English were unteachable. They believed they knew and understood everything better. They were mistrustful of everyone; but they believed everything the National Socialists said.

The behavior of the Czechs was even dumber. Even in 1938, Benes had seen in the restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy an evil greater than the Anschluss. The French took a position that was forthrightly sympathetic with Hitler. Nearly all educated Frenchmen were reading the Gringoire, which openly defended Hitler. Quos Deus vult perdere, dementat [“Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.”].

It was completely impossible to battle this stubbornness. When I went to Geneva I had hoped to be successful in contributing to the enlightenment of controlling personalities. But I soon came to realize that this was a futile undertaking. “We Englishmen,” I was told by a member of the English Labour Party, “never want to wage war again.” I asked: “And if Hitler should attack England?” The answer was bewildering: “Then we will just be ruled and exploited by German instead of English capitalists. It makes no difference to the people.”

Since 1931, the League of Nations in Vienna was represented by a Dutchman named Rost van Tonningen. In Vienna, Rost openly advanced pro-Nazi propaganda. (When he later withdrew from the League of Nations and returned home, he was immediately appointed deputy führer of the National Socialist Party in the Netherlands.) My Viennese friends could not believe that it was impossible for me to achieve Rost’s dismissal.

Only one nation had attempted serious opposition to Hitler on the European continent—the Austrian nation. It was only after five years of successful resistance that little Austria surrendered, abandoned by all. The whole world breathed a sigh of relief. Now Hitler would finally be satisfied; now he would deal peacefully with other nations. Twenty-seven months later, Hitler was the master of the European continent.

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