Context

Let me adopt tabloid-like tactics for a couple of paragraphs. Here’s a shocking statement from Mises, the “last knight of liberalism,” from his “Theory and History.”

[H]uman conditions involve forever irreconcilable conflicts, first among the various groups fighting one another, later, after the final victory of the master group, between the latter and the enslaved rest of mankind. Hence this supreme elite group must always be ready to fight, first to crush the rival groups, then to quell rebellions of the slaves. The state of perpetual preparedness for war enjoins upon it the necessity of organizing society after the pattern of an army. The army is not an instrument destined to serve a body politic; it is rather the very essence of social cooperation, to which all other social institutions are subservient. The individuals are not citizens of a commonwealth; they are soldiers of a fighting force and as such bound to obey unconditionally the orders issued by the supreme commander. They have no civil rights, merely military duties.

This is a selective quotation from a wider section. This one.

Yet man’s almost universal acknowledgment of the principle of social cooperation did not result in agreement regarding all interhuman relations. While almost all men agree in looking upon social cooperation as the foremost means for realizing all human ends, whatever they may be, they disagree as to the extent to which peaceful social cooperation is a suitable means for attaining their ends and how far it should be resorted to.

Those whom we may call the harmonists base their argument on Ricardo’s law of association and on Malthus’ principle of population. They do not, as some of their critics believe, assume that all men are biologically equal. They take fully into account the fact that there are innate biological differences among various groups of men as well as among individuals belonging to the same group. Ricardo’s law has shown that cooperation under the principle of the division of labor is favorable to all participants. It is an advantage for every man to cooperate with other men, even if these others are in every respect—mental and bodily capacities and skills, diligence and moral worth—inferior.

From Malthus’ principle one can deduce that there is, in any given state of the supply of capital goods and knowledge of how to make the best use of natural resources, an optimum size of population. So long as population has not increased beyond this size, the addition of newcomers improves rather than impairs the conditions of those already cooperating.

In the philosophy of the antiharmonists, the various schools of nationalism and racism, two different lines of reasoning must be distinguished. One is the doctrine of the irreconcilable antagonism prevailing among various groups, such as nations or races. As the antiharmonists see it, community of interests exists only within the group among its members. The interests of each group and of each of its members are implacably opposed to those of all other groups and of each of their members. So it is “natural” there should be perpetual war among various groups. This natural state of war of each group against every other group may sometimes be interrupted by periods of armistice, falsely labeled periods of peace. It may also happen that sometimes in warfare a group cooperates in alliances with other groups. Such alliances are temporary makeshifts of politics. They do not in the long run affect the inexorable natural conflict of interests. Having, in cooperation with some allied groups, defeated several of the hostile groups, the leading group in the coalition turns against its previous allies in order to annihilate them too and to establish its own world supremacy.

The second dogma of the nationalist and racist philosophies is considered by its supporters a logical conclusion derived from their first dogma. As they see it, human conditions involve forever irreconcilable conflicts, first among the various groups fighting one another, later, after the final victory of the master group, between the latter and the enslaved rest of mankind. Hence this supreme elite group must always be ready to fight, first to crush the rival groups, then to quell rebellions of the slaves. The state of perpetual preparedness for war enjoins upon it the necessity of organizing society after the pattern of an army. The army is not an instrument destined to serve a body politic; it is rather the very essence of social cooperation, to which all other social institutions are subservient. The individuals are not citizens of a commonwealth; they are soldiers of a fighting force and as such bound to obey unconditionally the orders issued by the supreme commander. They have no civil rights, merely military duties.

Thus even the fact that the immense majority of men look upon social cooperation as the foremost means to attain all desired ends does not provide a basis for a wide-reaching agreement concerning either ends or means.

I won’t fall into this (bad) habit of mine of over explaining things, and will therefore end with two words. Context matters.

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