But in 1927 Mises published a book in German called Liberalismus (Gustav Fischer Verlag, Jena). I quote from the 1978 edition called Liberalism: A Socio-Economic Exposition (Mission, Kansas, 1978). In this book, Mises gives a negative and critical summary of the characteristics of 1920s European fascism (and, to be fair, this was before the horrors of 1930s Nazism). Mises principally has in mind the Italian fascism of Benito Mussolini, who had become Prime Minister of Italy in 1922.
Mises notes the violent and murderous nature of revolutionary socialism in the Third International (pp. 47–49), and contends that fascism arose as a response to these tactics. Yet for Mises, “the great danger threatening domestic policy from the side of fascism lies in its complete faith in the decisive power of violence” (p. 50). Mises even notes that ideas are more important weapons than violence, and that classical liberalism is the “only one idea that can be effectively opposed to socialism” (pp. 50–51).
How surprising it is, then, to read this conclusion to Mises’ section on fascism (I include the original German):
“Soviel über die innerpolitische Stellung des Faszismus. Daß er außenpolitisch durch das Bekenntnis zum Gewaltprinzip im Verhältnis von Volk zu Volk eine endlose Reihe von Kriegen hervorrufen muß, die die ganze moderne Gesittung vernichten müssen, bedarf keiner weiteren Ausführung. Der Fortbestand und die Fortentwicklung der wirtschaftlichen Kultur der Gegenwart verlangen Sicherung des Friedens zwischen den Völkern. Die Völker aber können sich nicht vertragen, wenn sie von einer Ideologie beherrscht werden, die glaubt, durch Gewalt allein die Stellung des eigenen Volkes im Kreise der Völker sichern zu können.For all of his denunciation of, and opposition to, Fascism both here and elsewhere, and his correct prediction that fascist aggression would lead to war, Mises still wrote that “fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”
Es kann nicht geleugnet werden, daß der Faszismus und alle ähnlichen Diktaturbestrebungen voll von den besten Absichten sind und daß ihr Eingreifen für den Augenblick die europäische Gesittung gerettet hat. Das Verdienst, das sich der Faszismus damit erworben hat, wird in der Geschichte ewig fortleben. Doch die Politik, die im Augenblick Rettung gebracht hat, ist nicht von der Art, daß das dauernde Festhalten an ihr Erfolg versprechen könnte. Der Faszismus war ein Notbehelf des Augenblicks; ihn als mehr anzusehen, wäre ein verhängnisvoller Irrtum” (Mises 1927: 45).
“So much for the domestic policy of Fascism. That its foreign policy, based as it is on the avowed principle of force in international relations, cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization requires no further discussion. To maintain and further raise our present level of economic development, peace among nations must be assured. But they cannot live together in peace if the basic tenet of the ideology by which they are governed is the belief that one's own nation can secure its place in the community of nations by force alone.
It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error” (Mises 1978: 51).
How wrong Mises was. Having correctly noted that fascism’s foreign policy was based on the “avowed principle of force in international relations” and that this would cause disastrous wars, Mises still declares that fascism was “full of the best intentions.” How often have Marxists made this sort of defence of communism despite all the evils of the Soviet Union?
In another passage, Mises contended that the violence and authoritarianism of fascism had been provoked by the equally violent and brutal nature of revolutionary socialism:
“The deeds of the Fascists and of other parties corresponding to them were emotional reflex actions evoked by indignation at the deeds of the Bolsheviks and Communists. As soon as the first flush of anger had passed, their policy took a more moderate course and will probably become even more so with the passage of time” (Mises 1978: 49).Mises was ridiculously wrong about fascism moderating “with the passage of time.” On the issue of fascism in these passages, he was a hypocrite, and, at best, naïve. At worst, what was he? Well, I will leave that up to readers to decide.
While this certainly does not mean that Mises directly supported fascism and fascist ideology (and please note that I am not saying this), his astonishingly positive remarks about fascism in the 1920s cannot be wished away. Frankly, these comments are an utter embarrassment and disgrace to Mises.
Now does all this prove that Mises’s extreme free market economics are wrong, merely on the basis of his contemptibly stupid views on fascism? Of course not. To argue so would be an unsound ad hominem argument, as invalid as the lazy Austrian ad hominem attacks on Keynes (Rothbard’s “Keynes the Man” stands out as a particularly egregious example). But it certainly does not reflect well on Mises’s personal opinions and the morality and consistency of his political views.
MISES AND THE AUSTRO-FASCISM OF DOLLFUSS
An interesting addendum to the post above is Mises’ attitude to the fascist regime that took over Austria in 1933.
Engelbert Dollfuss had been a member of the Austrian Christian Social Party, and became Chancellor of Austria in 1932. In March 1933, Dollfuss took advantage of the political turmoil in the Austrian parliament, effectively abolished democracy, and established an authoritarian regime. While Dollfuss was an opponent of the Austrian branch of the Nazi party (the Austrian National Socialists or DNSAP), he banned other political parties and established his own peculiar fascist political alliance called the “Patriotic Front” (Vaterländische Front), which included the Christian Social Party and other nationalists and conservatives. Dollfuss was assassinated in July 25, 1934 by Austrian Nazis, but was succeeded by Kurt Schuschnigg, who was Chancellor from July 1934 to the Anschluss in March 1938.
Around March 1934, Mises moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he taught at the Graduate Institute of International Studies. However, he continued to visit Austria in subsequent years, and still worked part time for the Vienna Chamber of Commerce (Hülsmann 2007: 684). It is claimed that before 1934 Mises had become an adviser to Dollfuss (see Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “The Meaning of the Mises Papers,” Mises.org, April 1997). Even as late as autumn 1937 Mises considered returning to Austria to work for the Austrian Chamber of Commerce full time (Hülsmann 2007: 723), and only finally fled Austria permanently on one of his regular visits in March 1938 before the Nazi takeover. I quote from J. G. Hülsmann’s biography of Mises:
“Mises later said that it was the growing power of the Nazi party in Austria that prompted him to leave the country. With this remark, he did not refer to the government of Engelbert Dollfuss, which had reintroduced authoritarian corporatism into Austrian politics to resist the socialism of both the Marxist and the Nazi variety. Mises meant the Austrian branch of the National Socialist German Workers Party, which enjoyed strong backing from Berlin and fought a daily battle to conquer the streets of Vienna. Dollfuss’s authoritarian policies were in his view only a quick fix to safeguard Austria’s independence—unsuitable in the long run, especially if the general political mentality did not change” (Hülsmann 2007: 683–684).If correct, then Mises saw Dollfuss’s fascism in much the same way as Mussolini’s fascism: as an “emergency makeshift.”
Hülsmann, J. G. 2007. Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.
Mises, L. von, 1927. Liberalismus. G. Fischer, Jena.
Mises, L. von, 1978. Liberalism: A Socio-Economic Exposition (2nd edn; trans. R. Raico). Sheed Andrews and McMeel, Mission, Kansas.