On the Mises Institute

It’s been a long time since I posted here, but this is the best place for me to make statements of permanent public record, and I want to make it clear I don’t support the Mises Institute.

Decades ago, I gave it money pretty generously, based on what I could afford. Once I even got personal thanks from Margit von Mises. That puts it before 1993. It once did good work promoting Ludwig von Mises’ economics. The sad thing is it still sometimes does. But I became concerned when it started defending the Confederacy. The first time I figured it was pointing out, correctly, that not all the faults lay with the South. The northern states supported protectionist policies which helped their industries at the South’s expense.

But the defenses got too frequent to be justified by those marginal points. One article noted that the Confederate Constitution guaranteed the same freedoms as the U.S. Constitution, aside from making slavery explicitly and permanently legal. That’s one really big “aside,” though.

It’s been many years since I gave them money, but they still have me on their mailing list, several moves later. I don’t mind. I like keeping track of what people are saying. But after this article by Jeff Deist, titled “For a New Libertarian,” I want it on record that I don’t support the Mises Institute and want nothing to do with his “new libertarians.”

“New libertarians”: neither new nor libertarian

Libertarianism has many forms, but it holds one universal ethical principle: that people should not initiate force to compel the actions of others. The “New Libertarian” rejects all universal principles.

And because of this, libertarians often fall into the trap of sounding like conservatives and progressives who imagine themselves qualified to dictate political arrangements everywhere on earth. But what’s libertarian about telling other countries what to do? Shouldn’t our political goal should be radical self-determination, not universal values?

It’s bad enough to hear neoconservatives on TV talking about what’s best for Syria or Iraq or North Korea or Russia from their comfortable western perches. But it’s even worse hearing this from libertarians at Reason.

“Countries” don’t do things, not in the sense of populations acting in unison. Governments do things, in the sense of being organized structures that wield power. Under the worst of them, ordinary people have no say in what the “country” does. It’s entirely legitimate for libertarians to tell governments things like “Stop killing innocent people.” Claiming “self-determination” is a favorite excuse of brutal rulers. What right of self-determination does King Abdullah or Kim Jong-un have to imprison, whip, or kill those who offend them?

The two kinds of “globalism”

Deist objects to universal principles because they lead to “globalism”: “Universalism provides the philosophical underpinnings for globalism, but globalism is not liberty: instead it threatens to create whole new levels of government.” But “globalism” has two meanings that are often conflated. One is the tearing down of arbitrary national barriers. We can call that libertarian globalism. People should be free to trade and travel across national borders. Libertarian globalism reduces hostility among people, undermines authoritarian states, and lets people prosper.

Then there’s the kind of globalism that seeks a world authority. It wants to eliminate national rivalries by having just one ruling body. It universalizes the lack of freedom. That’s authoritarian globalism. The two are antithetical. The EU includes some elements of both (I love being able to cross national boundaries without showing any papers), which may have confused people.

Deist claims “self-determination is the ultimate political goal.” He doesn’t mean individual self-determination, but the “self”-determination of collectives. There are times when supporting separatist movements does support liberty, but it’s a means to an end, not an ultimate goal. These “new libertarians” are neither new nor libertarian; they’re just wrapping the old nationalistic collectivism in a new wrapper.

Blood and soil (mostly blood)

To wrap it up, Deist tells us: “In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.” He knows well what the phrase “blood and soil” means and who uses it. He not only embraces nationalism but appeals to the advocates of its very worst forms.

Libertarians need to be very cautious in any dealings with the Mises Institute, steering clear as much as possible. Let’s not give its “new libertarians” any credibility.

Let’s look at what Mises actually wrote. When he refers to “liberalism” here, he means what we call libertarianism, and it’s the antithesis of nationalism:

The ultimate ideal envisioned by liberalism is the perfect cooperation of all mankind, taking place peacefully and without friction. Liberal thinking always has the whole of humanity in view and not just parts. It does not stop at limited groups; it does not end at the border of the village, of the province, of the nation, or of the continent. Its thinking is cosmopolitan and ecumenical: it takes in all men and the whole world. Liberalism is, in this sense, humanism; and the liberal, a citizen of the world, a cosmopolite.

If he were alive today, I’m sure he’d be outraged at the people who have appropriated his name.

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