Raico on Authentic Liberalism
by David Gordon: Liberty
in this brilliant book calls to our attention the dictum of Augustin
Thierry: "The great precept that must be given to historians is
to distinguish instead of confounding" (p. 136). Thierry, as Raico
shows, did not always follow his own advice; but the remark perfectly
describes the historical writing of Raico himself. He is master
of the fine discriminations that F.R. Leavis thought essential to
the task of the critic. His profound scholarship and keen intelligence
make him a great historian. Indeed, he is our foremost historian
of classical liberalism.
his work of conceptual clarification by asking, what is classical
liberalism or, better, what is liberalism, since only the
classical variety qualifies as liberalism properly so called. "There
was no 'classical' liberalism, only a single liberalism, based on
private property and the free market, that developed organically,
from first to last" (p. 1).
his definitional question in the book's initial chapter, "Classical
Liberalism and the Austrian School." Liberals believe that the main
institutions of society can function in entire independence of the
... is based on the conception of civil society as by and large
self-regulating when its members are free to act within the very
wide bounds of their individual rights. Among these, the right
to private property, including freedom of contract and exchange
and the free disposition of one's own labor, is given a high priority.
Historically, liberalism has manifested a hostility to state action,
which, it insists, should be reduced to a minimum. (p. 2)
so defined, seems to have an obvious affinity with Austrian economics.
But here a problem arises: is not Austrian economics a value-free
science? Adherence to liberalism, obviously, entails value judgments.
The relation between them, then, cannot be that the economic theory
logically implies the political doctrine. Indeed, enemies of classical
liberalism have at times embraced tenets of the Austrians. The Fabian
socialist George Bernard Shaw, influenced by Philip Wicksteed, accepted
the subjective theory of value; and, Raico notes, the analytical
Marxist Jon Elster finds Marxism compatible with methodological
individualism. Nevertheless, Raico claims, "On the level of policy,
Austrianism's individualist and subjectivist methodology tends,
indirectly at least, to sway decisions in a liberal direction" (p.
confronts a challenge. Austrian economics, as developed by its greatest
20th-century exponent, Ludwig von Mises, relies on a priori reasoning.
Does not this style of thinking lead to dogmatism and intolerance,
inimical to the spirit of classical liberalism? Milton Friedman,
himself a noted classical liberal, has pressed exactly this accusation.
Raico easily disposes of it:
an argument could emanate from such a distinguished source is
simply baffling. Among other problems with it: Friedman's theory
would predict the occurrence of incessant bloody brawling among
mathematicians and logicians, the non-occurrence of which falsifies
that theory in Friedman's own positivist terms. (p. 11)
Those who condemn
a priori reasoning often champion instead the fallibilism of Karl
Popper. Whether they are right to do is eminently questionable,
and Popper's many advocates err grievously when they enroll him
in the liberal tradition. As Raico points out,
to any claim that Popper represents authentic liberalism is the
fact that he accepted the traditional mythology of industrial
capitalism as a system of oppression of the working class, only
gradually made tolerable by social reforms effected in part through
socialist agitation. In The
Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper wrote that Marx's
protests against capitalist oppression "will secure him forever
a place among the liberators of mankind." (p. 12)
Judged by Raico's
criterion of liberalism, even his mentor Friedrich Hayek falls short.
Though an undoubted classical liberal, unlike his friend Popper,
he conceded too much to the welfare state.
Hayek insisted, is not solely "a coercive apparatus,"
but also "a service agency," and as such "it may
assist without harm in the achievement of desirable aims which
perhaps could not be achieved otherwise." ... Predictably,
Hayek's endorsement of state activism in the "social"
sphere has provided knowledgeable opponents of the laissez-faire
position with a rhetorical argument of the form "even F.A
Hayek conceded ..." (p. 29)
True and False," Raico advances further in his quest for conceptual
clarity about liberalism. Nowadays, supporters of the welfare state
usually call themselves liberals, but Raico maintains they are not
entitled to the name. To accede to their takeover of the term from
its 19th-century usage promotes confusion.
should, learning from Max Weber, construct an ideal type for liberalism.
If we do so, we will discover that "modern" liberals differ too
far from the standard to be included:
type of liberalism should express a coherent concept, based on
what is most characteristic and distinctive in the liberal doctrine
what Weber refers to as the "essential tendencies."
... Historically, where monarchical absolutism had insisted that
the state was the engine of society and the necessary overseer
of the religious, cultural, and, not least, economic life of its
subjects, liberalism posited a starkly contrasting view: that
the most desirable regime was one in which civil society
that is, the whole of the social order based on private property
and voluntary exchange by and large runs itself. (p.65,
emphasis in original)
How did the
current confusion over liberalism develop? Raico ascribes a good
deal of the blame to the "saint of rationalism," John Stuart Mill,
of whom he is decidedly no admirer. Following the Mill revisionists
Maurice Cowling, Joseph Hamburger, and Linda Raeder, Raico contends
that Mill was very far from being a friend of liberty. Despite his
frequent paeans to individual autonomy, he had an ultimately conformist
ideology. He aimed to demolish religious faith, especially Christianity,
and received mores, on the way to erecting a social order based
on "the religion of humanity" (p. 53).
for tradition, expressed especially in On
Liberty (which Raico calls "presumptuously titled" [p. 166])
led naturally to the new liberalism, with its reliance on the state
and displacement of property rights from their formerly central
position. Mill's view of tradition "also forges an offensive
alliance between liberalism and the state, even if perhaps contrary
to Mill's intentions, since it is difficult to imagine the uprooting
of traditional norms except through the massive use of political
power" (p. 53).
Raico has constructed
an ideal type of liberalism, but of course the historical phenomenon
that this ideal type encapsulates did not arise fully grown but
developed through a long process. And this process occurred in a
particular place, namely western Europe, though the principles of
liberalism claim universal validity. Why did liberalism first arise
emphasizes the Christian roots of liberalism. John Neville Figgis
famously claimed that "political liberty is the residuary legatee
of ecclesiastical animosities"; but, unlike Figgis, Raico does not
look to the Reformation and its quarrels for the source of freedom.
Rather, he focuses on the universal church as an alternative source
of loyalty to the state in medieval Europe:
was the West the Europe that arose in communion with the
Bishop of Rome.... The essence of the European experience is that
a civilization developed that felt itself to be a unity and yet
was politically decentralized. The continent devolved into a mosaic
of separate and competing jurisdictions and polities whose internal
divisions themselves resisted central control. (p. 59)
one suspects most readers of this book will agree, is a very appealing
system. Unfortunately, most intellectuals dissent: they spurn capitalism
and its brand of freedom. More than a few intellectuals lacked the
sense to resist the blandishments of Stalin and Mao. In the third
chapter, "Intellectuals and the Marketplace," Raico carefully surveys
the main contending theories that endeavor to account for the intellectuals'
opposition to the free market. Naturally enough, he devotes careful
attention to the views of Mises (to whom the book is dedicated).
Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, Mises stressed the resentment
and envy felt by failed intellectuals. Raico does not dismiss this,
but he prefers an analysis that Mises advanced in an earlier article.
De officiis as an exemplary text, he [Mises] identifies
the contempt for moneymaking deeply ingrained in western culture
as the source of the hostility towards capitalists, trade, and
speculation "which today dominates our whole public life,
politics, and the written word." (p. 85)
If Raico is
attracted to Mises's earlier account, Hayek fares less well at his
hands. In The
Counter-Revolution of Science, Hayek described an engineering
frame of mind that to a large extent, in his opinion, attracted
intellectuals to socialism. Scientific experiments and engineering
projects require conscious planning: why not extend such planning
to society as a whole? With characteristic acuity, Raico raises
a strong objection: "from the fact that many particular engineering
projects have succeeded it does not follow that a single vast engineering
project, one subsuming all particular projects, is likely to succeed;
nor does it seem likely that most people will find such a claim
plausible" (p. 79).
As we have
already seen, Raico places great emphasis on the distinction between
true liberalism and its modern counterfeits. It should not then
be difficult to surmise his answer to the question posed in his
next chapter, "Was Keynes a Liberal?" According to Robert Skidelsky,
among many others, Keynes fully adhered to liberal values. True
enough, he rejected laissez-faire; but his interventionist measures
aimed to cure a defect of capitalism, not to replace that system
with socialism or some other revolutionary alternative.
It at once
follows from Raico's characterization of liberalism that Skidelsky
et hoc genus omne are radically mistaken. Regardless of his
supposed love of the English liberal tradition, someone who relied
on the state to the extent that Keynes did could hardly have believed
that civil society has no great need for the state. But Raico does
not leave it at that. Keynes, far from being a wholehearted lover
of freedom, viewed with some sympathy the fascist and Communist
"experiments" of the 1930s. In a notorious article, "National
Self-Sufficiency," which appeared in The Yale Review for
1933, Keynes wrote,
But I bring
my criticisms to bear, as one whose heart is friendly and sympathetic
to the desperate experiments of the contemporary world, who wishes
them well and would like them to succeed, who has his own experiments
in view, and who in the last resort prefers anything on earth
to what the financial reports are wont to call "the best
opinion in Wall Street." (p. 109)
Raico notes, has been omitted from the version of the article in
The Collected Writings.
Nor was this
the only occasion on which Keynes had good things to say about totalitarians.
In a broadcast for the BBC in June 1936, he praised highly the notorious
apologia for Soviet tyranny written by Sidney and Beatrice
Communism: A New Civilization?
What lay at
the basis of Keynes's hostility to capitalism? As he did in the
previous chapter, Raico finds the answer in disdain for money. Keynes
went so far as to appeal to Freudian psychology to account for the
supposed "irrational" desire for money. Raico amusingly comments,
"This psychoanalytical 'finding' by the man Vladimir Nabokov
correctly identified as the Viennese Fraud permitted Keynes
to assert that love of money was condemned not only by religion
but by 'science' as well" (p. 113).
respond to the analysis Raico has so far pursued with an objection.
Raico has spoken of ideas as if they possessed an independent existence;
but in fact, are not ideas really reflections of class interest?
Does not classical liberalism embody the interests of the bourgeoisie
of a certain period, rather than enshrine some universal truth?
In "The Conflict of Classes; Liberal vs. Marxist Theories," Raico
directly confronts this challenge. Ideas do not, as Marxists imagine,
reflect the interests of conflicting economic classes. The free
market rests, not on irreparable class conflict, but on a fundamental
harmony of interests of people who benefit from social cooperation.
true, nevertheless, that class conflict is a fundamental motor of
history. Marx and Engels were not altogether wrong when in the Manifesto
they said, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the
history of class struggles." But the conflict lies not among conflicting
groups in the free market but rather between producers and those
who seize their wealth, principally through statist predation.
We owe the
correct account of class struggle to a group of early-19th-century
conflict theory emerged in a polished form in France, in the period
of the Bourbon Restoration, following the defeat and final exile
of Napoleon. From 1817 to 1819, two young liberals, Charles Comte
and Charles Dunoyer, edited the journal Le Censeur Européen;
beginning with the second volume (issue), another young liberal,
Augustin Thierry, collaborated closely with them. (p. 124)
As the members
of this group saw matters,
In any given
society, a sharp distinction can be drawn between those who live
by plunder and those who live by production. The first are characterized
in various ways by Comte and Dunoyer, including "the idle,"
"the devouring," and "the hornets"; the second,
are termed, among other things, "the industrious" and
"the bees." (p. 127)
This view of
class conflict led Dunoyer and his associates and followers, who
were called the Industrialists, to a new theory of the French Revolution.
The revolutionaries aimed to secure government positions for themselves:
emphasis on state functionaries, a new and surprising interpretation
of the Great Revolution is presented by the Industrialist writers.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1791
proclaimed admission to government jobs as a natural and civil
right. (p. 130)
Raico is naturally
dismayed that well-known scholars have lavished attention on the
inferior Marxist theory of classes, while ignoring the contribution
of the classical liberals. Here he excoriates a famous authority
for this scholarly lapse: "Needless to say, Professor [Albert O.]
Hirschman is equally blithely ignorant that the use of the concept
of 'spoliation' was as common among the Italian as among the French
laissez-faire liberals" (p. 124).
admires Hayek, especially as an economist; but he differs greatly
from Hayek in his understanding of the history of liberalism. In
"The Centrality of French Liberalism," he challenges Hayek's attempt
two traditions of individualism (or liberalism). The first, basically
a British and empirical line of thought, represents genuine liberalism;
the second, French (and Continental), is a no true liberal tradition,
but rather a rationalistic deviation that leads "inevitably"
to collectivism. (p. 143)
his dissertation, written under Hayek's direction, Raico had pointed
to problems with Hayek's dichotomy. Thus, he noted that Lord Acton,
one of Hayek's chief exemplars of tradition and common sense, evolved
to a more rationalistic position: "By the time he delivered his
two lectures on the history of freedom, Acton had revised his view
of the supreme role of reason in this area: the achievement of religious
freedom in England is ascribed not to fidelity to received ways,
but to a deliberate rejection of them" (The
Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville,
and Acton, Mises Institute, 2010, p. 111).
Hayek was no
doubt aware that two of the most eminent French liberals, Constant
and Tocqueville, were the opposite of constructivist rationalists,
in his pejorative sense; and, in fact, Hayek greatly admired Tocqueville.
But these two great figures, Raico makes clear, were far from alone
in their respect for tradition. The Comte de Montalembert was a
firmly committed Roman Catholic; by no means did he think that all
religions of equal validity.
It is highly
significant that Montalembert, as he categorically states, refuses
to defend religious liberty on the basis of "the ridiculous and
culpable doctrines that all religions are equally true and good
in themselves, or that the spiritual authority does not obligate
conscience." (p. 152)
view of religion, why was Montalembert a liberal? Given the unchangeable
pluralism of contemporary society, it would be a hopeless project
for Catholics to endeavor to establish Catholicism through the use
of force directed against nonbelievers. Moreover, any attempt to
do so would be dangerous. Once the principle of state intervention
is admitted, would not anti-Catholics, should they gain power, try
to suppress the Church? Far better, then, to adopt a principled
position of nonintervention; in that way, freedom for all could
be assured. Montalembert did not confine his liberalism to the advocacy
of religious freedom. He strongly opposed socialism and was a prescient
critic of the danger to freedom posed by a state educational monopoly.
In the face of Raico's analysis, it would hardly do for Hayek to
defend his dichotomy by pointing out that Montalembert was born
figure who wreaks havoc with Hayek's schema is Gustave de Molinari.
At first, one might surmise that Molinari's radical denial of the
need for government would lead him to dismiss tradition as well.
This was decidedly not the case.
"extreme" of French or even of all European liberals
(Auberon Herbert in Britain would be a close rival) displayed
a warm sympathy for tradition and "organic" culture,
going so far as to criticize the Napoleonic Code for consolidating
the "reforms" of the Revolution by replacing the variegated
customs of the provinces with a uniform legislation. (p. 157)
foremost among 20th-century advocates of classical liberalism, and
Marxists have been unable adequately to respond to his challenges
to their creed. Instead, they have all too often resorted to smears.
In "Ludwig von Mises's Liberalism
on Fascism, Democracy, and Imperialism," Raico answers one such
attack on Mises, advanced by the British Marxist historian Perry
that in Liberalism, published in Germany in 1927, Mises said
this about Italian fascism:
be denied that [Italian] 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. (p. 166).
the supposed champion of freedom, really a fascist?
on this issue is simple and straightforward. Mises was of course
not a fascist: his criticisms of that system were many, far reaching,
and various. But Italy in the years after World War I really was
threatened by socialist revolution, or at least many competent observers
at the time believed so; and Mussolini and his cohorts ended that
danger. Anderson, by the way, is in the habit of smearing scholars
he deems not far enough to the left. He called the Karl Wittfogel's
Despotism "a vulgar charivari" (Anderson, Lineages
of the Absolutist State, Verso, 1974, p. 487).
In "Eugen Richter
and the End of German Liberalism," Raico describes the heroic struggle
of the leader of the German liberals against Bismarck's welfare
state. (He has written at length on German classical liberalism
in his superb Die Partei der Freiheit.) Advocates of the
welfare state often portray it as an effort to shield workers and
the poor from the ravages of untrammeled capitalism. To the contrary,
state-enforced welfare measures interfered with private welfare
programs and threatened to initiate an unsustainable orgy of spending.
pointed out, "By hindering or restricting the development of independent
funds, one pressed along the road of state-help and here awoke growing
claims on the State that, in the long run, no political system can
satisfy" (p. 202, emphasis in original).
also reflect on a circumstance that today appears entirely possible:
that, after so many fatal "contradictions" of capitalism have
failed to materialize, in the end a genuine contradiction has
emerged, one that may well destroy the system, namely the incompatibility
of capitalism and the limitless state welfarism yielded by the
functioning of a democratic order. (p. 202)
concluding chapter, "Arthur Ekirch on American Militarism," is a
tribute to an outstanding historian who has traced the rise of militarism
over the course of American history. Ekirch, like Raico, had a strong
moral commitment to freedom; and he analyzed the rise of militarism,
not as a dispassionate observer, but as a confirmed opponent.
In the course
of his tribute to Ekirch, Raico accomplishes a remarkable feat.
He offers a brilliant summary of the entire course of America's
foreign policy, culminating in America's present position of world
dominance. A few samples of his comments must here suffice. Of the
great advocate of a strong navy, Alfred Thayer Mahan, he says,
not much of a naval commander (his ships tended to collide), but
he was a superb propagandist for navalism. His work on The
Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 16601783, was
seized upon by navalists in Germany, Japan, France, and elsewhere.
It fueled the arms race that led to the First World War, and was
no great blessing to mankind. (p. 214)
Roosevelt, he is no less unflattering:
knows what Theodore Roosevelt is doing on that endlessly reproduced
iconic monument on Mount Rushmore, right alongside Jefferson.
He despised Jefferson as a weakling, and Jefferson would have
despised him as a warmonger. (p. 214)
For much more
detail on this and cognate subjects, readers should consult Raico's
Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal.
is an extraordinary thinker and scholar. I first met him in 1979
and was at once impressed by his intelligence, his scholarship,
and, not least, his humor. Thirty-two years later, these qualities
remain impressive. I have learned a great deal from Ralph and am
honored to have him as a friend.
© 2012 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided
full credit is given.
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