Can Mises be Baptized?

There is no doubt that the Catholic Church supports the idea of a just social order, and has expounded on that order in the great Social Encyclicals. However, and despite more than 100 years of constant Papal teaching on this subject, the average Catholic—indeed, the average Bishop—is confused about it meaning or even unaware of its existence. Most preaching concerns personal sin without ever considering the social implications or connecting sin to a violation of a just social order. And yet, this is strange, since what makes a sin sinful is that it violates what the right order between a person and his neighbor and his God. Without a violation of this order, a thing cannot be sinful. This is expressed negatively in the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt not kill, steal, covet, etc.”) and positively in the Sermon on the Mount (“do good to those who harm you...” etc.) However, rather than stress the social damage that sin causes, preaching most commonly connects it only with our ultimate destiny to heaven or hell. And while this is legitimate in itself, it strips Catholic teaching of its more immediate values.

Church teaching does not, by itself, dictate a particular social or economic system; it only lays down the criteria by which any social or economic system is to be judged. It is up to the laity to devise systems in their own social and historical context that meet with the criteria. Most often, this task is refused. It is not that Catholics are not heavily involved in the political and social life of the nation. But often that involvement is disconnected with their religious beliefs and with Church teaching. Many such examples can be found on the left, but the greatest example can be found on the right, specifically the attempt to baptize the essentially pagan economics of Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian School.

Much of the Catholic intelligentsia has surrendered to this doctrine. The Austrian Catholic right boasts names like Michael Novak, George Weigel, Thomas Woods, Murry Rothbard, to name but a few. Further, these scholars are supported by well-funded institutes such as the Acton Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Ethics and Public Policy Institute, the Liberty Foundation, and a host of others. Money flows like water for these people, usually corporate money, water largely used in an attempt to baptize Mises. Still, there is one scholar who was absolute in his opposition to such a notion, who declared, over and over again, the fundamental opposition between the Austrian School and any genuine understanding of Christianity.

That scholar was Ludwig von Mises.

Mises recognized that Austrian order and Catholic order would always be at odds. “A living Christianity,” said Mises, “cannot exist side by side with, and within, Capitalism” (Quoted in Jorg Guido Hulmann, Mises, the Last Knight of Liberalism, p. 982). Later in his career, Mises would allow that Christianity could exist within capitalism, but only if the Christians kept their opinions to themselves, only if they were marginalized and kept apart from the political and economic orders. As Murry Rothbard admits, Mises considered himself a “man of 1789, an heir of the Enlightenment, (,” that is, a man of the French Revolution. And the great advantage of the French Revolution was that it destroyed the older social order in general and the social authority of the Church in particular. As Mises himself put it, “for us and for humanity there is only one salvation: return to the rationalistic liberalism of the ideas of 1789.”

Mises's antipathy towards Christianity begins with his disdain for its founder.

[Jesus] rejects everything that exists without offering anything to replace it. He arrives at dissolving all existing social ties…. The motive force behind the purity and power of this complete negation is ecstatic inspiration and enthusiastic hope of a new world. Hence his passionate attack upon everything that exists. Everything may be destroyed because God in His omnipotence will rebuild the future order…. The clearest modern parallel to the attitude of complete negation of primitive Christianity is Bolshevism. (Socialism, p. 413)

Another thing about Jesus that rankles Mises is his attitude towards the Rich:

Jesus's words are full of resentment against the rich, and the Apostles are no meeker in this respect. The Rich Man is condemned because he is rich, the Beggar praised because he is poor…. In God's Kingdom the poor shall be rich, but the rich shall be made to suffer. Later revisers have tried to soften the words of Christ against the rich … but there is quite enough left to support those who incite the world to hatred of the rich, revenge, murder and arson…. This is a case in which the Redeemer's words bore evil seed. More harm has been done, and more blood shed, on account of them than by the persecution of heretics and the burning of witches. They have always rendered the Church defenceless against all movements which aim at destroying human society. The church as an organization has certainly always stood on the side of those who tried to ward off communistic attack. But it … was continually disarmed by the words: “Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the Kingdom of God.” (Socialism, p. 420)

Mises rejects Christian love as the basis of social order, and reduces it to self-interest and the fear of violence:

Social cooperation has nothing to do with personal love or with a general commandment to love one another… [People] cooperate because this best serves their own interests. Neither love nor charity nor any other sympathetic sentiment but rightly understood selfishness is what originally impelled man to adjust himself to the requirements of societyand to substitute peaceful collaboration to enmity and conflict. (Human Action, p. 168-9)

Now, one may agree or disagree with Mises in all of this, but in either case it simply cannot be reconciled with Catholic Social Teaching. It is not even, as Murray Rothbard notes, conservative in any possible meaning of that term. It is, rather, the quintessence of Enlightenment Liberalism, the French Revolution continued in our day.

The surrender to the Enlightenment among Catholic intellectuals on the right is more or less complete. For example, Michael Novak, a nominal Catholic, notes that an attempt “to try to run an economy by the highest Christian principles is certain to destroy both the economy and the reputation of Christianity” (The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, p. 70). For Novak, there is no sacred canopy that covers society, but only an “empty altar” in which each man places the idols of his own choosing. Religion in this case is not really the repository of truth, but merely a consumer product giving the purchasers whatever satisfactions they desire; theology gets replaced by marketing. This narrowing of the sacred, Novak tells us, requires “not only a new theology but a new type of religion” (Novak, p. 69). Not that Christianity would be done away with; it would be allowed to modify itself to conform to the new ideology:

Yet if Jewish and Christian conceptions of human life are sound, and if they fit the new social order of pluralism, the widespread nostalgia for a traditional form of social order may be resisted…For the full exercise of their humanity, being both finite and sinful, free persons require pluralist institutions (Novak, p. 69-70).

For this “new theology” and “new religion,” Novak finds it necessary to drain Christian dogmas of their original meaning and convert them into mere supports for corporate capitalism. The Trinity, for example, is only a “symbol,” since “no one has ever seen God” (Novak, p. 337). The point of this symbolic Trinity is to teach us about pluralism. The Incarnation is the sign of religious futility: it is no longer the salvific act of a loving God but the ultimate demonstration of the futility of good intentions.

The point of the Incarnation is to respect the world as it is, to acknowledge its limits… and to disbelieve any promises that the world is now or ever will be transformed into the City of God. If Jesus could not effect that, how shall we? ...The world is not going to become—ever—a kingdom of justice and love (Novak, p. 341).

I might point out to Mr. Novak that Jesus isn't dead yet, or rather, he isn't dead again, despite the neoconservative attempts to kill him off. He lives on in his Eucharist and in His Church, but the life of His Church waxes and wanes with the faith of His followers, and with their ability to transform the gospel from the printed page to the social order. But this is not likely to happen so long as the Austrian neoconservatives have such sway in Catholic intellectual circles. What is needed is a revolt of the masses in favor of the Mass, and for making the Eucharistic vision a part of social, economic, and political life. What is needed is what Benedict XVI calls Eucharistic consistency. For this we have a model. Not indeed a modern model, but an effective one nevertheless. She was not an intellectual; indeed she was a mere peasant girl. But she was given, in a single instance, a vision of the full meaning of the Incarnation and its social implications. She gave full answer to the neoconservatives, to both Mises and Marx. Her words were:

My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

Behold! From this day all generations will call me blessed; The almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things while the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

On their best days, neither Mises nor Marx wrote anything this good. All the money in corporate capitalism cannot buy a single drop of holy water with which to baptize Ludwig von Mises, and Mises would be the first to agree. The attempt to do so has made the Catholic politics of the right incoherent and therefore rendered it impotent; at best account, it is a mere appendage to corporate capitalism.


Anonymous,  Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 1:20:00 PM CST  

Quote: "Social cooperation has nothing to do with personal love or with a general commandment to love one another… [People] cooperate because this best serves their own interests. Neither love nor charity nor any other sympathetic sentiment but rightly understood selfishness is what originally impelled man to adjust himself to the requirements of society…and to substitute peaceful collaboration to enmity and conflict."

This is so tragically wrong and backwards. It is literally autistic. Not only does it go against the traditions of all the religions of civilization but against every tradition of science of and learning.

The simple fact is the the Neuro-Cognitive science has using fmris and other brain scanning technology has shown the opposite is in fact the physically reality of the human condition.

The brain needs to learn social frames of reference in order to learn what is "self-interest" not the other way. Autistic children fail to have proper develop of the neuro pathways for social interaction and we can see the result i.e. they can't act in their self interest.

Indeed, rightly understood selfishness is impelled to man to adjust himself only by love and other sympathetic sentiment for peaceful collaboration to enmity and conflict. This is objective physical reality of the human condition and economics will never become a true science until it brought under the proper hierarchy of the sciences.

John Médaille Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 1:48:00 PM CST  

Sept, you mention the Neuro-cognitive sciences and their relationship to this question. I have heard of this before, but I haven't followed-up. If you have some sources, let me know; I would like to look at this.

Beyond that, Mises's economics is built on a system of axiomatic deductions, like geometry. The primary axioms concern human action (hence, the title of his book). But the humane sciences, such as psychology and sociology, contradict these assumptions. Nevertheless, the Austrians regard them as dogmatically true, and hence beyond question. The fact that neuro-science adds its dissent will not impress the the Austrian; the whole system inoculates itself from any outside critique. It has more in common with cult than with science.

Unknown Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 2:59:00 PM CST  

Well, interesting and the words of the Magnificat are splendid. You are right that Mises wrote nothing as wonderful. Mises himself was surrounded by socialist Christians his entire life and struggled to understand why they held the views they do. I don't share his evaluation but I don't know what that has to do with anything. Maybe you have a better explanation. My own sense has something to do with the amazing ignorance that is pervasive among Christians toward economics, even though it was the Christians in the late scholastic period who first systematized economics as a science.

Much more to say but let me just sum up my own feelings toward all these distributivists who are so anxious to make a case against market logic: where is your case for the state to intervene? We need a detail explanation of what you want to do and how the state will accomplish this. Why not expend some intellectual energy advancing such a positive program so that it can be evaluated on its merits or failings?

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 3:42:00 AM CST  

“…these scholars are supported by well-funded institutes such as the Acton Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Ethics and Public Policy Institute, the Liberty Foundation, and a host of others. Money flows like water for these people, usually corporate money, water largely used in an attempt to baptize Mises.”

I seriously doubt the factual basis for this allegation. What is your source? How much money from what sources, both to, and from? List those for the Acton Institute for example.

As a longtime conservative activist I have not seen money flowing like water for anyone but the Left in over a quarter century.

Ludwig von Mises had obviously misconstrued the meaning of Christianity, but this article seems a bit confused by the definition of “left” and “right.” Perhaps you could clear this up by proffering a definition of your terms.

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 10:08:00 AM CST  

Quick question: "Liberty Foundation" (per your post) == "Liberty Fund"?

John Médaille Monday, November 10, 2008 at 10:43:00 AM CST  

The Liberty Fund is, I think, more eclectic, although they do have a lot of the "Misean" about them, so I could have included them. Actually I was thinking of something else entirely and got the name wrong. I was thinking of Chafuen's organization, which funds Misean groups internationally. But the name is the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which doesn't even sound like "Liberty Foundation."

Unknown Monday, November 10, 2008 at 10:44:00 AM CST  

Neoconservatism contains absolutely no friendship to the ideas of Mises.

I'd be interested to read a logical assertion as to why you suppose this is so, but I find it laughable.

John Médaille Monday, November 10, 2008 at 10:54:00 AM CST  

Michael, I have already done that by citing Novak's work, and Novak is one of the founders of Neoconservatism.

John Médaille Monday, November 10, 2008 at 10:57:00 AM CST  

Reaganwing, some sign of the wealth of the Acton Institute is given by the fact that I received from them, not to long ago, an unsolicited copy of their film "Effective Stewardship" complete with glossy brochures. This had to be an extremely expensive mailing, especially sent to people who had no interest in it.

The film itself had high production values, even if low substantive content. But there was a lot of money involved in this effort. It doesn't drop from the sky.

Unknown Monday, November 10, 2008 at 11:32:00 AM CST  

Citing work that bears no attribution (and I suppose a vague similarity out of context) to Mises by Novak does not in any way prove your point. I suppose you would be right in assuming they both attack your pet theological dogma regarding economic distribution?

Clearly however Correlative the Citations you have made require more effort to establish causation or relation. At least more effort than you have made available here; Though perhaps you have established Novak's earlier calls for the dissolution of fractional-reserve banking and perhaps a scathingly Misesian/Rothbardian series of whithering criticisms of Keynsian economics elsewhere, that(if attributed properly) would likely firmly tar Novak as a Misesian would it not?

Novak is an interventionist war supporting deficit spending monetarist neoconservative. His economics are more in line with the Chicago school (Milton Friedman) from the feel of him than Mises from my experience.

At any rate I find your assertion humorous, still, lacking any further evidence. It's so funny because it's so wrong, and seems to be a gross attempt at applying guilt by association with two differing spectra of Ideas you may dislike.

Danby Monday, November 10, 2008 at 3:02:00 PM CST  

where is your case for the state to intervene?

The state WILL intervene because the state MUST intervene. Look at the sorry economic history of the 19th century. Panic to panic to depression. Essentially the world was in desperate economic depression from 1834 until 1894, with occasional brief respites. It was only with the introduction of effective government control of banking and finance beginning in the "Gay '90's" that the business cycle began to get under some sort of control. This was all long before the Fed was founded, so don't blame the problems on that hoary old myth.

Indeed, one can look at our own economic times and see what followed from the repeal of the Glass-Stegall act and the Bush administration's failure to enforce regulations of leverage and derivative valuation that were on the books.

Since the State will intervene when the SHTF, should we have them intervene to the tune of a $3trillion bailout for the fraudsters and bankers, or shall we use the legitimate means of government (taxation and regulation) to encourage the wide distribution of production property?

We need a detail explanation of what you want to do and how the state will accomplish this.

Distributism is not an set agenda, but rather a direction in which we believe the economy and the country should go. To criticize it for a lack of policy proposals is to criticize North for not giving you change on your taxi fare. Distributism gives you a standard to judge a proposal (will lead to a wider or narrower distribution of property?), just as Libertarianism gives you a standard with which to judge actions by the state (are they coercive?) Since proposals by Distributists vary in type and scope, it is not the job of Distributism per se to pick some to advance as an agenda, but only to provide a standard by which to judge their effect.

To make another comparison with Libertarianism, which flavor of Libertarianism do you follow? The Libertarianism of Lew Rockwell, or that of Reason magazine? They have quite different ideas in many areas, but both justifiably call themselves Libertarian.

Since Distributists have no Koch brothers or Howard Rich sending millions of dollars to our pluriform Distributist think tanks, we have very little structure and less organizing ability. We're just a bunch of nobodies trying to point out the obvious to those who have a vested interest in not getting the point.

On the other hand, if you want some specific policy proposals, we have some. How about a property tax exemption on the 1st $100,000 in industrial machinery? Or a surcharge tax on all property over 120 acres? A 50% payroll tax exemption for the self-employed? Eliminating rate breaks for the largest users of publicly-owned utilities?

All those would be Distributist policies to persue, but they are not Distributism.

Unknown Monday, November 10, 2008 at 3:08:00 PM CST  

Ha ha! Ok, I'll stop laughing. Nice attempt to think about economics. Maybe you will consider pursuing your studies a bit further. You will discover that the state has been intervening in money and banking long before the Fed, and that this is the DIRECT cause of the 19th century business cycles. It is just too exasperating to comment on the claim that the Fed has tamed the cycle.

As for the current cycle, it was not the failure to enforce regulations but the interventions that created a loose money climate that wouldn't exist in a free market. No, I won't make the case in a comment here. Sorry but you might have to do a bit more research instead of writing off the top of your head.

Finally, the Kochs aren't great fans of the Mises Institute, last I heard.

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 4:51:00 PM CST  

Mr. Médaille, if you didn't already know, Jeffrey Tucker is one of the insiders at the hive. I believe he claims to be a Catholic.

Don't you know that Misean thought is pure logic? It's proven science! It's Praxeology! And by golly, the Popes ought to know better than to kick against the goads.

To be a little more serious, the Miseans are monomaniacal about economic man. They act like they have the gnostic knowledge that unlocks the mysteries of human behavior. They are a pretty arrogant bunch because of it, my few humble comments in interactions with them brought only sneers and derision.

Unknown Monday, November 10, 2008 at 4:54:00 PM CST  

Now, that's a very interesting comment since the WHOLE THESIS of Mises's book Human Action is that there is no such thing as "economic man," but rather human action stems from a huge range of motivations.

Silly, silly. Anyway, I'll do my best to stay out of this thread and let you guys have your fun -- free speech and all that.

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 4:58:00 PM CST  

Mr. Tucker, I guess my reading of Human Action and of Mises' various disciples wasn't properly guided, if you know what I mean.

But I hope you engage with Mr. Médaille and I'll step clear and watch.

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 5:15:00 PM CST  

Mr. Tucker, forgive me, I can't help myself, maybe you could clarify. Perhaps I was wrong about the "monomaniacal" accusation, please accept my apologies for being a bit intemperate.

Did Mises try to identify, then, motivations that were licit, and motivations that were illicit? And not just for individuals, but for a society? Maybe that's a better way of saying it.

Maybe I should have said that Mises identified explicitly Christian motivations as illicit at the level of society (for example, in law). Is that a correct statement?

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 7:12:00 PM CST  

Hey John, here's an lecture by George Lakoff about the subject of cognitive linguistics and political thinking but I think it applies to economic thinking because economics is more correctly called "political economy."


Lakoff's site if you want to write him about the studies personally.

Quote: "Beyond that, Mises's economics is built on a system of axiomatic deductions, like geometry."

Exactly, like poorly thought-out geometry aka Euclidean geometry. Real World (Physical) geometry is Riemannian geometry and does not use axiomatic deductions like Euclid.

Einstein's general relativity theory used Riemannian models to prove that the Newtonian axiomatic reasoning was wrong regarding physics and is what is wrong in physics is wrong in economics.

The Austrian school is economics for a Newtonian world but the real world is found in the physics of Gottfried Leibniz and Albert Einstein.

Unfortunately most of the lower order of sciences like Biology (sadly) and Economics have yet to integrate these principles into them for mostly political reasons relating to Imperialism but that's another discussion.

Unknown Monday, November 10, 2008 at 7:30:00 PM CST  

Mises was unwilling to make moral pronouncements on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of human motivation generally except for that which interfered with the peaceful impulse for exchange -- that which was identified by St. Thomas as worthy of civic involvement, that is to say, theft, murder, and the like. He regarded himself as a scientist who described the relationship of cause and effect in human society. What bothered him was the propensity of Christians to bring the state to bear on matters of these associations, and I believe he was wright to be concerned about this. An example might be those who claim you need a massive social assistant state to realize human charity: JP2 similarly criticized this point of view.

Mises's overall perspective is far more subtle than you might expect from, say, the Chicago school. He rejected positivism and preset views on what constitutes truly economic behavior. He was a methodological dualist who saw that different methods apply to the social sciences as versus the natural sciences. Of course he wasn't perfect but he offers an extraordinary challenge that Christian thinkers should take seriously -- and plenty have.

John Médaille Monday, November 10, 2008 at 8:01:00 PM CST  

Sept, thanks for the link. I am listening now and this is very interesting. I haven't critiqued Mises's theories in this post since my only point is to show that he is anti-christian and fundamentally anti-human. He is therefore anti-economic, and his theory defines no economic reality and can find no empirical verification.

Mises did not understand the nature of science, and particularly not economic science. He did not understand the difference between formal and material sciences, and thought economics was about formal relations rather than material ones. Formal sciences, like logic, mathematics, and metaphysics, are axiomatic; material sciences are not; they depend on generalization from observation, not the a priori, as Mises thought.

Even human action is contradictory in Human Action. He insists you can't know motivations, then insists he knows all motivations, but all of his findings are flat contradicted by both all the humane sciences and common human experience. He insists his theory is intuitively obvious in the same way that logic is, and that nobody ever noticed it before. He is full contempt for all the philosophical authorities, and for all the economists as well.

But he was at least intellectually honest; he realized the opposition between his theory and Christianity, and said so. I for one am willing to take him at his word.

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 8:36:00 PM CST  

I did a double take on reading this thread. The description of Mises thought sounded so much like that of Rand I was shocked. There always seemed to me to be a humanity to the Austrian school that was lacking from the Objectivists. It did not occur to me they could be so similar. Did Rothbard take the edge off of Mises after the fact?

Anonymous,  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 9:29:00 PM CST  

Quote from the thereaganwing: "I
seriously doubt the factual basis for this allegation. What is your source? How much money from what sources, both to, and from?"

Well it well know that the Austrian school is the creation of the rent-gouging Hasburgs oligarchs but aside from that I suggest you research the strikebreaking American Legion, the fascist American Liberty League, the Mont Pelerin Society, and track down the financing for these political operations and you will see the begin to borrow David Horowitz term "discover the networks" only the "right foundations" instead of the "left foundations".

You need to understand that the capitalist oligarchs rule indirectly through foundations.

Regarding the Austrian School one needs to study the semi-secret society called the Mont Pelerin Society.

From Wikipedia: "The Mont Pelerin Society is an international organization composed of economists, intellectuals, business leaders, and others who favour classical liberalism; the society advocates free market economic policies and the political values of an open society....

In 1947, 39 scholars, mostly economists, with some historians and philosophers, were invited by Professor Friedrich Hayek to meet at Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, and discuss the state, and possible fate of classical liberalism and to combat the “state ascendancy and Marxist or Keynesian planning [that was] sweeping the globe”. Invitees included Henry Simons (who would later train Milton Friedman, a future president of the society, at the University of Chicago); the American former-Fabian socialist Walter Lippmann; Viennese Aristotelian Society leader Karl Popper; fellow Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises; Sir John Clapham, a senior official of the Bank of England who from 1940–6 was the president of the British Royal Society; Otto von Habsburg, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne; and Max von Thurn und Taxis, Bavaria-based head of the 400-year-old Venetian Thurn und Taxis family."

Now if you know that the "open society" goes back to not Henri Bergson but Jeremy Bentham of the British foreign office and liberal extremist and well the known defending of sexual revolution, pederasts, public homosexuality and the opium trade.

British national George Soros also believes the the "open society" concept and his "Open Society Institute" is carring out eugenics (Birth Control) operation in Africa and most recently installed puppet dictator Mikhail Saakashvili who is a huge fan of the Austrian school of economics see

So as we see the Austrian school has long history with the British/Venetian Oligarchs and the City of London Banksters currently setting a up world finance dictatorship.

Like Marx on the left, the "new right" serves to destroy real tradition aka the tradition of Westphalia (the creation of the great Cardinal Mazarin using the Christian principle of the "interest of the other") and the sovereign nation state.

This brings up full circle. Mises says there can be no action based in the "interest of the other" but the entire framework of modern civilization is the Peace of Westphalia and Cardinal Mazarin which says "the interest of the other."

All this proves is the Mises was a Liberal stated he clearly stated he was a Liberal.

Liberalism seeks to "liberate" modern man from the civil institution of modern society and indeed the restraints of civilization itself and return of the a "free state of nature". It's a basically a "back to jungle" movement and we can see this as far back as Rousseau.

What I can't understand is why so many "Conservatives" are constantly defend economic Liberalism but can't see that economic Liberalism is cultural Liberalism because it is all Liberalism.

What are Conservative trying to conserve? I thought it was our civilization? If they are trying to defend American civilization then why are they citing Liberal Austrians?

It doesn't make sense. Nowadays if anyone defends the American System "conservatives" call them "a Lincoln loving Communist" or "Hamiltonian Plutocrat" and start yapping about Milton Friedman and those Austrian guys. It doesn't make any sense.

If you guys are "Conservatives" and "Traditionalists" then why don't you cite Americans? Oh that's right because Americans hated the European Oligarchy and that is what the so-called conservatives are really trying to conserve.

This leave us with my favorite Chesterton quote....

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."

Joao Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 6:33:00 AM CST  

There is an article at the Mises Institute website ( that reaches the same conclusions concerning Mises views of Jesus, the Church, Christianity in general, and the french revolution.

It's official !

Anonymous,  Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 1:11:00 PM CST  

I would like to see a more formal debate between Jeffery Tucker and John Medaille. I am very partial to the Distributivist ideal, and I have read that Rolpke was the closest to articulating an economic theory/model that was most consistent with Catholic Social Teaching. I understand that Rolpke is considered among the Austrian School.

I have been deeply impressed with the accuracy of the Austrian School in predicting our current economic woes. People like Peter Schiff has been prescient in his analysis.

So help me out. I see the Austrian proof in the pudding, but I don't quite square with all their conclusions about economics and the state.

How about a proper debate on Inside Catholic?

Anonymous,  Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 2:27:00 PM CST  

joao, that was a good link, an article by Rothbard himself. So Mises was an admirer of the French Revolution! And a proud heir of Jeremy Bentham!

Was it not Russell Kirk who observed that the first libertarian was the devil?

Unknown Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 2:31:00 PM CST  

What Mises admired was the Declaration of Rights -- which affirms the right to life and liberty and property, in more explicit terms than even the Declaration of Independence. It was a great document. What became of the Revolution is another matter completely. By the way, Lord Acton explains all of this.

John Médaille Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 3:37:00 PM CST  

Anon, The problem with the "accuracy" of the Austrian predictions is that it is the accuracy of the stopped watch: they always predict disaster.

Schiff wasn't really right either. If you had taken his advice to buy gold, you would have lost your ass, since gold is down almost as much as the SP500. The Austrians expected an inflationary crises, when it fact it has been deflationary.

Austrian economics has been tried over and over again, and the results are always the same: the unintended consequences overwhelm the intended ones. This is the signature of an incomplete theory. In every case, you get huge debts, bloated gov'ts, more centralized authority, etc. Mises has been tested as much as Marx, and with about the same results. Both promise a kind of "withering away of the state"; both deliver an gargantuan state. For more on this, see "Hayek's Super-Highway"

Unknown Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 3:39:00 PM CST  

I gather that the poster above has a kind of dyslexia that mixes up the phrases Austrian Economics and Keynesian economics. My apologies for correcting the disability publicly.

Richard Aleman Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 5:39:00 PM CST  

Why not expend some intellectual energy advancing such a positive program so that it can be evaluated on its merits or failings?

Dear Mr. Tucker,

I believe that is what we are doing, and will continue to do with the print journal in the immediate future, a new site, and as published material increases.

There is, however, a mistake here. It is the assumption that distributists have not laid any groundwork for moving forward. We know this is not true as the cooperative model has succeeded, micro-credit programs are slowly but surely progressed, and the land trust may just prove to rescue the farmer.

However, what we are quarreling about is not simply a "laughable" application of economics, nor an unrealistic philosophy, because if it were so, Acton wouldn't be so threatened as to bother writing an apologia against Distributism, as it has this year. It sure looks like some people are threatened, doesn't it?

Where is our case for the State to intervene? What is your case, as a Catholic, for it not to considering the encyclicals and every document on social justice written by the Church has insisted on the State's responsibilities to do so?

You are correct that we must "expend" much intellectual energy in undoing what has been done. Only in an upside world as today's is our task like moving mountains. But let's recall the words of Christ, shall we?

Many do not think Distributists will triumph. But we will. We will do everything libertarians and other capitalists have failed to do. You won't see us inviting our members on apologetics cruises. We will lecture at events, but more importantly, we will talk to the man on the street corner. We will go to the seminaries and undo what the Acton Institute has done to them. We will talk to even those who won't listen, and flood not only the internet, but our own sidewalks.

Distributism will not stay in academia, nor collect dust on someone's bookshelf. We will pursue it, grow it, and convince others to stand up for the family.

Servire Deo, regnare est.

John Médaille Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 6:14:00 PM CST  

Jeffrey says I gather that the poster above has a kind of dyslexia that mixes up the phrases Austrian Economics and Keynesian economics.

Not quite; it was not Keynesianism that Thatcher, Reagan, Pinochet, etc. practiced, it was reverse Keynesianism: transfers up the line rather than down. This is what the practice of Austrianism has always led to. There are no exceptions to this rule.

You can argue with me, but you cannot argue with history. The best you can do is ignore it, which is always the Austrian response.

John Médaille Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 6:16:00 PM CST  

I should add, Austrianism in practice goes from one dismal failure to another; distributism goes from success to success. The only way to evaluate a social theory is to see how it works in practice. In practice, what we advocate works, and what you advocate does not.

Joao Friday, November 14, 2008 at 6:05:00 AM CST  

"By the way, Lord Acton explains all of this."

Lord Acton tends to corrupt:

... like all catholic dissidents.

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 6:26:00 AM CST  

Lord Acton's views prevailed at the First Vatican Council, and his agitation against P9's push for political infallibility stopped a calamity. He was agent of the Holy Spirit during that Council, and was faithful to all teachings.

Joao Friday, November 14, 2008 at 10:31:00 AM CST  

"Lord Acton's views prevailed at the First Vatican Council" ???

I did try to write my dissertation about Lord Acton. But failed...

So I cannot say I'm an expert. But, if you read Acton's own and writings concerning the papacy, Gertrude Himmelfarbs's intelectual biography of Acton and Roland Hill's fairly recent (less than 10 years old) biography of Lord Acton you would conclude that:

"The main event in Acton's career as a statesman or diplomat was undoubtedly the controversy over papal infallibility, which eventuated in the calling in 1869 of the first Vatican Council by Pope Pius IX (recently beatified). The most striking irony of the affair is that Lord Acton-who led, or organized, or served as the behind-the-scenes coordinator of the opposition to a declaration of infallibilityas not a member of the clergy, and had no official invitation or even any kind of accreditation to attend the Council as an observer. By sheer force of his intellect and his linguistic and diplomatic skills, Acton, in Rome during the months from 1869-70, served as the nerve center for opposition voices all over Europe and America arguing that a declaration of papal infallibility was unwise. Some-the 'inopportunists'-were opposed because they felt the timing was wrong, but Acton, along with Dollinger and others in the losing cause, believed papal infallibility was wrong purely and simply."

Lord Acton's (historical) arguments against the infaliblity of the Pope are, nowadays, used by protestants to deny the Petrine privilege.

Acton died without ever recognising he was wrong. He never formally professed his faith in the infalible Council teachigs, although he was asked to.

He never formally left the church, either. That's why I call him 'dissident' and not schismatic and heretic like is friend and teacher Doellinger who eventually joined the "Old Catholic Church".

If you want I can provide more detailed quotations and references (taken from my, now defunct, dissertation - I will have to translate it, though !).

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 10:36:00 AM CST  

But you forget the differences between what P9 wanted and what eventually emerged. What got Acton's goat was the demand that the Papacy be declared POLITICALLY infallible. As a result of his agitation and work, the ambition was scaled back dramatically to what even he recognized was the status quot ante: infallibility on faith and morals only. The ultramontantists LOST that struggle and Acton won. We are all in his debt.

Joao Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:01:00 PM CST  

I am sorry but you are wrong. :)

In the first place, Papal Infalibility was, from the beggining, to deal with issues of faith and morals:

Check this history of the Vatican Council in the Catholic Encyclopedia - section C1( see that the first proposal of the definition mentioned only issues of faith and morals.

And please read this encyclopedia article about the Bull Aeterni Patris of Pius IX by which he summoned the Vatican Council [written before the council] and where the Pope makes clear that the issues at hand concern faith and morals (

I can also add that Lord Acton's historical arguments against Papal infalibility casted doubt on the ability of the Pope to define dogmas on issues of faith.

So to say that "ultramontantists LOST that struggle and Acton won", is probably not a very solid evidence-based thesis.

Could it be that you're mixing the issue of infalibility with the temporal power of popes (which, BTW, Acton supported)?

So, you see, Catholics should not feel very indebted towards Lord Acton. Not only was he wrong in 1870, his historical arguments are still being used today against the Church.

He did write some funny aforisms, though !

If you have any evidence that contradicts what I say above I will be happy to review it.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:01:00 PM CST  

Where is this proof that Blessed Pius IX pushed for political infalliblity? All we have is your word, and not very reliable, IMHO.

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:08:00 PM CST  

Right, don't take my word for it. Read Roland Hill's biography or any conventional history of the the First Vatican Council. It does no good to cite the first public presentation of the proposed dogma. Bishops hung around for a very long time having no idea why they were even there! By the time there was a public proposal, the decision to reject P9's farflung demands had already been made. Folks, you need to recall the political context here. The Papal states were dissolving and P9 himself had undergone a conversion from liberalism to defensiveness concerning the Papal political role. This is why the Council was called in the first place! The Holy Spirit intervened and set matters right, and Lord Acton was the instrument.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:21:00 PM CST  

"Conventional history"? You mean ones written by liberals always opposed to the Church or those written by true Catholics?

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:25:00 PM CST  

Believe what you want--it is, more or less, a free country--but the facts are not in dispute. I'm not blaming P9. These were difficult times, and the Church was sociologically unprepared for the democratic age, and for good reason too. The Pope was looking for ways to entrench Catholic political power to stave off the onslaught. Acton believed the approach of announcing universal political infallibility was short-sighted, and clearly B16 agrees.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:28:00 PM CST  

How did Pope Pius IX want to call political infallibility when he himself admitted the mistakes he made in politics, like freeing all the political prisoners, etc.? Yes, he was at first a political liberal, but that quickly changed. And I see that Lord Acton did not even papal infallibility as defined, even according to Roland Hill's biography.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:28:00 PM CST  

Oops, that should read "Acton didn't believe in papal infallibility"

Joao Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:32:00 PM CST  

Poor Holy Spirit.
He always gets the blame.

Note that I also mentioned the Bull that summoned the council written, of course, before the Council.

I will quote directly from Acton on this. And from Roland Hill.

But right now I'm going to the movies !

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:32:00 PM CST  

It's true that he favored no new declaration of anything but this was in light of the manner in which the controversy emerged in the first place. If it was true that the Church always taught Papal infallibility as regards faith and morals, which was it necessary to declare anything. He was worried about the fate of English Catholics, for example, and the effects in entrenching the triumphalist spirit as opposed to the liberal spirit, and in this Newman agreed with him. Once the deed was done, he eventually went on record in accepting it in light of tradition.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:38:00 PM CST  

What controversy? The Minority only thought it inopportune (many of them anyways), but it seems to me that you ignore Hill in saying that Acton accepted papal infallibility. In fact, some reviews characterize Acton as not believing papal infallibility, but not willing to go into schism. Unless those reviews are wrong.

Joao Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:42:00 PM CST  

According to Roland Hill's biography, Acton remained silent and never answered requests from english bishops (other than His Bishop) to make clear his submission to the dogma. The Bishops in the minority, those who were close to Acton, accepted it (Even the croatian bishop who protestants sometimes quote).

Acton's mentor Doellinger left the Church. His friends and supporters formed "the Old Catholic Church" and other 'eclesial communities'.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:52:00 PM CST  

Wow, I never knew that governments have continuously tested the economic recommendations of Mises.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 12:59:00 PM CST  

BTW, Mr. Tucker, you state that the bishops didn't know what they were doing at the Council for a long time. That contradicts the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on the First Vatican Council, as well as Msgr. Philip Hughes' book on the Councils. In fact, they state that there was perhaps no other council (prior to VII) that had more preparation than Vatican I.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 1:04:00 PM CST  

I would also add that the Catholic Encyclopedia contradicts your assertion that Pius IX wanted to proclaim political infallibility.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 1:14:00 PM CST  

One last thing before I go (and allow you to gainsay me): I'm sorry to say this, but a person who proclaims the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man to be a great document, in opposition to the various Papal condemnations (before Vatican II) rightly earns my suspicion. One who doesn't link the Revolution to that monstrosity is not logical, especially in claiming that the Revolution went one way and the Declaration another.

There! I'm done. Have at it.

Richard Aleman Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:03:00 PM CST  

Dear Mr. Tucker,

My suggestion is to formalize this discussion in the form of a debate.

You may or may not be aware that my new non-profit The Society for Distributism is participating in a debate next year (April 4th) on Long Island NY, with Thomas Storck representing us, Dr. Charles Clark for the socialist position, and Michael Novak will represent the capitalist.

The name of the conference is "Catholicism and Economics". Over the weekend, I will post a flyer for the debate on our site.

I believe we should co-host a debate between the "Mises Institute" and "The Society for Distributism".

John Medaille vs. Thomas Woods or yourself.

We could pick a specific topic, schedule a location for the debate, and webcast the event.

Would the Mises Institute be interested in a challenge?

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:23:00 PM CST  

sounds fun but who has time?

A much better use of time is to go do the reading.

I feel the same about this Acton debate. We are talking about known facts here. the people above are doing quicky web searches in some goofy gotcha game but that just doesn't do. you have to understand the history and context.

Anyway, i hope that all readers have more to think about now.

Richard Aleman Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:42:00 PM CST  

sounds fun but who has time?

A much better use of time is to go do the reading.

I feel the same about this Acton debate. We are talking about known facts here. the people above are doing quicky web searches in some goofy gotcha game but that just doesn't do. you have to understand the history and context.

Anyway, i hope that all readers have more to think about now.

Dear Mr. Tucker,

I agree that everyone here has experienced a "gotcha" moment. However, I do believe our readers are well aware of the historical context surrounding Acton's dissention of papal infallibility. We happen to have readers of the highest caliber.

I'm sure between the Mises and Acton Institutes, there must be someone with the time for a formal and live debate.


We would hope so, considering the stakes both think-tanks have claimed as representatives of Catholic politico-economic thought.

If you do not have the time, that is understandable. We all have to make time for families and work.

However, I would certainly hope, given your position with the Mises organisation, that you could pass this on to someone in your hierarchy, and accept the challenge.

My email is societyfordistributism//

We look forward to your response.

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:46:00 PM CST  

Is this debate on distributivism? How about this: send me your best essay on the topic and I'll critique in Inside Catholic.

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:49:00 PM CST  

If you don't want to debate, don't debate, but we can do without the condescension. You are obviously speaking with people who do know the material and have done their homework, even if you disagree with their interpretation.

But in fact, the interpretation is no different from the conclusion reached by Rothbard and Hulman, Austrian thinkers cited in the article. So I can't be that far wrong.

Austrians do not like to debate, because their system is too precarious intellectually. It is a closed system of axioms, and such systems are always vulnerable to the question "where do these axioms come from?" As it turns out, they come full-blown from the mind of Mises and are flat contradicted by all the humane sciences and by common human experience. Further, Austrianism lacks any empirical confirmation, and every historical attempt at Austrian economics lead to disaster. So they are vulnerable to both ends of the debate. They do best with other Enlightenment types which whom they share the same basic convictions but only differ in matters of interpretation.

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:53:00 PM CST  

The proposal was to debate Mises; if you want to debate Distributism, we can do it here anytime.

But if you want to debate Mises, you can start by explaining how you draw an axiom of action out of the thin air as an a prior without reference to the humane sciences.

This should be fun.

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:58:00 PM CST  

So you want me to reprint the first 200 pages of Mises's Human Action?

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:03:00 PM CST  

Thanks, I've read it. Is that the only way you can debate the point? After reading him, you have nothing to offer and no other way to present him?

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:07:00 PM CST  

This is just getting silly. I'm debating with a guy that says everywhere the free market has been tried, it's failed.

Maybe you are talking to each other too much?

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:13:00 PM CST  

I can't think of a single instance in which a free-market in the Austrian sense has ever existed, beyond the most primitive barter. Can you give us an historical example?

The market system we have today--throughout the world--is thoroughly Keynesian. We had systems closer to the Austrian, and they were highly unstable. The American economy, for example, in the period from 1853-1953, was in recession and depression fully 40% of the time. Since then (that is, since the dominance of Keynesianism) it has been in recession only 15% of the time.

Which system do you think most people would prefer?

Richard Aleman Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:15:00 PM CST  

So you want me to reprint the first 200 pages of Mises's Human Action?

Do we have to reprint the Gospel to answer a question about Christianity?

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:17:00 PM CST  

But these aren't sincere questions. They are just wild belligerent claims (some of which are just embarrassing) with double-dare demands for instant responses. Hardly civil. It can be useful to open a book and your mind along with it.

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:21:00 PM CST  


As I said, the Austrians never debate, they merely insist. That's all you can do with a closed system of axioms, with an a priori methodology.

My questions are valid, the history accurate. I have taken the trouble to research Mises, and was in fact a Misean at one time.

Then I studied philosophy, and had to choose between science and ideology.

Sorry. I choose science.

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:23:00 PM CST  

John, you are just a model of scientific scholarship - a real inspiration to us all!

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:29:00 PM CST  

You may make fun of Mr. Medaille all you want, but I also find Mises wanting. So also the Catholic Church until supposedly Pope John Paul II (which even Distributists won't agree as even he allows for the Welfare State in some instances).

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:30:00 PM CST  

I have concentrated on the facts of history, and on the ideas of Mises in his own words and as interpreted by his own supporters. I know of no other way to treat a thinker fairly. I have not relied on mere personal sarcasm to avoid a real debate, nor attempted to change the facts of history. If I have presented Mises's ideas incorrectly, than correct me, but also correct Rothbard and Hulman, who share my opinion. If I have presented the history incorrectly, than correct me, or if you can't, then offer an alternative interpretation.

All of that is what I call "scientific." How do you do science?

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:31:00 PM CST  

One good start would be to spell Hulsmann correctly.

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:36:00 PM CST  

So Mr. Medaille misspelt Hulsmann. Whoop-de-doo. It doesn't make his analysis wrong. Just criticism of cosmetic details. Is that all?

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 3:39:00 PM CST  

This from the gentleman who complained of "gotcha," without pointing one out.

Do you at least have a sense, Jeffrey, of why your arguments fail to persuade? Is the fault in your hearers or in yourself?

Anonymous,  Friday, November 14, 2008 at 6:37:00 PM CST  

When a Libertarian looks at the national vote, he thinks to himself, "what is wrong with 99.6% of the people out there?"

Ideologues score pretty low on self-awareness, self-examination.

Roy F. Moore Friday, November 14, 2008 at 8:30:00 PM CST  

Well done, John and Richard! Well done indeed.

Unknown Friday, November 14, 2008 at 9:33:00 PM CST  

Let's just back up a moment and see why it seems like we need Google translator or something. The guy above says: "We had systems closer to the Austrian, and they were highly unstable. The American economy, for example, in the period from 1853-1953, was in recession and depression fully 40% of the time. Since then (that is, since the dominance of Keynesianism) it has been in recession only 15% of the time."

Leaving aside the phony statistics, let's see, there was an egregious tariff in 1860 followed by an inflationary war followed by martial law, a restoration of the gold standard that brought on the gilded age, an another inflation during war followed by bust in 1907 which led to the centralization of banking, the income tax, and WWI which was all round price controls and domestic socialism, followed by a deflationary period that led to prosperity until the boom fueled by the Fed...well, I guess I'll stop this instant history here just to ask: what the heck is Austrian about all of this?

There is so much confusion about cause and effect in the posts above that one would swear that these comboxes are population by nihilists.

Athanasius Friday, November 14, 2008 at 10:32:00 PM CST  

Yes, even if we granted all that merely for the sake of argument, what occurred in the "roaring 20's" in the way of government intervention? Absolutely nothing. While Harding couldn't keep his hands off other people's wives, he was noted for not doing anything which would affect the economy, and likewise Coolidge. Yet, there was the 1929 crash. What caused the crash? It wasn't the fed, although I'll definitely grant that the fed made it worse. It wasn't the government overtaxing or over spending. It wasn't capital gains, it was market failure, because markets left to themselves are controlled by the strongest common denominator, which is greed. The same thing is responsible for the current recession, because the area of market failure was an unregulated area of market investment, derivatives which are, or were, estimated at ten times the gross domestic product of the planet.

Lastly, the civil war actually stimulated investment because, as in both world wars, the federal government borrowed money and provided more funds to banks. A tariff here and a tariff there scarcely eliminates the fact that the majority of this country's industries from the mid 19th century until the present operate largely on a free market model, and were frequently in recession.

John Médaille Friday, November 14, 2008 at 10:36:00 PM CST  

Jeffrey, Why do you call them "phony statistics"? They are straight from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the organization officially charged with declaring recessions, and these facts are well-known to economic historians and are not considered contentious.

Yes, there was a tariff; but the stats are worse in England, where there was no tariff. And are you seriously arguing that there was more gov't involvement in the economy before the depression than after? I think you would have a hard time arguing that thesis.

But it doesn't matter. You don't have to accept the thesis that the pre-war economy was closer to economic Austria than the post-war Keynesianism. But you are still stuck with the fact that you cannot locate, in all of human history, a successful implementation of your theory; it remains faith-based economics. We do know that the people who attempted to follow Hayek followed him over an economic cliff. And that's pretty much the historical argument, pacé the historical speculations Karl Menger.

You are free to believe in abstractions is you wish; I like to see how things work on the ground. As the Wit has said, "Philosophy is easy; plumbing is hard." I don't think the Austrian system plumbs; your sewer just backs up. But if I am wrong, just show me the historical example, and all my arguments are undone.

Unknown Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 6:45:00 AM CST  

Ok, I've got one guy here denying that the Fed had anything to do with asset price inflation in the 1920s, that the civil war stimulated investment (broken window fallacy anyone?) and another guy throwing around childish percentages based on 100 year clumps of economic history--and citing the NBER--and claiming that the free market caused the current plight. I would love to help you folks (I'm in the business of education here) but I'll say again that you need to stop this ridiculous posturing that you know something about economics when clearly you do not.

I'm really stunned, I must say. Recently we've considered putting together a good high school curriculum on economics, and this experience here certainly shows me that this is an essential step. but lacking that for now, if you are interested in a good reading list, please write me at

That person above--an intelligent and thoughtful person--who disagrees with my rendering of Acton should also write me. I would like to explore this topic some more. It has been a couple of years since I was steeped in that literature and I would like to look back at it, particularly at the relationship between P9 and the eventual emergence of the religious liberty teaching at V2.

All the best.

John Médaille Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 8:55:00 AM CST  

Mr. Tucker has certainly given us all an object lesson in Misean debate tactics. He will not engage on the historical issues, because Austrianism has no history. He cannot engage on the scientific issues, because Austrianism is flat contradicted by the humane sciences. He cannot engage on the philosophical issues, because Austrianism is, at best rating, philosophically naive.

So where does that leave him? To argue purely by assertion. The contempt with which Mises treats Jesus Christ is the template for the way Austrians treat any disagreement. This is not an accident; it is the natural result of any system of closed axioms; they cannot allow any examination of these axioms, or the system collapses.

Mr. Tucker claims a superior knowledge of economics, one that he disdains to demonstrate, but merely asserts. What else can he do? He has no examples to offer us because none exist.

Distributists are more than willing to engage the world on historical, philosophical, and scientific grounds because he have a clear history, and sound philosophy, and a scientifically testable theory. Austrianism has none of these. Mises must quarrel with Christ because he must quarrel with everybody. All of their arguments look like Tucker's arguments: all assertion, no facts, no philosophy, no science.

For some reason, I find that unpersuasive.

Unknown Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 10:01:00 AM CST  

I'm amazed that the poster above can't learn all economics, history, philosophy, and science in a blog combox. That's is a terrible outrage. Someone must do something about it. All knowledge must fit with 50 words, else it is not worth knowing.

Incidentally, Austrians have written about, oh, 300 or so histories of this and that.

Incidentally, for those who read, we have a 1928 study of Juan de Mariana's political economy coming out next week. It has long been out of print. Very exciting news for Catholics not attached to the anti-economic, static, and absurd theories of distributivism.

John Médaille Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 10:22:00 AM CST  

Jeffrey, I am quite aware that Miseans have their own versions of history. However, none of those histories include a Misean moment, because no such moment exists. Further, they cannot engage with others outside their circle on these histories, because theirs is a closed system.

Your complaint that you don't have enough space to explain anything here is unconvincing, since the box expands to any length you like or need. People in other fields do hold conversations without merely requiring others to read (and agree with) some tome.

You end as you begin, by merely expressing contempt for those who disagree; this was Mises's method as well. And you may call distributism "absurd," but this fact you cannot get around: Distributism is on the ground, working, producing wealth, equity, and equilibrium; one can examine its actual operation to see how well it functions. At no time in history, can this be said of Mises's theories.

Anonymous,  Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 2:35:00 PM CST  


This has also been my experience with Austrians, they make assertions with no references. In another blog a Austrian was complaining that no one would deal with an assertion by Mr. Woods about Paul VI, and how the implementation of his program caused great poverty. So I explained that if he would give me the details ie what was implemented, where it was implemented, and what he felt the results were, I would be willing to look at it and discuss it. Of course that ended the conversation. This person read it, thinking it to be the Gospel, and regurgitated it, but as soon as someone asks for proof of the assertion, conversation over. How can you talk with these people?

John Médaille Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 4:13:00 PM CST  


Many have noticed this same pattern in discussions with Austrians. I believe there is a reason for it; it comes from thinking of economics as a set of a priori axioms. This is legitimate in geometry. If you are told that the object has inside angles greater than 180 degrees, you know it is not a triangle; you don't have to actually look at it. In the same way, told that Paul VI contradicts Mises, they "know" it can't be economic; they don't have to look at it.

Austrians have a problem with history and evidence, because there system has no history and admits of no evidence. By definition, the theory cannot be refuted by facts, and can't be challenged in principle, because its principle's are held a priori and hence beyond challange.

But this doesn't even work in geometry, especially after the discovery of triangles whose angles are greater or lesser than 180.

Jim R. Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 6:44:00 PM CST  

Mr. Médaille,

Thank you for this discussion. I have some questions. Do you reject a priori axioms outright? If so, are you prepared to dismiss Scholastic philosophy, including the works of Aquinas?

Or do you object specifically to the axioms of the Austrians? Has science contradicted the assertion that humans act to increase their satisfaction (or remove uneasiness)?

John Médaille Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 9:31:00 PM CST  

Jim, Aquinas does not use a priori's in Mises's sense, he uses self-evident propositions. These are propositions which, once the terms are grasped, the truth is immediately seen, and there can be no meaningful dispute. So for example, we have a self-evident proposition such as "If A > B, and B > C, then A > C." Once you understand the symbols, there is no debating the truth of the proposition. However, the proposition only applies to formal relations, because it may not be true in the material world. For example, people routinely have circular preference scales, violating the formal proposition just advanced. So a particular person may prefer Coke to Pepsi, Pepsi to lemonade, and lemonade to Coke!

Material relations cannot be resolved to formal propositions. So while I may (and in fact do) disagree with the axioms of Austrian economics, the real problem is methodological; even if the propositions were true, the method is wrong. In other words, Mises is simply wrong about what kind of a science economics is; he treats as a formal and speculative science that which is (self-evidently) a practical and moral science.

The first principle of speculative science is (as you know) the principle of non-contradiction, that is, "A thing cannot both be and not be in the same way at the same time." The first principle of practical reason is "The good ought to be done and evil avoided." These are called "first principles," but they really aren't; that is, they never really appear as the major premise in a proposition; they are really standards of judgment. That is, we follow a chain of reason until it violates one of the first principles, and then we judge the thing to be false. In that sense, first principles are more properly called "last principles," because they mark the spot where we abandon, or should abandon, a chain of reasoning.

Unknown Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 10:01:00 PM CST  

But you can't have a circular preference expressed in action at any one moment in time. In any case, the science of action doesn't comment on subjective values. It only deals with the results (cause and effect) of preferences insofar as they are acted upon: that is the logical implications of choice within a world of scarce resources and the passage of time.

John Médaille Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 12:09:00 AM CST  

Jeffrey, Mises does comment on subjective values, and I quoted just one of the many places where he assigns precise motives for our actions; he claims to know this universally, for all actions, without exception. You are are correct that in other places, he will deny any knowledge of such motives. It is just one of the many inconsistencies that abound in his rather jejune text. And he always assigns the basest and meanest of motives, as in the above quote. Do you want more of this? I can give you as much as you like. His text is full of these claims.

The problem is that we do have sciences of human action, and they generally contradict Mises. Septeus offered a link to a lecture by George Lakoff; I strongly suggest you listen to it. By itself, it destroys Mises.

Mises cannot be reconciled with science; one must be a scientist or a Misean, but not both. One must be an Austrian or an economist, but not both, and those who pretend to do both are deluding themselves. One chooses a set of dogmatisms, or one chooses to make real observations.

But on one point at least, Mises and I are agreed, and on this point you cannot attack me without attacking Mises. And that point is the point of the article: Mises's thought, gathered from the effluvia of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, cannot be reconciled with Catholic Christianity.

Unknown Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 8:01:00 AM CST  

I made a very specific point about your comment about circular preferences, but I gather that you don't want to take that up. You would rather dismiss all post-Enlightenment thought (by the way, Misesian theory traces to the late scholastics). But as I understand what you are saying, you are making a more extreme claim to reject the idea that economics is a science at all, that it has anything to teach us that is not found already in moral doctrine.

So your critique of Mises would also apply to Smith, Turgot, Senior, Say, Bastiat, Ricardo, Wicksteed, Cantillon, Tracy, Menger, Hayek, Machlup, Fetter, and on and on.

At least it helps make sense of your opening editorial on the page that praises the glories of the unions that have destroyed car manufacturing in the US. If you are going to defend these violent thug gangs that live as parasite at the expense of others, it does indeed become necessary to reject economics as a science.

John Médaille Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 9:24:00 AM CST  

Wow, Jeffrey, such a short post, so many errors. Where to begin? I did not cite circular preference scales as a critique of Mises's value scheme (although I can do that if you want), but as an example of the difference between formal and material propositions, a point to which you have yet to respond. This point, by the way, is one which Austrians take great care to avoid, since they cannot answer it, and their whole method breaks apart on this one point.

I did not claim that economics is not a science; on the contrary, I claim that Austrianism cannot be a science and therefore cannot be economics.

My critique would apply to some of the authors you mention, but not all. Certainly it applies to Hayek, Menger, Bastiat, and Senior. Senior is the father of the work house and spoke with such hatred of the poor and in such vile terms, terms that the Austrians are more than willing to overlook or even accept. He advocated the suppression of the poor both politically and militarily.

As far as tracing Misean thought to the scholastics, Mises himself denies this. He mentions St. Thomas only once and the Scholastic only a few times, mostly to heap scorn on them. His most amusing statement on the scholastics is that they are wrong because there cannot be an omnipotent, acting God, since action can only arise from discontent and an omnipotent cannot therefore act. Mises is very funny, but he never gets his own jokes. So, Omnipotence, the power to act in any way, becomes in Mises the inability to act at all.

A long line of Austrians, from Schumpeter to Chafuen, have tried to make of Thomas a proto-Austrian in defiance of Mises, but the attempts are absurd, especially in Chafuen, who starts off admitting he cannot find his central thesis in the Scholastics, but imputes it to them anyway.

And as far as praising the unions goes, is there a literacy problem? The author, Tom Laney, specifically speaks of the "thoughtless" and "anti-worker" UAW.

Anonymous,  Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 11:59:00 AM CST  

Mr. Tucker, you're shooting yourself in the foot more; you obviously haven't read Mr. Laney's post carefully.

Jim R. Monday, December 1, 2008 at 12:15:00 PM CST  

Thanks for the comments, especially Mr. Médaille's response to my earlier post.

George Lakoff provides an interesting perspective, but in no way does he contradict Mises. Praxeology studies human action as such, regardless of whether this action arises from reason, emotion, the unconscious, brain chemistry, societal influence, etc. The reasons for action -- including preferences, circular or otherwise -- lie outside the scope of praxeology.

John Médaille Monday, December 1, 2008 at 2:43:00 PM CST  

Jim, I must dissent from your view of Praxeology: it does make statements about human motivations, and these statements are flat contradicted by the humane sciences. It is does not study action "as such." It does not study action at all. It makes unprovable statements about human actions and then places these statements beyond discussion by making them a priori. But that is not what an a priori is. The "axioms of action" all stand in contradiction to what we know of humans. Mises is simply ignorant of science; he attempts the methods of speculative science in the realm of practical science. He simply hasn't a clue.

Jim R. Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 12:48:00 PM CST  

I suppose Mises could have made some speculative statements about motivations, and these statements may have been contradicted by science. After all, he published Human Action more than 50 years ago, and science has progressed since then. But any such statements fall outside the scope of praxeology, which studies purposeful human action regardless of cause. Mises makes this point repeatedly in his work.

Perhaps you could provide an example of an unsupported, speculative statement that Mises makes.

John Médaille Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 1:43:00 PM CST  

"Neither love not charity nor any other sympathetic sentiments but rightly understood selfishness is what originally impelled man to adjust himself to the requirements
of society...(HA 165)"

"The entrepreneur is the man who dedicates them to special purposes. In doing so he is driven solely by the selfish interest in making profits and in acquiring wealth. HA 291"

"The man who gives alms to hungry
children does it, either because he values his own satisfaction expected from this gift higher than any other satisfaction he could buy by spending this
amount of money, or because he hopes to be rewarded in the beyond.
HA 735"

In all of these statements, Mises pretends to know why I act. He does not. My own experience contradicts him, as does the entire experience of mankind as well as all of the social sciences. Self-interest is involved in action, but to flatten all action to self-interest is simply wrong.

Mises carries it to ridiculous lengths, even to the metaphysical. He denies there can be an omnipotent God because action can only result from discontent, and a God cannot be discontented and therefore cannot act. Such absurd logic-chopping is typical of Mises.

Unknown Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 2:22:00 PM CST  

So it turns out that you don't understand economic reasoning (not a surprise actually). What Mises says about "motivation" here is merely tautological, akin to writing the following: "I am writing this comment here because I prefer writinga comment here to any other activity I might otherwise undertake in less than one minute on this Tuesday morning." It is true by definition, merely one step in a chain of reasoning.

Try again.

John Médaille Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 2:53:00 PM CST  

Jeffrey, please look up the word "tautology."

And you are wrong. Because someone performs an action does not imply that is the action they would prefer to be performing. This is simply an assertion with no factual basis.

The only sense it could be true is either definitional or trivially, in which case, no valid conclusions could be drawn. But in fact, Mises (as I have shown) purports to know not just the fact of action, but the source of action, even a source projected onto the Godhead. Such logic-chopping is characteristic of his writings.

Jim R. Monday, December 8, 2008 at 2:53:00 PM CST  

Mr. Médaille,

Thank you for the quotes. Mises seems to be commenting here on specific types of actions, but praxeology need not be so specific. Instead, it addresses the nature of human action, not the actions themselves. It holds that humans act with a purpose or goal (not counting involuntary or reflexive actions such as flinching). With each action the actor forgoes alternatives that he or she deems less important. These statements seem self-evident.

From these axioms one can deduce the concept of marginal utility and the laws of supply and demand -- ideas that are widely accepted among economists, including opponents of the Austrians. This widespread acceptance provides further support that the axioms themselves are true. It also shows that one need not invoke history or empiricism to explain economic activity.

Mises is not an all-knowing authority, particularly on theological matters, but he has put forth a sound method of explaining economic phenomena.

John Médaille Monday, December 8, 2008 at 3:19:00 PM CST  

Jim, Sure, it is self-evident: self-evidently wrong. As anyone knows who has sat zoning out in front of the TV watching a show they don't even like when they should be preparing a company report or a term paper. Everybody has this experience, some of us(like myself) more than others. To say that what we are doing is always the most important thing for us simply assumes facts not in evidence, and contradicts daily experience. People do prioritize their actions--with enough training and discipline. But that is an acquired habit, not something that happens "naturally" and certainly not in all cases.

Psychologists will tell you that human motivations of complex, dense, multi-form and variable, and not subject to the reductionism that Mises attempts. He ignores psychology because it, like all the humane sciences, contradicts everything he said.

Further, he has worked causality in the wrong direction. Instead of proving (as his thesis requires) that humans act only on their most important needs, he merely states that whatever someone is doing is his most need; in other words, he assumes what he should prove.

And then he completely contradicts himself; after proclaiming that motivation isn't important, he proclaims that he knows the motivations of every action (and not just a certain kind, as you claim) and can derive marginal utility from that knowledge.

Marginal utility is a physical reality, not a psychological one. In a finite world, all physical processes are linear only within a given domain and then become marginalized. Mises, misunderstanding science as he did, confused a physical reality for a psychological one. This confusion in the nature of the sciences is evident throughout his work.

He simply got it wrong. All wrong. And every scientist agrees on this point, even if they agree on little else.

Jim R. Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 2:26:00 PM CST  

If a man is watching TV instead of writing a paper, it is because watching TV -- at that moment -- is more satisfying to him than writing the paper. If it weren’t, then he wouldn’t be watching TV. This preference, of course, can change at any moment. He can turn off the TV and start writing the paper. He may also conclude that watching TV is not as satisfying as he thought it would be. (Mises uses the term “satisfaction” in a strictly formal sense; it is subjective, so the actor can define it any way he likes.)

In your example (if I’m interpreting it correctly), a man, while watching TV, holds some general conviction that writing is more important than TV. But this conviction lies outside the scope of praxeology; it becomes relevant only when it manifests itself in action. What matters is that the man is deriving satisfaction in the moment from watching TV, not from writing. Praxeology does not hold that people constantly engage in what they generally believe to be most important. Instead, it looks at specific actions in the moment.

One’s decision-making process may indeed derive from a complex mix of factors, but these factors also lie outside the scope of praxeology. Instead, praxeology holds simply that human beings act. This statement is undeniable. Psychology, or any other discipline, cannot possibly falsify it, because any attempt to do so would instead prove it.

John Médaille Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 2:54:00 PM CST  

Jim, you are worse than wrong: you are self-contradictory. You cannot say at the same time "This action is more satisfactory" and "I don't can make no statements about satisfaction." But when you say satisfaction is "subjective" and you can make no statements about it.

Further, to say that "satisfaction" is a formal term reveals an ignorance about formal and material terms. There is no "formal" sense of "satisfaction"; it is a material term. Your whole (pseudo)science is merely a confusion between formal and material terms. You give the game away when you say that psychology can't falsify your usage: you posit a "science" of human action that you admit has no relation to human action (psychology).

What you have is a naive and childish, yet arrogant, confusion of speculative and material science. Which is a polite way of saying, "It's all nonsense."

Let me try to help: formal terms deal with relationships of form, e.g. statements like "If A>B, and B>C, than A>C." Formal relationships are only formally true; they may not actually work when the terms acquire material content. Material relations concern actually existing things, like persons. Mises and the Austrians simply do not understand basic epistemological terms. It is childish naivety combined with incredible arrogance.

Jim R. Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 11:18:00 PM CST  

But there are formal aspects of human action. For example, each action involves the forgoing of alternatives, as one can only do so much at one time. This is true of all actions, regardless of their content. In this sense, it is formal.

John Médaille Friday, December 26, 2008 at 10:32:00 AM CST  

Jim, while you are correct that there is a material limit on physical human actions, I would not agree that it is a formal constraint on action. To be a formal restraint, there must be something in the definition of action that implies singularity. But this is not so.

In the material world, bodies can only move in one direction at a time; if I choose to go to New York, I cannot simultaneously go to California. But the constraint is a limitation on matter, not action. And even at the quantum level, this constraint breaks down, since in double-slit experiments the single particle passes thru both slits.

As a human, I can walk and chew gum (yes, even I), sing in the shower. In playing chess, I can pursue multiple strategies at once. We cannot say of action apart from matter that it is so constrained. For Divine action, beyond both matter and time, all actions are simultaneous.

But I must say that practically none of these comments get to the subject of the post: Can Mises be Baptized? Those who face this question must at least take Mises's own opinion of his work seriously, yet I cannot see that anyone has done so. I, the anti-Misean, take Mises seriously, while the true Misean believers ignore him completely on this matter. Why is that?

Unknown Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 1:27:00 AM CST  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Campbell Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 8:03:00 AM CST  

John, read your book 2x, greatread and really exposes the problem.

Let's see, Lord ACton was a instrumentof the Holy Ghost, Pius IX was not that great and the Masonic Declaration of the RIghts of Man was great....

I think this is called Modernism!!! Which is what Libertarian economics is...sad when so called "traditionalists" like Mises-paid Tom Woods promotes this in defiance of Catholic teaching....some wolves in the sheepfold, no?

Thanks for your excellant blog, book, etc...hopefully, when I get the moeny, will continue with ed at Dallas and can take your classes.BTW-do I have permission to reprint your articles at my site?

Anonymous,  Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 11:02:00 AM CDT  

Late to the party on this thread, but found it via Western Confucian after reading the more current material on the financial crisis (

While Jeffrey Tucker captures my POV re:human action, I firmly believe the RC social teachings on subsidiarity encompass them AND John Medaille's hopes for a more just access to the means of (wealth-generating) production (personal savings or capital assets, land or tools) consider this bonmot: "Who knew social issues (properly understood) were the way toward fiscal responsibility?" H/T to the antipodean Mercatornet

The "properly understood" part is where I think more engagement with the material is needed perhaps? Mises may have had some unsavory things to say about socialists who prayed in Church, but then Belloc had some unsavory things to say about entrepreneurs who prayed in synagogues, but we know that the gifts of the Holy Spirit aren't items on a menu in the cafeteria, one may not have an appetite for scientia without also slaking ones thirst for intellectus (one may not profess pie Jesu but decline reverence to His Jewish family still living, as too one may not accept the fortitude offered in the Eucharist but decline the council contained therein: dicere de septem donis Spiritus sancti, quae sunt donum sapientiae et intellectus, donum consilii et fortitudinis, donum scientiae et pietatis et donum timoris Domini. Et procedemus non eo modo, quo procedit Isaias, sed incipiemus ab ultimo dono, scilicet a dono timoris Domini; et rogabimus Dominum, quod det nobis dona Spiritus sancti, qui cum Patre et Filio vivit et regnat etc.
citation from

If Mr Woods is too bombastic for your tastes (Belloc would be ashamed that you would judge a temperament so akin to his own so unlikable) please do consider reading the new "The Ethics of Money Production" by Hulsmann to learn what the Austrian School school teaches about the inherent injustice to the poor built into inflationary FIAT currencies and fractional reserve banking, there's lots you could embrace, really!

And while Mises is the name on the lintel nowadays, he got his insights from his Polish Catholic professor Carl Menger, who taught that economics was really a social issue (properly understood), not a science unto itself, and most of it is deeply Aristotelian (who was "baptized" by St. Thomas Aquinas of course!)

God Bless
Clare Krishan

Anonymous,  Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 11:04:00 AM CDT  

oops missing citation:

John Médaille Monday, May 18, 2009 at 8:18:00 AM CDT  

Claire, your suggestion that we oppose Austrianism because of some distaste for its characters is completely off-base. As for the gold standard, been there, done that, it was a disaster. In fact, the concrete answer to the Austrian business-cycle theory is the actual functioning of the economy under the Austrian gold theory. Why do Austrians not read any history?

Anonymous,  Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 8:30:00 PM CST  

It is extremely interesting for me to read this article. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything connected to this matter. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

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