Politics & Ideas: The Battle Over Ideas (Lecture 6, Part 4 of 4)

by | Sep 4, 2003

In contrast, however, the interventionist ideas, the socialist ideas, the inflationist ideas of our time, have been concocted and formalized by writers and professors. And they are taught at colleges and universities. You may say: “Today’s situation is much worse.” I will answer: “No, it is not worse.” It is better, in my opinion, because […]

In contrast, however, the interventionist ideas, the socialist ideas, the inflationist ideas of our time, have been concocted and formalized by writers and professors. And they are taught at colleges and universities. You may say: “Today’s situation is much worse.” I will answer: “No, it is not worse.” It is better, in my opinion, because ideas can be defeated by other ideas. Nobody doubted, in the age of the Roman emperors, that the government had the right and that it was a good policy to determine maximum prices. Nobody disputed this.

But now that we have schools and professors and books that recommend this, we know very well that this is a problem for discussion. All these bad ideas from which we suffer today, which have made our policies so harmful, were developed by academic theorists.

A famous Spanish author spoke about “the revolt of the masses.” We have to be very cautious in using this term, because this revolt was not made by the masses: it was made by the intellectuals. And those intellectuals who developed these doctrines were not men from the masses. The Marxian doctrine pretends that it is only the proletarians that have the good ideas and that only the proletarian mind created socialism, but all the socialist authors, without exception, were bourgeois in the sense in which the socialists use this term.

Karl Marx was not a man from the proletariat. He was the son of a lawyer. He did not have to work to go to the university. He studied at the university in the same way as do the sons of well-to-do people today. Later, and for the rest of his life, he was supported by his friend Friedrich Engels, who–being a manufacturer–was the worst type of “bourgeois,” according to socialist ideas. In the language of Marxism, he was an exploiter.

Everything that happens in the social world in our time is the result of ideas. Good things and bad things. What is needed is to fight bad ideas. We must fight all that we dislike in public life. We must substitute better ideas for wrong ideas. We must refute the doctrines that promote union violence. We must oppose the confisca­tion of property, the control of prices, inflation, and all those evils from which we suffer.

Ideas and only ideas can light the darkness. These ideas must be brought to the public in such a way that they persuade people. We must convince them that these ideas are the right ideas and not the wrong ones. The great age of the nineteenth century, the great achievements of capitalism, were the result of the ideas of the classical economists, of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, of Bastiat and others.

What we need is nothing else than to substitute better ideas for bad ideas. This, I hope and am confident, will be done by the rising generation. Our civilization is not doomed, as Spengler and Toynbee tell us. Our civilization will not be conquered by the spirit of Moscow. Our civilization will and must survive. And it will survive through better ideas than those which now govern most of the world today, and these better ideas will be devel­oped by the rising generation.

I consider it as a very good sign that, while fifty years ago, practically nobody in the world had the courage to say anything in favor of a free economy, we have now, at least in some of the advanced countries of the world, institutions that are centers for the propagation of a free economy, such as, for example, the “Centro” in your country which invited me to come to Buenos Aires to say a few words in this great city.

I could not say much about these important matters. Six lectures may be very much for an audience, but they are not enough to develop the whole philosophy of a free economic system, and certainly not enough to refute all the nonsense that has been written in the last fifty years about the economic problems with which we are dealing.

I am very grateful to this center for giving me the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience, and I hope that in a few years the number of those who are supporting ideas for freedom in this country, and in other countries, will increase considerably. I myself have full confidence in the future of freedom, both political and economic.

This article is serialized from Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow, a book based on six lectures delivered in Buenos Aires in 1959 on Capitalism, Socialism, Interventionism, Inflation, Foreign Investment, and Politics and Ideas by the great 20th century economist who was too good to receive a Noble Prize: Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973). Copyright 1995 by Bettina Bien Greaves. All rights reserved.

Ludwig Von Mises (1881-1973) was the 20th century's foremost economist. He was the author of Human Action, Socialism, and a dozen other works.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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