Tag Archives | Praxeology

Cordial and Sanguine, Part 63: From the Unthinking Depths

[cross-posted at BHL]

Mike Munger maintains that libertarians should stop being “reflexively opposed to government”; should recognise that “in some instances, it is possible that the State is useful for advancing liberty”; and should give “empirical claims about consequences … a central place in the debate.” But he warns that this will require libertarians to “actually … think about stuff,” a requirement that he suggests will be unwelcome to his “Austrian colleagues.”

As one of his unthinking Austrian colleagues, let me offer three points in rebuttal:

1. The state is anti-liberty (and anti-equality) not just in its consequences but also inherently. After all, the state is by definition a violent monopolist. This isn’t some eccentric definition that libertarians came up with; this definition, or some variant thereof, is the standard mainstream sociological account. If the state claims for itself certain rights of action that it forcibly denies to others, then freedom of competition and equality of legal status are already curtailed in virtue of that fact alone, regardless of what further consequences this institution has.

2. As regards the state’s consequences, however, the Austrian tradition has never opposed empirical research. The traditional Austrian position (not universally accepted even among Austrians, however) is that the principles of economics – what Misesians call the province of praxeology – are a priori rather than empirical. (I defend this position here.) But the application of those principles to particular contingent circumstances – what Misesians call the province of thymology – has never been regarded by any Austrians as a priori. Mises and Rothbard are perfectly clear on this, as is Hayek in The Counter-revolution of Science.
Empirical methods are perfectly in order in determining which principles apply to particular situations, and where and how they do so; admittedly the Austrian conception of empirical method, with its debt to the Verstehen tradition, is somewhat broader than, say, the mere use of statistics, but it does include the latter. And in fact, accordingly, Austrians have been doing empirical work all along, as is obvious from the briefest glance at Austrian publications. (See, e.g., the archives of the QJAE and the RAE.) To suggest that Austrians have simply been sitting on their butts intoning “the state is bad, apodictically bad” and offering no evidence, is to fly in the face of … well, empirical evidence.

3. Mike closes by urging libertarians to “attract people who mistrust concentrations of power in any setting, whether corporate or governmental.” On this point I thoroughly agree with him (hence my enthusiastic support for the work of the Center for a Stateless Society and the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, and for writers like Kevin A. Carson); and this is indeed an area where the Austrian tradition is sometimes (not always) lacking. But surely the way for libertarians, Austrian or otherwise, to win over those who mistrust concentrations of power both corporate and governmental is to increase our critical scrutiny of corporate power, not to relax our critical scrutiny of governmental power. After all, empirical research – including Austrian empirical research – has shown that these two forms of power are mutually reinforcing far more than they are mutually antagonistic.

Inspire the Ocean!

Josef Šima of Prague’s CEVRO Institute interviews me.

The interview’s in Czech, but you can read the Google Translate version (somewhat mangled, inevitably) here. (No, I have no idea what “inspires the ocean” means.)

The pictures are from my Honduras and Istanbul trips, not from any of my Prague trips.

Here are the slides from the Čapek/Kafka/Hašek talk discussed in the interview. For some reason the file for part 1 on my site has become defective; but part 2 is fine. Complementarily, the Mises website has part 1 but not part 2.

Part 1 (from Mises.org)

Part 2 (from Praxeology.net)

Greek Coffee

The AU Philosophy Club’s series of caffeine-fueled public fora continues tonight at 5:00 in a new venue: Mama Mocha’s new second location in the Hound restaurant, located here. The panel (including your humble correspondent) will discuss the topic “Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.” Drop by if you’re in the area!

Tales of the Mighty Dead

This coming week I’ll be lecturing on “Mises vs. Friedman on Economic Method” (old lecture) and “Neglected Pioneers of Free-Market Thought” (new lecture) at Mises University; then the week after that I’ll be lecturing on “Bastiat and French Liberalism,” “Anarchism in 19th-Century Europe,” and “Anarchism in 19th-Century America” (all new lectures) at IHS’s “Revolutionaries, Reformers, and Radicals: Liberty Emerges” seminar at Bryn Mawr.

French Liberalism Meets Boston Anarchism

… which is actually a pretty good description of my politics.

Anyway: In 1888, the Journal des Économistes – the chief periodical of classical liberalism in France, at that time under the editorship of Gustave de Molinari himself – published an article about individualist anarchism in America, with particular focus on the writers associated with Benjamin Tucker’s periodical Liberty. The author was Sophie Raffalovich, about whom more below. Benjamin Tucker replied in the pages of Liberty a few months later. The Journal des Économistes would return to the subject of Tucker and Liberty in 1902, in a piece by Paul Ghio.

I’ve now translated and posted the pieces by Raffalovich (“The Boston Anarchists”) and Ghio (“An American Anarchist”); I’ve also posted Tucker’s reply to Raffalovich (“A French View of Boston Anarchists”).

So who was Sophie Raffalovich? Most of the information I’ve been able to find out about her (see especially here, here, and here) is really about her family. Her parents were the Russian Jewish banker Hermann Raffalovich and the anti-Bonapartist literary patron (and Spencer/Mill fan) Marie Raffalovich; her brothers were the economist Arthur and the poet Marc-André. In 1890 she married the Irish reformer William O’Brien (he writes about her, with somewhat gag-inducing sentimentality, here), with whom she clashed on the issue of women’s suffrage (he was for it, she was against – her gay brother was also against gay rights, so I guess it figures), and published several books of essays as “Mrs. William O’Brien.” The only picture I’ve been able to find for her is from an announcement of their wedding (right); I don’t know why her nationality is represented by what looks like an American flag. (His is the Irish naval jack.) After losing her fortune in World War I (it had been invested in Russia and Germany) and her husband in 1928, she moved to France, where she hid out during World War II and the German occupation – not the safest spot in the world for a Jewish libertarian – and managed to evade Nazi scrutiny. She spent her final years as an impoverished invalid in Picardy. When she was born (1860), Jules Verne had not yet published his first book; when she died (1960), Sputnik had already fallen from orbit.

Paul Ghio is much more of a cipher; I’ve found no birth or death dates for him. He taught economics at the Collège Libre des Sciences Sociales in Paris. He would later write an entire book on American anarchism, as well as volume 1 of an economic treatise (but I’ve seen no evidence of a volume 2). The latter work is dedicated to Molinari, and sings the praises of La Boétie to boot. Ghio also has an essay in the Journal des Économistes on the Chicago anarchists, which I may translate when I get a chance.

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