Mises on Society

SOCIETY is concerted action, cooperation.

Society is the outcome of conscious and purposeful behavior. This does not mean that individuals have concluded contracts by virtue of which they have founded human society. The actions which have brought about social cooperation and daily bring it about anew do not aim at anything else than cooperation and coadjuvancy with others for the attainment of definite singular ends. The total complex of the mutual relations created by such concerted actions is called society. It substitutes collaboration for the—at least conceivable—isolated life of individuals. Society is division of labor and combination of labor. In his capacity as an acting animal man becomes a social animal.

Within the frame of social cooperation there can emerge between members of society feelings of sympathy and friendship and a sense of belonging together. These feelings are the source of man’s most delightful and most sublime experiences. They are the most precious adornment of life; they lift the animal species man to the heights of a really human existence. However, they are not, as some have asserted, the agents that have brought about social relationships. They are fruits of social cooperation, they thrive only within its frame; they did not precede the establishment of social relations and are not the seed from which they spring.

The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man’s reason is capable of recognizing this truth. But for these facts men would have forever remained deadly foes of one another, irreconcilable rivals in their endeavors to secure a portion of the scarce supply of means of sustenance provided by nature. Each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors. No sympathy could possibly develop under such a state of affairs.

Ludwig von Mises – Human Action

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7 Responses to Mises on Society

  1. John Smith101

    To which we might add some Hayek: (h/t Rafe)

    It is not surprising that the real scholar or expert and the practical man of affairs often feel contemptuous about the intellectual, are disinclined to recognize his power, and are resentful when they discover it. Individually they find the intellectuals mostly to be people who understand nothing in particular especially well and whose judgement on matters they themselves understand shows little sign of special wisdom. But it would be a fatal mistake to underestimate their power for this reason. Even though their knowledge may often be superficial and their intelligence limited, this does not alter the fact that it is their judgement which mainly determines the views on which society will act in the not too distant future. It is no exaggeration to say that, once the more active part of the intellectuals has been converted to a set of beliefs, the process by which these become generally accepted is almost automatic and irresistible. These intellectuals are the organs which modern society has developed for spreading knowledge and ideas, and it is their convictions and opinions which operate as the sieve through which all new conceptions must pass before they can reach the masses.

  2. Stimpson J. Cat

    The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man’s reason is capable of recognizing this truth. But for these facts men would have forever remained deadly foes of one another, irreconcilable rivals in their endeavors to secure a portion of the scarce supply of means of sustenance provided by nature. Each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors. No sympathy could possibly develop under such a state of affairs.

    The fundamental facts instead are actually this:

    The greatest changes in cooperation, society and civilization, were inevitably created and directly caused by those who would by any standard be considered Mentally Ill.
    Moses, Mohammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha,
    Lao Tzu, etc etc, the list goes on and on, forever.

    Madness(or imagination if you prefer that term) is in fact the divine spark from which reason springs, and which gave us everything we now hold dear.

    Everyone should know and appreciate this.

    Now say thank you.

    😁

  3. Stimpson J. Cat

    The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man’s reason is capable of recognizing this truth. But for these facts men would have forever remained deadly foes of one another, irreconcilable rivals in their endeavors to secure a portion of the scarce supply of means of sustenance provided by nature. Each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors. No sympathy could possibly develop under such a state of affairs.

    The fundamental facts instead are actually this:

    The greatest changes in cooperation, society and civilization, were inevitably created and directly caused by those who would by any standard be considered Mentally Ill.
    Moses, M®hammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha,
    Lao Tzu, etc etc, the list goes on and on, forever.

    Madness(or imagination if you prefer that term) is in fact the divine spark from which reason springs, and which gave us everything we now hold dear.

    Everyone should know and appreciate this.

    Now say thank you.

  4. Iampeter

    Mises really is brilliant on economics but is quite terrible on everything else.
    He is a good example of how people can be very successful in their chosen fields even if they compartmentalize the areas they are good at from areas that are fundamental but they don’t really understand.
    It’s also why Mises’ ideas are not dominant. He couldn’t really talk to them end to end. He was just trying to reverse engineer answers to everything from economics, but that’s an attempt to put the cart before the horse.

    The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man’s reason is capable of recognizing this truth.

    This is not at all what brought about “cooperation, society and civilization.” In fact most human civilizations were a detriment to production and human life. Most societies were in fact horror shows where “each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors.”
    Men were often much worse off living among other men.

    What brought about cooperative and civilized society was the recognition of individual rights, even if only implicitly.

    To understand this requires understanding of ethics, which in turn requires understanding of more fundamental philosophical concepts.

    These questions cannot be answered by economics. They have nothing to do with production or division of labor, etc.

  5. Pyrmonter

    @ Sinc

    Mises lived through the 19 Flu (I believe Hayek even contracted it). Is there anything you can recall from their writings directly on topic?

  6. Sinclair Davidson

    Is there anything you can recall from their writings directly on topic?

    Off the top of my head – no.

    Unfortunately most of my Mises / Hayek collection is in my office which is locked down.

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