Friday, April 4, 2014

George Sorel and the "Anti-Communist" Liberals

In reading the final chapter of the book, "The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality," again I stumble with another strange term similar to what I found in chapter 3. In that chapter, Mises mentioned about "progressive dogmatist" (p. 61), which is difficult to reconcile for "dogmatism" would mean the stop of the continuity of progress, and on the other hand, a progressive would mean inimical to dogmatism. That is, if you take these terms at face value. However, after reading Mises, we know that those terms mean different at present from the context that they were used during Mises' time. 

The strange term that I encounter this time is " 'anti-communist' liberals." You notice that the term "anti-communist" is enclosed within open and close quotation marks, which means that it is not really anti-communist, but actually, a subtle term to hide communism in order to continually propagate it. And adding to the confusion is the way Mises connected "anti-communism" with liberalism. Again, at face value, true anti-communism and liberalism go hand in hand for both are hostile to tyranny, and it appears that both also advocate liberty. But this is not the case in the way Mises exposed the term here in chapter 5. 

George Sorel is also unknown to me. This is the first time I heard about his name. To close a book mentioning his name in four out of thirteen paragraphs shows that understanding the influence of this man in the flow of thought during Mises' time is really important. It serves as a connecting link after the time of Mises, which includes our time. 

Man's Quest for Permanence and Utopia

And so Mises began the concluding chapter of the book by identifying man's quest for permanence and utopian dream. For Mises, this quest is contrary to reality for life is characterized by continuous change and such immovable being does not exist. Moreover, Mises also opposes any utopian idea for that would mean "an end to history" and reaching "a final and permanent calm" (p. 106). 

Mises thinks that he understands human nature in his quest for permanence. Many do not prefer change for it threatens their sense of security and it calls for adjustment and flexibility. In terms of the market and intellectual development, change "hurts vested interests and threatens traditional ways of production and consumption" and "it annoys all those who are intellectually inert and shrink from revising their modes of thinking" (pp. 106 -107).

Mises captures this idea of man's quest for stability and permanence under the term "conservatism" (p. 107). To him, this "is contrary to the very nature of human acting" (ibid.), and yet "it has always been the cherished program of the many" (ibid.). And so he labels the conservative as reactionary, and applies the latter term beyond "the aristocrats and priests," and includes "the guilds of artisans blocking entrance into their field to newcomers," "the farmers asking for tariff protection, subsidies and 'parity prices,' " and "the wage earners hostile to technological improvements and fostering featherbedding and similar practices" (ibid.).

In the midst of continuous change, we find entrepreneurs in its center stage. No wonder, this true progressive class receives attacks from "the literati and the Bohemian artists" and the latter dismissed the former as a class of people who are not interested in intellectual pursuit, but profit. Mises refuted this baseless assertion and argued that the intellectual capabilities of the entrepreneurs are more superior "than the average writer and painter" and "many self-styled intellectuals" (ibid.). This is because they lack knowledge and ability "to develop and to operate successfully a business enterprise" (ibid.). 

The appearance of the above type of critics is a common and unfortunate development under a capitalistic society. Mises describes them as "nuisance" (ibid.), and wishes something be done to wipe out their superficial criticism in order that their ideas could not harm anyone. However, Mises does not want to resort to such action for he doubts that it could really root out these pseudo intellectuals. Instead, it would certainly restrict the liberty of those who are genuinely creative and innovative, and that would harm the larger society. And so Mises accepted that the existence of this breed of intellectuals is part of the price that humanity "must pay lest the creative pioneers be prevented from accomplishing their work" (p. 108). 

The Influence of George Sorel

All the foregoing observation led to the appearance of George Sorel and the "anti-communist" liberals, which according to Mises is the price we must pay in a free society. Mises described the ideas of George Sorel as "the most pernicious ideology of the last sixty years" (p. 109). By this, he was referring to Sorel's "syndicalism" and "action directe" (ibid.). Notice how Mises explained the influence of George Sorel:
"Generated by a frustrated French intellectual, it soon captivated the literati of all European countries. It was a major factor in the radicalization of all subversive movements. It influenced French royalism, militarism and antiSemitism. It played an important role in the evolution of Russian Bolshevism, Italian Fascism and the German youth movement which finally resulted in the development of Nazism. It transformed political parties intent upon winning through electoral campaigns into factions which relied upon the organization of armed bands. It brought into discredit representative government and 'bourgeois security,' and preached the gospel both of civil and of foreign war. Its main slogan was: violence and again violence. The present state of European affairs is to a great extent an outcome of the prevalence of Sorel's teachings" (ibid.). 
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This is a sad picture and such a costly price to pay for the maintenance of a free society. This reveals the low state the intellectuals had fallen during Mises' time, and I am afraid still lingers up to our time. 

Mises described Sorel as "anti-intellectual," and "opposed to cool reasoning and sober deliberation" (ibid.). The important thing for Sorel is "the act of violence for the sake of violence" (ibid.). Sorel developed a philosophy of destruction "for the sake of destruction!" (p. 110). His advice: "Do not talk, do not reason, kill!" (ibid.).

And yet Mises blamed neither Sorel nor "his disciples, Lenin, Mussolini, and Rosenberg" for the propagation of the philosophy of violence (ibid.). The influence of this disastrous ideology became widespread due to the absence of critical examination of its faults and excesses. Objections came late and still lacked courage and precision. Out of this scenario, a new "intellectual" movement emerged, the appearance of "anti-communist" liberalism. 

The Emergence of "Anti-Communist" Liberalism

Mises' school of thought rightly deserves such title. However this title is not reserved for him, but he used it to describe a group of "intellectuals" that came out of the reaction due to the excesses of Sorelism. By exposing the identity of this group, I cannot avoid asking: Is this not the very air that we breath today? If it is, how should we call the attitude of dismissing Mises as irrelevant?

Mises marked this group as "a sham anti-communist front," "fake anti-communism," and characterized its aim as "communism without those inherent and necessary features of communism which are still unpalatable to Americans" (pp. 110-112). This group makes "an illusory distinction between communism and socialism" (p. 111). The proponents of "anti-communist" liberalism use aliases such as "central planning" and "welfare state." "In short: they pretend to fight communism in trying to convert people to the ideas of the Communist Manifesto" (ibid.). 

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Mises further depicts the activities of this group as follows: 
"They pretend to reject the revolutionary and dictatorial aspirations of the 'Reds' and at the same time they praise in books and magazines, in schools and universities, Karl Marx, the champion of the communist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, as one of the greatest economists, philosophers and sociologists and as the eminent benefactor and liberator of mankind. They want to make us believe that untotalitarian totalitarianism, a kind of a triangular square, is the patent medicine for all ills" (p. 112).
Another pair of unusual terms: "untotalitarian totalitarian" and "triangular square." This group of intellectuals is really very "creative" and "innovative." They invent concepts, which are non-existent. Mises claimed that if not for the "creativity" of this "anti-communist" liberals, communism and socialism would have collapsed in the West due to the failure of Russian and all socialist experiments. And besides, all "anti movements" offer nothing workable, but a negative program. There's no chance that an ideology focusing on criticism and attacks will succeed, except in introducing disorder and chaos. A positive program is vital, and people must fight for something constructive, not just simply renounce evil. The free market economy is the remaining and only option that works in the real world. 

Source: Mises, L. (2008). The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. Auburn, Alabama: The Ludwig von Mises Institute.