Raico Is Mr. Classical Liberal
by Walter Block: Religion
Raico, Ralph. 2012. Classical
Liberalism and the Austrian School. Auburn, AL: The Mises
Institute, 347 pages
Words are important
in political economic philosophy. Indeed, it is no exaggeration
to say that verbiage is all important in these fields, as they consist
of nothing but utterances bandied about. He who controls them controls
the dialogue, controls the debate.
Even the previous
sentence, in most ways not controversial, is in one way an instance
of this very contention, and very debatable. For it began with the
word "he." In some quarters this is highly objectionable.
The claim of the feminists is that I should have said, instead,
"he or she," or "he/she," or better yet, "she
or he," "she/he" and best of all, plain old "she."
Perhaps, so as to have given no offense, I should have put this
in the third person, "they."
To the extent
they can make this stick, our friends on the left have gone a long
way toward winning all the debates they have with their intellectual
enemies. If the socialists can insist that we all use their language,
they have won half the battle – if not more.
is, those of us who favor free enterprise, very limited government,
private property rights, capitalism, etc., have been ceding all
too many words to those on the other side of the aisle. It is all
the more difficult to make our case if we must do so by using words
demanded of us by our intellectual opponents. Capitalism no longer
refers to laissez faire; it now invokes cronyism and imperialism.
Leftists such as Noam Chomsky are even now trying to seize ownership
of "libertarian" and John Dewey long ago made a run at
is no word that has been stolen from us to a greater degree, or
with more effect than "liberal." And then it has been
trashed to such a degree that even the thieves have given up on
it and now characterize themselves as "progressives."
Surprising to many, this used to be one of our own possessions,
and still is to some small degree as in "classical liberal."
We might as
well call the author of the book now under review Ralph ("Mr.
Liberal") Raico because he has done more than anyone else to
rescue this verbiage back from its kidnappers, dust it off from
the garbage they have piled up on it, and convince us that "liberal"
has a long and very glorious pedigree, and, once again, thanks to
him a very bright future.
Chapter 1 links
(classical) liberalism to the Austrian School of economics, which
makes the supposedly free enterprise Chicago School look like the
pinkos they are. This essay comes to us with particularly good timing,
given the yeoman work Ron Paul has recently done in promoting the
work of the leading Austrians such as Mises, Hayek and Rothbard.
In this breathless chapter Raico lays waste to T.W. Hutchison, Karl
Popper, Milton Friedman, Karl Marx and Isaiah Berlin for either
economic or philosophical errors or both. Our author is so thorough
in his analysis that he even takes on Carl Menger the father of
Austrian economics, for his failure to distinguish "between
state and civil society, coercion and voluntarism," surely
the most crucial distinction in all of political philosophy. Hayek,
Austrian economics’ only Nobel Prize winner, also comes in for Raico’s
uncompromising critical analysis, on the ground that he mistakenly
rejects apriorism in economics and the role of Austrian intellectual
imperialism in undermining not merely social reform but outright
2, Liberalism True and False Raico clears away the underbrush so
that we can clearly see who is a (classical) liberal and who is
not. You will be sitting at the edge of your chair when you learn
why it is that Richard Cobden, John Bright, Herbert Spencer, John
Locke, Immanuel Kant, Lord Acton, de Jouvenel, Ludwig von Mises
and the Salamancans make the cut while Bismarck, Friedrich Naumann,
Karl Popper, John Rawls, Lionel Trilling, John Dewey, Arthur Schlesinger,
Jr. ("New Deal hack"), and John Stuart Mill (sic!) do
not. States Raico on this latter somewhat surprising case: "Mill’s
view tends to erase the rather critical distinction between incurring
social disapproval and incurring imprisonment."
The third chapter
is the best analysis I have ever seen of why intellectuals oppose
true liberalism: free enterprise and the marketplace. There are
no truer words said that Schumpeter’s: "capitalism stands its
trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets,"
Raico tells us. What are the explanations? There is Hayek’s view
that this stems from honest errors, Schumpeter’s emphasis on the
intellectuals seeking after sinecure government employment, Mises’
focus on resentment and a contempt for money making (don’t ask),
and Schoek’s spotlight on envy. Raico takes us on an exhilarating
tour of the views on this important issue, also of Murray N. Rothbard,
George Stigler, Douglass C. North and Robert Higgs.
is Keynes in this analysis of liberalism that Raico devotes an entire
chapter 4 to examining the case for considering him a member of
this class. I’ll give you the punchline: No. Keynes didn’t try to
"save capitalism," as we have been mislead to believe.
If anything, this economist was closer to fascism, as the forward
to the German edition of his most famous book, General Theory, amply
that class analysis was a monopoly of the Marxists? Well, think
again. In chapter 5 Raico uncovers a little known but vitally important
aspect of intellectual history: liberal or libertarian class analysis.
Hint: it is not based on the erroneous and misbegotten labor
theory of value. There is no incompatibility let alone necessary
battle between labor and capital. Rather, this type of class analysis
pertains to, in a word (remember those entities? If not, check out
the first paragraph of this book review, above) robbery, mainly
via the tender mercies of the government. All too many people, Raico
avers, even Albert O. Hirschman, misunderstand the liberal class
analysis brilliantly developed by Vilfredo Pareto, Adolphe Blanqui,
Francois Guizot, Augustin Thierry, Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer,
Antoine Destutt de Tracy, J.B. Say and John C. Calhoun, and radiantly
brought to us by Raico.
6 our author asks us to remove our eyes, for once in our lives,
from the British liberals such as Adam Smith whose "reputation
(unjustifiably ) almost blinds the sun" in the words of Murray
N. Rothbard and also from his countrymen Malthus, Ricardo and Mill.
Instead, Raico advices, let us cast them toward the continent, and
particularly France, from whence a much more principled and rigorous
liberalism emanated, in the hands of Cantillon, Turgot, Say, Bastiat,
Constant, Tocqueville, along with the Spanish Salamancans. One of
the main violators of this advice is the Anglophile Hayek, who is
enamored of spontaneous order and rejects constructivism (the product
of deliberate "contrivance and design.") But not every
institution that "evolves" can be justified on libertarian/liberal
grounds, for example, suttee and slavery.
I pass over
a discussion of German liberalism (it is not a contradiction
in terms – thanks to Eugen Richter and others) in order to more
fully consider Raico’s treatment of Mises’ liberalism. The basic
premise of this system was the private ownership of property. This
might sound eminently reasonable to modern (classical) liberals,
but certainly it was denied by the likes of J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin
and John Rawls. Liberalism rejects Marxist Socialism communism;
that much is clear. So is liberalism part of the right, namely fascism?
Since this part of the political spectrum also defends private property
(superficially, in any case), and Mises, liberalisms’ greatest modern
spokesman (not spokesperson) did indeed see fascism as preferable
to Bolshevism, this conclusion would appear to follow as Herbert
Marcuse and Claus-Dieter Krohn have charged. Not so, not so, maintains
Raico: "Mises criticized and rejected Fascism on a number of
crucial grounds: for its illiberal and interventionist economic
program, its foreign policy based on force… and most fundamentally
its ‘complete faith in the decisive power of violence’ instead of
Do I have any
reservations about this superb book? Only minor ones. Raico accepts
the terminology "rent seeking" as a description of one
of the worst practices of statism. But why pick on innocent "rent"
to depict what should be called instead, booty seeking or theft
or plunder? Here is another. Raico’s blanket condemnation of taking
money from the state and welfare statism might be misinterpreted
so as to oppose innocent people using government roads, libraries,
schools, currency, etc. This of course was no part of his intention,
but might have been better explained. These minor cavils aside,
this is a gem of a book. I learned a lot from it, and, I expect,
so will everyone else.
Let me add
a personal note to this review. I have known Ralph Raico since I
met him in Murray Rothbard’s living room in the mid 1960s. I have
learned from him, been inspired by him, and have been lucky enough
to count him as a friend ever since then. I thought I well knew
his views. But, still, this book of his really blew me away. Those
of you who do not know Ralph as well as I do are lucky he has written
this masterpiece. Here, you get Prof. Raico in a concentrated form,
ranging widely and deeply over politics, economics and history.
Enjoy. You are in store for a real treat.
Block [send him mail] is a
professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior
fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending
the Undefendable, The
Case for Discrimination, Labor
Economics From A Free Market Perspective, Building
Blocks for Liberty, Differing
Worldviews in Higher Education, and The
Privatization of Roads and Highways. His latest book is Ron
Paul for President in 2012: Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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