Misquoting Mises

“Nothing, however, is as ill founded as the assertion of the alleged equality of all members of the human race.”— Ludwig Von Mises, Liberalism, p. 28.

This sentence has floated around the web for a few years now, in libertarian-bashing articles and comment threads, purporting to show Mises as a vile, racist person. (You are free  to search for the uses, in context, yourself. I won’t reward them with a link.)

It is, in fact, and as you would expect, an out-of-context quotation, one which means exactly the opposite of what, in isolation, it might appear to be saying.

The full passage, from Ralph Raico’s translation, pp 27-29, with the line-in-question bolded, is:

Nowhere is the difference between the reasoning of the older liberalism and that of neoliberalism clearer and easier to demonstrate than in their treatment of the problem of equality. The liberals of the eighteenth century, guided by the ideas of natural law and of the Enlightenment, demanded for everyone equality of political and civil rights because they assumed that all men are equal. God created all men equal, endowing them with fundamentally the same capabilities and talents breathing into all of them the breath of His spirit. All distinctions between men are only artificial, the product of social, human—that is to say, transitory—institutions. What is imperishable in man—his spirit—is undoubtedly the same in rich and poor, noble and commoner, white and colored.

Nothing, however, is as ill-founded as the assertion of the alleged equality of all members of the human race. Men are altogether unequal. Even between brothers there exist the most marked differences in physical and mental attributes. Nature never repeats itself in its creations; it produces nothing by the dozen, nor are its products standardized. Each man who leaves her workshop bears the imprint of the individual, the unique, the never-to-recur. Men are not equal, and the demand for equality under the law can by no means be grounded in the contention that equal treatment is due to equals.

There are two distinct reasons why all men should receive equal treatment under the law. One was already mentioned when we analyzed the objections to involuntary servitude. In order for human labor to realize its highest attainable productivity, the worker must be free, because only the free worker, enjoying in the form of wages the fruits of his own industry, will exert himself to the full. The second consideration in favor of the equality of all men under the law is the maintenance of social peace. It has already been pointed out that every disturbance of the peaceful development of the division of labor must be avoided. But it is wellnigh impossible to preserve lasting peace in a society in which the rights and duties of the respective classes are different. Whoever denies rights to a part of the population must always be prepared for a united attack by the disenfranchised on the privileged. Class privileges must disappear so that the conflict over them may cease.

It is therefore quite unjustifiable to find fault with the manner in which liberalism put into effect its postulate of equality, on the ground that what it created was only equality before the law, and not real equality. All human power would be insufficient to make men really equal. Men are and will always remain unequal. It is sober considerations of utility such as those we have here presented that constitute the argument in favor of the equality of all men under the law. Liberalism never aimed at anything more than this, nor could it ask for anything more. It is beyond human power to make a Negro white. But the Negro can be granted the same rights as the white man and thereby offered the possibility of earning as much if he produces as much.

 

In other words, Mises note that classical liberals spoke of equality of rights among all men.  However, all men are, in fact, not identical in “physical and mental attributes.” Therefore, the equality of rights must have some other basis.  He then suggested two reasons for nevertheless recognizing equality of rights: 1) that equality of rights leads to a more productive society, and 2) that it preserves social peace.  Mises finally then states his unequivocal support for equal rights on this basis.

Quoting an out-of-context portion of this passage, and suggesting Mises was saying something illiberal (in a book called Liberalism), is intellectually shallow and mendacious. 

 

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