By Harold DeRienzo
My friend Dr. Sahd maintains that a “Good Society” cannot be created. And then goes on to explain how society is created. What is to be made of this? If men create societies through willful cooperation and interaction, why is it beyond their collective capacity to create a good society, meaning a society that works as effectively as possible with benefits to the greatest number?
In defining society, Dr. Sahd quotes from Ludwig Von Mises, a brilliant (if self-deluded) man who not only believed in good societies, but believed that societies were the only form of human organization that ensured maximum human satisfaction. This, according to Von Mises, is because the development of society is based upon organic human development, as opposed to organized human development; it is based upon division of labor, which he views as the foundation of all progress; it is based upon cooperation and human will; it is based upon an acceptance by the masses that they are inferior to those among us who own property and are responsible for all the progress of mankind.
In his Chapter on Socialism (An Economic and Sociological Analysis), Von Mises makes clear why, even though he abhors Fascism, he prefers it to Socialism. But he makes similar mistakes in his reasoning as are found in Dr. Sahd’s essay.
In his analysis, Von Mises postulates that a Society is a “community in action” dependent upon the conscious will of those making up the society. It appears that Von Mises wants it both ways – in “animal communities,” all seeming cooperation is done “instinctively and unconsciously,” but if human societies are deliberate, then how is that different from organization, which he falsely believes is only possible when the actions of people are directed by hierarchical authority. In other words, human cooperation in the form of economic cooperatives could not form the basis of society since there is no hierarchy, only voluntary cooperation. But the very hierarchy that Von Mises criticizes, works very well for him in the ordering of a free market society where there appears to be not only a recognition but a need to accept elitism as a necessary and guiding component of the division of labor and required incident of progress.
But the fatal flaw in Von Mises’ argument is his blind sense that somehow everyone benefits from the division of labor, even with a recognition that the elites will own property, control production, and still work for the betterment of all: “Division of labor is a unifying influence. It leads men to regard each other as comrades in a joint struggle for welfare…” Only someone living in a social bubble could make such a statement. Or to take his comment that “division of labor…turns the independent individual into a dependent social being,” ignores the ability to exploit that dependency for one’s own benefit.
He himself admits that the “death of nations” comes from the disintegration of social relations, which is hard to refute. But he then goes so on to say that this disintegration is commensurate with the undermining of the division of labor in a society. He makes his point further in attributing the fall of the Roman Empire on its loss of the division of labor. For myself, I prefer the explanation proffered by Bertrand Russell (The History of Western Philosophy):
“Kings…had been succeeded by an aristocratic republic” and democracy was disrupted by “new wealth to the senatorial class…” Small farmers were replaced by huge estates cultivated by slaves, and the result was the “virtual omnipotence of the Senate, which was used shamelessly for the enrichment of individuals, without regard for the interests of the State or the welfare of its subjects.”
I find this analysis a more accurate outcome of Von Mises’ ideal societies, and more consistent with the economic and political situation we find ourselves in at the current time. And, I still believe in the ability of people, working collectively within a political environment supportive of human development, to create a good society.
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