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D. van Nostrand

Mises makes one further attempt to establish his position, but it is

even less successful. Criticizing the arguments for state intervention on

behalf of equality or other moral concerns, he dismisses them as "emotional

talk." After reaffirming that "praxeology and economics . . . are

neutral with regard to any moral precepts," and asserting that "the fact

that the immense majority of men prefer a richer supply of material

goods to a less ample supply is a datum of history; it does not have any

place in economic theory," he concludes by insisting that "he who disagrees

with the teachings of economics ought to refute them by discursive

reasoning, not by. . . the appeal to arbitrary, allegedly ethical standard^."^^

But I submit that this will not do. For Mises must concede that no

one can decide upon any policy whatever unless he makes an ultimate

ethical or value judgment. But since this is so, and since according to

Mises all ultimate value judgments or ethical standards are arbitrary, how

then can he denounce these particular ethical judgments as "arbitrary"?

Furthermore, it is hardly correct for Mises to dismiss these judgments as

"emotional," since for him as a utilitarian, reason cannot establish ultimate

ethical principles; which can therefore only be established by subjective

emotions. It is pointless for Mises to call for his critics to use "discursive

reasoning," since he himself denies that discursive reasoning can ever

be used to establish ultimate ethical values. Furthermore, the man whose

ultimate ethical principles would lead him to support the free market

should also be dismissed by Mises as equally "arbitrary" and "emotional,"

even if he has taken the laws of praxeology into account before making

his ultimately ethical decision. And we have seen above that the majority

of the public very often has other goals which they hold, at least to a

certain extent, higher than their own material well-being.

Thus, while praxeological economic theory is extremely useful for

providing data and knowledge for framing economic policy, it cannot be

sufficient by itself to enable the economist to make any value pronouncements

or to advocate any public policy whatsoever. More specifically,

Ludwig von Mises to the contrary notwithstanding, neither praxeological

economics nor Mises's utilitarian liberalism is sufficient to make the case

for laissez faire and the free-market economy. To make such a case, one

must go beyond economics and utilitarianism to establish an objective

ethics which affirms the overriding value of liberty, and morally

condemns all forms of statism, from egalitarianism to "the murder of

redheads," as well as such goals as the lust for power and the satisfaction

of envy. To make the full case for liberty, one cannot be a methodological

slave to every goal that the majority of the public might happen to cherish. 0 ne of the best-known and most influential present-day treatments

of liberty is that of Sir Isaiah Berlin. In his Two Concepts of Liberfy,

Berlin upheld the concept of "negative liberty''-absence of interference

with a person's sphere of action-as against "positive liberty; which

refers not to liberty at all but to an individual's effective power or mastery

over himself or his environment. Superficially Berlin's concept of negative

liberty seems similar to the thesis of the present volume: that liberty is the

absence of physically coercive interference or invasion of an individual's

person and property. Unfortunately, however, the vagueness of Berlin's concepts

led to confusion and to the absence of a systematic and valid libertarian

creed.

One of Berlin's fallacies and confusions he himself recognized in a

later essay and edition of his original volume. In his Two Conqz& of Liberty,

he had written that "I am normally said to be free to the degree to which

no human being interferes with my activity. Political liberty in this sense

is simply the area within which a man can do what he wants."' Or, as Berlin

later phrased it, "In the original version of Two Concepts of Liberty I speak

of liberty as the absence of obstacles to the fulfillment of a man's desires."*

But, as he later realized, one grave problem with this formulation is that

a man can be held to be "free" in proportion as his wants and desires are

extinguished, for example by external conditioning. As Berlin states in

his corrective essay,

If degrees of freedom were a function of the satisfaction of desires,

I could increase freedom as effectively by eliminating desires

as by satisfying them; I could render men (including myself)

free by conditioning them into losing the original desires

which I have decided not to satisfy? In his later (1969) version, Berlin has expunged the offending

passage, altering the first statement above to read: "Political liberty in

this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by

other^."^ But grave problems still remain with Berlin's later approach.

For Berlin now explains that what he means by freedom is "the absence

of obstacles to possible choices and activities," obstacles, that is, put there

by "alterable human practice^."^ But this comes close, as Professor Parent

observes, to confusing "freedom" with "opportunity" in short to scuttling

Berlin's own concept of negative freedom and replacing it with the illegitimate

concept of "positive freedom." Thus, as Parent indicates, suppose

that X refuses to hire Y because Y is a redhead and X dislikes redheads; X

is surely reducing Yfs range of opportunity, but he can scarcely be said to

be invading Y's "freed~m."In~d eed, Parent goes on to point out a repeated

confusion in the later Berlin of freedom with opportunity; thus Berlin

writes that "the freedom of which I speak is opportunity for action" (xlii),

and identifies increases in liberty with the "maximization of opportunities"

(xlviii). As Parent points out, "The terms 'liberty' and 'opportunity' have

distinct meanings"; someone, for example, may lack the opportunity to

buy a ticket to a concert for numerous reasons (e.g., he is too busy) and yet

he was still in any meaningful sense "free" to buy such a tickete7

Thus, Berlin's fundamental flaw was his failure to define negative

liberty as the absence of physical interference with an individual's person

and property, with his just property rights broadly defined. Failing to hit

on this definition, Berlin fell into confusion, and ended by virtually abandoning

the very negative liberty he had tried to establish and to fall,

willy-nilly, into the "positive liberty" camp. More than that, Berlin, stung

by his critics with the charge of upholding laissez-faire, was moved into

frenetic and self-contradictory assaults on laissez-faire as somehow injurious

to negative liberty. For example, Berlin writes that the "evils of unrestricted

laissez faire . . . led to brutal violations of 'negative' liberty. . . including

that of free expression or association." Since laissez faire precisely

freely chosen goal, rather than in the sense of something he emotionally or hedonistically

"likes" or enjoys doing or achieving. Ibid., pp. 150-52.

means full freedom of person and property, including of course free

expression and association as a subset of private property rights, Berlin

has here fallen into absurdity. And in a similar canard, Berlin writes of

the fate of personal liberty during the reign of unfettered economic

individualism-about the condition of the injured majority,

principally in the towns, whose children were destroyed

in mines or mills, while their parents lived in poverty, disease,

and ignorance, a situation in which the enjoyment by the poor

and the weak of legal rights . . . became an odious mockery8

Unsurprisingly, Berlin goes on to attack such pure and consistent laissezfaire

libertarians as Cobden and Spencer on behalf of such confused and

inconsistent classical liberals as Mill and de Tocqueville.