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Mises’ Characterization of His Opposition

Mises was not shy about mentioning the opposition by name in his polemics against marketless socialism from the years 1920, 1922 and 1928, but not in 1933 and 1940 when he put the spotlight on the complicity of historicist thinking in what he regarded as elementary mistakes in political economy. But it was not long before

Mises returned to form, albeit now recognizing his old and presumably vanquished foe re-emergent in a new guise. Thus Mises wrote about the proposal for marketless socialism in 1949:

It would hardly be worthwhile even to mention this suggestion if it were not the solution that emanated from the very busy and obtrusive circle of the ‘logical positivists’ who flagrantly advertise their program of the ‘unity of science’. Cf. The writings of the late chief organizer of this group, Otto Neurath, who in 1919 acted as the head of the socialization bureau of the short-lived Soviet republic of Munich, especially his [1919], pp. 216 ff.[1]

When Mises wrote this, Neurath had died but the philosophical movement with which he was associated was reaching its apex of influence in the country where Mises was now in exile. There Mises’ argumentation turned to epistemology and the attack on his own methodological separatism of Geisteswissenschaft. Neurath served him well again and his “guilt” was transferred to the movement. Thus Mises wrote:

The most obtrusive champion of the neopositivist program concerning the sciences of human action was Otto Neurath who, in 1919, was one of the outstanding leaders of the short-lived Soviet regime in Munich and later cooperated briefly in Moscow with the bureaucracy of the Bolsheviks. Knowing they cannot advance any tenable argument against the economists’ critique of their plans, these passionate communists try to discredit economics wholesale on epistemological grounds.[2]

And still in 1962 Mises issued this indictment:

The way in which the philosophy of logical positivism depicts the universe is defective. It comprehends only what can be recognized by the experimental methods of the natural sciences. It ignores the human mind as well as human action. ... The socialist or communist prepossession and activities of outstanding champions of logical positivism and ‘unified science’ are well known. ... Otto Neurath instilled into the methodological monism of ‘unified science’ its definite anticapitalistic note and converted neopositivism into an auxiliary of socialism and communism. Today both doctrines, Marxian polylogism and positivism, amicably vie with each other in lending theoretical support to the ‘Left’.[3]

Note first what Mises alleged here: that methodological arguments were used by his opponents to support an unsustainable theoretical position purely for political ends: methodology was subordinated to political maneuvering. Note second that this criticism of logical positivism runs squarely counter to and positively contradicts the refrain of denouncements of logical positivism’s supposedly unreflective technocratic conformism emanating from Max Horkheimer and his collaborators and successors in the Frankfurt School.[4] This suggests that both criticisms be assessed carefully, but here we stick to Mises.

  • [1] Mises (1949, 699).
  • [2] Mises (1957, 242, emphasis added).
  • [3] Mises (1962/2002, 113, 116, 119).
  • [4] See Horkheimer (1937); for discussion see O’Neill and Uebel (2004).
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