Mises and the “Merit” of Fascism

You can’t trust everything you read in a Batman comic book. Ron Paul, the engaging libertarian-minded candidate in the Republican presidential nomination race, told an interviewer that his favorite comic book character is “Berlin Batman,” an alternative world superhero who, as Julian Sanchez notes, rescues “the manuscript of Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action from the Nazis.” The assumption of the story seems to be that  Mises is some sort of unambiguous champion of freedom. The reality is a little different.


Mises styled himself a classical liberal, a position which after the First World War lost its political salience in Central Europe. Amid the strife of the era, Mises hated above all else any form of working class militancy, not just in the manifestation of Bolshevism but also moderate social democracy. This led him to look with favour on some authoritarian regimes. In his 1927 book Liberalism, Mises expressed great ambivalence about Mussolini’s new political doctrine of fascism. He recognized that, of course, that fascism was illiberal and was even farsighted in seeing that it would lead to another European war. Still, Mises thought that as a reaction to communism, fascism was understandable and even admirable. As he wrote:

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

During the early 1930s in Austria, Mises served as an economic advisor to the authoritarian regime of Engelbert Dollfuss, one of the many tin-pot dictators that sprang up in central Europe in Mussolini’s wake. It was more than simply anti-communism that made Mises a supporter of Dollfuss: a hatred of social democracy was also a factor. To his credit, Mises was at least more critical of National Socialism than he was of fascism. (With his Jewish ancestry, Mises would have been a victim of Nazi race laws if he hadn’t escaped to America).

The approval that Mises gave to Dollfuss was a precursor to the squirmy support Friedrich August von Hayek and Milton Friedman gave to the Pinochet regime in Chile. All three men were in some ways acting in consistency with the doctrines of classical liberalism, which prizes private property while being fearful of democracy. What they failed to realize is that under modern dictatorships, neither property nor any other right is secure. I like classical liberals and libertarians well enough but I don’t think they can be depended upon to defend liberty.

25 thoughts on “Mises and the “Merit” of Fascism

  1. IMO Mises apology for fascist good will was a prophylactic because he was a undoubtably aware of the anti semitic current running under, parallel, and within – No doubt, he knew he was possibly vulnerable

  2. lol. good to point out.
    fascism isn’t what mises is about of course.
    i would ask then who is an eternal defender of liberty?
    can you not only defend liberty if there is an antagonist present?
    if communism was the antagonist then fascism was a defender?no. a deterrent possibly? mises pointed out it was only temporary. much of what i gather from mises and those that associate themselves with him is very much in line with a defense of liberty. in so far as one is concerned with, who can be “depended upon to defend liberty?”, i think one would be hard pressed to find many organizations so well armed with a consistent theory regarding economics and liberty.

  3. Mises was a vehement anti-fascist, and your quote is not inconsistent with that. Mises merely recognized as a economist that communism would lead to more human suffering and he was right. You see under strict communism people starve to death, whereas with fascism you get economic stagnation.

    “The approval that Mises gave to Dollfuss was a precursor to the squirmy support Friedrich August von Hayek and Milton Friedman gave to the Pinochet regime in Chile.”

    Well now I see where you are coming from. You confuse a professor giving economic advice to a politician with “support”. That’s a little bit more than idiotic. Especially when the same advice was being given to the communists also. In fact to anyone who would listen to Freidman.

    It’s doubly ridiculous charge in the case of Mises, who unlike Friedman, was giving economic advice within his own country, and was not accepted in the universities of his own country. He was a Jew looking for employment in the conditions of those times, get it?

    According to Flynn:

    “Why was Austria’s eminent free-market liberal advising a militant interventionist? In “The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises” (PDF), Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn offers this explanation:

    Given the opposition Mises encountered at the university, he looked for steady employment in the Handelskammer, the semi-official Chamber of Commerce. After 1920, the Austrian government was mostly in the hands of the Christian Social Party, a Clerical-Conservative party, which eventually fathered the dictatorship of Dollfuss and his Patriotic Front. This party had to fight the international socialists, and, later, the National Socialists. Mises, as an agnostic and a genuine Liberal, had no innate enthusiasm for the Christian Socials, but, judging Austria’s precarious situation dispassionately, knew that a decent, responsible man had to collaborate with that government.”

  4. Liberalism and fascism go hand-in-hand. The big mistake of the Spanish anarchists was to tolerate the Republican State. The best anti-fascist strategy is to smash democracy, fight Bolshevism, and over-whelm fascism. There is only one road to liberty, and it is a narrow and hard road.

    Thatcher, Pinochet, Reagan – freedom fighters of liberalism? Give me a break. And look at the flourishing capitalist nation of China, big on neoliberalism, and not so big on… FREEDOM. The only way the ruling scum can force their capitalist “freedoms” on us is with a strong-arm police state. And unlike the authoritarian socialists like Mussolini, our liberal authoritarians can’t even make the trains run on time…

  5. Mises left Austria in 1934 and moved to Geneva, so that was the last year he was working for the Dollfuss regime.

  6. I don’t think it’s true to say that I give this quote “out-of-context.” In fact, I provide historical background and give a link that takes the reader to the entire book where this passage appears.

    The article you provide gives more context but doesn’t change the meaning of what Mises wrote. Mises hated communism so much that he was willing to offer conditional praise to fascism. The question is, was this justified? I’ll simply note that there have been many anti-communists who have managed to opposed Marxist-Leninism without being fascist fellow travelers. I’ll mention Bertrand Russell as an example.

  7. > Mises hated communism so much that he was willing to offer conditional praise to fascism. The question is, was this justified?

    Fascism is horrible. Communism proactively destroys wealth where fascism “only” misallocates it. From a purely economic standpoint, fascism makes a whole lot more sense than communism, unless your goal is wealth destruction of human suffering.

  8. The Italian fascism was originally not anti-semitic, there were even some Jews in the top echeolon of the party. It is said that Mussolinis Jewish mistress was the force behind him, creating his “ideology”.
    When Mussolini allied himself with Hitler and passed draconic anti-semtic laws she was able to escape to Argentine because she had stashed information about the fascist top brass.
    All the talk about fascist and nazis as being some kind of socialists is misleading, neither movement had a systematic ideology, nazism was all about primitive anti-semitism.
    In long speech that Hitler gave in 1935 the text of which I suffered my way through, he sings the praises of the free market.

    I think that the reason that libertarians like Mises and Friedman have firted with authoritarian governments is libertarianisms sceptic stance towards democracy.
    They grudgingly accept that is usually the least worst form of governance, but hasten to say that it can threaten freedom, not least while poliiticians tend to use public money to make themselves popular enough to win elections and thus democracy undermines the market and thereby freedom as liberartarians see it. A dictator who staunchly believes in the free market would not need to use public money that way.

  9. I want to add that chancellor/dictator Dollfuß use harsher methods against local nazis than communists, jailing 11000 nazis and only 2000 communists. This because he new that the nazis were fifth columnists, Germany’s errandboys and traitors to their country. But in his heart he was probably more against communism as an ideology.
    He called whatever passed as his ideology “austro-fascism”, a catholic, patriotic ideology going back to the 19th century and such politicians as Karl Lueger who was elected major of Vienna on an anti-semitic plattform but was fairly moderate in comparison to the Deutschnationale, the pangerman movement, headed by the fanatical anti-semite Gustav Schönherr. His movement was clearly a proto-nazi one.
    The austro-fascists allied themselves with Mussolini who was sceptical of Hitler in the first years even though Hitler had learned a trick or two from him. The rest is, unfortunately history.
    Mises might have worked for Dollfuß as a lesser evil than nazism, in some way an anti-nazi and as a stauch anti-communist.

  10. Your welcome, Jeet. as I interpret the little chapter on fascism in Mises book Liberalism he is no friend of that movement and chastise it for illiberalism and warmongering ways but lauds it for anticommunism and says that it has saved European civilization.
    But this is the English translation made after the War, I would like to get my hold on the original German version, my German is tolerably good. Did he say somehing different there?
    Some of the rightwingers defending Mises here reiterate that communism was more destructive than nazism and fascism, both economically and in terms of human lives (i.e. killing more people).
    Now communism was surely less efficient economically but one of the few constants in nazism and fascism is the believe that war is good.
    Hitler told the Danish secretary of state Erik Scavenius in no uncertain word in 1940 that he thought that war was a good thing. Even arch-stalinists do not hold that kind of views.
    The nazis were responsible for WWII and thereby for the death of 55 million people.
    12 million people died in nazi camps or were executred for racial or poliitcal reaons. That makes 1 million a year in their 12 year reign. Stalin ruled much longer than Hitler, did he kill more people pro annum than Hitler? I doubt it.
    So calling fascism and nazism “lesser evil” than communism is plainly preposterous.
    Even the old cold war argument that commies stay in power infinitly while fascists dictactorships are liable to crumble does not hold any more, after 1989.
    As for Mises I have been trying to read his Human Action on account of a book I am writing, I cannot find anyhting resembling an argument in it, his aprioristic idea of economics is a joke.
    I do not doubt that Mises had a lot of interesting things to say about economic affairs but his writings on meta-economics, epistemology and political thinking I find crude, look at his lack of references and lack of systematic argumentation.
    It is said that he as person was extremely politically intolerant, according to Wikipedia, even Friedman complained about it.
    Libertarians remind me of marxists, intolerant people, suffering from hero worship, worshipping Mises or Friedman while marxists worshipped Marx and Engels, both believing in every single sentence that these guys wrote like religious people believing in sacred texts.
    As the great poet Yeats says about the fanatical Irish nationalist in his poem 1916: “Hearts with one purpose alon through summer and winter seem like enchanted to a stone to trouble the living stream”.
    Maybe Mises in his heart of hearts felt a certain attraction to Italian fascism and austro-fascism because of their fanatical ways.

  11. “Stalin ruled much longer than Hitler, did he kill more people pro annum than Hitler? I doubt it.”

    The things you read in the internet LOL

    “As for Mises I have been trying to read his Human Action on account of a book I am writing, I cannot find anyhting resembling an argument in it, his aprioristic idea of economics is a joke.”

    Keep reading someday you’ll understand the difference between a natural science and a social science (economics).

  12. Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    And why exactly does http://www.revleft.com/ tolerate libertarians in the opposition forum? After all: “U.S. libertarians are basically fascists, at least their leadership is against the big bad statist civil rights bill, historically speaking, and against immigrants. They spew double speak every day and are directly funded by the Koch brothers.”

  13. Lol at all of the butthurt libertarians performing mental gymnastics in a futile and dishonest attempt to exonerate their undressed diety. Your master was not only an apologist but a cog in the fascist machine.

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