Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Salon vs Hayek & Mises

A tweet from Tom Paine brought me to a Salon article by Tom Watson: Don’t ally with libertarians: Ideologues co-opt an anti-NSA rally

Watson quotes an earlier, 'must read' Salon article by Michael Lind :
Friedrich von Hayek, who was, along with von Mises, one of the patron saints of modern libertarianism, was as infatuated with the Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet as von Mises was with Mussolini.

My initial reaction was the same as Tom's: LOL. But I hadn't heard these accusations before, so I couldn't resist some digging.

Lind's claim about Mises was staggeringly dishonest, as Jeffrey Tucker explained at the time:
The passage from Mises as selectively quoted:

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed 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.

And that’s where Lind ends it, failing to add Mises’s actual conclusion:

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.

The passage was part of Mises’s book that was published in 1927, just after Mussolini took power. Mises could easily discern that many people regarded Fascism as a savior, and this passage is merely acknowledging that common view. This view lasted for many years. For example, fully six years later, the New York Times Magazine published (March 19, 1933) a massive tribute to the glories of Professor Mussolini ...

The NYT was hardly alone in singing hymns to Mussolini. Nearly the whole establishment was fooled by this blowhard.

Mises, on the other hand, was not fooled. He was a prophet in understanding the evil of fascism – and six years before everyone else was still heralding the glories of this Italian FDR (which is how people saw Mussolini). Yes, evil. That’s the word Mises uses, which you can easily see from the entire section, which you can and should read. The Fascists and Communists use the same “unscrupulous methods…. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.”

It seems there's a slightly stronger basis for Lind's claim that Hayek respected Pinochet, but this too is disingenuous. Wikipedia has a section devoted to Hayek's views on Pinochet's Chile
Hayek is translated from German to Spanish to English as having said, "As long term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. [...] Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism.

Is this really so controversial? Democracy, famously, is "two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner". It is the tyranny of the majority. Strength of numbers does not imply moral weight. Can we conceive of a democracy so brutal that Salon would not support it?

Google also turned up an article by George Reisman, setting Pinochet's legacy in context:
On Sunday, December 10, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile died, at the age of 91. General Pinochet deserves to be remembered for having rescued his country from becoming the second Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere, after Castro’s Cuba, and, like the Soviet Union, and Cuba under Castro, a totalitarian dictatorship.

The General is denounced again and again for the death or disappearance of over 3,000 Chilean citizens and the alleged torture of thousands more. It may well be that some substantial number of innocent Chilean citizens did die or disappear or otherwise suffered brutal treatment as the result of his actions. But in a struggle to avoid the establishment of a Communist dictatorship, it is undoubtedly true that many or most of those who died or suffered were preparing to inflict a far greater number of deaths and a vastly larger scale of suffering on their fellow citizens.

Their deaths and suffering should certainly not be mourned, any more than the deaths of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, and their helpers should be mourned. Had there been a General Pinochet in Russia in 1918 or Germany in 1933, the people of those countries and of the rest of the world would have been incomparably better off, precisely by virtue of the death, disappearance, and attendant suffering of vast numbers of Communists and Nazis.

The whole article is well worth reading.

Reisman concludes:
General Pinochet was thus one of the most extraordinary dictators in history, a dictator who stood for major limits on the power of the state, who imposed such limits, and who sought to maintain such limits after voluntarily giving up his dictatorship.
Dictatorship, like war, is always an evil. Like war, it can be justified only when it is necessary to prevent a far greater evil, namely, as in this case, the imposition of the far more comprehensive and severe, permanent totalitarian dictatorship of the Communists.

I'll leave you with an image tweeted by Daniel Hannan amidst the ridiculous furore over Ralph Milliband:

... and these fine words from Russell Taylor:

Eric Hobsbawm, the acclaimed Marxist historian and friend of the Miliband family, claimed that the tens of millions killed by communist regimes would have been justified had the Red utopia been realised. This astonishing admission should have lost Hobsbawm his membership of the human race, but his reputation was unharmed – at least in left-wing circles. A similar sentiment from a Nazi sympathiser would have been rightly taken as proof of their depravity, but from a Marxist it’s nothing to get excited about. One can only conclude that in the topsy-turvy world of socialism motive is everything. There is something so noble about the egalitarian ideal that nothing committed in its name, no matter how abominable, can call its validity into question.

Topsy-turvy indeed. I stand for voluntary relationships, and sleep soundly.