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The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science
Ludwig von Mises

3
Necessity and Volition

5. Inevitability

All that happens was, under the prevailing conditions, bound to happen. It happened because the forces operating on its production were more powerful than the counteracting forces. Its happening was, in this sense, inevitable.

Yet the historian who in retrospect speaks of inevitability is not indulging in a pleonasm. What he means is to qualify a definite event or array of events A as the moving force producing a second event B; the proviso: provided no sufficiently powerful counteracting factor appeared, is self-understood. If such a counterpoise was lacking, A was bound to result in B, and it is permissible to call the outcome B inevitable.

In forecasting future events, apart from the field covered by praxeological law, reference to inevitability is a meaningless flower of speech. It does not add anything to the conclusive force of a prediction. It merely attests the infatuation of its author. This is all that needs to be said with regard to the prophetic effusions of the various systems of philosophy of history.[5] The "inexorability of a law of nature" (Notwendigkeit eines Naturprozesses) which Marx claimed for his prophecy[6] is just a rhetorical trick.

The momentous changes occurring in the course of cosmic and human history are the composite effect of a multitude of events. Each of these contributing events is strictly determined by the factors that preceded and produced it and so is the part each of them plays in the production of the momentous change. But if and as far as the chains of causation upon which the occurrence of these various contributing events depends are independent of one another, a situation may result that has induced some historians and philosophers to exaggerate the role chance plays in the history of mankind. They fail to realize that events are to be graded according to their size from the point of view of the weight of their effects and of their cooperation in the production of the composite effect. If only one of the minor events is altered, the influence upon the total outcome will also only be small.

It is a rather unsatisfactory way to argue: If the police in Sarajevo had been more efficient on June 28, 1914, the archduke would not have been murdered and the World War and all its disastrous consequences would have been avoided. What made—in the sense referred to above—the great war inevitable was the irreconcilable conflicts among the various linguistic groups (nationalities) of the Habsburg Monarchy, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the German endeavors to build a navy strong enough to defeat the British naval forces. The Russian revolution was bound to come, as the Tsarist system and its bureaucratic methods were passionately rejected by the immense majority of the population; the outbreak of the war did not accelerate its coming; it rather delayed it for a short time. The fiery nationalism and etatism of the European peoples could not but result in war. These were the factors that made the great war and its consequences inevitable, no matter whether the Serbian nationalists succeeded or failed in their attempts to murder the heir to the Austrian throne.

Political, social, and economic affairs are the outcome of the cooperation of all people. Although there prevail considerable differences with regard to the importance of the various individuals' contributions, they are commensurable and by and large capable of being replaced by those of other individuals. An accident that eliminates the work of an individual, be he even a rather eminent one, diverts the course of events only slightly from the line they would have followed if it had not occurred.

Conditions are different in the field of the greatest intellectual and artistic performances. The feat of the genius is outside the regular flow of human affairs. The genius too is in many regards determined by the conditions of his environment. But what gives to his work its specific lustre is something that is unique and cannot be duplicated by anyone else. We know neither what combination of genes produces the innate potentialities of the genius nor what kind of environmental conditions are needed to bring them to fruition. If he succeeds in avoiding all the dangers that could harm him and his accomplishments; the better for mankind. If an accident annihilates him, all the people lose something irreplaceable.

If Dante, Shakespeare, or Beethoven had died in childhood, mankind would miss what it owes to them. In this sense we may say that chance plays a role in human affairs. But to stress this fact does not in the least contradict the a priori category of determinism.

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[5] About philosophy of history, see Mises, Theory and History, pp. 159 ff.

[6] Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. I, ch. xxiv, point 7.

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