From The Archives
The disappointment Mises must have felt when the war eclipsed the publication of the his magnum opus, Nationaloekonomie, must have given way to renewed hope as the tide turned against Germany in the summer of 1944. For then, Mises began to contemplate the reconstruction of Europe. As he would write in December 1944 to Yale University Press proposing to publish an English-language version of Nationaloekonomie, "It is very likely that the great issue of post-war reconstruction will stimulate interest in a book which deals extensively with [economic] problems...and discusses thoroughly all proposals for an economic and social reform."
Mises had already make a deep and lasting impression on Eugene Davidson, who was editor of Yale Press, with his books Bureaucracy and Omnipotent Government published by Yale Press earlier in 1944. Davidson frequently had lunch with Mises in New York at the Roosevelt Hotel during 1944 and while considering Mises's proposal for Human Action, he consulted Henry Hazlitt in January of 1945 telling him that, "[we] are in your debt for having introduced Von Mises to us in the first place."
Mises's two-page memo to Davidson, on 27 December 1944, outlined the project for an English language version of his "Treatise on Economics." It "will not simply be a translation of the book published in Geneva in 1940 in German language," Mises wrote, "Besides the revision of the whole text which will involve entirely rewriting some chapters, other important changes seem to be necessary in order to adapt the book better to the intellectual climate in America. In fact an American reader approaches the economic problems from another angle than the German reader who is more or less under the spell of Hegelianism, the Nazi philosophy and other isms, fortunately less popular in this country."
The very next day Davidson replied with a note of thanks asking Mises how large an advance he would need to begin working. Mises asked for $1,500 plus $400 for expenses which Yale Press eventually agreed to when the contract was signed on 9 March 1945. The contract stipulated that Mises was to pay Hazlitt for editorial assistance.
It turns out that Hazlitt helped enormously with the manuscripts for Bureaucracy and Omnipotent Government. Davidson, in a letter to his friend Ray Westerfield who was a professor of political economy at Yale, revealed that "Henry Hazlitt and our editorial department labored mightily over" these two books. And while he wished to be "more optimistic about the new one" he conceded that only their prior "experience" would make the editing of Human Action easier.
These fears proved to be groundless. When Mises send Davidson the first set of manuscript pages, he replied (10 November 1947) "I spent a good deal of the weekend on it, and while some of the reasoning was abstruse the main argument is brilliant and learned." After asking him "how long Hazlitt's and the other editing will take?" he declared, "The manuscript is in good shape in general although there are a few Germanisms left here and there." Hazlitt's editing did not take long. Although he supplied Mises with 38 handwritten pages of editing remarks, most of them were minor word changes with only a few suggestions for improving the content or style.
After receiving the signed contract from Mises, Davidson began to solicit opinions of Nationaloekonomie and the project. Norman Donaldson, managing director of Yale Press, handled the correspondence. Like Davidson, he became smitten with the project.
Donaldson first asked Henry Hazlitt (15 January 1945) to comment and recommend a list of commentators. After noting the importance of The Theory of Money and Credit and Socialism, and the excellence of Bureaucracy and Omnipotent Government, Hazlitt wrote, "Nationaloekonomie is the fundamental theory of which the conclusions in the books on Socialism and Money are the corollaries....[it] would have a very important effect on economic thought in America....[and] be a standard book on economic principles of permanent importance."
Hazlitt recommended Fritz Machlup, Gottfried von Haberler, B.H. Beckhart (a former student of Mises, then at Columbia), John Van Sickle (also a former student, then at Vanderbilt), Benjamin Anderson, Garet Garrett, Lionel Robbins, F.A. von Hayek, Ray Westerfield, and Irving Fisher.
Haberler commented that while the book was "well written" and "interesting" it was "very extreme" and "will not be well accepted in academic quarters." Moreover it is "scientific in tone" and "in many parts too difficult for the laymen" and thus would not sell. He suggested that Davidson contact Frank Knight.
Knight was more favorable writing, "undoubtedly economic theorists and scholars of all schools of thought will consider it a real service to economics to present the book in a good English version." "Mises," Knight wrote, "is no doubt the last of the great Austrian or Viennese school, since other members of comparable standing turned their scientific along with their political coats..." But he cautioned that Mises's "views on monetary and cycle problems are more important than those on general theory, or the general problems of policy...."
Knight also related an assessment by Oscar Lange, who he had asked to comment on the project. Lange, an outspoken opponent of Mises in the debate on economic calculation in socialism, could only muster that Mises once did some pioneering work in monetary theory but that it had long been available in English. He agreed that it would be good to have a decent English edition which scholars could make us of for particular points and in a historical connection.
Beckhart, who was professor of banking at Columbia, dismissed the project outright: "I doubt if Professor Mises's work would have a sufficiently wide sale to justify its translation and publication."
Van Sickle wrote favoring publication. Mises writes with "great clarity and with a ruthlessly logical consistency...the student of social processes needs a dose of this kind of vigorous reasoning more urgently than ever before, even though he finally rejects some of von Mises's extreme positions."
Westerfield, who knew Mises from a monthly conference group at the National Association of Manufacturers, was positive calling it "a first-rate book."
Hayek stated that the project "is well worth undertaking" and "I need hardly add that the general standard of the work is of a kind that it will do credit to any University Press."
Machlup was the only commentator with enthusiasm for Mises calling him "one of the great figures in the history of economic thought," adding that his book's "importance...is beyond doubt." He was a poor forecaster of its success, however, claiming that "this book...is strictly for the professional economist and, therefore, for a very limited market."
It seems that Davidson and Donaldson were just looking for justification to do the project since the reviews were uneven. It was Machlup, they thought, who supplied it.
The Writing Begins
The project was approved by Yale Press on 5 March 1945. Mises responded to the news with characteristic humility in a letter to Davidson: "receive my best thanks for the good news. I hope that you shall not have to regret having undertaken this project."
Two years later, Mises reported in a letter (15 March 1947): "with the exception of a few pages I have already finished the first draft of my manuscript. Of course there is still a lot to be done in polishing it up." Mises sent the first "polished" manuscript pages, which included the Table of Contents, the Introduction and pages 1-314) on 6 November 1947. Davidson's reaction was very positive. He wrote to Mises: "undoubtedly this will be a very important book...The main argument is brilliant and learned...and well timed...as far as public thinking is concerned." And to Hazlitt he wrote: "I think we're going to have quite a book....I am very much impressed by it." Hazlitt wrote back (29 December 1947) that "it is a profound piece of work, and whatever its immediate reception may be, it is bound in the long run to stand as a landmark in the history of economics....it looks to me like the finest thing Mises has done... and...that's saying a great deal."
By April of 1948, Mises had delivered 810 pages and suggested that the manuscript would total 1400 pages. It turned out to be 1462 pages in July. On 2 August 1948 Davidson wrote to Mises, "I think you have provided those interested with the very Bible of free enterprise, and one based wholly on human reason as opposed to revelation."
On 27 September Mises sent a list of suggested titles. Davidson had made the working title of the manuscript, National Economy, and Mises now explained to him that the German title translates simply, Economics. Thus, Mises put at the top of the list, Economics: A Treatise on Human Action while Human Action: A Treatise on Economics was last on a list of five. Beside the latter, Davidson wrote, "I like this." It became the definitive title when Mises wrote to Davidson (18 December 1948): "The more I think it over, the better I like the title...As it is the function of the title to give a correct description of the book's content, this title seems to be most appropriate."
The finished manuscript was sent to the printer on 10 November 1948 for proof copies. On 22 November, Donaldson wrote to Leonard Read at the Foundation for Economic Education promising to send galley proofs for his inspection under the expectation that FEE would make a pre-publication purchase of 1,000 copies.
In May, Donaldson had tried to negotiate a publishing deal with Leonard Read at the Foundation for Economic Education whereby FEE would make Human Action the first in its Economic Library series edited by Hazlitt. Under the terms, FEE would bear the cost of a 3,000 copy production run of the book in exchange for forty percent of the list price with no royalty payment to Mises. Since the price of Human Action was $10.00 and the estimated production costs were $3.78 a copy, Donaldson was suggesting a break-even proposition. Yale Press needed 2,000 copies to be sold to pay its advance to Mises. The expectation of Donaldson (May 1948) was that 2,500 copies could be sold "over a period of a few years."
This deal never materialized, but it did become the source of an accusation of conspiracy after the book's publication made by Karl Schriftgiesser, a former book critic for Newsweek. He stated that when Human Action came out he was ordered to ignore it since Hazlitt would review it. Later he claimed to have learned from the Buchanan Committee Report "that Hazlitt was responsible for its publication." He charged that "FEE, at Hazlitt's insistence, arranged with Yale University Press for the subsidized publication of Human Action and for its subsequent promotion by the foundation." Since Yale did not indicate this on the jacket or elsewhere and Hazlitt did not report it in his review, he cried foul.
The galley proofs came in December 1948 and the finished book was published on 14 September 1949. Reviews were quick in coming, Hazlitt in Newsweek (19 September 1949), Lawrence Fertig in his column (19 September), Seymour Harris in the Saturday Review of Literature, Gabriel Ryan in America. John Chamberlain pushed for mention of it in Life and Time and wrote about it in Plain Talk in January 1950. Godfrey Nelson wrote about the book in his New York Times column of 2 October and John Kenneth Galbraith reviewed it for the New York Times Book Review late in October.
Galbraith famously attacked Yale Press for its claims about the book printed on the jacket. In particular he objected to these statements: "Professor von Mises's approach bears little relation to what is usually taught in classrooms or to the hopeful, revolutionary but bankrupt ‘economics' that conquered the Western world in the last decades," and "As we have seen in the last decade, economic decisions in Europe and the United States have determined a host of malignant political consequences, and an understanding of economics can no longer be safely left to a handful of experts or to the ignorant." Davidson wrote a letter to the New York Times Book Review on 28 October in response blasting Galbraith for ignoring the 900 pages between the flaps. In December of 1949, the book was reviewed in the London Economist and in January of 1950 in American Affairs.
Yale Press's promotion of Human Action was in the hands of its newly appointed secretary, Chester Kerr. Kerr would be Director of Publications of Yale Press during the botched second revised edition which devastated sales of book. But for now, he like other members of the publisher were astonished at the commercial success of Human Action.
In four days (by 23 September) Yale Press had sold 425 copies which, in addition to 1,300 pre-publication copies sold, ran their stock down to 15 copies. It had 885 more copies shipped from the bindery. After seven days, (26 September) a second printing of 1,000 copies was ordered as bookstore sales were running 80 a day up from 50 a day during the first week. After eleven days, (30 September) the Press had only 475 copies left of the first printing of 3,000. During the first week of October, Yale Press sold another 635 copies. In eighteen days, 3,160 copies of Human Action were sold. Officials at Yale Press, Donaldson remember predicted that 2,500 copies could be sold "over a period of a few years," were ecstatic. Plans were set for a third printing of 1,500 copies.
In short, the book was a publishing sensation, no mean feat for an intellectual feast of almost 900 pages. Its publication launched the Austrian school revival which has, 50 years later, matured into a visible and viable alternative to the neoclassical paradigm.
After twelve years in print, Mises set in motion the second revised edition in a letter on 16 March 1961 to Chester Kerr, who had risen to Director of Publications for Yale Press, stating that "it is time to publish a new edition, revised in some points and slightly enlarged."
Mises often entertained suggestions for changes in his work from colleagues, friends, and editors. In addition to Hazlitt's work on the first edition, Davidson offered several suggestions. Typically he accepted those designed to improve the presentation of his ideas; but, suggestions that threatened the integrity of his ideas, he rejected. For example, in the editing of Theory and History during 1956, a Yale Press editor suggested he change the word "segregation" to "divided into." Mises responded that he understood the current taboo on the word but that segregation was the most accurate word and must be retained. When the same editor suggested changing overly-provocative language to avoid unwarranted criticism (for example, Mises had written that econometrics was "nonsense") Mises agreed.
In preparing the second revised edition, Mises received 28 typewritten pages of suggestions from Percy Greaves on 12 October 1961. Unlike Hazlitt's list for the first edition, Greaves recommended many significant alterations in content and offered extended remarks on several sections, such as the one on monopoly. As usual Mises accepted some and rejected others.
Yale Press received the news of a second revised edition with enthusiasm and waited for Mises's changes which he said would be delivered by the end of the year. Kerr informed Mises on 7 December that the Press had just enough copies of the first edition to last until the end of the year. They sold out on 13 February 1962 and Mises, because of an extended illness including a two-week hospital stay following surgery, did not deliver the changes until 9 March when he traveled to New Haven and personally handed them to Kerr. Ten days later, Mises fulfilled his obligation by sending to Yale Press the title page, forward, and table of contents and reminded the Press that Verna Crawford was preparing the index. It would be a year and three months before Mises would see a printed copy of the second revised edition.
On 15 May 1962, Mises finally received page proofs of the changes and new pages to the second edition. Mises returned them on 5 June. From then until the second week of November, Mises heard nothing from Yale Press. On 12 November the Press sent revised proofs which Mises quickly corrected and sent back.
It was standard practice for Yale Press to send Mises two page proof copies of his manuscripts. It did this for Bureaucracy, Omnipotent Government, the first edition of Human Action, Theory and History, and The Theory of Money and Credit, although Mises had to request a second set for the latter book. He would put his corrections on both sets, send one back to Yale and keep the other for his files to check against the printed book.
On 9 January 1963, Mises received a phone call from a subordinate of Mr. Kerr who told him that he would not receive page proofs of the entire manuscript. An agitated Mises wrote to Kerr the following day saying that he would not "renounce seeing the final page proofs" as his subordinate requested. Mises reminded Kerr that "it is general usage in the publishing trade that the author has to see and to approve the text before the book is released for publication." And he concluded, "it is not my fault that you have chosen a method of production that makes it inconvenient for you to let me read, and if necessary, correct the final proofs."
Kerr wrote to Mises the next day (10 January) explaining the controversial method of production and why it precluded producing page proofs. The second edition, according to Kerr, was produced by taking a copy of the first edition separating its pages and pasting them, along with the corrections and additions, onto cardboard sheets and then photographing them for reproduction. Kerr asserted that only by this method could the cost of the second edition be justified. In a letter to Mises's lawyer, he revealed that this method reduced the cost from about $13,700 to $11,200. Kerr attempted to placate Mises by telling him that he had seen corrected galley proofs of the changes and a "dummy" copy and assured him that since "no changes have been made that you have not seen it is really not necessary, in our opinion, for you to take another look at the book." After claiming that he would take full responsibility for the final copy, he told Mises that Yale would go to press with the book in a week making it practically impossible for Mises to see the final product. The book did not go to print until June.
Mises responded to Kerr's letter on 15 January stating that he had only seen galleys of changes he made and an uncorrected dummy, not the entire text. He wrote, "I have no assurance that the detached parts have been put together coherently." Kerr wrote back a week latter, reiterating his claim that "We are entirely willing to take responsibility for seeing that the new edition of Human Action is printed without error. I am confident that you will have no regrets not having seen page proofs."
Three months passed before Mises was inspired to take further action by a letter he received from Lyle Munson, of Bookmailer, Inc. who told him that he had just received another announcement from Yale University Press stating that "due to production delays we do not expect to have Human Action available for sale until June or July 1963." In frustration, Munson asked Mises if he had explored the possibility of using another publisher and suggested either Van Nostrand or Bookmailer. He informed Mises that after six months of failure to reprint, the typical contract stipulates that the rights revert to the author.
Mises did not delay in employing this leverage on Yale Press. On 2 May Mises wrote to Kerr telling him about the alternative offers to publish Human Action and demanding either publication without delay or reversion of the rights to the book. For the first time in correspondence, he made the accusation that "the present management of the Yale University Press does not like my book. You regret the fact that the previous management of the Press published it. You are fully entitled to think and to feel as you do. But you are not free to neglect the responsibilities which the Press has assumed in signing an agreement for the publication of this extremely successful book."
Pressured by this tactic, Yale Press rushed to publication despite obvious problems. It is doubtful that Mises's charge of bias against Kerr was true. The delays were most likely caused by poor management and the disastrous results by rushing to publish. Apparently, Yale Press mangled other books produced contemporaneously with the second revised edition in its devotion to cutting costs.
Once published Yale Press immediately sent the first 200 copies to the Foundation for Economic Education to fill a pre-production order. The Press's failure to send Mises a copy hot off the press, even though it was contractually obligated to send ten copies which it had always done with other books authored by Mises, was probably a deliberate provocation since, in the face of Mises's protest, it eventually sent Mises only five copies and errata sheets without apology or even comment.
Mises received his first copy of the second edition from FEE and from it discovered the books many errors. On 18 June Mises sent a letter to Kerr outlining them. Kerr received a letter the next day from Leonard Read listing a similar set of errors. First, the index has inconsistencies in the style of capitalizing the headings of chapters and the use of definite articles. Second, the running heads on the pages of the first edition are missing. Third, pages from the first edition appear darker than pages added or altered. Fourth, some pages have larger than normal spacing between paragraphs or between main and sub-headings. Fifth, several pages have specks that appear to be punctuation marks, e.g., hyphens, accents, and periods, and other pages have indiscriminate marks. Sixth, an entire paragraph of text is missing from page 322 (second paragraph on page 319 in the first edition). Seventh, page 465 from the first edition is missing. The second edition has a duplicate of page 469 on page 468 where the corrected first edition page 465 should have been. Eighth, the first eight lines on page 615 are a duplicate of the first eight lines on page 616 instead of a continuation of the text from the bottom of the first edition's page 609. The last eight lines of page 609 are missing. Ninth, the last three words of the last line on page 810 and the first line on page 811 should have been deleted. After reminding Kerr of his assumption of responsibility for the second edition, Mises concluded his letter, "I am looking forward to learning, without further delay, what you propose to do, first about bringing out a correct edition, and secondly, about indemnifying me for the damage done to me."
In November, Yale Press promised to insert an errata sheet with each copy, put out a corrected edition in no less than two years and sooner if the 2,500 first-printing copies sold out, and ensure that the new edition was produced by methods resulting in an acceptable quality work.
Mises rejected these terms. He wanted a new edition immediately, a written guarantee that Yale Press would produce an edition meeting normal standards, and indemnification for damages. Although Mises seemed more concerned with his reputation, monetary damages were not insignificant, at least to him. He received no royalty checks for sales of Human Action for over 15 months. And for the three and a half years until the printing of the third revised edition, Yale Press sold only 1,315 out of its first-printing of 2,500 copies. When Kerr gave his terms to Mises he wrote "Judging from current demand and past record the [first-printing copies] will be gone within two years." And the year after Regnery published the third edition, he received a royalty check for $1,600.
The story of the third edition began on 31 March 1964, when Henry Regnery wrote to Mises asking his opinion about publishing one or two chapters, especially the chapter entitled "The Market," from Human Action as a paperback monograph with a short introduction by Mises. Mises agreed to the proposal in a letter to Regnery on 6 April. He warned, "As you know, the Yale Press in publishing this new edition did a very poor job. On account of this my relations with the Press are, to put it mildly, strained. Nonetheless I think that they will grant you the authorization." Regnery made the offer in a letter to Kerr on 10 April.
Yale Press did not respond to the proposal for ten months. In February 1965 Kerr unexpectedly offered Regnery the reprint rights to the entire book. Regnery was pleased about the possibility but wrote to Mises on 16 February that "[Yale Press] would lease the corrected offset plates to us, but if our edition were printed from the same plates as theirs wouldn't it contain the same faults." Mises enthusiastically received Regnery's news writing to him on 23 February that "you are perfectly right that the offset plates which the Press plans to lease you could not be used for the production of a decent volume." He pushed to have the revised edition reset. After an extended correspondence with Leonard Read, in which they discussed Yale Press's relationship to Mises and the use of Yale's plates, Regnery decided to go ahead with the project and Read placed an advanced order for 500 copies and encouraged Regnery to reset the book.
By 28 May, Regnery still had not heard from Kerr nor had Yale Press, even after several requests, sent him a copy of the second edition. He informed Mises of this and asked him for a copy of the book which Mises sent on 2 June. On 15 August Regnery informed Mises of the terms of an offer from Yale Press and his progress on raising foundation money to reset the entire book. The contract from Yale arrived at the end of the year and Regnery informed Mises of this on 3 January 1966 and reiterated his offer to "make whatever changes you feel would be helpful."
Delays in publication arose from Regnery entering into a joint printing arrangement with Conservative Book Club. Regnery wrote to Mises on 10 October explaining that the printer, recommended by Conservative Books, was responsible. At long last on 20 December Mises received the good news from Regnery that the book was in print with two copies on their way to him and 500 to FEE.
Although Regnery had purged Human Action of the second edition's many editorial mistakes, the third revised edition was not a restoration of the purity of the first edition. Mises left no essay or speech explaining the changes (some of them substantial) made to later editions of Human Action. Original drafts of manuscripts delivered to the publisher are not available. Neither are personal notes available, from Mises or the publisher, or information on the precise timing of the changes.
Some changes to later editions were suggested by Mises's friend Percy L. Greaves, Jr., in a memo dated October 12, 1961. For instance, Greaves suggested that Mises alter the content of paragraph three on page 187 dealing German aggressiveness to apply to Russia. The paragraph was eliminated entirely. Greaves also suggested that the section on International Monetary Cooperation beginning on page 473 "be brought up to date." Four paragraphs were added to the end of the original (unchanged) section. Referring to immigration Mises writes on page 820-21: "Neither does it mean that there can be any question of appeasing aggressors by removing migration barriers. As conditions are today, the Americas and Australia in admitting German, Italian, and Japanese immigrants merely open their doors to the vanguards of hostile armies." Greaves suggested amending this passage, but no change was made in the second edition. For the third edition, the passage is eliminated altogether and replaced with an additional paragraph calling for a philosophy of mutual cooperation to replace the view that there are "irreconcilable antagonisms" between groups in society.
Other notable changes were made to later editions, some of which cannot be considered improvements. Pages 796-799 of this edition include some insightful remarks about the workings of German exchange controls and international barter agreements in the 1930s. These comments, cited and built upon in a later historical study of the New Deal by Rothbard, are entirely eliminated from subsequent editions. The two final two paragraphs on page 563, in which Mises sheds light on the relationship between public opinion and an inflationary monetary policy, are also eliminated. As a smaller matter, for later editions, the section on imperfect competition was changed from the 1949 edition, and not with clarifying results. For instance, the 1949 edition includes this sentence: "The confusion which led to the idea of imperfect or monopolistic competition stems from a misinterpretation of the term control of supply." (p. 357). Later editions change the sentence to introduce ambiguity: "Considerable confusion stems from a misinterpretation of the term control of supply."
On monopoly theory, the first edition contains a crucial paragraph that was eliminated in subsequent additions, a passage that clarifies how far Mises's understanding of the monopoly price was from the mainstream neoclassical view. Monopoly prices, he writes in this and later editions, "are the outcome of a deliberate design tending toward a restriction of trade" (p. 356). But in the original edition Mises added an additional paragraph explaining what is meant by the word "deliberate." It is only the economist who can contrast the competitive price with the monopoly price; the businessman, "like every other seller" only wants to realize the highest price attainable. With this passage, we gain a deeper understanding of Mises's own theory, which is closer to the Rothbardian view that in the actual operation of the free market, there is no meaningful way to distinguish between a monopoly and a competitive price. Indeed, neither Mises nor Rothbard regarded their respective positions on monopoly as incompatible.
One particular change has caused considerable confusion. In section XV.6, "Freedom," the original edition focuses on the necessity of curbing government power, and concludes that government is "by necessity the opposite of liberty" and is a "guarantor of liberty and is compatible with liberty only if its range is adequately restricted to the preservation of economic freedom." (p. 283) Revised editions preserve that passage with only minor alterations, but add seven wholly new paragraphs preceding it.
These new paragraphs in the revised editions introduce a different focus in Human Action on the necessary and specific powers of government, which appear rather expansive by Misesian standards: "The maintenance of a government apparatus of courts, police officers, prison, and of armed forces requires considerable expenditure. To levy taxes for these purposes is fully compatible with the freedom the individual enjoys in a free market economy...." (3rd ed., p. 282).
Later editions substantially alter the definition of freedom itself. In the original, Mises states: "A man is free as far as he can live and get on without being at the mercy of arbitrary decisions on the part of other people." (p. 279). Mises does not define "arbitrary," but he appears to have in mind actions that infringe on someone's person or property without his agreement. Revised editions, in contrast, state: "we may define freedom as that state of affairs in which the individual's decision to choose is not constrained by governmental violence beyond the margin which the praxeological law restricts it anyway." (3rd ed., p. 282). The phrase "praxeological law" (meaning, the law of cause and effect in human affairs) works here as a qualifier; it is so expansively applied that any government activity, however, arbitrary, that is said to preserve or achieve "freedom" might be deemend permissible. The original definition, more specific and stringent, rules out arbitrary interventions altogether.
Thus, these added passages go even further to permit conscription, and it is here we find a direct inconsistency with Mises's prior writings. In particular, the passage is at odds with Mises's view on secession, which he elevated to the rank of a core principle of the liberal program, as explained in Nation, State, and Economy of 1919 and even more emphatically in his Liberalism of 1927. If every person is entitled to secede from the state, then the state, though it uses coercive power, becomes a kind of voluntary organization from which exit is always allowed; accordingly, any form of conscription would have to be considered illegitimate and impermissible.
Even more strikingly, however, the passage stands in contradiction to the discussion, and rejection, in Nationalökonomie of conscription as a species of interventionism which, according to its own internal "logic," leads inevitably to socialism and total war. "Military conscriptin," Mises wrote, "leads to compulsory public service of everyone capable of work. The supreme commander controls the entire people,… the mobilization has become total; people and state have become part of the army; war socialism has replaced the market economy."
Henry Hazlitt's review, which according to Davidson "stirred high winds" when published nearly fifty years ago, echoes once again. Human Action is "a work of great originality written in a great tradition" and "destined to become a lankmark in the progress of economics." More than definitive and prophetic, Hazlitt's words have been a source of inspiration for the Scholar's Edition, a reissue of the first edition, with a dramatically expanded index, and a new introduction. "Human Action is," said Hazlitt, "at once the most uncompromising and the most rigorously reasoned statement of the case for capitalism that has yet appeared. If any single book can turn the ideological tide that has been running in recent years so heavily toward statism, socialism, and totalitarianism, Human Action is that book."
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Jeffrey Herbener is professor of economics at Grove City College.