[This review originally appeared in the Freeman, 1970. An MP3 audio file of this article, read by Floy Lilley, is available for download.]
Mises's Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War was first published in 1944 when 57 nations were locked in a total war that slew more than 15 million fighting men and countless women and children. It offers an ideological explanation of the international conflicts that caused both World Wars and continue to breed wars the world over.
Professor Mises illustrates his case with a review of the fall of Germany, from the collapse of classical liberalism to the rise of nationalism and socialism. But Germany merely constitutes an early example of the things to come — all of Western civilization is at stake.
Durable peace, Mises concludes, is only possible under perfect capitalism and laissez-faire government, a world of unhampered markets, free mobility of capital and labor, and equal treatment of everyone under one law. Government interference with business necessarily aims at autarky. But protectionism and autarky mean discrimination against foreign labor and capital and thus create international conflict.
The very ideas that breed bitter domestic conflict between classes and races also generate international conflict and war. "Progressives" at home and abroad aim at equality of income. But their own policies result in a perpetuation of the inequalities between classes and nations.
In Professor Mises's own words:
The same considerations which push the masses within a country toward a policy of income equality drive the peoples of the comparatively overpopulated countries into an aggressive policy toward the comparatively under populated countries. They are not prepared to bear their relative poverty for all time to come simply because their ancestors were not keen enough to appropriate areas better endowed by nature.
What the "progressives" assert with regard to domestic affairs — that traditional ideas of liberty are only a fraud as far as the poor are concerned, and that true liberty means equality of income, the spokesmen of the "have not" nations declare with regard to international relations.
At home and abroad they style themselves revolutionaries fighting for equal shares and proclaiming the right to take them by force if necessary. This is why our age is marked by perpetual conflict.
According to Professor Mises,
Government control of business engenders conflicts for which no peaceful solution can be found. It was easy to prevent unarmed men and commodities from crossing the borders; it is much more difficult to prevent armies from trying it. The socialists and other etatists were able to disregard or to silence the warning voices of the economists. They could not disregard or silence the roar of cannon and the detonation of bombs.
All the oratory of the advocates of government omnipotence cannot annul the fact that there is but one system that makes for durable peace: a free market economy. Government control leads to economic nationalism and thus results in conflict.