Ludwig von Mises
The Psychological Basis of the Opposition to Economic Theory
The romantic revolt against logic and science does not limit itself to the sphere of social phenomena and the sciences of human action. It is a revolt against our entire culture and civilization. Both Spann and Sombart demand the renunciation of scientific knowledge and the return to the faith and the bucolic conditions of the Middle Ages, and all Germans who are not in the Marxist camp joyfully agree with them. The Marxists, however, are eager in this regard to transform their once sober "scientific" socialism into a romantic and sentimental socialism more pleasing to the masses.
Science is reproached for addressing only the intellect while leaving the heart empty and unsatisfied. It is hard and cold where warmth is required. It furnishes theories and techniques where consolation and understanding are sought. Yet it cannot be argued that the satisfaction of religious and metaphysical needs is the task of science. Science cannot go beyond its own sphere. It must limit itself to the development of our system of knowledge and with its help undertake the logical elaboration of experience. In this way it lays the foundations on which scientific technology ?and all politics in so far as it is the technology of the domain of social phenomena comes under this head?constructs its system. In no way does science have to concern itself with faith and peace of soul. The attempts to establish metaphysics scientifically or to produce a kind of substitute for religion by means of "ethical" ceremonies copied from religious worship have nothing whatever to do with science. Science in no way deals with the transcendent, with what is inaccessible to thought and experience. It can express neither a favorable nor an unfavorable opinion about doctrines that concern only the sphere of the metaphysical.
A conflict between faith and knowledge develops only when religion and metaphysics pass beyond their proper domains and challenge science in its own realm. They do so partly out of the necessity of defending dogma that is not compatible with the state of scientific knowledge, but more often in order to attack the application of science to life if this does not conform to the conduct that they prescribe. It is not difficult to understand why, under such conditions, subjectivist economics is most vehemently attacked.
We should not deceive ourselves about the fact that today not only the masses, but also the educated public?those who are called intellectuals?are not to be found on the side of science in this controversy. For many this position may be a heartfelt necessity. However, a great many others justify their taking this point of view by arguing that it represents the "wave of the future," that one cannot cut oneself off from what the masses most passionately desire, that the intellect must humbly bow before instinct and the simplicity of religious emotion. Thus the intellectual voluntarily steps aside. Full of self-abnegation, he renounces his role as a leader and becomes one of the led. This reversal of roles on the part of those who regard themselves as the bearers of culture has been by far the most important historical occurrence of the last decades. It is with horror that we now witness the maturation of the fruits of the policy that results from this abdication of the intellect.
In all ages the pioneer in scientific thought has been a solitary thinker. But never has the position of the scientist been more solitary than in the field of modern economics. The fate of mankind?progress on the road that western civilization has taken for thousands of years, or a rapid plunge into a chaos from which there is no way out, from which no new life as we know it will ever develop?depends on whether this condition persists.