Ludwig von Mises
Liberalism and the Political Parties
When liberal ideas began to spread to central and eastern Europe from their homeland in western Europe, the traditional powers?the monarchy, the nobility, and the clergy?trusting in the instruments of repression that were at their disposal, felt completely safe. They did not consider it necessary to combat liberalism and the mentality of the Enlightenment with intellectual weapons. Suppression, persecution, and imprisonment of the malcontents seemed to them to be more serviceable. They boasted of the violent and coercive machinery of the army and the police. Too late they realized with horror that the new ideology snatched these weapons from their hands by conquering the minds of officials and soldiers. It took the defeat suffered by the old regime in the battle against liberalism to teach its adherents the truth that there is nothing in the world more powerful than ideologies and ideologists and that only with ideas can one fight against ideas. They realized that it is foolish to rely on arms, since one can deploy armed men only if they are prepared to obey, and that the basis of all power and dominion is, in the last analysis, ideological.
The acknowledgment of this sociological truth was one of the fundamental convictions on which the political theory of liberalism was based. From it liberalism had drawn no other conclusion than that, in the long run, truth and righteousness must triumph because their victory in the realm of ideas cannot be doubted. And whatever is victorious in this realm must ultimately succeed in the world of affairs as well, since no persecution is capable of suppressing it. It is therefore superfluous to trouble oneself especially about the spread of liberalism. Its victory is, in any case, certain.
The opponents of liberalism can be understood even in this respect only if one keeps in mind that their actions are nothing but the reverse of what liberalism teaches; that is, they are based on the rejection of and reaction against liberal ideas. They were not in a position to offer a comprehensive and consistent body of social and economic doctrine in opposition to the liberal ideology, for liberalism is the only possible conclusion that can be validly drawn from such a doctrine. Yet a program that promised something to only one group or a few groups had no chance of winning general support and was doomed from the outset to political failure. Thus, these parties had no other recourse than to hit upon some arrangement that would bring the groups to whom they addressed themselves completely under their sway and to keep them that way. They had to take care that liberal ideas found no adherents among the classes on which they depended.
To this end, they created party organizations that hold the individual so tightly in their grip that he dare not even think of resigning. In Germany and Austria, where this system was developed with pedantic thoroughness, and in the countries of eastern Europe, where it was copied, the individual is today no longer primarily a citizen, but a party member. Already as a child he is taken care of by the party. Sports and social activities are organized on partisan lines. The farmers' cooperative system, through whose intervention alone the farmer can lay claim to his share of the subsidies and grants accruing to agricultural producers; the institutions for the advancement of the professional classes; and the workingmen's labor exchange and savings bank system are all managed along party lines. In all matters on which the authorities are free to use their discretion, the individual, in order to be respected, requires the support of his party. Under such circumstances, laxity in party affairs leads to suspicion, but resignation means serious economic detriment, if not ruination and social ostracism.
The parties of special interests reserve for the problem of the professional classes a treatment peculiar to it alone. The independent professions of the lawyer, the doctor, the writer, and the artist are not represented in sufficiently great number to permit them to figure as parties of special interests in their own right. They are therefore the least open to the influence of the ideology of special class privileges. Their members clung longest and most stubbornly to liberalism. They had nothing to gain from adopting a policy of ruthless and unyielding struggle for the promotion of their particular interests. This was a situation that the parties working on behalf of organized pressure groups viewed with the utmost misgiving. They could not tolerate the intelligentsia's continued adherence to liberalism. For they feared that their own ranks might be thinned if liberal ideas, once again developed and expounded by a few individuals in these groups, were to gain enough strength to find acceptance and approval among the mass of their members. They had just learned how dangerous such ideologies could be to the prerogatives of the privileged orders of the caste and status society. The parties of special interests therefore proceeded systematically to organize themselves in such a way as to make the members of the "liberal" professions dependent on them. This was soon achieved by incorporating them into the mechanism of the party machinery. The doctor, the lawyer, the writer, the artist must enroll themselves in and subordinate themselves to the organization of their patients, clients, readers, and patrons. Whoever holds back or openly rebels is boycotted into compliance.
The subjugation of the independent professional classes finds its complement in the procedure followed in making appointments to teaching positions and to posts in the civil service. Where the party system is fully developed, only party members are appointed, whether of the one currently in power or of all the parties of special interests in accordance with an arrangement, tacit though it may be, arrived at among themselves. And ultimately even the independent press is brought under control by the threat of a boycott.
A crowning stroke in the organization of these parties was the establishment of their own bands of armed men. Organized in military fashion, after the pattern of the national army, they have drawn up their mobilization and operational plans, have weapons at their disposal, and are ready to strike. With their banners and brass bands they march through the streets heralding to the world the dawn of an era of endless agitation and warfare.
Two circumstances have so far served to mitigate the dangers of this situation. In the first place, a certain balance of power among the party forces has been reached in some of the more important countries. Where this is lacking, as in Russia and Italy, the power of the state, in disregard of the few remaining liberal principles that the rest of the world still acknowledges, is used to suppress and persecute the adherents of the opposition parties.
The second circumstance that, for the moment, still prevents the worst from happening is that even nations imbued with hostility toward liberalism and capitalism count on capital investment from the lands that have been the classical exemplars of the liberal and capitalist mentality?above all, the United States. Without these credits, the consequences of the policy of capital consumption that they have been pursuing would have already become much more obvious. Anticapitalism can maintain itself in existence only by sponging on capitalism. It must therefore take into consideration to a certain extent the public opinion of the West, where liberalism is still acknowledged today, even though in a much diluted form. In the fact that capitalists generally desire to lend only to such borrowers as hold out some prospect of repaying the loan, the destructionist parties profess to see that "world ascendancy of capital" about which they raise such a hue and cry.