"Intellectual curiosity has a habit of breaking through, however, especially among college and graduate students. As a result, the Austrian School has flourished over the last two decades, despite severe institutional obstacles.
In fact, the number of Austrians has grown so large, and the discussion so broad, that differences of opinion and branches of thought have arisen, in some cases developing into genuine clashes of thought. Yet they have all been conflated and jammed together by non-Austrians and even by some within the school, giving rise to a great deal of intellectual confusion, lack of clarity, and outright error.
The good side of these developing disputes is that each side has clarified and sharpened its underlying premises and world-view. It has indeed become evident in recent years that there are three very different and clashing paradigms within Austrian economics: the original Misesian or praxeological paradigm, to which the present author adheres; the Hayekian paradigm, stressing “knowledge” and “discovery” rather than the praxeological “action” and “choice,” and whose leading exponent now is Professor Israel Kirzner; and the nihilistic view of the late Ludwig Lachmann, an institutionalist antitheory approach taken from the English “subjectivist”-Keynesian G.L.S. Shackle.”
- AEN: In applying this a priori approach to ethics, were you attempting to supplant natural rights.
- HOPPE: No, not at all. I was attempting to make the first two chapters of Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty stronger than they were. That in turn would provide more weight to everything that followed. I had some dissatisfaction with rigor with which the initial ethical assumptions of libertarian political theory had been arrived at. Intuitively, they seemed plausible. But I could see that a slightly different approach might be stronger. Murray never considered my revisions to be a threat. His only concern was: does this ultimately make the case? Ultimately, he agreed that it did.
"But how can the masses understand ideas? Well, a quick answer is that they have done so before: notably in the American Revolution and for a hundred or so years afterwards: in America and in Europe. So if they didn’t read Locke, they read Paine or Cato or their popularizers, or read their followers in the press or heard them in speeches and sermons.
The American revolutionary movement was a diverse and structured one, with different persons and institutions specializing in various aspects of the struggle. The same is and will be true of our movement. Just as not everyone had to read Locke to become a full-fledged American revolutionary, not everyone now has to read all of our flowering theoretical works in order to grasp the essence of libertarianism and to act upon it.
The American revolutionaries never felt that every American had to grasp fully the fifth lemma of the third syllogism of the second chapter of Locke before they could take their place in the developing struggle; and the same should be true of our libertarians and our own theoretical works. Naturally, the more that everyone reads and understands the better; and it is hardly my point to deprecate the great importance of theory or of reading. My point is that not everyone has to know and agree to every nuance before we start moving, ingathering, and acting to transform the real world.”
- AEN: Since then, you have been the strongest defender of the Austrian method, praxeology, since Rothbard.
- HOPPE: Independently, I had concluded that economic laws were a priori and discoverable through deduction. Then I stumbled on Mises’s Human Action. That was the first time I found someone who had the same view; not only that, he had already worked out the entire system. From that point on, I was a Misesian.
- Mises took the idea of synthetic a priori–the idea that there are true statements about reality, derived from axioms and logic, that do not need to be tested–from Immanuel Kant. But Mises added an extremely important insight; Kantian mental categories can be understood as ultimately grounded in categories of action. With this, Mises bridged the gulf in Kantianism that separates mental from physical; what we think from the outside, physical world.
- If you start with the concept of action, you immediately realize that action involves a subject and an object. Action means; I do something with something in order to reach certain goals. That implies a theory of casuality, which had been a sticking point in Kantianism and remains so in positivism. There were hints of this in Kant, but nothing as explicit as you find it in Mises.
"The continual progress, onward-and-upward approach was demolished for me, and should have been for everyone, by Thomas Kuhn’s famed Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn paid no attention to economics, but instead, in the standard manner of philosophers and historians of science, focused on such ineluctably “hard” sciences as physics, chemistry, and astronomy.
Bringing the word “paradigm” into intellectual discourse, Kuhn demolished what I like to call the “Whig theory of the history of science.” The Whig theory, subscribed to by almost all historians of science, including economics, is that scientific thought progresses patiently, one year after another developing, sifting, and testing theories, so that science marches onward and upward, each year, decade, or generation learning more and possessing ever more correct scientific theories.
On analogy with the Whig theory of history, coined in mid-nineteenth-century England, which maintained that things are always getting (and therefore must get) better and better, the Whig historian of science, seemingly on firmer ground than the regular Whig historian, implicitly or explicitly asserts that “later is always better” in any particular scientific discipline. The Whig historian (whether of science or of history proper) really maintains that, for any point of historical time, “whatever was, was right,” or at least better than “whatever was earlier.”
The inevitable result is a complacent and infuriating Panglossian optimism. In the historiography of economic thought, the consequence is the firm if implicit position that every individual economist, or at least every school of economists, contributed their important mite to the inexorable upward march. There can, then, be no such thing as gross systemic error that deeply flawed, or even invalidated, an entire school of economic thought, much less sent the world of economics permanently astray.
Kuhn, however, shocked the philosophic world by demonstrating that this is simply not the way that science has developed. Once a central paradigm is selected, there is no testing or sifting, and tests of basic assumptions only take place after a series of failures and anomalies in the ruling paradigm has plunged the science into a “crisis situation.” One need not adopt Kuhn’s nihilistic philosophic outlook, his implication that no one paradigm is or can be better than any other, to realize that his less than starry-eyed view of science rings true both as history and as sociology.
But if the standard romantic or Panglossian view does not work even in the hard sciences, a fortiori it must be totally off the mark in such a ‘soft science’ as economics, in a discipline where there can be no laboratory testing, and where numerous even softer disciplines such as politics, religion, and ethics necessarily impinge on one’s economic outlook.”
It should be noted that, as in the triumph of the Keynesian revolution and many other conquests by various schools of economics, the Friedman article did not win the hearts and minds of economists in the pattern of what we might call the Whig theory of the history of science: by patient refutation of competing or prevailing doctrines.
As in the case of the Mises-Hayek business-cycle theory dominant before Keynes’s General Theory, the Robbins book was not refuted; it was simply passed over and forgotten. Here the Thomas Kuhn theory of successive paradigms is accurate on the sociology or process of economic thought, deplorable as it might be as a prescription for the development of a science.
Too often in philosophy or the social sciences, schools of thought have succeeded each other as whim or fashion, much as one style of ladies’ hemlines has succeeded another. Of course, in economics as in other sciences of human action, more sinister forces, such as politics and the drive for power, often deliberately skew the whims of fashion in their own behalf.
Because there is no rational economic calculation taking place, politics rushes in to fill the vacuum. In politics, failure is success. The worse any government bureaucracy performs, as a rule, the more money it gets. All government bureaucracies have powerful incentives to grow, regardless of whether or not such growth actually serves the public.
Every bureaucrat is inherently an empire builder, because that is how he advances in his career. The route to promotion in managing a bigger and better-paying bureaucracy is to prove that one can “manage” a large number of people. And since there are no profits or shareholders in government, bureaucrats “profit” personally by spending taxpayers’ dollars lavishly on perquisites—a large staff, travel, office space, etc.
Thus, there are built-in incentives to maximize the number of subordinate bureaucrats, regardless of what this may mean for public service. Cost maximization characterizes all government bureaucracies, as opposed to cost minimization in private, competitive markets. Not to mention the notoriously shoddy quality of all government ‘services.’
"Isabel Paterson, in The God of the Machine, one of the great books on political philosophy of this century, zeroed in on what she aptly called “The Humanitarian with the Guillotine.” “The humanitarian,” Mrs. Paterson wrote, “wishes to be a prime mover in the lives of others. He cannot admit either the divine or the natural order, by which men have the power to help themselves. The humanitarian puts himself in the place of God.” But Mrs. Paterson notes, the humanitarian is “confronted by two awkward facts: first that the competent do not need his assistance; and second, that the majority of people, if unperverted, positively do not want to be ‘done good’ by the humanitarian.” Having considered what the “good” of others might be, and who is to decide on the good and on what to do about it, Mrs. Paterson points out:
“Of course what the humanitarian actually proposes is that he shall do what he thinks is good for everybody. It is at this point that the humanitarian sets up the guillotine.”
Hence, she concludes, “the humanitarian in theory is the terrorist in action.”