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Thankyou for this article

The whole question of nation building was an important one in the wake of the First World War. The basic issues remain the same. I wish there were effective incentives for politicians to learn from historical experience. (And perhaps more importantly, if the young volunteers for these military adventures knew more history they would not volunteer!)

One of the great confusions that emerged in the development of nationalism in the 19th century -- and which Mises emphasized -- was the confusion about the meaning of "national self-determination."

By the middle of the 19th century, national self-determination had come to mean the necessity of the unification of a "national" group identified by language, ethnicity, culture, historical heritage, and, finally, "race," within a single political entity regardless of the wishes of the particular individuals classified as possessing such common traits.

Thus, the Nazis demanded that all members of the "Aryan race" be forcibly united within a Greater Germany under National Socialist leadership.

Mises argued that the classical liberal conception was that of "individual self-determination," an argument he, especially, developed in "Liberalism" (1927). The liberal ideal allows individuals within towns, districts, and regions to vote on which state they would belong to; they could remain part of the existing state, join another state, or form a new one.

Mises even argued that in principle this choice should be left to each individual, not majorities, since a minority (including a minority of one) might find itself within the jurisdiction of a government not of its own choosing. But because it was difficult to imagine how competing police and judicial systems could function on the same street corner, Mises viewed the majoritarian solution to a workable second best.

What would at least assure the minimal political intrusion into the individual's affairs, even if he found himself under a national government not of his own choosing, would be the reduction of state power to protection of life, liberty and property in a social order of voluntary association and free-market exchange.

In such a (classical) liberal world, the use of political power to benefit some national or ethnic special interest groups at the coerced expense of others would be eliminated or at least reduced to the smallest degree humanly possible.

In this "Misesian" conception of (individualistic) "national self-determination," any "nation-building" would reflect the senses of shared commonality that individuals may feel toward each other over time, and which may, or may not, result in their free choice to combine into a political association (a "nation-state").

For those who might be interested in this theme, I have written some articles on it:

"Nationalism and Classical Liberalism"

"Nationalism: Its Nature and Consequences"

"National Conflicts, Market Liberalism, and Social Peace"

"Social Conflict, Self-Determination, and the Boundaries of the State"

And I have a longer piece on, "World Peace, International Order, and Classical Liberalism," which appeared in "International Journal of World Peace (December 1995) pp. 47-68. (Unfortunately, this issue does not seem to be online, but I can send anyone who is interested a pdf.)

Richard Ebeling

I think Legos might help... :-).

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