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Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution (LvMI) Kindle Edition
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Theory and History is a first rate critique of Historicist type socialism. This book does differ in tone from some of Mises' earlier works. By 1957 professional economists had moved away from Marxism and towards `Market Socialism'. The Market Socialists (Lange, Lerner, Dickinson, Taylor, Durbin) were not historicists, so they do not belong in this book. Mises was obviously still troubled by Marxism in the 1950's. The general public was still open to the influence of Marxist ideas. Hence Mises wrote a book critiquing Marxist/Historicist ideas that is short and relatively easy (as compared to his other books).
Theory and History is an excellent work, well reasoned and clearer than many of his other writings. You can learn much from this book, even if you have read his other works. Marxian state socialism is now dead, but the "ideology of equal wealth and income" that Mises attacks in this book is alive and well. Theory and History therefore is more than relevant in the twenty-first century. It is vitally important in the defense of free and prosperous societies.
THEORY AND HISTORY is an outstanding work on the methodology of the social sciences. As usual, Mises uses economics and sociology to criticize all varieties of leftism. The starting point for von Mises is the acting individual. Man acts rationally to achieve certain ends. What appears to be collective action is simply the action of numerous individuals. Based on this, Mises shows that collectivist theories fail to take into account the essentially individualist nature of human action. Marx claimed to be a scientist of the inevitable forces of human action, yet he inconsistently involved himself in day-to-day politics. Engles went so far as to say that had Napoleon died when he was young, history would have produced another Napoleon. Mises then discusses theories of history such as those advanced by Buckle, Spengler, and Toynbee.
One of the most exciting things about reading von Mises is how socialist fallacies fall page after page. Not only does he refute their fallacies, but he has a way of seeing right through them. For example, how can one criticize modern capitalist society for being "materialistic'" when it allows the common man to attend Beethoven concerts?
Von Mises dealt with methodology in THE ULTIMATE FOUNDATION OF ECONOMIC SCIENCE, EPISTEMOLOGICAL PROBLEMS OF ECONOMICS, and HUMAN ACTION.
"So is that a book on the history of theory, or the theory of history?"
My usual answer was:
For some reason it took me quite a while to get through the book, but I vividly remember the first thought that came to mind when I reached the last paragraphs. That thought was that I need to read this again at some point.
It is truly amazing how Mises manages to go through so many things in this relatively short book. Not only that, but the way Mises presents his arguments is absolutely brilliant. Every ten pages or so I had to literally stop and think about how someone was able to explain something so clearly. This is how a creative genius thinks and writes.
There is no way for me to list everything Mises goes through in this book, but simply put you will learn about how to think about society, economics and much more, how others have thought you should think about these things and why they are wrong. Mises dismantles his opponents in a way that leaves you thinking how anyone could've thought otherwise on this issue.
As this book is already over 50 years old and some of the arguments Mises deals with are much older, this book will also serve as a small and limited crash course to the history of intellectual thought.
Want to read Mises and don't know where to start? I'm sure someone might disagree, but in my opinion this isn't a bad place to start at all.
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