North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › What Is Society?

What Is Society?

A former member
Post #: 24
In the past I could never stomach discussions of society; they were always collectivist and sought to impose sacrifice. Here is one of the best discussions of society I ever encountered, written by Ludwig von Mises. I condensed the article into a series of quotes to make it easier to read and understand. I added a few interpretations of my own, enclosing them within square brackets.

My question to this smart crowd: Is Mises correct? What is society, and is it a good thing?

Gad

What Is Society?
by Ludwig von Mises

This essay is excerpted from chapter 18 of his book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis.

http://www.mises.org/...­

Society is the product of thought and will. It does not exist outside thought and will. Its being lies within man, not in the outer world. It is projected from within outwards.

[The essence of] Society is cooperation; it [essentially] is community in action.

To say that Society is an organism, means [only!] that society is [in its essence, the] division of labor. To do justice to this idea we must take into account all[!] the aims which men set themselves and the means by which these are to be attained. It includes every[!] interrelation of thinking and willing man. Modern man is a social being, not only as one whose material needs could not be supplied in isolation, but also as one who has achieved a development of reason and of the perceptive faculty that would have been impossible except within society. Man is inconceivable as an isolated being, for humanity exists only as a social phenomenon and mankind transcended the stage of animality only in so far as cooperation evolved the social relationships between the individuals.

Historically division of labor originates in two facts of nature: the inequality of human abilities and the variety of the external conditions of human life on the earth.

The greater productivity of work under the division of labor is a unifying influence. It leads men to regard each other as comrades in a joint struggle for welfare, rather than as competitors in a struggle for existence. It makes friends out of enemies, peace out of war, society out of individuals.

To seek to [coercively? Arbitrarily?] organize society is just as crazy as it would be to tear a living plant to bits in order to make a new one out of the dead parts. An organization of mankind can only be conceived after the living social organism has been killed. The collectivist movements are therefore fore-doomed to failure. It may be possible to create an organization embracing all mankind. But this would always be merely an organization, side by side with which social life would continue. It could be altered and destroyed by the forces of social life, and it certainly would be destroyed from the moment it tried to rebel against these forces. To make Collectivism a fact one must first kill all social life, then build up the collectivist state. The Bolshevists are thus quite logical in wishing to dissolve all traditional social ties, to destroy the social edifice built up through countless centuries, in order to erect a new structure on the ruins. Only they overlook the fact that isolated individuals, between whom no kind of social relations exist, can no longer be organized.


Society exists only where willing becomes a co-willing and action co-action. To strive jointly towards aims which alone individuals could not reach at all, or not with equal effectiveness — that is society.

Therefore, Society is not an end but a means, the means by which each individual member seeks to attain his own ends. That society is possible at all is due to the fact that the will of one person and the will of another find themselves linked in a joint endeavor. Community of work springs from community of will. Because I can get what I want only if my fellow citizen gets what he wants, his will and action become the means by which I can attain my own end. Because my willing necessarily includes his willing, my intention cannot be to frustrate his will. On this fundamental fact all social life is built up.

Once it has been perceived that the division of labor is the essence of society, nothing remains of the antithesis between individual and society.

The division of labor extends by the spread of the realization that the more labor is divided the more productive it is. In this sense the extension of the division of labor is economic progress: it brings production nearer to its goal — the greatest possible satisfaction of wants, and this progress is sociological [societal] progress also, for it involves the intensification of the social relation.

Civilization is a product of leisure and the peace of mind that only the division of labor can make possible. Primitive man lacks all individuality in our sense. Two South Sea Islanders resemble each other far more closely than two twentieth-century Londoners.

The facts which are present in practically all the examples brought forward of the aging of a culture are: a decline in population, a diminution of welfare, and the decay of the towns. The historical significance of all these phenomena becomes clear as soon as we conceive of the aging of nations as the retrogression of the social division of labor and of society. The decline of the ancient world for instance, was a social retrogression. The decline of the Roman Empire was only a result of the disintegration of ancient society which after reaching a high level of division of labor sank back into an almost moneyless economy. Thus towns were depopulated and thus, also, did the population of the countryside diminish and want and misery set in simply because an economic order working on a lower level in respect of the social division of labor is less productive. Technical skill was gradually lost, artistic talent decayed, scientific thought was slowly extinguished. The word which most aptly describes this process is disintegration. The Classical culture died because Classical society retrogressed.

Our literary and artistic cliques whose exaggerated opinion of their own trifling productions contrast so vividly with the modesty and self-criticism of the really great artists, say that it does not matter much whether economic evolution continues so long as inner culture is intensified. But all inner culture requires external means for its realization, and these external means can be attained only by economic effort. When the productivity of labor decays through the retrogression of social cooperation the decay of inner culture follows.

Of all accusations against the system of Free Trade and Private Property, none is more foolish than the statement that it is anti-social and individualistic and that it atomizes the body social. Trade does not disintegrate, as romantic enthusiasts for the autarky of small portions of the earth's surface assert; it unites. The division of labor is what first makes social ties: it is the social element pure and simple. Whoever advocates the economic self-sufficiency of nations and states, seeks to disintegrate the ecumenical society; whoever seeks to destroy the social division of labor within a nation by means of class war is anti-social.

A former member
Post #: 39
I told you all ole misey was the man.
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 99
My question to this smart crowd: Is Mises correct? What is society, and is it a good thing?

I've been mulling this over in my head for 2 months now. I may have an answer in a couple more confused

- Travis
Powered by mvnForum

Suggested Annual Donation

$10.00 (after 6 event visits)

This covers: Supporting operating expenses and advertising for new members!

Payment is accepted using:

  • PayPal
  • Cash or check - “Please give any cash or check to any Organizer at an event. We also accept BitCoin: 14sioRkdEBcvvQavE4zbDbSwbsvscPAvF9 Thanks!

Your organizer will refund you if:

  • Each event may have a specific refund policy based on the nature of the event. General donations are not refundable. We may rely on any payment, so if you have any questions please ask an Organizer BEFORE making a payment!

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy