R.G. Collingwood on the Collapse of Civilization
R.G. Collingwood, a philosopher, historian, and archaeologist who taught at Oxford in the first half of the twentieth century, was much esteemed by Ludwig von Mises, especially for his essay “Economics as a Philosophical Science” and, more generally, for his work in the philosophy of history. In this week’s column, I’d like to consider a point that Collingwood makes in his “Fascism and Nazism,” published in Philosophy in 1940, that helps us answer a vital question that confronts us today.
The question is this. The case for a complete free market and a noninterventionist foreign policy is an excellent one. Mises showed conclusively that socialism cannot work, and there is no intermediate system between capitalism and socialism that is sustainable in the long run. The failure of an interventionist foreign policy that leads to futile and horribly destructive wars is evident. Why, then, don’t we see these manifestly excellent policies in effect today? The answer may appear obvious. Our government is controlled by powerful elites who favor other policies. But this just pushes back the question: Why have these malign forces been able to take control?
Collingwood argued that the England of his day faced the same question:
Free speech and free inquiry concerning political and scientific questions; free consent in issues arising out of economic activity; free enjoyment of the produce won by a man’s own labour—the opposite of all tyranny and oppression, exploitation and robbery—these were ideals based on the infinite dignity or worth of the human individual. . . . All o
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