Libertarian Law by Democratic Means: Utilitarianism and the Demythologization of Authority
I have previously explained how for Ludwig von Mises, democracy is necessary for the libertarian society because of its usefulness in achieving and maintaining social peace, insofar as social peace is a prerequisite for economic and civil liberty.
This time I want to explain an idea that is implicit in Mises’s subjectivist philosophy and that leads him to defend democracy, understood as the consent of the governed, but which may go unnoticed because it is dispersed throughout his work: a “philosophy of consent.” Mises’s philosophy of consent is not a “value judgment,” but a “factual judgment”—a description of the functions—of human action in the realm of norms, authorities, and government.
Demythologization of Social Conventions
Mises explains that free-market liberalism, or libertarianism, is part of the Enlightenment movement and is its most faithful successor. Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this movement intellectually freed individuals from their obedience to authority based on mere tradition. Through the use of reasoning, they were freed from their philosophical chains forged with supposedly objective and eternal moral values—that demanded obedience for the benefit of kings, clergy, noble landlords, guilds, and other authorities. Mises described this process as follows:
The social order created by the philosophy of the Enlightenment assigned supremacy to the common man. In his capacity as a consumer, the “regular fellow” was called upon to determine ultimately what should be produced, in what quantity and of what quality, by whom, how, and where; in his capacity as a voter, he was sovereign in directing his nation’s policies.
However, the first generation of enlightened-liberals often confronted essentialist authoritarianism that appeal to an “essentialist” individualism—see “natural rights,” “absolute justice,” and other ethical fallacies of appealing to “nature”—something that in Misesian logic meant freeing oneself from some myths and replacing them with other myths. The old Enlightenment was then perfected in utilitarianism, with David Hume as a close precursor, and then restated by Mises, freeing itself from the myths of essentialism. Mises explained the value of utilitarianism as follows:
It is useless to emphasize that nature is the ultimate arbiter of what is right and what is wrong. Nature does not clearly reveal its plans and intentions to man. Thus the
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