Freeman

ARTICLE

Ideology

SEPTEMBER 01, 1981 by LUDWIG VON MISES

In acting, man is directed by ideologies. He chooses ends and means under the influence of ideologies. The might of an ideology is either direct or indirect. It is direct when the actor is convinced that the content of the ideology is correct and that he serves his own interests directly in complying with it. It is indirect when the actor rejects the content of the ideology as false but is under the necessity of adjusting his actions to the fact that this ideology is endorsed by other people.

Any existing state of social affairs is the product of ideologies previously thought out. Society is always the creation of ideologies temporally and logically anterior. Action is always directed by ideas; it realizes what previous thinking has designed. The power of an ideology consists precisely in the fact that people submit to it without any wavering and or scruples.

A man does not himself create his ideas and standards of value; he borrows them from other people. His ideology is what his environment enjoins upon him. Only very few men have the gift of thinking new and original ideas and of changing the traditional body of creeds and doctrines.

Common man does not speculate about the great problems. Yet the common man does choose. He chooses to adopt traditional patterns or patterns adopted by other people because he is convinced that this procedure is best fitted-to achieve his own welfare. And he is ready to change his ideology and consequently his mode of action whenever he becomes convinced that this would better serve his interests.

In the days of laissez faire people looked upon government as an institution whose operation required an expenditure of money which must be defrayed by taxes paid by the citizens. In the individual citizens’ budgets the state was an item of expenditure. Today the majority of the citizens look upon government as an agency dispensing benefits. The wage earners and the farmers expect to receive from the treasury more than they contribute to its revenues. The state is in their eyes a spender, not a taker.

What determines the course of a nation’s economic policies is always the economic ideas held by public opinion. No government, whether democratic or dictatorial, can free itself from the sway of the generally accepted ideology.

Never before has the world known such a cleverly contrived system of propaganda and oppression as that instituted by contemporary governments, parties, and pressure groups. However, all these edifices will crumble like houses of cards as soon as a great ideology attacks them.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

September 1981

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December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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