The Meaning of Liberalism from the new preface

The Term “liberalism,” from the Latin “liber” meaning “free,” referred originally to the philosophy of freedom. It still retained this meaning in Europe when this book was written (1927) so that readers who opened its covers expected an analysis of the freedom philosophy of classical liberalism. Unfortunately, however, in recent decades, “liberalism” has come to mean something very different. The word has been taken over, especially in the United States, by philosophical socialists and used by them to refer to their government intervention and “welfare state” programs . . . .

This view of liberalism was so prevalent in 1962, when the English translation of this book appeared, that Mises believed then that to translate literally the original title, Liberalismus, would be too confusing. So he called the English version The Free and Prosperous Commonwealth. By the following year, however, Mises had decided that the advocates of freedom and free markets should not relinquish “liberalism” to the philosophical socialists. In the Prefaces of both the second (1963) and third (1966) editions of his magnum opus, Human Action, Mises wrote that the advocates of the freedom philosophy should reclaim “the term ‘liberal’ . . . because there is simply no other term available to signify the great political and intellectual movement” that ushered in modern civilization by fostering the free market economy, limited government and individual freedom. It is in this sense that “liberalism” is used throughout this book . . . .

In Liberalism Mises not only offers brief explanations of many important economic phenomena, but he also presents, more explicitly than in any of his other books, his views on government and its very limited but essential role in preserving social cooperation under which the free market can function. Mises’ views still appear fresh and modern and readers will find his analysis pertinent . . . .

In fact, the only hope of keeping the world from plunging still further into international chaos and conflict is to convince the people to abandon government intervention and adopt liberal policies.

Further Reading

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