The soul of man under capitalism

This discussion by Ludwig von Mises of capitalism, happiness, and beauty has something of the “one simple principle correctly resolves everything” quality that tends to disfigures libertarian thought, so it’s no credit to the Mises Institute that they’ve chosen to give it special prominence.

The issue is artistic life under “capitalism,” by which I suppose Mises means a regime of private property, free markets and post-industrial revolution technology in which economic concerns are foremost. It seems that what’s happened under that regime, which has been dominant in the West since the French Revolution, is that the arts at their highest levels detached somewhat from the social order, became eccentric, went to extremes, and eventually died. Mises would certainly be right if he pointed out that the process has had nothing special to do with capitalism as opposed to socialism or the “mixed economy.” Still, it’s not to the point to deny that something has happened, or to claim (falsely) that good design is just a matter of money or out of reach of the poor, or that “[r]everence to the great authors and artists has always been limited to small groups.” In fairness, though, the outlook for high culture probably looked brighter in 1956, when Mises was writing, than 50 years later.

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