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AlbertJayNock

Ludwig Von Mises on the individual

I am currently slogging my way through the copy of Ludwig Von Mises's  Human Action my sister got me for Christmas. It is a great big book (3 volumes for a total of 886 pages) full of words like catallactic, praxeology, and autarkic. It's worth the patience and effort though. Every once in a while I run across a profound and elegantly expressed insight that makes me grateful that all the fancy words and abstract theories didn't make me quit reading.

One such insight is on  individuals and society. I have long maintained that the individual is real and society is a useful abstraction. Von Mises mostly agrees with this, but if he were alive and heard me put it the way I just did, he would scold me for being too simplistic. He believes that society is the real result of cooperation between individuals. It is "division of labor and combination of labor". In other words, it's why  nobody has to grow their own food.

But he also stresses that society exists for the individual, not the other way around. He writes

"The individual lives and acts within society. But society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort. It exists nowhere else than in the actions of individual men. It is a delusion to search for it outside the actions of individuals."

He does a good job of explaining the importance of society, without forgetting to stress that it is created by individuals for individuals. It's a tricky problem that he handles well.

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