The central theme in Mises‘s cultural traditionalism was the fact of human inequality. He therefore opposed all forms of egalitarianism. “The fact that men are born unequal in regard to physical and mental capabilities cannot be argued away,” he wrote. “Some surpass their fellow men in health and vigor, in brain and aptitudes, in energy and resolution and are therefore better fitted for the pursuit of earthly affairs than the rest of mankind” (Mises, 1961, pp. 190-91).
In holding this view Mises stood apart, as he so often did, from the social science establishment of his day. He cites the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences (1930) claim that “at birth human infants, regardless of their heredity, are as equal as Fords.” The market makes society’s existence possible, primarily because it is the only means of social cooperation that takes into account the inherent inequality of men.
If every man were identical to every other (and therefore all non-human resources would be equally available to all), there would be no question of capital formation, the division of labor, or capitalism. In fact, if the assertion of equality were true, there would be no economic or social problem to discuss. Thus when Mises seeks to support the classical economists’ idea of the division of labor, the “innate inequality of men” is the first reason he invokes.
The market, through the law of association, provides the means for all men to cooperate under the social division of labor, allowing all people to pursue the tasks most in keeping with their individual talents, strengths, and dispositions, whether the tasks they perform are considered mundane or extraordinary (Mises, 1966, pp. 157-166). The state cannot know, apart from information generated by the market, which task is better suited to which individual. Because of the constraints that nature has placed on everyone, in varying degrees, it is futile for the state to attempt to eradicate inequalities. To do so will necessarily make social conditions worse.
Mises believed in the doctrine of equality before the law, but opposed the attempt to derive it from the alleged equality of all men: “Only deadly foes of individual liberty and self-determination” do so (Mises, 1961, p. 190). Rather, he held that equality before the law, more than any other system, promotes social cooperation and prosperity. If equality is made a social goal, then individuals must be treated unequally by the law. Equality and the rule of law are incompatible (Mises, 1966, pp. 840-842).
Neither should democracy, nor “representative democracy ,” be justified on grounds of equality; to do so is “faulty and untenable” (Mises, 1961, p. 196). Those who argue for the “intellectual and moral eminence of the masses,” or that “the voice of the people is the voice of God,” are most often attempting to “substitute despotism for representative government” (p. 197). For Mises, democracy has only one justification: peaceful succession in government. Majority rule is not “a metaphysical principle…” (p. 197). Thus Mises stood in dramatic opposition to the political and cultural egalitarianism that has long been the operating principle of the modern state.
From “The Cultural Thought of Ludwig von Mises”, by Jeffrey A. Tucker and Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 10/1 (Fall 1991)