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A Review of Edward W. Younkins's Philosophers of Capitalism
Dr. Edward W. Younkins of Wheeling Jesuit University—a leading contemporary scholar of Objectivism and Austrian Economics—has released a new anthology of scholarly essays: Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond. This book is a detailed, sophisticated, interesting, and multifaceted endeavor to integrate the ideas of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and the Austrian School of Economics as developed by Carl Menger (1840-1921) and Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973). It is valuable ammunition for those who see value in both schools of thought and seek to create from them a greater libertarian synthesis—which takes advantage of both schools’ greatest intellectual strengths while remedying their weaknesses.
Philosophers of Capitalism is a collection of sixteen essays by renowned Objectivists and Austrian Economists. Dr. Younkins has authored four of the essays himself; three are detailed explanations of the ideas of Menger, Mises, and Rand—including Dr. Younkins’s evaluation of the relevance of each idea to the libertarian synthesis. The fourth is the last chapter of the book—“Toward the Development of a Paradigm for a Free Society”—which presents a comprehensive model of what such a synthesis might look like.
Dr. Younkins argues persuasively that Austrian Economics and Misesian praxeology are compatible with Objectivism once one rejects the Kantian epistemology behind many of Mises’s writings. Dr. Younkins draws on the ideas of Mises’s renowned student—Murray N. Rothbard—who posits a “broadly empirical” Aristotelian basis for praxeology, via which one can still have apodictic certainty about the validity of the action axiom and the economic laws stemming from it. Dr. Younkins recognizes, however, that Mises’s Kantianism is in many ways superior to Kant’s Kantianism; Mises does not deny the freedom of the “phenomenal self’s” will; for Mises, “freedom [is] the use of reason to attain one’s goals” (Younkins 57). Furthermore and most importantly, Mises does not adhere to the orthodox Kantian claim that the mind is impotent at grasping the “real” or “noumenal” reality; rather, “[Mises] merely says that there is a group of common categories lodged in men’s minds through which they grasp that which exists” (Younkins 57). Mises believes firmly that the mind—through praxeological reasoning—can discover true, irrefutable economic laws operating in reality. In positing this, he places himself firmly on the Objectivist side of the Objectivist-Kantian debate on the knowability of reality. One should not let Mises’s avowed Kantianism deter one from integrating his ideas into the libertarian synthesis.
Dr. Younkins thinks that the ideas of Carl Menger are a crucial bridge between Objectivism and Austrian Economics. Menger—the founder of Austrian Economics—saw an objective basis in economic value, stemming from the biological survival needs of the human organism. Menger was an Aristotelian, and his view of value was rooted in Aristotle’s idea of value as ultimately contributing to genuine human flourishing. Richard C. B. Johnsson, a contributor to Philosophers of Capitalism, wishes to move away from the common designation of Austrian value theory as “subjectivist” and instead assigns it the more accurate designation of “contextually individually objectivist”—dependent on the subject, the object, and the situation (context) (Johnsson 337). This increased accuracy of terminology might be useful in dispelling some initial misperceptions among Objectivists and Austrian Economists.
Not all of the essays in the book are recent, but even the older ones are interesting and relevant. Murray Rothbard’s essay, “Ludwig von Mises and the Paradigm of Our Age,” explains how the paradigm in economics during the last half-century has shifted unfavorably—toward the heavily mathematical, unwarrantedly empiricist-positivist Neoclassical and Keynesian schools—which has led to the loss of much valuable theoretical and conceptual knowledge discovered by Menger and Mises. The Austrian School of Economics today is a vibrant transmitter of this older and more relevant knowledge, and advocates of freedom would be well advised to take advantage of it. Tibor R. Machan’s 1995 essay, “Reason in Economics and Ethics,” attempts to show how the narrow economic definition of rationality as the choice of proper means to fulfill ultimately given and a-rational ends leads contemporary economists to be unable to consistently and adequately defend free markets. Only an objective ethical system which makes definite value judgments about proper ends of human behavior can help in countering contemporary opponents of free markets—who have taken the moral “high ground” in proclaiming that there are specific ends that free markets cannot meet. Rationality needs to be based on objective standards to justify free markets; this is the task of the libertarian synthesis.
A brief book review cannot suffice to analyze the full scope and depth of Dr. Younkins’s endeavor in Philosophers of Capitalism. For those interested in discovering and comprehensively implementing the libertarian synthesis, reading this book is a necessity. Objectivists and Austrian Economists alike will recognize that the differences between their schools of thought are exaggerated; often, they merely amount to different words used to define extremely similar ideas. One of the highlights of this book is the attempt to arrive at a set of common vocabulary that shows just how compatible Objectivism and Austrian Economics are.
Johnsson, Richard C. B. “Austrian Subjectivism vs. Objectivism.” Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond. Ed. Edward W. Younkins. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005. 239-252.
Younkins, Edward W. Misesian Praxeology as the Path to Progress.” In Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond. Ed. Edward W. Younkins. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005. 49-77.
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