Chapter 3: A Rational Economist in an Irrational Age: Ludwig von Mises
Every period of history is indelibly stamped with the impression of the dominant ideas of its time. It is for this reason that students of history sometimes claim that the 19th century began in 1815 with the downfall of Napoleon and ended with the advent of the Great War in August 1914. The dominant ideas of this century (ideas that owed their origins to 18th-century ideas about the natural order, the rights of man and representative government) were the ideas of classical liberalism. Moreover, it was owing to these ideas that the 19th century saw the rise of great political and economic reform movements that liberated man from autocracy and mercantilism, and that gave many people in Europe and North America more limited government, more free enterprise, more peace and tranquillity than had ever been known before. The 20th century, which had its dawn with the opening shots of World War I, really ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was dominated by ideas of a radically different sort. It can legitimately be claimed that the 20th century was a counter-revolution against the classical liberalism of the previous century. Wherever we looked, the state grew in power. Constitutionally limited government was perverted into a process of interest group plundering through the mechanisms of seemingly unlimited democracy or totalitarian dictatorships. The free market economy was either strangled in a web of controls and regulations or extinguished under the blows of various forms of socialist central planning. Free...
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