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“Why historians have failed to recognize Mises’s Theory and History

Abstract

Theory and History is often said to be Ludwig von Mises’ least read and least appreciated book. This article argues that historians in the Anglo-American world generally did not understand the German and Austrian traditions that Mises drew on, and that their early reviews of the book therefore fundamentally misunderstood its purpose. Most saw it as a political tract. Some commented on Mises’ contribution to the debate about the autonomy of the discipline of history. Few, however, understood Mises’ apriorism or logical approach. To understand why Theory and History has not been recognized for its a contribution to historical methodology, we must first understand Mises’ place as an outsider in the debates on historiography in the 1950s.

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Notes

  1. It was then printed in London, England in 1958 by Jonathan Cape. Yale put out a second edition in 1963. It was also reprinted by Arlington House in New Rochelle, New York in 1969, New York’s Garland Publishers issued it in 1984, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute put out a version in 1985, in 2007. A chinese translation appears in 1973, and a Spanish edition came out in 1964 in Mexico, and in 1975 in Spain. This latter edition was reprinted in 2003 and in 2010. Liberty Fund issued a version in2005, reprinted it in 2010. Martino Fine Books published it in 2012.

  2. Greaves and McGree (1993) includes a list of reviews by libertarian writers on pages 169–174. Positive reviews of the book included a short write-up in by William H. Peterson in The Wall Street Journal, and a longer review by Otto R. Reischer in The American Scholar. William H. Peterson, “‘History and the Haze of Theory.” The Wall Street Journal. 151: 18 (January 27, 1958) 10. Otto R. Reischer, The American Scholar. 27:2 (Spring 1958) 240–242).

  3. The book is certainly not difficult to find. It is listed in Worldcat: in 1217 libraries, worldwide, which is not far from the 1560 libraries which hold Mises’s best-known work, Human Action. Worldcat.org accessed June 20, 2016.

  4. Google scholar (accessed April 20, 2016), aggregates 586 citations for this book, compared over 6000 citations for Mises’s Human Action, more than 1100 for Mises’s Socialism, and over 1050 for Mises’s Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth. But the citations to Mises’s Theory and History seldom come from historians.

  5. In the “open syllabus project” (acessed April 22, 2016), Mises’s Theory and History appears 26 times (17 times under its short title, and 9 under its long title), out of 1.1 million syllabi. The book is usually assigned alongside other works on economics, indicating that it tends to be taught in economics courses. Other works on history are more popular. For example, Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism appears 78 times, E.H. Carr’s What is History? appears 368 times., Collingwood’s The Idea of History, 181 times, and John Gaddis’ The Landscape of History, 78 times, Josh Tosh’s The Pursuit of History, 112 times.

  6. A summary of the philosophical argument on methdological individualism up to that date can be found in Gellner 1959.

  7. Kade went on to become a professor of statistics and econometrics at the Technische Universistat Damstadt. He was a well-known Marxist and collaborator with the East German security forces, the Stasi. Richter 2009, 419.

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Douma, M. “Why historians have failed to recognize Mises’s Theory and History”. Rev Austrian Econ 31, 359–372 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11138-017-0390-3

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Keywords

  • Mises
  • Theory and history
  • Popper
  • Historiography

JEL codes

  • B25
  • B53