Ludwig von Mises grew up at a time when women struggled for freedom in many aspects of life. Growing up under the tutelage of his loving mother, Adele von Mises, Ludwig understood and cared about the issues facing women. He had a philosophy of legal egalitarianism, i.e. equality before the law, when it came to the issues of sexes, but this did not mean that Mises embraced the feminist movement of his time, nor is it likely that he would have embraced the feminism of today.
Feminism, by modern standards, is far removed from the legal egalitarianism philosophy of which Mises was a proponent. While Ludwig von Mises was extraordinarily vocal in his support of woman, he doubted that feminism would stay limited to within the ideological boundaries of equality before the law. He understood that going beyond the legal egalitarianism philosophy, feminism would lead to the ideals of socialism, as Mises elaborated in his book Socialism:
“So far as feminism seeks to adjust the legal position of woman to that of man so far as it seeks to offer her legal and economic freedom to develop and act in accordance with her inclinations, desires, and economic circumstances-so far it is nothing more than a branch of the great liberal movement, which advocates peaceful and free evolution. When, going beyond this, it attacks the institutions of social life under the impression that it will thus be able to remove the natural barriers, it is a spiritual child of socialism.”
If feminism could possibly be summed up in a word today, it would Higgledy-piggledy, i.e., confusion and disorder. Feminism, much like socialism, has differentiating degrees which have also evolved over time. For example, Wendy McElroy eloquently elaborates on the confusion within the feminist movement in just describing a basic mutual understanding of equality before the law:
“The meaning of equality differs within the feminist movement. Throughout most of its history, American mainstream feminism considered equality to mean equal treatment under existing laws and equal representation within existing institutions. The focus was not to change the status quo in a basic sense, but rather to be included within it. The more radical feminists protested that existing laws and institutions were the source of injustice and, thus, could not be reformed”
Due to this confusion on the definition of equality before the law, assumptions have been made about Ludwig von Mises standing within the feminist movement. However, Mises philosophy of legal egalitarianism does not a feminist make.
Feminism was once an idea about equality. Today feminism has been overtaken by political correctness warriors pushing to further their ambitions under the umbrella of ‘empowerment of women’, using big government as its means. Television and news outlets are filled with clickbait and propaganda with journalists and scholars alike distorting history and skewing facts to fit their narrative. Case in point, an article which identifies Mises as the equivalent of a modern feminist.
However was this really the case? according to Jorg Guido Hulsmann in ‘Mises The Last Knight of Liberalism’ Ludwig von Mises was not what many would call a radical feminist:
“When Mises rejected the claims of radical feminism, it was not because he lacked sympathy with his female associates or because he was driven by some vicious desire to keep women ‘in their place.’ Rather, it was intellectual integrity that led him to insist on his views about gender relations, views that even in his circle were likely to be resented by ambitious women.”
While Mises was not a supporter of radical feminism, he was; however, a proponent for women and equal rights. It was rare indeed for women to study in academia in Mises’ day and age, but that did not stop him from supporting the studious women who would come across his path. Both Lene Lieser and Marianne Herzfeld, among others, wrote their doctoral dissertations under Mises guidance and council.
Mises also never doubted the intelligence of women with whom he had contact. Whilst other men may have turned a studious woman away, Mises encouraged their attendance at his lectures, as Margit von Mises pointed out:
“Lu was a great defender of women, and never doubted their mental capacities or potentials. His seminar in Vienna was well known for the many highly gifted women who attended and later became leading figures in economics and education.”
Ludwig von Mises, while a champion and staunch supporter of women, prognosticated what the feminist movement could become. He supported the feminist cause for equality, but never followed feminism down the path to socialism. As noted in the article, The Cultural Thought of Ludwig von Mises:
“Efforts to enlist feminism on the side of liberty would be doomed to failure, in Mises’s view, since the two ideologies are in fundamental disagreement regarding the limitations that nature has placed on human possibilities. It is for this reason that Mises saw public policy on the relationship between the sexes as having reached the ideal by the early twentieth century.”
Ludwig von Mises knew that feminism at one time had been a noble idea; however, Mises saw through the feminist facade and foresaw that any noble idea can be hijacked. With journalists, scholars and feminists themselves distorting feminism in rapid succession, all that was needed were enough loudmouths to ‘carry the banner’ attaching their own perversions and balderdash to the core kernel of sound doctrine of equality before the law. With feminism in a state of confusion already, Let’s not add the name and legacy of Ludwig von Mises to the modern feminist enumeration.