Creative genius

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The activity of the creative genius is a separate praxeological category from labor and leisure, according to Ludwig von Mises. He wrote in chapter 7, section 3 of Human Action, "The activities of these prodigious men cannot be fully subsumed under the praxeological concept of labor. They are not labor because they are for the genius not means, but ends in themselves. He lives in creating and inventing. For him there is not leisure, only intermissions of temporary sterility and frustration. His incentive is not the desire to bring about a result, but the act of producing it. The accomplishment gratifies him neither mediately nor immediately."[1] According to Mises, "A painter is a businessman if he is intent upon making paintings which could be sold at the highest price. A painter who does not compromise with the taste of the buying public and, disdaining all unpleasant consequences, lets himself be guided solely by his own ideals is an artist, a creative genius."[2] Mises stressed that the creative genius is quite rare[3] and that a society cannot be based on the assumption that the masses will voluntarily engage in work for the type of motives that drive the creative genius — namely, an inner necessity to create.[4]

The creative genius is sometimes impoverished, partly because, as Mises pointed out, "Thinkers, poets, and artists are sometimes unfit to accomplish any other work."[1] Unless he happens to have wealth from other sources, he may need to seek out rich patrons, work as a public official, or live on the sale of his creative work. It would be foolhardy to rely on the government to fund his work, because the boards assigned to dispense moneys for the advancement of the arts and science are as a rule composed of the elderly and established who are "even less competent than laymen to assist the rise of young talent with different views and perhaps greater mastery than their own."[5]

Mises wrote that the creative genius rarely finds a woman willing and able to go with him on his solitary path.[6] This passage survived all editions of Socialism despite his marriage to Margit von Mises.[7] Mises also viewed the creative genius as a man who defies all schools and rules and who is very rarely acknowledged as a genius by his contemporaries.[8] He states that what distinguishes the genius from the dullard is not entirely the effect of postnatal influences,[9] although he also states that "we do not know what causes the inborn differences in human abilities" and that it is a mystery how geniuses' abilities come to differ so much from those of the same race and ancestry.[10]

The study guide to Human Action points out, "Many Austrians disagree with Mises (pp. 138–140) that the creative genius cannot be handled within the framework of praxeology. It may be true that the genius does not labor for his fellow men or even for his "output," but, even so, he acts (in composing a play, a symphony, etc.) in order to remove felt uneasiness. The fact that a creative genius may never reveal his potential if placed in adverse circumstances proves that his creation is a choice and not a mere datum of the environment to which acting men must adapt."[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 von Mises, Ludwig (1949). "Human Labor as a Means". Human Action. 
  2. Mises, Ludwig von. "The Pure Market Economy". Human Action. 
  3. Mises, Ludwig von. "The Individual and Changing Features of Human Action". Human Action. "Only very few men have the gift of thinking new and original ideas and of changing the traditional body of creeds and doctrines." 
  4. von Mises, Ludwig (1951). "The "Joy of Labour"". Socialism. "We continually find people inclined to regard the mode of life of the genius as the typical way of living of a simple citizen of a socialist community. But not every one is a Sophocles or a Shakespeare, and standing behind a lathe is not the same thing as writing Goethe's poems or founding the Empire of Napoleon." 
  5. von Mises, Ludwig (1951). "Art and Literature, Science and Journalism". Socialism. 
  6. von Mises, Ludwig. "The Problems of Married Life". Socialism. 
  7. "The Valentine Story of Ludwig and Margit von Mises" by Jörg Guido Hülsmann, 4 February 2008
  8. von Mises, Ludwig. "Introduction". Bureaucracy. 
  9. von Mises, Ludwig. "The Quest for Absolute Values". Theory and History. 
  10. von Mises, Ludwig. "The Case for Reason". Human Action. 
  11. "Study Guide to Human Action, Chapter VII". 

See also