Understanding history

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The study of all the data of experience concerning human action is the scope of history. According to Ludwig von Mises, understanding establishes the fact that an individual or a group of individuals have engaged in a definite action emanating from definite value judgments and choices and aiming at definite ends, and that they have applied for the attainment of these ends definite means suggested by definite technological, therapeutical, and praxeological doctrines. It furthermore tries to appreciate the effects and the intensity of the effects brought about by an action; it tries to assign to every action its relevance, i.e., its bearing upon the course of events.[1]

Bias in the study of history

"It is obvious that the historian must not be biased by any prejudices and party tenets. Those writers who consider historical events as an arsenal of weapons for the conduct of their party feuds are not historians but propagandists and apologists. They are not eager to acquire knowledge but to justify the program of their parties. They are fighting for the dogmas of a metaphysical, religious, national, political or social doctrine. They usurp the name of history for their writings as a blind in order to deceive the credulous. A historian must first of all aim at cognition. He must free himself from any partiality. He must in this sense be neutral with regard to any value judgments."[1]

Of course, knowledge itself is not the ultimate goal; it is merely a means to an end: "The archetype of causality research was: where and how must I interfere in order to divert the course of events from the way it would go in the absence of my interference in a direction which better suits my wishes? In this sense man raises the question: who or what is at the bottom of things? He searches for the regularity and the 'law,' because he wants to interfere."[2] Action based on a flawed understanding of the law, whether the law in question is a law of physics or of economics or some other science, often is ineffective or even counterproductive. If one wishes to attain certain economic goals, such as maximizing consumer satisfaction or reducing inflation, it is not enough to obtain political power; one must adopt policies that are compatible with the applicable economic laws.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mises, Ludwig von. "The Scope and the Specific Method of History". Human Action. http://mises.org/humanaction/chap2sec7.asp. 
  2. Mises, Ludwig von. "Causality as a Requirement of Action". Human Action. http://mises.org/humanaction/chap1sec5.asp. 
  3. Mises, Ludwig von. "The Procedure of Economics". Human Action. http://mises.org/humanaction/chap2sec10.asp. "Despots and democratic majorities are drunk with power. They must reluctantly admit that they are subject to the laws of nature. But they reject the very notion of economic law. Are they not the supreme legislators? Don't they have the power to crush every opponent? No war lord is prone to acknowledge any limits other than those imposed on him by a superior armed force. Servile scribblers are always ready to foster such complacency by expounding the appropriate doctrines. They call their garbled presumptions 'historical economics.' In fact, economic history is a long record of government policies that failed because they were designed with a bold disregard for the laws of economics."