Mises reads Karl Barth–the primary mentor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

page: 985

One intellectual influence that seems to have contributed to
the formation of Mises’s mature judgment on the relationship
between economic science, liberalism, and the Christian faith
was apparently Karl Barth, whose work he probably started
reading in the 1950s.62 In Barth’s theology, God is the “wholly
other” who could not possibly be grasped in terms of human
reason. Barth made a passionate case for revealed theology and
against the intellectualist presumptions of natural theology.63
This line of argument appealed to the extreme rationalist in
Mises, who must have been intrigued to find in Barth a brother
in spirit when it came to pointing out the contradictions of the
notion of an “acting God.” He acknowledged:
The repudiation of naive anthropomorphism that
imagined a supreme being either as a dictator or as a
watchmaker was an achievement of theology and of
metaphysics. With regard to the doctrine that God is
wholly other than man and that his essence and nature
cannot be grasped by mortal man, the natural sciences
and a philosophy derived from them have nothing to
say. The transcendent is beyond the realm about
which physics and physiology convey information.
Logic can neither prove nor disprove the core of theological
doctrines. All that science—apart from history—
can do in this regard is to expose the fallacies of
magic and fetishistic superstitions and practices.64
Government interventionism and socialism clearly fell into the
latter category. Mises argued:
A conscientious moralist or churchman would not
consider meddling in controversies concerning technological
or therapeutical methods without having

page 986:

sufficiently familiarized himself with all the physical,
chemical and physiological problems involved. Yet
many of them think that ignorance of economics is no
bar to handling economic issues. . . The truth is that
those fighting capitalism as a system contrary to the
principles of morals and religion have uncritically and
lightheartedly adopted all the economic teachings of
the socialists and communists. Like the Marxians,
they ascribe all ills—economic crises, unemployment,
poverty, crime, and many other evils—to the operation
of capitalism, and everything that is satisfactory—
the higher standard of living in the capitalistic
countries, the progress of technology, the drop in
mortality rates, and so on—to the operation of government
and of the labor unions. They have unwittingly
espoused all the tenets of Marxism minus its—
merely incidental—atheism. This surrender of philosophical
ethics and of religion to the anticapitalistic
teachings is the greatest triumph of socialist and
interventionist propaganda. It is bound to degrade
philosophical ethics and religion to mere auxiliaries
of the forces seeking the destruction of Western civilization.

62Barth is mentioned in Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, chap. 2, sect. 2.; but
not in Human Action, p. 671, n. 8.
63Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief (Munich: Kaiser, 1922).
64Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, p. 38.

65Mises, Theory and History, pp. 344–45.

Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism