Atlas Network's Austria-based partner Institut für Wertewirtschaft responded to our #TodaysBerlinWalls challenge with a thoughtful essay on the primacy of "Ideas." Ideas can be a barrier inhibiting our freedoms – or a path for liberating them. The Institut reminds us that their native Vienna birthed the Austrian School of Economics (of Menger, Mises and Hayek, among others), which revitalized the classical liberal tradition. But the city also produced Adolf Hitler, whose ideas engulfed a continent in horrors. The stakes are high, and this impassioned essay explains the commitment of Institut für Wertewirtschaft to its task of spreading ideas that foster peace and human flourishing.
"Ideas as a Path or Barrier to Freedom" by the Institut für Wertewirtschaft in Vienna
Ideas matter. Ideas guide the will. Ideas can steer our will to overcome our animalistic instincts and guide us toward fulfillment of our unique potential, which rests in everyone's human nature and can cause us to build a world of peace, prosperity and beauty. Or, on the other hand, ideas can steer our will to embrace and reinforce our animalism and cause us to steer away from our natural potential - causing society to reduce itself to a world of brutality, poverty and ugliness. So, there are good and bad, constructive and destructive, just and unjust ideas. Truths and falsehoods. Wisdom and folly. They say money rules the world, but ideas rule money. Ideas determine the quality of the money that is issued. Ideas rule the world.
So, how can we get to know these productive, just and beautiful ideas? These truths? Where is this philosophía, this "love of wisdom" housed? Where can it be found nowadays? One need not look for long to find where it is supposedly housed in our little geographic territory called Austria. It is supposed to be found in one giant monolith of the state. In Austria the state controls the production facilities of ideas: the universities; and the distribution facilities of ideas: the schools and the media.
There is virtually no competition in the realm of truth. There is dictate. The few more or less privately funded universities cling tightly to the monolithic government curriculum in order to survive, therein aligning themselves with all other public universities, making themselves indistinguishable. But this is no problem they say. We have arrived at the truth. They would agree with Fukuyama, it is the "end of history." No more competition is needed. The state knows what's right, just listen to it. Such mentality is not the beginning of freedom, it marks the end of freedom.
Austria’s wealth is drawn from a few large corporations, many small and medium-sized businesses that are highly specialized in various industries, and from a capital structure largely laid down over one-hundred years ago. Wealth is a result of freedom in the past, but wealth doesn't guarantee freedom in the future, on the contrary - as the Viennese economist Joseph Schumpeter aptly pointed out - capitalism has a tendency toward socialism. When the people get used to picking the fruit of wealth which grew on the tree rooted in freedom, they can forget the beginnings and start seeking wealth by political means rather than economic means. The incredible wealth and relative freedom of the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not hinder it from slipping into the greatest abyss man had ever seen up until then. We may never rest on the laurels of wealth. We must always heed the beginnings. We must seek the truth.
Truth is not found in a monolith. It is the precious gift of a free dance of ideas. In Austria the dancing parties are left on the fringes of society. The tax and debt funded universities and schooling institutions crowd out the private funds that could have financed truly independent research and teaching. In spite of these circumstances a few scholars in Vienna have left the monolith behind to seek an alternative. These scholars meet and work together at the Institut für Wertewirtschaft (Institute for Value Economics), founded in 2007, in Vienna. We see ourselves as a school in the traditional sense. "School" is derived from scholé, the Greek word for "muse". It is a place where one muses and tries to get to the bottom of things. With a sober mindset and a critical outlook on all utopias, fashion trends, ideologies and any one-sided downplaying of problems, we work on books, articles, newspaper columns, give speeches, organize intensive seminars and semester long courses with small groups of seekers of truth from all classes and ages. In order to maintain our independence we don't accept any funds that require us to curb our conscience and scientific integrity. We don't take any government funds; we work within the market. Therefore we are first and foremost obligated towards our intellectual integrity. With this approach we have had collaborated with seven universities, held over a hundred seminars, have given lectures and written studies for over fifty organizations, published around a dozen books, and written articles and columns for around thirty newspapers and magazines within the whole German-speaking world.
Our work can currently be categorized under the three disciplines outlined by the first great scientist, Aristotle: ethics, economics, and politics. In ethics we explore a wide area of ideas, and hold a special expertise in natural law theory. We have revived the academic study of economics in the tradition of the so-called Austrian School of economics in its birthplace, which we see as a research program that is to be scrutinized as much as any school of thought we encounter. In politics we explore the past two millennia looking for answers to the difficult question of the organization of the commonwealth. But our focus does not stop at one way of seeing things, we are as open as our mind permits. We study the famous great works of thinkers such as Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek and Karl Popper. There are more great but virtually unknown minds from Vienna, with sometimes conflicting ideas, but nonetheless ideas worth engaging in. We are building a depository of competitive ideas and distributing it to the elites of tomorrow. Ideas can help deter the state encroaching on freedom and may one day again bring the inspiration that Hayek and Mises brought to the world. We are constantly working to expand our efforts, and taking steps to build a free university: A haven for all true seekers of truth - the haven that Hayek and Mises did not have in their days in Vienna.
Freedom must be fought on all fronts, and Vienna — the city that brought about some of the greatest seekers of truth and freedom fighters, but also the city that taught a young painter named Adolf Hitler how demagoguery is done — has always had a duty to lead the charge. Out of Vienna emerged the ideas that still dominate research and educational institutions worldwide. It has been a political hub and connection between the East and the West for millennia, and will continue to be so.
If there is no true competition in the sphere of ideas, there is no truth, and without having truth as one's shield, all battles at all fronts are lost. We will bring the competition now and everyday in the future, or else the cycle of folly and destruction will never be broken. Help us bring it.
Ludwig von Mises once wrote: "Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders, no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."
Stand with us as we thrust ourselves ever more vigorously into the intellectual battle at the crossroads of history in the city of Vienna.