Why All Action is Human Action
As Mises said, “all action is human action.” In other words, although we form groups that can indirectly act through consensus, groups themselves aren’t physical entities (and thus they can’t act directly).
The actor is always a human, because only physical entities can act.
We may form groups in many ways. We may treat corporations as entities; we can consider the general will; come to a consensus as a group; the Queen can speak for us and say “we.” Despite group culture, group behavior, group consensus, group thinking, and all the other important and real aspects of collectives, groups are always made of, and can only be made of, people. Thus, all action is always individual human action, even when effects are best described as “the result of collective self-interest” (an effect of the invisible hand).
The point of this page is simple. Groups have many unique properties that should be considered by any reasonable social theory, but they are not corporal humans. Thus, groups lack the ability to take direct action. Look closely enough at any action, and there is always a visible hand behind the invisible one.
TIP: Ludwig von Mises was the definition of a pure classical liberal (to the extent that we can say jokingly he made Adam Smith look like a socialist; everyone was a socialist to Mises). Mises lived in pre-NAZI Austria. The Jewish-Capitalist-Intellectual saw the rise of socialism and (despite effective efforts) watched as it engulfed the Old World leading up to WWII. At 60 he fled to the U.S. to start anew, and it was here that he influenced a new generation of American economists, including the Chicago School (like he had influenced the Austrian School before). Not everyone agrees with Mises’ absolutist conclusion that society is at its best when we practice pure classical liberal individualism, but he none-the-less offers a vital and sensible warning of the nature of collectives and corruption which history tells us is at the heart of many of the world’s woes.
Human Action | Robert P. Murphy. Mises called the study of Human Action praxeology, the general study of human behavior is behaviorism.
First, we must realize that all actions are performed by individuals. A collective operates always through the intermediary of one or several individuals whose actions are related to the collective as the secondary source. It is the meaning which the acting individuals and all those who are touched by their action attribute to an action, that determines its character. It is the meaning that marks one action as the action of an individual and another action as the action of the state or of the municipality. The hangman, not the state, executes a criminal. – Mises Human Action p. 42
FACT: War made an impression on many great thinkers like Stanley Milgram. They had to come to grips with questions like “why do people obey authority figures even when it goes against their moral inclinations?” As with Mises, the answer isn’t always a pretty one.