The Creative Genius: Mises’s “Christology”

Mises’s figure of the “creative genius” has a number of historical antecedents (Hegel’s world-historical figure and Nietzsche’s Dionysian übermensch, for example, come to mind), but I’m particularly intrigued by the (secularized) prophetic, christological, and soteriological (perhaps even apocalyptic) function he seems to serve in Mises’s economic theory:

Far above the millions that come and pass away tower the pioneers, the men whose deeds and ideas cut out new paths for mankind. For the pioneering genius to create is the essence of life. To live means for him to create.

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 no leisure, only intermissions of temporary sterility and frustration. His incentive is not the desire to bring about the result, but the act of producing it. The accomplishment gratifies him neither mediately nor immediately. It does not gratify him mediately because his fellow men at best are unconcerned about it, more often even greet it with taunts, sneers, and persecution. Many a genius could have used his gifts to render his life agreeable and joyful; he did not even consider such a possibility and chose the thorny path without hesitation. The genius wants to accomplish what he considers his mission, even if he knows that he moves toward his own disaster.

Neither does the genius derive immediate gratification from his creative activities. Creating is for him agony and torment, a ceaseless excruciating struggle against internal and external obstacles; it consumes and crushes him…. Such agonies are phenomena which have nothing in common with the connotations generally attached to the notions of work and labor, production and success, breadwinning and enjoyment of life….

The creative accomplishment of the genius is an ultimate fact for praxeology. It comes to pass in history as a free gift of destiny. It is by no means the result of production in the sense in which economics uses this term. (Human Action, 139-40)

In sum, in Mises’s “pioneering genius” we have a transcendent (at least relative to the science of human action and economics) “grace” intervening in the affairs and actions of men, taking the form of a self-emptying, “suffering servant,” a man “who for the joy set before him endures” tribulation, “despising the shame.”

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