Orrin Woodward on LIFE & Leadership

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    Former Guinness World Record Holder for largest book signing ever, Orrin Woodward is a NY Times bestselling author of And Justice For All along with RESOLVED & coauthor of LeaderShift and Launching a Leadership Revolution. His books have sold over one million copies in the financial, leadership and liberty fields. RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions For LIFE made the Top 100 All-Time Best Leadership Books and the 13 Resolutions are the framework for the top selling Mental Fitness Challenge personal development program.

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Theory, History, & Ideas

Posted by Orrin Woodward on August 2, 2013

The endeavors to mislead posterity about what really happened and to substitute a fabrication for a faithful recording are often inaugurated by the men who themselves played an active role in the events, and begin with the instant of their happening, or sometimes even precede their occurrence. To lie about historical facts and to destroy evidence has been in the opinion of hosts of statesmen, diplomats, politicians and writers a legitimate part of the conduct of public affairs and of writing history. Mises concludes that one of the primary tasks of the historian, therefore, “is to unmask such falsehoods. – Ludwig Von Mises from  Theory and History

The above quote from Ludwig Von Mises changed the way I studied and read history. For it confirmed, in my mind, that history results when the ideas percolating inside the mind of human actors are birthed before the watching world. Indeed, this mental breakthrough was nothing short of revolutionary because it ultimately led to the development of the groundbreaking Five Laws of Decline.

Joseph Salerno

Joseph Salerno

Joseph Salerno, an Austrian economist and scholar,  in his fantastic introduction to Murray Rothbard’s History of Banking in the United States elaborates on Mises’s and Rothbard’s historical method. Please read carefully and notice how ideas have consequences in history. Specifically, notice how important truth is to the world’s future, since untruth acted upon leads to misery and decline.

LIFE Leadership‘s purpose is to lead people to truth by building communities that have fun, make money, and make a difference through providing life-changing information in the 8F’s (Faith, Family, Finances, Fitness, Freedom, Fun, Friendship, and Following) of life. Since, as Mises, Rothbard, and Salerno explain, ideas have consequences, what LIFE Leadership does matters greatly at the deepest of levels. Here is a portion of Salerno’s introduction.


Orrin Woodward

To begin with, Mises grounds his discussion of historical method on the insight that ideas are the primordial stuff of history. In his words:

History is the record of human action. Human action is the conscious effort of man to substitute more satisfactory conditions for less satisfactory ones. Ideas determine what are to be considered more and less satisfactory conditions and what means are to be resorted to to alter them. Thus ideas are the main theme of the study of history.

This is not to say that all history should be intellectual history, but that ideas are the ultimate cause of all social phenomena, including and especially economic phenomena. As Mises puts it.

The genuine history of mankind is the history of ideas. It is ideas that distinguish man from all other beings. Ideas engender social institutions, political changes, technological methods of production, and all that is called economic conditions.

Thus, for Mises, history establishes the fact that men, inspired by definite ideas, made definite judgments of value, chose definite ends, and resorted to definite means in order to attain the ends chosen, and it deals furthermore with the outcome of their actions, the state of affairs the action brought about.^

Ideas—specifically those embodying the purposes and values that direct action—are not only the point of contact between history and economics, but differing attitudes toward them are precisely what distinguish the methods of the two disciplines. Both economics and history deal with individual choices of ends and the judgments of value underlying them. On the one hand, economic theory as a branch of praxeology takes these value judgments and choices as given data and restricts itself to logically inferring from them the laws governing the valuing and pricing of the means or “goods.” As such, economics does not inquire into the individual’s motivations in valuing and choosing specific ends. Hence, contrary to the positivist method, the truth of economic theorems is substantiated apart from and without reference to specific and concrete historical experience. They are the conclusions of logically valid deduction from universal experience of the fact that humans adopt means that they believe to be appropriate in attaining ends that they judge to be valuable.^

The subject of history, on the other hand, “is action and the judgments of value directing action toward definite ends.”!” This means that for history, in contrast to economics, actions and value judgments are not ultimate “givens” but, in Mises’s words, “are the starting point of a specific mode of reflection, of the specific understanding of the historical sciences of human action.” Equipped with the method of “specific understanding,” the historian, “when faced with a value judgment and the resulting action . . . may try to understand how they originated in the mind of the actor.

For Mises, then, if the historian is to present a complete explanation of a particular event, he must bring to bear not only his “specific understanding” of the motives of action but the theorems of economic science as well as those of the other “aprioristic,” or nonexperimental, sciences, such as logic and mathematics. He must also utilize knowledge yielded by the natural sciences, including the applied sciences of technology and therapeutics.15 Familiarity with the teachings of all these disciplines is required in order to correctly identify the causal relevance of a particular action to a historical event, to trace out its specific consequences, and to evaluate its success from the point of view of the actor’s goals.

But what exactly is the historical method of specific understanding, and how can it provide true knowledge of a wholly subjective and unobservable phenomenon like human motivation? First of all, as Mises emphasizes, the specific understanding of past events is not a mental process exclusively resorted to by historians. It is applied by everybody in daily intercourse with all his fellows. It is a technique employed in all interhuman relations. It is practiced by children in the nursery and kindergarten, by businessmen in trade, by politicians and statesmen in affairs of state. All are eager to get information about other people’s valuations and plans and to appraise them correctly! The reason this technique is so ubiquitously employed by people in their daily affairs is because all action aims at rearranging future conditions so that they are more satisfactory from the actor’s point of view. However, the future situation that actually emerges always depends partly on the purposes and choices of others besides the actor. In order to achieve his ends, then, the actor must anticipate not only changes affecting the future state of affairs caused by natural phenomena, but also the changes that result from the conduct of others who, like him, are contemporaneously planning and acting.

As Mises puts it, “Understanding aims at anticipating future conditions as far as they depend on human ideas, valuations, and actions.” – Ludwig Von Mises from Ultimate Foundation

13 Responses to “Theory, History, & Ideas”

  1. Thank you for this great article!

  2. Olivier Jean-Baptiste said

    Orrin,thanks for sharing with us.

    Indeed ideas have consequences. Our perspective of the past greatly influence the philosophy of governance to which we subscribe. With so much lies fabricated by the “Court Intellectuals” with respect to past events, it has become clear to me that the ultimate responsibility of the individual is to dig for the truth and share it with others. Digging for truth by reading requires courage and discipline. Sharing with others requires guts and conviction and most of all a genuine love and concern for others. Now….is it not what Life Leadership teaches? Thanks to all the leaders and PC’s of Life!

    Gob bless,

  3. KellyJack Nelson said

    So; associating with groups of people who are actively engaged in familiarizing themselves on a regular basis with these disciplines is a key for me. Starting with forums such as this and then regularly face to face. To hold history up to these disciplines and recognize what untruths are being acted upon today. LIFE inspires me to be actively engaged in the solutions. Thanks Orrin

  4. : )

  5. Rob Robson said

    Thanks for sharing this! Joseph Salerno is one of my favorite from the Mises gang.

  6. Elizabeth Sieracki said

    This article immediatly brought me back go my high school history classes. I, unfortunately, guess that I am niave enough to think that what
    my history teacher taught of and from was fact. This article definitely got me thinking. That time period was what I would consider the foundation of my learning specifically in the area of history.
    I understand how falsehood could lead to the Five Laws of Decline.
    Orrin, do you think that even at that elementary level I referred to there is fabrication occurring?

  7. Larry Groser said

    I am glad to be a part of the LIFE Leadership self-directed education program of truth! Thanks Orrin!

  8. Captain Bill Howard said

    I too was reminded of the what I was taught in school. Interestingly, we were instructed that one of the most efficient tools of Communism, (which was considered a major threat to the world at that time), was their use of “propaganda.” People, (especially the youth) were misled by information distributed by the government to further those in power’s agenda. The allegiance the masses swore to controlling government was inspired by ignorance. The ignorance was grounded in a society that accepted the information fed to them by the ruling class. They were taught what to think, not how to think. No one dared question the validity of the propaganda as that would classify you as an enemy of the state and subject to the full force of their wrath. Campaigns were often run by our government dropping pamphlets from airplanes posing a questioning of the paradigm the indoctrinated subscribed to. Our own propaganda campaign seeking thinkers brave enough to ask questions. Government not only controlled the school curriculum, but the airwaves as well. Control of the media and the schooling captures the attention of the masses and repetition is substituted for thought.
    Now with all that said, Elizabeth poses an outstanding question! Our government has an agenda and control of the bulk of the education system. Most of the media sources available to the average citizen are simply restating the talking points those in power distribute to them. History has shown Totalitarians use indoctrinated mobs to seize power. We have wandered so far down the path we used to warn ourselves to avoid, all inspired by government working for “the good of humanity.” Our task is huge and there is no time to squander. God oversees individual souls, but Satan owns the mob. House to house my brothers and sisters, this is how we defend freedom!

    • Elaine Mallios said

      WOW Capt. Bill. very good response. I am in agreement. My answer to Elizabeths question would be “YES” !
      your friend in PA

    • Terrific insight, Capt Bill! Watched a movie last night that our RT+ leader ( Terry F. ) picked out for the TT Club, ‘Here Comes the Boom’ — the movie was mostly Fun F, however, there were some scenes in there re: schooling. To paraphrase, the lead character/fictional teacher said that he lamented not being able to ‘speed up’ to reach the gifted, nor ‘slow down’ to reach those who needed more attention/care, and that it was all about herding cattle through the classroom. That, plus the above is not exactly the combination that is going to give this nation, let alone any other, the edge it so surely needs in the internet/information/tribal era … Enter stage right > self-directed/liber/leadership education!

  9. Chad Waters said

    Hi Orrin!

    The need for information is great in our society today. The need for the right information is what is missing. People believe what they hear is true from unreliable sources. I’m so thankful for the Life organization pointing the direction of real valued information through so many processes the most of all by living it!

    Thanks Chad

  10. J.J. said

    An area that has to be reclaimed in history is is the industrial revolution, more precisely the time peiod from post civil war to the 1920s the “gilded age” as Mark Twain put it. The bigest claim is that we had child labor and only by state intervention theough the passing of child labor laws where we able to rid the earth of this horrible institution that has poped up because of the greed of free market capitalism. The question that has to be asked is when in human history did children not work to support the family ( with the expception of royalty or high levels of some kind of arostrocies) and what is the reason why it stoped? I would submit that it no longer exists because of the wealth that was created due to the inventions of that time period .

  11. Matt Foote said

    Fantastic article! Thank you for sharing.

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