In his 1949 magnum opus, Human Action, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) identified a pillar on which relativists rely in order to attempt to refute the existence of absolute, universal logic and morality. Its name is polylogism, and it asserts that particular “collective entities” (genetic races or socioeconomic classes) are endowed with differing structures of mind and a different “race logic” or “class logic”.
When a Western middle-class thinker criticizes the sloth and stagnation of destitute Polynesian natives, he is utilizing his own “white bourgeoisie logic”, which, because it is not “their Mongoloid proletarian logic”, is automatically rendered futile when directing any criticisms against savages who devour their neighbors as a sign of “respect” and deck their totem poles with the skulls of their victims.
Mises describes a typical scenario which would be advocated by a polylogist.
“Some ethnologists tell us that it is a mistake to speak of higher and lower civilizations and of an alleged backwardness of alien races. The civilizations of various races are different from the Western civilization of the peoples of Caucasian stock, but they are not inferior. Every race has its peculiar mentality. It is faulty to apply to the civilization of any of them yardsticks abstracted from the achievements of other races. Westerners call the civilization of China an arrested civilization and that of the inhabitants of New Guinea primitive barbarism. But the Chinese and the natives of New Guinea despise our civilization no less than we despise theirs. Such estimates are judgments of value and hence arbitrary. Those other races have a different structure of mind. Their civilizations are adequate to their mind as our civilization is adequate to our mind. We are incapable of comprehending that what we call backwardness does not appear such to them. It is, from the point of view of their logic, a better method of coming to a satisfactory arrangement with given natural conditions of life than is our progressivism.”
This interpretation, of course, cannot stand the test of an objective standard of functionality for every human being, derived from a peculiarly human trait, that men must employ reason for cognition and utility of reality, reason being the non-contradictory identification of factual data and their application to man’s life. If all men are endowed with such a capacity and a distinct requirement of human nature, then there can be no delusion concerning functionality for one group of that, which fails for another.
Therefore the polylogist will proclaim that there exists a biological difference between races and classes, that the “varying” structure of the organism of a Chinese would somehow necessitate for his survival the practice of foot binding or the Daoist vegetable attitude toward the material world, or, in a more modern context, that an African-American C-student’s “genetic/socioeconomic past” would require a college admission for him at the expense of a Caucasian honors student. Mises demonstrates how the facts of intercultural relations refute such an absurdity.
“The Asiatics and the Africans no less than the peoples of European descent have been eager to struggle successfully for survival and to use reason as the foremost weapon in these endeavors. They have sought to get rid of the beasts of prey and of disease, to prevent famines and to raise the productivity of labor. There can be no doubt that in the pursuit of these aims they have been less successful than the whites. The proof is that they are eager to profit from all achievements of the West. Those ethnologists would be right, if Mongols or Africans, tormented by a painful disease, were to renounce the aid of a European doctor because their mentality or their world view led them to believe that it is better to suffer than to be relieved of pain. Mahatma Gandhi disavowed his whole philosophy when he entered a modern hospital to be treated for appendicitis.”
China today, despite the shortcomings of its government, is experiencing industrial growth and a surge in entrepreneurship precisely because it has embraced Western methods of production, Western practices of seeking a global export market, and the beginnings of a Western, capitalistic political and economic theory.
A man of the Mongoloid race, or of the African race, can become just as apt and affluent from the utility of the achievements of Newton, Locke, and Rockefeller as can a Caucasian. A proletarian in the slums can rise to the level of a prosperous businessman or inventor if he logically develops a cost-effective method of production or marketing strategy or technological gadget.
In regard to prosperity, a Polynesian is not condemned to eternal fluctuations between starvation and cannibalism. Neither is a man in a free, Western society forever entrenched within a rigid caste system. Thus, there cannot be inherent genetic differences between races governing the rational faculty, and cultural practices, ideologies, and mindsets are ultimately dependent on the judgment of the originating individuals and those of the latter’s followers on whether or not to support the particular doctrine.