We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Samizdata quote of the day

Hayek had a profound personal interest in the outcome of the great ideological struggles of his time and understood them very well. He too was driven out of his home by the Nazi threat and landed in London where the academic scene was dominated by Fabian-style socialists who imagined themselves to be great fighters of fascism. Hayek shocked them all by calling them out: the system you want to manage society will actually bring about the very thing you claim to oppose. In other words, the book is not as much about the reds as it is about the browns and the threat that this way of thinking poses even to England and America.

Jeffrey Tucker

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24 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • NickM

    Hayek was a cool guy. He was a very good political philosopher. Less so in terms of philosophy of science. I am, alas, a Kuhnster. Said it.

  • Paul Marks

    Hayek was a good economist and an interesting thinker (on many subjects) – but I would not say he was a good philosopher NickM. Hayek did admit that the philosophy that he presents in “The Constitution of Liberty” and other works contradicts the language he uses in the “Road To Serfdom” – language which assumes free will (moral agency) and talks about “rights” and so on. But Hayek did not seem to grasp that it is terrible that his best known political work (the Road to Serfdom) is dominated by language he does-not-really-believe-in.

    In his adult life Hayek denied (repeatedly) that the philosophy he had been taught when young (with its view of humans as non beings – as flesh robots) had socialist political implications – and tried to explain to the vast majority of those people who held that philosophy that this did not (as they believed) lead to Big Government politics – but I think that their (the socialist and Fascist) understanding of the implications of the philosophy was better than that of Hayek – take a single example…..

    If “freedom” does NOT mean the capacity to CHOOSE what we do (to do other we do) if “freedom” just means an “absence of external constraint” like a dam holding back water, why should anyone place moral value on such “freedom”? In short if Thomas Hobbes and (in much more polite language) David Hume, are correct why should anyone care if “external constraint” is placed upon “people” (who would not be persons). After all there is no moral implication in building a dam to “restrict the freedom” of water – and no moral virtue in blowing up the dam to let the water “flow freely”.

    In “The Road to Serfdom” Hayek uses the words “freedom” and “liberty” in their traditional way – i.e. moral agency, the capacity (with effort) to choose to do other than we do. But in his more “philosophical” works it becomes clear that he does not really mean that – that he does not agree with the “philosophical assumptions” (i.e. basic principles – foundatipnal principles) of the “Old Whigs” even whilst politically claiming to be one of them – and that just will not work.

    If one throws out the philosophy of the “Old Whigs” one can not keep their politics – because the latter is based upon the former (a “libertarian determinist” is dry water). And writing books hundreds of pages long does not change this.

    So the socialists were correct not to be convinced by Hayek’s philosophical arguments – because his philosophical arguments (as opposed to his economic arguments) do not make sense. To use the old language – the view of the “nature of man” that Hayek was taught in his youth (and never freed himself from) denies the very existence of human beings, of human persons. If one accepts this view of the “nature of man” then there is no moral problem with totalitarianism – or, indeed, with genocide.

    As for the economics – it is fine (more than fine) up-to-a-point.

    But it is not fine fundamentally – as the Austrian School of economics is based (in the end) on the existence of the human mind (the “I”) not explaining-it-away as Hume-Hayek attempt to do. One can not really have “methodological individualism” if there are no individual persons.

    Whether one is talking about the Aristotelianism of Carl Menger (the Founder of the Austrian School) or the Kantianism (via Ernst Cassirer) of Ludwig Von Mises, the basic principle is the individual person – the reasoning (and choosing) “I” (the soul – if only in a non religious sense). The very thing that Hobbes and Hume-Hayek are trying to refute.

    So, philosophically, Hayek cuts the ground from under his own feet (even in the basis of his economics) – which is why the totalitarians (both Marxist and Fascist and National Socialist) need not fear this philosophy (for, at bottom, it is THEIR OWN philosophy).

    People who really admired “The Road to Serfdom” and were convinced by it – were the people who took it literally, who assumed that Hayek was writing NOT “as if” the freedom of the human person was real, but assumed that Hayek REALLY MEANT the language he used in the Road to Serfdom. Ronald Reagan (who read and liked the Road to Serfdom in the late 1940s) did not think there was any “as ifing” going on, and Mrs Thatcher (who also read and liked the book) assumed that when Hayek used the words “freedom” and “liberty” he really meant it – as her father (Alfred Roberts) had meant the traditional language he used in the 1930s in his own talks against the “totalitarians” of all sorts (and, yes, Alfred Roberts used the words “totalitarianism” and “totalitarian” – and defended the human person as one would hope a follower of John Wesley would).

    “Ah but Paul – one says one thing to the common people, and another to fellow intellectuals”.

    Well NO to that – a thousand times NO.

    I am not interested in convincing people of smaller government politics by CONNING them – by pretending to take the traditional view of the words “freedom” and “liberty” in relation to individual persons, when one really rejects it.

    And what sort of “intellectual” de facto denies the existence of their own mind (themselves – the “I”) anyway?

    To take people of the time and place that Hayek was active in the 1940s – J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis did not do this (see, for example, “The Abolition of Man” by Lewis).

    “Ah but they were not full time professional philosophers”.

    Neither was Hayek – his degree was actually in law (although he was badly trained on law, as he himself partly admitted, by people who denied the philosophical basis of the very existence criminal guilt and innocence – upon which both Roman Law and Common Law systems are based) and he was an economist by profession.

    Nor did Thomas Hobbes or David Hume ever hold an academic position (although their opponents Ralph Cudworth of Cambridge and Thomas Reid of Aberdeen, most certainly did) – and Hayek held no chair in moral philosophy (or any branch of philosophy) in the early 1940s – but there were some people at Oxford who did, such Professor Ross and Professor Prichard.

    Sir William David Ross and Harold Prichard did not accept the philosophical assumptions of the totalitarians – and then spend their lives trying to prove that totalitarian philosophical assumptions should not lead to totalitarian politics.

    Nor did Ross and Prichard (or Tolkien and Lewis) say one thing to the “common people” and something totally different to the “intellectuals”.

    Lastly it is fashionable to attack the influence of Karl Popper on F.A. Hayek – and there may (may) be some truth in that, with Popper leading Hayek away from laissez faire political economy and apriori methodology. But in the above it is sad that Popper did not have MORE (not less) influence, on Hayek.

    Far from being a Logical Positivist – Karl Popper actually rejected the David Hume basis of the thought of the Logical Positivists (the Vienna Circle and their followers in Britain and the United States) – and Hayek, although he spent his life denouncing the politics of most of the Logical Positivists, accepted a lot of the stuff that the Logical Positivists got from their reading of David Hume.

    Yes indeed David Hume was a conservative in his economic policy beliefs – but one can not get to the Bill of Rights from the philosophy of David Hume (and that is not an accident). If one accepts the philosophical assumptions of Hume-Hayek attacks on the politics of (say) Jeremy Bentham (with his proposed 13 Departments of State controlling just about everything) ring hollow.

    For why should one care about the freedom of persons if freedom does not mean the power to CHOOSE and persons do not really exist.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Hayek had some of the faults set out at length by Paul Marks, but for me, one of Hayek’s killer insights, learned from Mises and developed, is the fact that a centrally planned, socialist society is a desert in terms of information. Prices carry information, and various actors (buyers, sellers, entrepreneurs, workers, etc) can act on it precisely because they don’t need to know why a price has gone up or down, or is relatively different from another one, only that it is. This insight, coupled with that of the benefits of severally-owned property, was crucial. Sure, he had no – in my view – solid conception of rights in the classic sense. But his development of aspects of Austrian business cycle theory, his understanding – learned from Hume and others – about the organic nature of the English Common Law, etc, were all important achievements.

    Final point: for many people, The Road To Serfdom was their entry point into a wider understanding of the perils of central planning, and that book hopefully led people to explore classical liberal ideas further, much as, three decades later, Robert Nozick did with Anarchy State and Utopia, or, in the late 40s and 50s, Rand did with her novels. All very different writers, but all of them vital.

    This book by Brian Doherty is a good overview of how Hayek sits in the scheme of things. https://www.amazon.com/Radicals-Capitalism-Freewheeling-American-Libertarian/dp/1586485725

  • Road to Serfdom was indeed my ‘gateway drug’ into the hard stuff, leading me eventually into hardcore Popperian epistemology 😀

  • Watchman

    You mean I need to read things to have my eyes opened to the futility of certain ways of thinking – that sounds worryingly like a religion to me…

    More seriously, with the existence of the internet, is there still the need for the gateway writers – it is possible to fall, as I have, into circles of thought that fairly closely match your own without the need of a common source? But then maybe that risks the development of intellectually facile (insert commments about opinions of my normal contributions to debate here…) movements, such as the adoration of Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn (or the attempted conservative counter-movements around the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who to be fair unlike the other examples seems not to believe the hype).

    So maybe I should read more?

  • lucklucky

    “Hayek had a profound personal interest in the outcome of the great ideological struggles of his time and understood them very well. He too was driven out of his home by the Nazi threat and landed in London where the academic scene was dominated by Fabian-style socialists who imagined themselves to be great fighters of fascism.”

    This is the sad WW2 ideological result.

    I am curious about the Fabians behavior regarding Fascism before 1939 vs before 10 June 1940 vs before 22 June 1941.

    Fascism cannot exist without Socialism.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Richard Epstein gave quite an interesting talk at the Mercatus Center on The Constitution of Liberty, maybe sometime in 2015 (?). As lagniappe, in the Q&A I think, he gives Justice Felix Frankfurter a good smacking, and also points out the importance of the freedom of religion and what it really means–and I do not think Richard goes about with sidelocks and a flat black hat. Wide-ranging; for instance, what has been the effect of unionization under the “strike-threat” system?

    Paul, above, touches on some of the same ideas as Richard. The lecture is critical of Hayek in the best sense of the word — but not worshipful.

    (At first, he mentions Hume, Hobbs, and other H’s who made an impression on him, but it passes quickly. *g*)

    About 1 1/2 hours.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=DhqXIc5CEpU

  • RRS

    More recently we have the observations (and polemics) of Ryszard Legutko’s The Demons in Democracy.. (available in English)

    Somehow or other there is always the tendency to pass over (as Tucker does)the impact of Lippmann’s 1937 work (finished as a 1945 Ed.) The Good Society.

  • RRS

    So much of the thinking of Mises, Hayek and even from Lippmann, transmits values not just for the thoughts conveyed, but perhaps moreso for the thinking they stimulate.

  • Patrick Crozier

    “He too was driven out of his home by the Nazi threat…”

    Is that true? He arrived in London in 1931 from Austria.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    We should have t-shirts with ‘To Hayek with Keynes!’on them.

  • Julie near Chicago

    *Ee-e-ewwww!*

    Actually, that one’s exceptionally bad, er, if you see what I mean, Nicholas. Very well put. ;>)

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    I do think it would make a great t-shirt!
    As would, “Mo, I’m not Mr Universe, but don’t feel too bad- everyone makes that mistake!”

  • Paul Marks

    On law I should have given the background – and failed (miserably failed) to do so.

    Austrian law was based on the 1811 Code – which was an attempt to reverse some of the “evolution” of Roman Law from the origins of Roman Law (not the “12 tables” which is the official answer – but the law FOUND, NOT created, by the Praetors in their judgements of individual cases) in natural justice (the efforts of judges, Praetors, to find the just result in individual cases in line with Natural Justice, Natural Law) towards state despotism – by late Imperial times the evil of Legal Positivism dominated Roman Law with such doctrines as “the will of the Emperor is law”.

    The legal thinkers behind the Austrian Code of 1811 were quite open about rejecting Legal Positivism (i.e. despotism – as with the late Roman Empire or the Ottoman Turkish Empire of their own day) and supporting Natural Justice, Natural Law.

    This was confirmed in the Declaration of the Legal Rights of Austrian Citizens of 1867 – not perfect by any means (certainly not), but an effort to further establish the Rule of Law (not the rule of lawyers) in the sense of the basic principles of Natural Justice.

    As Hayek received his legal training in Austria (his degree was in law – which was normal for an economist of his generation in Austria, “law” being understood to be very broad subject) one would have expected him to be taught to revere the Code of 1811 and the Declaration of Rights of 1867 – actually his teachers tried to make him DESPISE the philosophy of these things.

    “How do you know Paul?” – I know because the late F.A. Hayek was quite open about it, I do not have to appeal to any private conversations – it is there in his published writings (many times).

    The leading legal academics of the time when Hayek was a student were people such as Hans Kelson (an arch Legal Positivist, like Thomas Hobbes or Jeremy Bentham) who taught that “law” was just “the COMMANDS (WILL) of the state” – a late Roman Emperor (say Diocletian) or an Ottoman Sultan would have nodded in agreement with the “Progressive” and “scientific” view of Hans Kelson and co.

    As Hayek tells us (many times) “to believe in Natural Law was considered a form of disgrace” – it meant that someone was a “reactionary” and “unscientific” thinker, both the orthodox socialists (such as Hans Kelson) and the National Socialists (Nazis) were agreed on this point. “Law” was just the commands (will) of the state – and the idea that law represented Natural Justice to LIMIT the state was (to the orthodox socialists and the Nazis) an absurdity.

    Now Fritz Hayek, famously, came to reject the POLITICS of the orthodox socialists (such as Hans Kelson) and the Nazis (such as the “legal thinker” Carl Schmitt) but he did not FULLY reject their PHILOSOPHY (he just tried to inject an “evolutionary” element into it – which many of the orthodox socialists and National Socialists had already done anyway, they had no problem with talk of “historical stages” and so on, after all the German “Historical School of Political Economy” was based upon this very concept – and also Marxism was based upon it).

    This is a problem because the philosophy of the orthodox socialists an the National Socialists naturally leads to their politics – one can not throw away the philosophy behind (for example) the Austrian Legal Code of 1811 and the Austrian Declaration of Rights of 1867 and still hope to keep its politics (if Natural Law – Natural Justice is “nonsense” then the Code of 1811 and the Declaration of 1867 are also “nonsense”).

    And injecting talk of “evolution” does not alter this. Sorry but Mr Darwin and his biology can not help us in this regard. Indeed confusing biology with ethics (including legal ethics) is a fundamental mistake.

    The Roman Empire “evolved” – towards greater and greater despotism and tyranny over centuries.

    The Common Law of Britain and the United States has “evolved” over recent decades – via a series of terrible judgements by various judges. It has got worse and worse – not “better adapted” unless one means “better adapted (or evolved) for the purposes of evil”.

    One needs to have a normative standard, a MORAL standard, by which to “judge the judgements” – one needs the principles of Natural Justice (Natural Law) and, at bottom, Hayek rejects this – just as much as Carl Schmitt did. The difference is that Carl Schmitt reflects this in his politics – whereas Hayek tried to cling to Classical Liberal politics whilst rejecting the “reactionary” philosophy upon which it is based.

    Hayek says this himself (repeatedly) – he says that Carl Schmitt (and other National Socialists and orthodox socialists) present the questions correctly – but then come to the wrong conclusions.

    No – if one presents the questions as Carl Schmitt and the other collectivists do (if one accepts their assumptions) – then their conclusions are CORRECT. Their conclusions are wrong – because their assumptions are wrong.

  • Paul Marks

    Today Mr Damian Green (essentially the Deputy Prime Minister) is going around the television studios saying that all European Union law must be “incorporated” into British law via the Orwellian named “Great Repeal Bill” (which does not repeal any regulations).

    Why is Mr Green saying these dreadful things? It is too simple to say “because he is evil” (although he may be evil) – there is a basic philosophy of law at work.

    To someone like Damian Green (like Thomas Hobbes) “law” is the commands of the state – and the alternative to tyranny is chaos (everyone eating each other and so on).

    Mr Green has heard of the Common Law – but to him it is essentially just the “judgements of the judges” (the Rule of Lawyers – NOT the Rule of Law) – he does not understand the principles of Natural Justice (Natural Law) upon which the Common Law should be based – to Mr Green it is just a series of “precedents” that “evolve” over time, sort of Thomas Hobbes meets Charles Darwin with no PRINCIPLES of jurisprudence in sight).

    The idea that economic life does not need detailed regulations from the state (the late Roman Empire or the modern state) does not occur to Mr Green. Any more than the idea that Common Law judgements should not be just pulled from the backsides of judges but should be in accord with the PRINCIPLES of natural justice, does not occur to Mr Green. He does not understand the difference between the Rule of Law and the Rule of Lawyers.

    That is why a real “Great Repeal Bill” (which would sweep away the regulations and restore the PRINCIPLES of the Common Law) can not come from someone with the PHILOSOPHY of Mr Green.

    Does he, at bottom, really believe in this Progressive philosophy?

    No – of course not.

    Let us “break a rule of the internet” and take the example of the Holocaust.

    One can NOT object to this on Legal Positivist grounds – it was “lawful” by this definition of “law” because the Holocaust was the “will” of Mr Hitler (the King or Emperor – the ruler, the elected ruler in this case who had the support of the majority of Germans), nor does throwing in “evolution” change this. On the contrary the National Socialists loved applying this idea of biology to law and politics – in the new “historical stage” (“social evolution”) such things as gassing Jews were now moral, and biological evolution? Well one group wiping out another group so that the DNA of the first group (not the second group) is passed on – no I very much doubt that the National Socialists would have had a problem with this, on the contrary they would have nodded in agreement and pointed out that this was exactly what they were doing. Of course under questioning one may find that the National Socialists do not really believe in their Progressive philosophy (that they knew they were doing wrong) – but there is nothing from WITHIN that Progressive philosophy to condemn the National Socialist position. On the contrary – the National Socialists (like the Marxists) were acting in accordance with Progressive philosophy – both Progressive legal philosophy and Progressive moral philosophy.

    “The Road to Serfdom” is a wonderful condemnation of both the Marxists and the National Socialists – but ONLY if one really accepts the “reactionary” philosophical language that is in the book. Not if one winks at one’s fellow “intellectuals” and says “this language (rights, natural justice, and so on) is just for the kiddies – really I am a “scientific” thinker like you”.

    When Alderman Alfred Roberts (the father of Margaret Roberts – Margaret Thatcher) spoke on serious matters,such as our moral duty to stand against the “totalitarians” in defence of individual human persons in the name of natural justice, – he meant the words he used (literally meant them) and he did not say one thing to one group of people and say something else to another group of people (“intellectuals”).

    Such “intellectuals” deny moral agency (the “I” – the soul in both the religious and non religious sense) itself, they are “intellectuals” who deny the very existence of the intellect.

  • Paul Marks

    J.P.

    Hayek did indeed take the idea from Mises that socialism can-not equal the economic output of capitalism. Mises is a bit loose with language at times – saying “socialism can not work” without carefully explaining (each time) that he means “can not equal capitalist production” not “can not produce anything”. But then Mises was operating in a world where the socialists were claiming that socialism would mean far MORE output (an “end to scarcity” and so on) – proving that socialism could not equal (let alone exceed) capitalist output, could not even come anywhere close to it, meant that “socialism can not work” in the context in which Mises was speaking and writing. Hayek was more careful not to imply that he thought that socialism would mean everyone starving to death at once (not that Mises really meant that either).

    The rulers of People’s Republic of China have (since 1978) taken all this on board – allowing increasingly large scale capitalist manufacturing and so on, whilst maintaining their political tyranny and their desire for unlimited conquests. And there is nothing in Progressive moral philosophy (from which Hayek never totally freed himself) to say they are wrong.

    The late Sir Karl Popper was not a good economist – but then he never claimed to be one. And one could certainly argue with some of his philosophical positions – and face his hot temper (although honestly expressed anger is much better than the SNEERING that so many people do). But he had a way of getting to the heart of a position and expressing himself in clear language.

    For example when the Logical Positivists declared that everything was either “science or nonsense” Karl Popper replied that this is not correct – that, in reality, everything is either “science or nonscience” – that something cold be OBJECTIVELY TRUE and of VITAL IMPORTANCE without being part of physical science of subject to “the scientific method”.

    For example it is morally wrong to take people who have committed no real crime (the will-of-the-state NOT being a good definition of law and crime) and sell them for spare parts surgery.

    And this is not because such actions make the economy less efficient.

    And “morally wrong” is not just “boo language” (as the Logical Positivists claimed) – it is not just saying “I do not like this”.

    I do not know if Harold Prichard and Karl Popper ever met – I suspect they did not, which is a pity.

  • Michael Jennings

    Hayek was just about the only one of the great Austrian economists who was not Jewish. Had he put his head down, he would have probably survived the Nazi period. Was he the sort of person to put his head down? No. So leaving in 1931 was what happened.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    The Nasties didn’t come to power until 1933, so why did Hayek leave? Were both alternatives (Hitler-lovers versus Stalin-lovers) already the only options?

  • Mr Ed

    Nicholas,

    Hayek was in Austria, the Anschluss with Germany was in 1938. They had their own home-grown Mussolini-cum-Salazar Dollfuss, who seized power c. 1932 and banned the Nazis, but they assassinated him. Before that it was generally unstable and suffered from the late 1920s banking crisis. The writing was on the wall.

  • Gene

    Julie,

    Thanks for the link to Epstein. Those of us in the “word business” who frequently have to interview people always say we’re grateful to find someone who speaks in complete sentences. Epstein speaks in complete PARAGRAPHS. (Honestly, he probably thinks in complete book chapters.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Indeed, Gene, probably so. :>)

  • Laird

    What especially impresses me is his ability to speak for an hour, in a thoroughly coherent, structured and logical way, without any notes. I couldn’t do that for 5 minutes. And his ability to remember the names of all those Supreme Court cases. I can remember Brown v. Board of Education and McCulloch v. Maryland, but that’s about it.

    I didn’t agree with everything he said, just most of it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I tend to disagree with what he says, except when I don’t, if you see what I mean. But he’s always interesting. And almost always (I can think of only one exception) entertaining.

    I thought this one particularly interesting, and I noticed what seem to me connections between his remarks and Paul’s, above. As though in places there is some like-mindedness.

  • Julie near Chicago, September 6, 2017 at 3:56 pm, congratulations for being the first person I have ever read to use the word lagniappe. Long ago I was obliged to deduce its existence in a crossword, there being few English words with those combinations of letters, but had never seen it used “in anger” before. 🙂

    (Full disclosure: I’m not into crosswords but have relatives who are.)