Prophets of Liberty: F.A. Hayek

by | Nov 27, 2021 | Philosophy

This essay will serve as the first entry in a series of essays in which I will be looking at the work of three major twentieth-century philosophers; Friederich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Ayn Rand.

This essay will serve as the first entry in a series of essays in which I will be looking at the work of three major twentieth-century philosophers; Friederich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Ayn Rand. These thinkers all contributed brilliant insights in service to the cause of freedom at a time when totalitarianism was the dominant movement in the world. Not only were there criticisms of the world they lived in on point, but some of their writings could even be considered prophetic of the times to come. This first section will focus on the works of Hayek. I will attempt to demonstrate that his analysis of the despotism of the time is perfectly consistent with the description of what the New Left is doing in our current affairs. For this, I will be mainly, but not exclusively, drawing from his seminal work, The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944.

Hayek wrote this book during the twilight of Nazi Germany and the assent of the Soviet Union. His goal was to show that rather than being two ideologies on different ends of the political spectrum, communism and national socialism were actually two sides of the same totalitarian coin. They were both collectivist philosophies that denied individuals their sacred right to self-directed autonomy, they both held that the group comes before the individual, they both hated free markets, they both advocated economic control and central planning directed by one man or a group of men within the government, and they despised traditional beliefs about freedom and liberty. Even though in the year that The Road to Serfdom was published, the tide was turning in the Allies’ favor, Hayek noticed that a lot of the same ideological trends were gaining steam in Britain, the country he had escaped to when the Nazis took over.

But Hayek did not limit himself by only discussing the economic policies the socialists were pushing. He also addressed the cultural tactics they were using to influence society in their favor. They used intimidation to inspire a climate of silence and fear so that no criticisms could get in the way of the execution of their plans. Sydney and Beatrice Webb, for instance, in praise of the Soviet system wrote that “in any corporate action a loyal unity of thought is so important that, if anything is to be achieved, public discussion must be suspended between the promulgation of the decision and the accomplishment of the task.” Whilst “the work is in progress” any expression of doubt or even fear that the plan will not be successful, is an “act of disloyalty, or even of treachery.”[i] But the socialists in liberal, capitalist countries, quickly realized that such stringent government measures were not possible to implement in their present political environment. So they then began to manipulate the masses through speech.

Hayek wrote of this and said that,

 “The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretense that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen.”[ii]

What a perfect description! We see this very phenomenon happening today in many areas. For instance, in the current debate over Critical Race Theory being taught in schools, we are constantly told by the left that Critical Race Theory is simply basic American history, the type of history that forces us to face uncomfortable truths about our country. But we know that none of this is true. Critical Race Theory is a theory that is designed to analyze all aspects of society from a critical lense. It is not just “history”, it is a particular interpretation of history that is meant to instruct individuals in how to view all societal phenomena. Along with that, the theory is littered with Marxist precepts that its proponents often conceal.

Another example would be the mainstream acceptance of the term “social justice.” Social justice is often used synonymously with the term justice. So when people hear a politician or an activist preach about the importance of achieving social justice, they think to themselves, “Oh, social justice. Who wouldn’t want social justice?” To the average person, it seems perfectly innocuous and obvious to be in favor of. But what they are not told is that social justice is not the same thing as regular justice. The traditional meaning of “justice”, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “the maintenance or administration of what is just by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”[iii] In other words, it means giving people the treatment they have earned. Social justice, on the other hand, is defined by Dictionary.com as the “fair treatment of all people in a society, including respect for the rights of minorities and equitable distribution of resources among members of a community.”[iv] We can see some obvious similarities between the two terms. The fair treatment of all people in society and respect for the rights of minorities is not at all objectionable, but notice the final part of that definition, the “equitable distribution of resources among members of a community.”

What is equity? The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion center at Brandeis University describes equity as a term that “is often conflated by “Equality” (meaning sameness),” but goes on to state that “in fact, true equity implies that an individual may need to experience or receive something different (not equal) in order to maintain fairness and access. For example, a person with a wheelchair may need differential access to an elevator relative to someone else.”[v] This is consistent with what one of the most prominent  philosophers of social justice theory, John Rawls, wrote in 1958, when he said that “social and economic qualities” can only be justified if “they satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle).”[vi] Neither Brandeis nor Rawls place the classical liberal principle of equality before the law as one of the main precepts of a just society. They both strongly distance themselves from this liberal sense of equality. They, and other social justice advocates, see “injustice” in the massive disparities that exist within society regarding wealth, access to resources, social status, and representation, and seek to rectify these disparities through legislative means. In practice, this means that the state will need to engage in the large-scale redistribution of wealth in order to “level the playing field.” This has been done through entitlement programs, affirmative action, quotas, etc. All of these activities can be done only by confiscating the property of one person and giving it to someone else. And, along with entitlement programs and affirmative action, this requires the state to discriminate against individuals based on arbitrary distinctions. This is something that Hayek touched upon, as well. He saw that social justice was an incredibly vague term that was thrown around to justify all sorts of government interventionism. In a televised interview with William F. Buckley Jr, Hayek said:

“The classical demand is that the state ought to treat all people equally in spite of the fact that they are very unequal. You can’t deduce from this that because people are unequal you ought to treat them unequally in order to make them equal. And that’s what social justice amounts to. It’s a demand that the state should treat people differently in order to place them in the same position…To make people equal a goal of government policy would force government to treat people very differently, indeed.”[vii]

In pursuit of this goal, we have seen horrendous results. The most egregious example of this today is the discrimination against Asian students in admissions to top public and private universities, and primary schools, in the country. In 2018, New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, and schools chancellor, Richard Carranza attempted to end the Specialized High School Admission Test. Carranza and de Blasio believed that this merit-based system led to too many Asians being admitted into these high schools. Carranza went as far to say that Asian American families believe they “own” admissions to the schools. De Blasio called the racial composition of these schools a “monumental injustice.”[viii]

Because state law prohibited them from banning the exam requirement, De Blasio and Carranza turned their attention to the Discovery Program, which is a summer program intended to help prepare low-income students for admission into the specialized school. They then tried to limit the program to schools that scored 60% or higher on the city’s “Economic Need Index.” But because one of the schools with a large Asian-American population only scored 57.9%, the students were ineligible for the Discovery Program.[ix]

Harvard, one of the most “progressive” academic institutions in the country, has admitted to using different admission standards for Asian students than the ones used for Native American, black, and Hispanic high school students. Asian students must receive an SAT score of at least 1350-250 points higher than the threshold for other minority students. According to Inside Higher Ed, Asian American students outperform their peers on the SATs in all subjects. Yet, in the name of “equity,” they are being punished for their success. Affirmative action by its nature, means discriminating against one group in the service of another.[x]

All of this is perfectly in line with critical race theorist Ibram Kendi’s view on discrimination:

“The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”[xi]

This leads into the next page of The Road to Serfdom, in which Hayek talks about the restructuring of language where word are redefined in order “to make them serve as instruments of totalitarian propaganda”:

“If one has not one’s self experienced this process, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this change of the meaning of words, the confusion which it causes, and the barriers to any rational discussion it creates. It has to be seen to be understood how, if one of two brothers embraces the new faith, after a short while he appears to speak a different language which makes any real communication between them impossible. And the confusion becomes worse because this change of meaning of the words describing political ideals is not a single event but a continuous process, a technique employed consciously or unconsciously to direct the people. Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as it’s opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them.”[xii] (Hayek 175)

So many words have had their definitions mangled with over the last ten years. Racism, which used to mean discrimination or bigotry based on race, has been hijacked to now mean “predjudice plus power.” The Marxists and Critical Theorists who did the hijacking knew exactly what they were doing. When confronted by their opponents about their blatant anti-white racism, they decided to change the definition of racism to mean that only white people can be guilty of racism, derived from the institutional power that they hold, and therefore non-white people can never be guilty of racism. Since they can no longer be “racist,” this gives any member of the designated victim groups license to be as bigoted and hateful as they want against anyone who disagrees with them. This is why we have so many new terms added to our common parlance such as “white privilege,” “white fragility,” “whiteness,” “male privilege,” “toxic masculinity,” “cis-person,” “latinx,” and a whole litany of others. Because racism has been thrown around so carelessly, the word has lost any sense of meaning it once had.

All of this is just a new variant of Orwellian Newspeak. Big Brother keeps updating the list of words that are acceptable to use. It doesn’t matter how ugly or nonsensical they are. By redefining already established terms and twisting them to mean their opposites, it becomes very easy to confuse and manipulate the public to parrot whatever agenda you are pushing. But what is to be done with those who refuse to go along with this? Hayek explains:

“It is not difficult to deprive the great majority of independent thought. But the minority who will retain an inclination to criticize must also be silenced. We have already seen why coercion cannot be confined to the acceptance of the ethical code underlying the plan according to which all social activity is directed. Since many parts of this code will never be explicitly stated, since many parts of the guiding scale of values will exist only implicitly in the plan, the plan itself in every detail, in fact, every act of government must become sacrosanct and exempt from criticism. If the people are to support the common effort without hesitation, they must be convinced that not only the end aimed at but also the means chosen are the right ones. The official creed, to which adherence must be enforced, will therefore comprise all the views about facts on which the plan is based. Public criticism or even expressions of doubt must be suppressed because they tend to weaken public support.”[xiii]

We have seen this play out on numerous college campuses in which speakers with different views are banned from attending, mobs of angry students try to harass, assault, and disrupt invited speakers and other students, students and professors are put through Maoist struggle sessions for daring to object to the established orthodoxy. When the students of government-funded universities are taught to hate and fear those who dissent from their cherished beliefs, violence and coercion become the only logical means of dealing with them.

In the age of COVID-19, the federal government, using their social media cronies as a proxy, are doing everything they can to censor any voices that contradict the official narrative. Anything that challenges the government line on vaccine mandates, vaccine side effects, mask effectiveness, and lockdown measures is labelled “misinformation” by a group of “independent fact checkers” and is either deleted or hidden from view. Even questioning their decisions is enough for them to censor you.

We have seen our once vibrant entertainment industry utterly fall apart in the last few years. What was once a box-office topping machine, Hollywood movies and TV shows have seen a huge drop in viewership and profits. Audience responses have been terrible and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. What has happened to our pop culture is that it has been infiltrated by Marxists. This infiltration is not a new phenomenon. It goes all the way back to the 1920s, but that story is another essay entirely. Nowadays, the effects of this subversion have become more apparent than ever. Every major film seems to be pushing a leftist political agenda. Whether it is the crusade against toxic masculinity in Star Trek: Discovery, the nihilistic deconstruction of heroism in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the inversion of the masculine and the feminine archetypes in Captain Marvel, or the resurrection of dead franchises to put a social justice twist on them (Ghostbusters, Charlie’s Angels), Hollywood is making no qualms about what they’re up to. Any fan backlash against this new trend is met with harsh, unforgiving vitriol from the creators of the film or television series, accusing the fans of racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia for rejecting the insistence of diversity and tokenism as a substitute for good stories and character development.

Hayek saw the same phenomenon happening amongst the totalitarian regimes in Europe during his time:

“It is entirely in keeping with the whole spirit of totalitarianism that it condemns any human activity that is done for its own sake and without ulterior purpose. Science for science’s sake, art for art’s sake, are equally abhorrent to the Nazis, our socialist intellectuals, and the communists. Every activity must derive its justification from a conscious social purpose. There must be no spontaneous, unguided activity, because it might produce results which cannot be foreseen and for which the plan does not provide. It might produce something new, undreamed of in the philosophy of the planner. The principle extends even to games and amusements. I leave it to the reader to guess whether it was in Germany or in Russia that chess-players were officially exhorted that “we must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula ‘chess for the sake of chess’ like the formula ‘art for art’s sake.’”[xiv]

When the purpose of art is no longer to broaden one’s intellectual horizon, but to merely serve as propaganda for the regime, the result is a shallow, uninspired, unoriginal, piece of pablum.

The final point I will touch on in this essay is Hayek’s analysis of the intellectual’s role in society. In his 1949 essay, “Intellectuals and Socialism”, Hayek analyzes the influence intellectuals have had over public policy decisions in the west. The dominant group within the academic field at the time were the socialists. Hayek notes that the most common type of intellectual is not one who is an original thinker nor someone who is an expert in a particular field. Because, as he writes, “the typical intellectual need be neither; he need not possess special knowledge of anything in particular, nor need he even be particularly intelligent, to perform his role as intermediary in the spreading of ideas.” The quality that “qualifies him for his job,” he continues, “is the wide range of subjects which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner to those he addresses himself.”[xv] The ideas which inspire government policy, the ideas that are transmitted through art and popular culture that plant themselves within the minds of the populace, come from these intellectuals. As in the forties, we see today an exorbitant amount of intellectuals who possess degrees in fake subjects such as gender studies, ethnic studies, communications, sexuality studies, and many others that are completely driven by ideology and only drive students into enormous debt with no chance of employment. Even legitimate subjects such as economics, religious studies, philosophy, and history, are filled with mediocre scholars who are not very knowledgeable about their own subjects but carry with them an undeserved sense of intellectual superiority towards others. They merely serve as parrots for anti-American, anti-Western ideologies, funded by the taxpayers, the people whom they hold in contempt.

The work of Friederich Hayek is vast and covers a wide range of subjects, from economics, law, philosophy, human psychology, and history. I have barely scratched the surface of his impressive body of work, of which there are countless valuable and poignant insights. But these selections from his work are meant to demonstrate just how precise he was on the totalitarian crisis of his day. The left of the twenty-first century is going through the exact same process towards their totalitarian dreams. It is both impressive and frightening to read, but it also gives one some hope in that, thanks to him, we can more accurately identify what the enemy is up to. Perhaps we will find a way to restore our liberty with this knowledge in mind. But is it too late?

 

References

[i] Sydney Webb and Beatrice Webb, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? Volume II (Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1935), 1038.

[ii] Ed. Bruce Caldwell, F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Texts and Documents – The Definitive Edition (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 174.

[iii] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/justice

[iv] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/social-justice

[v] https://www.brandeis.edu/diversity/resources/definitions.html

[vi] John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001), 42

[vii] “FA Hayek – Social Justice,” 12/10/2012, www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnMd40dqBlQ, Accessed November 26th, 2021

[viii] Chris Keiser, “De Blasio’s Attempt to Reduce the Number of Asian-American Students in The Discovery Program is Unconstitutional,” December 15, 2018, https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-de-blasios-punishment-of-asian-american-students-is-unconsitutional-20181214-story.html?fbclid=IwAR2rscs6OH4bygYg76-aqA6WMJqqIIz3c5M0ftvS2t7yHS5Cd7qoqBBFpbo Accessed November 26th, 2021

[ix] Keiser, Ibid

[x]  Scott Jaschik, “The Numbers and The Arguments on Asian Admissions,” August 7, 2017, https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2017/08/07/look-data-and-arguments-about-asian-americans-and-admissions-elite Accessed November 26th, 2021

[xi] Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Anti-Racist (London: One World Publishing, 2019), 19

[xii] Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 175

[xiii] Ibid, 175-176

[xiv] Ibid, 177

[xv] F.A. Hayek,” Intellectuals and Socialism,” The Essential F.A. Hayek (Atlanta: The Foundation for Economic Education, 2016), 94

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James Miller is a freelance writer. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy.

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