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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8125/the-left-deals-with-hayek-again/

The Left Deals with Hayek, again

May 20, 2008 by

Somehow I think that I’ve read this review before in many other forms and venues and by many different authors. It is a “thoughtful” leftist reviewing Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, generally agreeing that, first, yes, full-blown socialism of the statist sort is crushing of liberty, but, hey, no one believes that stuff anymore. The left is thoughtful and wonderful now and believes not in despotism but democracy. Second, gratitude is expressed for the way in which Hayek seems to concede that the state can and should do some things the left wants it to do. Third, Hayek is right that society is spontaneous but failed to recognize that democratic action that results in messy regulations and laws and government programs is similarly spontaneous and we should get used to it. Finally, isn’t it about time we recognize that Hayek was essentially wrong, that the New Deal and the interventionist state did not really lead us to serfdom but to justice, charity, and happiness all around?

Reading this review (which Karen De Coster sends) makes any libertarian feel a sense of regret that Hayek gave an inch at all, and also feel frustration that the left continues to be as naive as ever about the state as an institution separate from society and not organically linked with it as they imagine.

A friend of mine called to say that he is reading Road for the first time. I issued my usual caution. Remember when Hayek was writing–the height of wartime planning–and remember who his colleagues were: almost universally democratic socialists. HIs was a brave statement at the time that put the label of despotism on the whole of established liberalism of the time. He hit his target hard. No, the book doesn’t hold up as well as something like Mises’s Liberalism, and yes the book could have benefited from a more robust theory of the state, but there is also great insight here. In any case, it seems that the left has yet to come to terms with the implications that its economic doctrine has for human liberty generally.


Pablo Escobar May 20, 2008 at 9:37 am

Haven’t read either Liberalism or Road to Surfdom. But I thought Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom was excellent.

Although I think the Austrian economists would disagree with Friedman’s conclusion that the gold standard was not worth going back to, even though that period was more stable. Is there an article rebutting Friedman’s arguments somewhere?

Flix May 20, 2008 at 9:44 am

It really infuriates me how this hypocrite can go from saying “but hey! socialists today are not going to force you to do anything like them commies! we are for democratic, voluntary socialism….”

and just a few lines later praises the virtues of COMPULSARY SINGLE PAYER HEALTHCARE! and explains how its benefits are beyond empirical discussion..

And I love the “govt. spending doesn’t mean govt. planning…”
Lovely logic.

Andy May 20, 2008 at 9:48 am

Hayek had to make many compromises to be socially accepted in England. That’s why he has a Nobel prize.

Thank goodness Mises didn’t make that mistake. If you really want to make a statist fume and rage, give him good old L.v. Mises

magnus May 20, 2008 at 10:09 am

And I love the “govt. spending doesn’t mean govt. planning…” Lovely logic.

It’s a lot less aggravating once you accept the fact that it is not intended to be logic, nor is it mere hypocrisy.

It is cold, calculated propaganda, pure and simple. It is a lie, told to people repeatedly, to get them to accept a proposition that is patently false.

It’s similar to the way that the Left co-opted use of the term “liberal” to mean the exact opposite of its actual meaning.

Keith May 20, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Democracy makes everything better.

Fephisto May 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm

I apologize for ignoring the OT here, but I have read Road and I heard of the Reader’s Digest doing a condensed version of it.

Anyone find a pdf of it on the internet somewhere?

Miklos Hollender May 20, 2008 at 2:31 pm

What I really find appalling is how the Larner warns us to be wary of prophets. While it’s the Left which is generally a prophetic-gnostic movement ( http://www.artsci.lsu.edu/voegelin/EVS/2006%20Papers/Nicoletta%20Stradaioli.htm ) it’s quite annoyong how recently started to disguise themselves as rational, practical-minded people who just want to sort out problems and are not deeply ideological. When this happens it ususally turns out what they reject is not ideology but the analysis of causality in politics, which is in itself deeply ideological.

Dain May 20, 2008 at 4:25 pm

“…and also feel frustration that the left continues to be as naive as ever about the state as an institution separate from society and not organically linked with it as they imagine.”

The state is most certainly an institution morally seperate from society from a philosophical anarchist perspective, but is it not linked with society in a very real sense? Does organically in this context mean that the “people’s will” is supposedly synonymous with state will? I agree that’s naive if taken too literally, but given the surprising congruence between public opinion and state action in many areas, and the overwhelming public acceptance of the state as a legitimate agent in society, it seems society and the state are very much bound up with one another.

Shin May 20, 2008 at 4:39 pm


The Road to Serfdom, condensed version
There you go.

Fabio Franco May 20, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Jesse Larner is intellectually dishonest, as are all intellectuals of the Left. He asks “What happens when free people … form an egalitarian corporation”, and gives examples of “this kind of socialism”, such as fishing co-operatives, “fair trade” coffee collectives, Argentine workers’ factories and kibbutz. Anyone with minimal knowledge of Hayek’s thought knows he did not mean “corporations” when he talked about socialism, but rather central planning of the whole economy. Larner willfully distorted Hayek’s main thesis in order to promote his hidden agenda.

During his life, Hayek always treated socialists as adversaries worthy of his engagement. This was a mistake. He should have accused them more often, unveiled their tactics, exposed their maliciousness. In the present case, we could accept that Larner’s arguments are “naive”, as the author of this post seems to think. But if we do this, we will not learn from Hayek’s mistake. Scratch the surface of any intellectual of the Left, and you will see a hidden agenda. These are not worthy adversaries, and when we combat them we should treat them for what they are: intellectually corrupt.

For a documented example of intellectual dishonesty, see Dan Klein’s essay on Paul Krugman:

Mike May 20, 2008 at 5:05 pm


I believe he is just making the point that the state, a thoroughly anti-social institution, can not, in any way, be considered a part of society. No matter whether a large proportion of a population sanctions the action of the state, which is simply an outlet for animal instincts, it still cannot considered part of civilized society, which rests on the restraint of instinct in favor of recognized rights and reasoned, voluntary action.

Bruce Koerber May 20, 2008 at 7:44 pm

It is true that none of us are perfect therefore our knowledge is not perfect. Relative to most, almost everyone, Hayek was insightful but also cautious. Too cautious relative to the greatest economist of the 20th century – Ludwig von Mises.

With absolutely no disrespect intended our hero Ludwig von Mises did not have perfect knowledge. But the foundation he laid is the fountainhead of the advancement of economic science for centuries at least.

Ben May 20, 2008 at 10:41 pm

[i]It is cold, calculated propaganda, pure and simple. It is a lie, told to people repeatedly, to get them to accept a proposition that is patently false.[/i]

I don’t think the adversarial attitude is helpful at all. The majority of people in this world aren’t part of some widespread conspiracy to undermine genuine liberty, and base their beliefs and actions upon honest convictions. From my experience (I used to be something of a lefty in my younger years, not as part of any calculated plan but mostly as something of a default position), most of the problems stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what actually constitutes power in a free market system, combined with the whole “what is seen vs what is not seen” phenomenon. This is how utilitarianism can be used to morally justify the interference of democratic governments into markets as the lesser of two evils against “free market anarchy”, “corporate monopoly”, or other such jeremiads.

Stephane May 21, 2008 at 2:39 am

@ Pablo

Friedman’s main argument was that it would be too costly to dig out gold just to bury it back into Fort Knox. He therefore favored a “free” currency. The problem is he overestimated the costs associated with this activity. On the other hand, the costs incurred since the gold standard was abandoned will never be overestimated…

Lawrence White gives a few arguments in his recent Cato paper :
More from Rothbard :

Jayel Aheram May 21, 2008 at 5:21 am

I have yet to finish reading “The Road to Serfdom.” It is difficult, especially the parts where he stated that in some cases the state can legitimately use coercion. To me, as someone who has not the educational background to understand where he is coming from, unnecessarily inconsistent. How can I accept his other premises that “the road to serfdom is paved with good intentions” when Hayek himself claims in the book that some of these good intentions are justified?

PS: I tried reading “A Human Action.” Tried, being the key word.

Flix May 21, 2008 at 6:39 am

I understand how you feel, those long german sentences… but I would recommend Mises’ “Liberalism”, it is much shorter and less technical.

And of course, Rothbard is always fun.

Niko May 21, 2008 at 9:25 am

Hello everybody. I must say that I’ve been introduced to Austrian economics by reading Hayek. The review discussed is absolutely rubbish, but there are many that will listen to it. The reason is the way is constructed, they are presenting models that resemble socialism, but which came from a free market decision, as a socialism benefit. As if socialism is the ultimate result.

But reading the comments I don’t understand some of the resentments against Hayek. I think he did more for the Austrian economics than Murray ever did. Until he received the Nobel price this school was dead. I know that some of you will not agree with me, but Murray did more harm than good. Because of his success this school still lives in the fifties. What Hayek did was to take what he already knew and to try to bring it to the new age. Look at you: from being the only school that could predict the great depression, you are making all kind of studies in order to fit some recession into the Austrian business cycle. You are no better than the FED, reactionary, fitting results in a frame of thought.

Somehow I think you hate Hayek for accepting that countries can live without the gold standard and tried to take this school to a new level. I think that you don’t like him because he tried to evolve.

Anyway, that book review is very stupid. I’ve grown in socialism; I still live in it I think. It sucks. I don’t have to argue in order to prove this, I live it every day.

John Smith May 23, 2008 at 12:05 am

“… about the state as an institution separate from society and not organically linked with it as they imagine.”

This is the old prohibition against speaking ill of the sovereign – in this case the people… the people are fools and villains, but we can’t say it, because if they are – what hope is there?

David C May 23, 2008 at 9:03 am

Magnus said:

It’s similar to the way that the Left co-opted use of the term “liberal” to mean the exact opposite of its actual meaning.


Not quite, though I share the sentiment. Like many in the English language, this word has several senses, not always consistent.

When ‘liberal’ labelled the forefathers of the modern libertarian, it was simply in the sense of liberty, meaning ‘one who values freedom’. Nice and tidy.

In mnodern times, when it labels the pink part of the ideological spectrum, the word has a completely different meaning, in the charitable or generous sense of ‘largesse’. Which is unobjectionable as far as it goes, except it leaves the caveat ‘…..with other peoples’ wealth’ carefully unsaid. Now THAT’s what sticks in the craw, and thats what invalidates any modern liberal’s claim to virtue.

gene berman May 26, 2008 at 11:52 am

Both Magnus and Fabio don’t want to cut the opposition any slack: they’re evil, knowingly evil, and bound and determined to stay that way.

But it’s not a matter of jousting solely with champions of evil. In most cases, it’s not possible to determine with certainty whether an opponent truly believes what they’re saying or is merely misguided. Then, again, it’s usually not the conversion nor even the defeat of the opponent that’s the object–except as it influences other opinion, that of the audience.

And, while any audience may appreciate arguments made skillfully and confidently, these are essentially weapons equally available to both sides–moot matters in the long run.

But civility and civil discourse are never mistakes, even if an undeserved honesty must be imputed to one’s oppponent. If there be any chance of persuasion, either of opponent or audience, the proper weapons are judiciously-wielded truths, as self-evident as may be found, connected by as simple reasoning as possible.

Shane September 25, 2009 at 10:57 am

“Jesse Larner is intellectually dishonest, as are all intellectuals of the Left”

These statements make me feel like I am on a Fox News forum, just as this does: “It is a “thoughtful” leftist reviewing”

I originally came to sites like these to learn more, but lately I am just disheartened by them. hayek said in trts that ‘there are times that competition fails, and in these instances the government should step in” (paraphrased sorry).

It seems Hayek had more common sense than many people do today. Competition is the ideal, but there are times that it does fail. Too many people today though feel that pure capitalism is the answer, but to me it makes the author of this article no better than someone who thinks socialism is the answer…yes capitalism is a better system, but it has its flaws. I think hayek understood that better than most libertarians today do.

newson August 10, 2010 at 12:20 am

the third way is a mirage.

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