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Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Intellectuals and Socialism, by F.A. Hayek #3

The Intellectuals and Socialism
By F.A. Hayek
[Reprinted from The University of Chicago Law Review (Spring 1949), pp. 417-420, 421-423, 425-433,  The University of Chicago Press; George B. de Huszar ed.,]

In some respects the intellectual is indeed closer to the philosopher than to any
specialist, and the philosopher is in more than one sense a sort of prince among the
intellectuals. Although his influence is farther removed from practical affairs and
correspondingly slower and more difficult to trace than that of the ordinary intellectual,
it is of the same kind and in the long run even more powerful than that of the latter. It is
the same endeavor toward a synthesis, pursued more methodically, the same judgement
of particular views in so far as they fit into a general system of thought rather than by
their specific merits, the same striving after a consistent world view, which for both

forms the main basis for accepting or rejecting ideas. For this reason the philosopher
has probably a greater influence over the intellectuals than any other scholar or scientist
and, more than anyone else, determines the manner in which the intellectuals exercise
their censorship function. The popular influence of the scientific specialist begins to
rival that of the philosopher only when he ceases to be a specialist and commences to
philosophize about the progress of his subject and usually only after he has been taken
up by the intellectuals for reasons which have little to do with his scientific eminence.
The "climate of opinion" of any period is thus essentially a set of very general
preconceptions by which the intellectual judges the importance of new facts and
opinions. These preconceptions are mainly applications to what seem to him the most
significant aspects of scientific achievements, a transfer to other fields of what has
particularly impressed him in the work of the specialists. One could give a long list of
such intellectual fashions and catchwords which in the course of two or three
generations have in turn dominated the thinking of the intellectuals. Whether it was the
"historical approach" or the theory of evolution, nineteenth century determinism and the
belief in the predominant influence of environment as against heredity, the theory of
relativity or the belief in the power of the unconscious- every one of these general
conceptions has been made the touchstone by which innovations in different fields have
been tested. It seems as if the less specific or precise (or the less understood) these ideas
are, the wider may be their influence. Sometimes it is no more than a vague impression
rarely put into words which thus wields a profound influence. Such beliefs as that
deliberate control or conscious organization is also in social affairs always superior to
the results of spontaneous processes which are not directed by a human mind, or that
any order based on a plan laid down beforehand must be better than one formed by the
balancing of opposing forces, have in this way profoundly affected political

Only apparently different is the role of the intellectuals where the development
of more properly social ideas is concerned. Here their peculiar propensities manifest
themselves in making shibboleths of abstractions, in rationalizing and carrying to
extremes certain ambitions which spring from the normal intercourse of men. Since
democracy is a good thing, the further the democratic principle can be carried, the better
it appears to them. The most powerful of these general ideas which have shaped
political development in recent times is of course the ideal of material equality. It is,
characteristically, not one of the spontaneously grown moral convictions, first applied
in the relations between particular individuals, but an intellectual construction originally
conceived in the abstract and of doubtful meaning or application in particular instances.
Nevertheless, it has operated strongly as a principle of selection among the alternative
courses of social policy, exercising a persistent pressure toward an arrangement of
social affairs which nobody clearly conceives. That a particular measure tends to bring
about greater equality has come to be regarded as so strong a recommendation that little
else will be considered. Since on each particular issue it is this one aspect on which

those who guide opinion have a definite conviction, equality has determined social
change even more strongly than its advocates intended.

Not only moral ideals act in this manner, however. Sometimes the attitudes of
the intellectuals toward the problems of social order may be the consequence of
advances in purely scientific knowledge, and it is in these instances that their erroneous
views on particular issues may for a time seem to have all the prestige of the latest
scientific achievements behind them. It is not in itself surprising that a genuine advance
of knowledge should in this manner become on occasion a source of new error. If no
false conclusions followed from new generalizations, they would be final truths which
would never need revision. Although as a rule such a new generalization will merely
share the false consequences which can be drawn from it with the views which were
held before, and thus not lead to new error, it is quite likely that a new theory, just as its
value is shown by the valid new conclusions to which it leads, will produce other new
conclusions to which further advance will show to have been erroneous. But in such an
instance a false belief will appear with all the prestige of the latest scientific knowledge
supporting it. Although in the particular field to which this belief applies all the
scientific evidence may be against it, it will nevertheless, before the tribunal of the
intellectuals and in the light of the ideas which govern their thinking, be selected as the
view which is best in accord with the spirit of the time. The specialists who will thus
achieve public fame and wide influence will thus not be those who have gained
recognition by their peers but will often be men whom the other experts regard as
cranks, amateurs, or even frauds, but who in the eyes of the general public nevertheless
become the best known exponents of their subject.

In particular, there can be little doubt that the manner in which during the last
hundred years man has learned to organize the forces of nature has contributed a great
deal toward the creation of the belief that a similar control of the forces of society
would bring comparable improvements in human conditions. That, with the application
of engineering techniques, the direction of all forms of human activity according to a
single coherent plan should prove to be as successful in society as it has been in
innumerable engineering tasks, is too plausible a conclusion not to seduce most of those
who are elated by the achievement of the natural sciences. It must indeed be admitted
both that it would require powerful arguments to counter the strong presumption in
favor of such a conclusion and that these arguments have not yet been adequately
stated. It is not sufficient to point out the defects of particular proposals based on this
kind of reasoning. The argument will not lose its force until it has been conclusively
shown why what has proved so eminently successful in producing advances in so many
fields should have limits to its usefulness and become positively harmful if extended
beyond these limits. This is a task which has not yet been satisfactorily performed and
which will have to be achieved before this particular impulse toward socialism can be

This, of course, is only one of many instances where further intellectual advance
is needed if the harmful ideas at present current are to be refuted and where the course
which we shall travel will ultimately be decided by the discussion of very abstract
issues. It is not enough for the man of affairs to be sure, from his intimate knowledge of
a particular field, that the theories of socialism which are derived from more general
ideas will prove impracticable. He may be perfectly right, and yet his resistance will be
overwhelmed and all the sorry consequences which he foresees will follow if his is not
supported by an effective refutation of the idees meres. So long as the intellectual gets
the better of the general argument, the most valid objections of the specific issue will be
brushed aside.

This is not the whole story, however. The forces which influence recruitment to
the ranks of the intellectuals operate in the same direction and help to explain why so
many of the most able among them lean toward socialism. There are of course as many
differences of opinion among intellectuals as among other groups of people; but it
seems to be true that it is on the whole the more active, intelligent, and original men
among the intellectuals who most frequently incline toward socialism, while its
opponents are often of an inferior caliber. This is true particularly during the early
stages of the infiltration of socialist ideas; later, although outside intellectual circles it
may still be an act of courage to profess socialist convictions, the pressure of opinion
among intellectuals will often be so strongly in favor of socialism that it requires more
strength and independence for a man to resist it than to join in what his fellows regard
as modern views. Nobody, for instance, who is familiar with large numbers of
university faculties (and from this point of view the majority of university teachers
probably have to be classed as intellectuals rather than as experts) can remain oblivious
to the fact that the most brilliant and successful teachers are today more likely than not
to be socialists, while those who hold more conservative political views are as
frequently mediocrities. This is of course by itself an important factor leading the
younger generation into the socialist camp.

The socialist will, of course, see in this merely a proof that the more intelligent
person is today bound to become a socialist. But this is far from being the necessary or
even the most likely explanation. The main reason for this state of affairs is probably
that, for the exceptionally able man who accepts the present order of society, a
multitude of other avenues to influence and power are open, while to the disaffected and
dissatisfied an intellectual career is the most promising path to both influence and the
power to contribute to the achievement of his ideals. Even more than that: the more
conservatively inclined man of first class ability will in general choose intellectual work
(and the sacrifice in material reward which this choice usually entails) only if he enjoys
it for its own sake. He is in consequence more likely to become an expert scholar rather
than an intellectual in the specific sense of the word; while to the more radically minded
the intellectual pursuit is more often than not a means rather than an end, a path to
exactly that kind of wide influence which the professional intellectual exercises. It is
therefore probably the fact, not that the more intelligent people are generally socialists,

but that a much higher proportion of socialists among the best minds devote themselves
to those intellectual pursuits which in modern society give them a decisive influence on
public opinion.

The selection of the personnel of the intellectuals is also closely connected with
the predominant interest which they show in general and abstract ideas. Speculations
about the possible entire reconstruction of society give the intellectual a fare much more
to his taste than the more practical and short-run considerations of those who aim at a
piecemeal improvement of the existing order. In particular, socialist thought owes its
appeal to the young largely to its visionary character; the very courage to indulge in
Utopian thought is in this respect a source of strength to the socialists which traditional
liberalism sadly lacks. This difference operates in favor of socialism, not only because
speculation about general principles provides an opportunity for the play of the
imagination of those who are unencumbered by much knowledge of the facts of
present-day life, but also because it satisfies a legitimate desire for the understanding of
the rational basis of any social order and gives scope for the exercise of that
constructive urge for which liberalism, after it had won its great victories, left few
outlets. The intellectual, by his whole disposition, is uninterested in technical details or
practical difficulties. What appeal to him are the broad visions, the spacious
comprehension of the social order as a whole which a planned system promises.

This fact that the tastes of the intellectual were better satisfied by the
speculations of the socialists proved fatal to the influence of the liberal tradition. Once
the basic demands of the liberal programs seemed satisfied, the liberal thinkers turned to
problems of detail and tended to neglect the development of the general philosophy of
liberalism, which in consequence ceased to be a live issue offering scope for general
speculation. Thus for something over half a century it has been only the socialists who
have offered anything like an explicit program of social development, a picture of the
future society at which they were aiming, and a set of general principles to guide
decisions on particular issues. Even though, if I am right, their ideals suffer from
inherent contradictions, and any attempt to put them into practice must produce
something utterly different from what they expect, this does not alter the fact that their
program for change is the only one which has actually influenced the development of
social institutions. It is because theirs has become the only explicit general philosophy
of social policy held by a large group, the only system or theory which raises new
problems and opens new horizons, that they have succeeded in inspiring the
imagination of the intellectuals.

The actual developments of society during this period were determined, not by a
battle of conflicting ideals, but by the contrast between an existing state of affairs and
that one ideal of a possible future society which the socialists alone held up before the
public. Very few of the other programs which offered themselves provided genuine
alternatives. Most of them were mere compromises or half-way houses between the
more extreme types of socialism and the existing order. All that was needed to make
almost any socialist proposal appear reasonable to these "judicious" minds who were
constitutionally convinced that the truth must always lie in the middle between the
extremes, was for someone to advocate a sufficiently more extreme proposal. There
seemed to exist only one direction in which we could move, and the only question
seemed to be how fast and how far the movement should proceed.

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