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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Intellectuals and Socialism, by F.A. Hayek

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 all democratic countries, in the United States even more than elsewhere, a 
strong belief prevails that the influence of the intellectuals on politics is negligible. This 
is no doubt true of the power of intellectuals to make their peculiar opinions of the 
moment influence decisions, of the extent to which they can sway the popular vote on 
questions on which they differ from the current views of the masses. Yet over 
somewhat longer periods they have probably never exercised so great an influence as 
they do today in those countries. This power they wield by shaping public opinion.

In the light of recent history it is somewhat curious that this decisive power of 
the professional secondhand dealers in ideas should not yet be more generally 
recognized. The political development of the Western World during the last hundred 
years furnishes the clearest demonstration. Socialism has never and nowhere been at 
first a working-class movement. It is by no means an obvious remedy for the obvious 
evil which the interests of that class will necessarily demand. It is a construction of 
theorists, deriving from certain tendencies of abstract thought with which for a long 
time only the intellectuals were familiar; and it required long efforts by the intellectuals 
before the working classes could be persuaded to adopt it as their program.

In every country that has moved toward socialism, the phase of the development 
in which socialism becomes a determining influence on politics has been preceded for 
many years by a period during which socialist ideals governed the thinking of the more 
active intellectuals. In Germany this stage had been reached toward the end of the last 
century; in England and France, about the time of the first World War. To the casual 
observer it would seem as if the United States had reached this phase after World War II 
and that the attraction of a planned and directed economic system is now as strong 
among the American intellectuals as it ever was among their German or English 
fellows. Experience suggests that, once this phase has been reached, it is merely a 
question of time until the views now held by the intellectuals become the governing 
force of politics.

The character of the process by which the views of the intellectuals influence the
politics of tomorrow is therefore of much more than academic interest. Whether we
merely wish to foresee or attempt to influence the course of events, it is a factor of
much greater importance than is generally understood. What to the contemporary
observer appears as the battle of conflicting interests has indeed often been decided long
before in a clash of ideas confined to narrow circles. Paradoxically enough, however, in
general only the parties of the Left have done most to spread the belief that it was the
numerical strength of the opposing material interests which decided political issues,
whereas in practice these same parties have regularly and successfully acted as if they
understood the key position of the intellectuals. Whether by design or driven by the
force of circumstances, they have always directed their main effort toward gaining the
support of this "elite," while the more conservative groups have acted, as regularly but
unsuccessfully, on a more naive view of mass democracy and have usually vainly tried
directly to reach and to persuade the individual voter.

The term "intellectuals," howeve r, does not at once convey a true picture of the
large class to which we refer, and the fact that we have no better name by which to
describe what we have called the secondhand dealers in ideas is not the least of the
reasons why their power is not understood. Even persons who use the word
"intellectual" mainly as a term of abuse are still inclined to withhold it from many who
undoubtedly perform that characteristic function. This is neither that of the original
thinker nor that of the scholar or expert in a particular field of thought. 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. What qualifies him for his job is the wide range
of subjects on which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through
which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those to whom he addresses

Until one begins to list all the professions and activities which belong to the
class, it is difficult to realize how numerous it is, how the scope for activities constantly
increases in modern society, and how dependent on it we all have become. The class
does not consist of only journalists, teachers, ministers, lecturers, publicists, radio
commentators, writers of fiction, cartoonists, and artists all of whom may be masters of
the technique of conveying ideas but are usually amateurs so far as the substance of
what they convey is concerned. The class also includes many professional men and
technicians, such as scientists and doctors, who through their habitual intercourse with
the printed word become carriers of new ideas outside their own fields and who,
because of their expert knowledge of their own subjects, are listened with respect on
most others. There is little that the ordinary man of today learns about events or ideas
except through the medium of this class; and outside our special fields of work we are
in this respect almost all ordinary men, dependent for our information and instruction on
those who make it their job to keep abreast of opinion. It is the intellectuals in this sense
who decide what views and opinions are to reach us, which facts are important enough
to be told to us, and in what form and from what angle they are to be presented.
Whether we shall ever learn of the results of the work of the expert and the original
thinker depends mainly on their decision.

The layman, perhaps, is not fully aware to what extent even the popular
reputations of scientists and scholars are made by that class and are inevitably affected
by its views on subjects which have little to do with the merits of the real achievements.
And it is specially significant for our problem that every scholar can probably name
several instances from his field of men who have undeservedly achieved a popular
reputation as great scientists solely because they hold what the intellectuals regard as
"progressive" political views; but I have yet to come across a single instance where such
a scientific pseudo-reputation has been bestowed for political reason on a scholar of
more conservative leanings. This creation of reputations by the intellectuals is
particularly important in the fields where the results of expert studies are not used by
other specialists but depend on the political decision of the public at large. There is
indeed scarcely a better illustration of this than the attitude which professional
economists have taken to the growth of such doctrines as socialism or protectionism.
There was probably at no time a majority of economists, who were recognized as such
by their peers, favorable to socialism (or, for that matter, to protection). In all
probability it is even true to say that no other similar group of students contains so high
a proportion of its members decidedly opposed to socialism (or protection). This is the
more significant as in recent times it is as likely as not that it was an early interest in
socialist schemes for reform which led a man to choose economics for his profession.
Yet it is not the predominant views of the experts but the views of a minority, mostly of
rather doubtful standing in their profession, which are taken up and spread by the

The all-pervasive influence of the intellectuals in contemporary society is still
further strengthened by the growing importance of "organization." It is a common but
probably mistaken belief that the increase of organization increases the influence of the
expert or specialist. This may be true of the expert administrator and organizer, if there
are such people, but hardly of the expert in any particular field of knowledge. It is rather
the person whose general knowledge is supposed to qualify him to appreciate expert
testimony, and to judge between the experts from different fields, whose power is
enhanced. The point which is important for us, however, is that the scholar who
becomes a university president, the scientist who takes charge of an institute or
foundation, the scholar who becomes an editor or the active promoter of an
organization serving a particular cause, all rapidly cease to be scholars or experts and
become intellectuals, solely in the light of certain fashionable general ideas. The
number of such institutions which breed intellectuals and increase their number and
powers grows every day. Almost all the "experts" in the mere technique of getting
knowledge over are, with respect to the subject matter which they handle, intellectuals
and not experts.

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