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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Intellectuals and Socialism, by F.A. Hayek #2

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 the sense in which we are using the term, the intellectuals are in fact a fairly
new phenomenon of history. Though nobody will regret that education has ceased to be
a privilege of the propertied classes, the fact that the propertied classes are no longer the
best educated and the fact that the large number of people who owe their position solely
to the their general education do not possess that experience of the working of the
economic system which the administration of property gives, are important for
understanding the role of the intellectual. Professor Schumpeter, who has devoted an
illuminating chapter of his Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy to some aspects of
our problem, has not unfairly stressed that it is the absence of direct responsibility for
practical affairs and the consequent absence of first hand knowledge of them which
distinguishes the typical intellectual from other people who also wield the power of the
spoken and written word. It would lead too far, however, to examine here further the
development of this class and the curious claim which has recently been advanced by
one of its theorists that it was the only one whose views were not decidedly influenced
by its own economic interests. One of the important points that would have to be
examined in such a discussion would be how far the growth of this class has been
artificially stimulated by the law of copyright.

It is not surprising that the real scholar or expert and the practical man of affairs
often feel contemptuous about the intellectual, are disinclined to recognize his power,
and are resentful when they discover it. Individually they find the intellectuals mostly to
be people who understand nothing in particular especially well and whose judgement on
matters they themselves understand shows little sign of special wisdom. But it would be
a fatal mistake to underestimate their power for this reason. Even though their
knowledge may often be superficial and their intelligence limited, this does not alter the
fact that it is their judgement which mainly determines the views on which society will
act in the not too distant future. It is no exaggeration to say that, once the more active
part of the intellectuals has been converted to a set of beliefs, the process by which
these become generally accepted is almost automatic and irresistible. These intellectuals
are the organs which modern society has developed for spreading knowledge and ideas,
and it is their convictions and opinions which operate as the sieve through which all
new conceptions must pass before they can reach the masses.

It is of the nature of the intellectual's job that he must use his own knowledge
and convictions in performing his daily task. He occupies his position because he
possesses, or has had to deal from day to day with, knowledge which his employer in
general does not possess, and his activities can therefore be directed by others only to
a limited extent. And just because the intellectuals are mostly intellectually honest, it is
inevitable that they should follow their own conviction whenever they have discretion
and that they should give a corresponding slant to everything that passes through their
hands. Even where the direction of policy is in the hands of men of affairs of different
views, the execution of policy will in general be in the hands of intellectuals, and it is
frequently the decision on the detail which determines the net effect. We find this
illustrated in almost all fields of contemporary society. Newspapers in "capitalist"

ownership, universities presided over by "reactionary" governing bodies, broadcasting
systems owned by conservative governments, have all been known to influence public
opinion in the direction of socialism, because this was the conviction of the personnel.
This has often happened not only in spite of, but perhaps even because of, the attempts
of those at the top to control opinion and to impose principles of orthodoxy.

The effect of this filtering of ideas through the convictions of a class which is
constitutionally disposed to certain views is by no means confined to the masses.
Outside his special field the expert is generally no less dependent on this class and
scarcely less influenced by their selection. The result of this is that today in most parts
of the Western World even the most determined opponents of socialism derive from
socialist sources their knowledge on most subjects on which they have no firsthand
information. With many of the more general preconceptions of socialist thought, the
connection of their more practical proposals is by no means at once obvious; in
consequence of that system of thought become in fact effective spreaders of its ideas.
Who does not know the practical man who in his own field denounces socialism as
"pernicious rot" but, when he steps outside his subject, spouts socialism like any left
journalist? In no other field has the predominant influence of the socialist intellectuals
been felt more strongly during the last hundred years than in the contacts between
different national civilizations. It would go far beyond the limits of this article to trace
the causes and significance of the highly important fact that in the modern world the
intellectuals provide almost the only approach to an international community. It is this
which mainly accounts for the extraordinary spectacle that for generations the
supposedly "capitalist" West has been lending its moral and material support almost
exclusively to those ideological movements in countries father east which aimed at
undermining Western civilization and that, at the same time, the information which the
Western public has obtained about events in Central and Eastern Europe has almost
inevitably been colored by a socialist bias. Many of the "educational" activities of the
American forces of occupation of Germany have furnished clear and recent examples of
this tendency.

A proper understanding of the reasons which tend to incline so many of the
intellectuals toward socialism is thus most important. The first point here which those
who do not share this bias ought to face frankly is that it is neither selfish interests nor
evil intentions but mostly honest convictions and good intentions which determine the
intellectual's views. In fact, it is necessary to recognize that on the whole the typical
intellectual is today more likely to be a socialist the more he his guided by good will
and intelligence, and that on the plane of purely intellectual argument he will generally
be able to make out a better case than the majority of his opponents within his class. If
we still think him wrong, we must recognize that it may be genuine error which leads
the well-meaning and intelligent people who occupy those key positions in our society

to spread views which to us appear a threat to our civilization. Nothing could be more
important than to try to understand the sources of this error in order that we should be
able to counter it. Yet those who are generally regarded as the representatives of the
existing order and who believe that they comprehend the dangers of socialism are
usually very far from such understanding. They tend to regard the socialist intellectuals
as nothing more than a pernicious bunch of highbrow radicals without appreciating their
influence and, by their whole attitude to them, tend to drive them even further into
opposition to the existing order.
If we are to understand this peculiar bias of a large section of intellectuals, we
must be clear about two points. The first is that they generally judge all particular issues
exclusively in the light of certain general ideas; the second, that the characteristic errors
of any age are frequently derived from some genuine new truths it has discovered, and
they are erroneous applications of new generalizations which have proved their value in
other fields. The conclusion to which we shall be led by a full consideration of these
facts will be that the effective refutation of such errors will frequently require further
intellectual advance, and often advance on points which are very abstract and may seem
very remote from the practical issues.

It is perhaps the most characteristic feature of the intellectual that he judges new
ideas not by their specific merits but by the readiness with which they fit into his
general conceptions, into the picture of the world which he regards as modern or
advanced. It is through their influence on him and on his choice of opinions on
particular issues that the power of ideas for good and evil grows in proportion to their
generality, abstractness, and even vagueness. As he knows little about the particular
issues, his criterion must be consistency with his other views and suitability for
combining into a coherent picture of the world. Yet this selection from the multitude of
new ideas presenting themselves at every moment creates the characteristic climate of
opinion, the dominant Weltanschauung of a period, which will be favorable to the
reception of some opinions and unfavorable to others and which will make the
intellectual readily accept one conclusion and reject another without a real
understanding of the issues.

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