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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Intellectuals and Socialism, by F.A. Hayek #4

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.,]

The significance of the special appeal to the intellectuals which socialism
derives from its speculative character will become clearer if we further contrast the
position of the socialist theorist with that of his counterpart who is a liberal in the old
sense of the word. This comparison will also lead us to whatever lesson we can draw
from an adequate appreciation of the intellectual forces which are undermining the
foundations of a free society.

Paradoxically enough, one of the main handicaps which deprives the liberal
thinker of popular influence is closely connected with the fact that, until socialism has
actually arrived, he has more opportunity of directly influencing decisions on current
policy and that in consequence he is not only not tempted into that long-run speculation
which is the strength of the socialists, but is actually discouraged from it because any
effort of this kind is likely to reduce the immediate good he can do. Whatever power he
has to influence practical decisions he owes to his standing with the representatives of
the existing order, and this standing he would endanger if he devoted himself to the kind
of speculation which would appeal to the intellectuals and which through them could
influence developments over longer periods. In order to carry weight with the powers
that be, he has to be "practical," "sensible," and "realistic." So long as he concerns
himself with the immediate issues, he is rewarded with influence, material success, and
popularity with those who up to a point share his general outlook. But these men have
little respect for those speculations on general principles which shape the intellectual
climate. Indeed, if he seriously indulges in such long-run speculation, he is apt to
acquire the reputation of being "unsound" or even half a socialist, because he is
unwilling to identify the existing order with the free system at which he aims.

If, in spite of this, his efforts continue in the direction of general speculation, he
soon discovers that it is unsafe to associate too closely with those who seem to share
most of his convictions, and he is soon driven into isolation. Indeed there can be few
more thankless tasks at present than the essential one of developing the philosophical
foundation on which the further development of a free society must be based. Since the
man who undertakes it must accept much of the framework of the existing order, he will
appear to many of the more speculatively minded intellectuals merely as a timid
apologist of things as they are; at the same time he will be dismissed by the men of
affairs as an impractical theorist. He is not radical enough for those who know only the
world where "with ease together dwell the thoughts" and much too radical for those
who see only how "hard in space together clash the things." If he takes advantage of
such support as he can get from the men of affairs, he will almost certainly discredit
himself with those on whom he depends for the spreading of his ideas. At the same time
he will need most carefully to avoid anything resembling extravagance or
overstatement. While no socialist theorist has ever been known to discredit himself with
his fellows even by the silliest of proposals, the old-fashioned liberal will damn himself
by an impracticable suggestion. Yet for the intellectuals he will still not be speculative
or adventurous enough, and the changes and improvements in the social structure he
will have to offer will seem limited in comparison with what their less restrained
imagination conceives.

At least in a society in which the main requisites of freedom have already been
won and further improvements must concern points of comparative detail, the liberal
program can have none of the glamour of a new invention. The appreciation of the
improvements it has to offer requires more knowledge of the working of the existing
society than the average intellectual possesses. The discussion of these improvements
must proceed on a more practical level than that of the more revolutionary programs,
thus giving a complexion which has little appeal for the intellectual and tending to bring
in elements to whom he feels directly antagonistic. Those who are most familiar with
the working of the present society are also usually interested in the preservation of
particular features of that society which may not be defensible on general principles.
Unlike the person who looks for an entirely new future order and who naturally turns
for guidance to the theorist, the men who believe in the existing order also usually think
that they understand it much better than any theorist and in consequence are likely to
reject whatever is unfamiliar and theoretical.

The difficulty of finding genuine and disinterested support for a systematic
policy for freedom is not new. In a passage of which the reception of a recent book of
mine has often reminded me, Lord Acton long ago described how "at all times sincere
friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that
have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects differed from
their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has been sometimes

disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition...."
 More recently, one of
the most distinguished living American economists has complained in a similar vein
that the main task of those who believe in the basic principles of the capitalist system
must frequently be to defend this system against the capitalists--indeed the great liberal
economists, from Adam Smith to the present, have always known this.
The most serious obstacle which separates the practical men who have the cause
of freedom genuinely at heart from those forces which in the realm of ideas decide the
course of development is their deep distrust of theoretical speculation and their
tendency to orthodoxy; this, more than anything else, creates an almost impassable
barrier between them and those intellectuals who are devoted to the same cause and
whose assistance is indispensable if the cause is to prevail. Although this tendency is
perhaps natural among men who defend a system because it has justified itself in
practice, and to whom its intellectual justification seems immaterial, it is fatal to its
survival because it deprives it of the support it most needs. Orthodoxy of any kind, any
pretense that a system of ideas is final and must be unquestioningly accepted as a
whole, is the one view which of necessity antagonizes all intellectuals, whatever their
views on particular issues. Any system which judges men by the completeness of their
conformity to a fixed set of opinions, by their "soundness" or the extent to which they
can be relied upon to hold approved views on all points, deprives itself of a support
without which no set of ideas can maintain its influence in modern society. The ability
to criticize accepted views, to explore new vistas and to experience with new
conceptions, provides the atmosphere without which the intellectual cannot breathe. A
cause which offers no scope for these traits can have no support from him and is thereby
doomed in any society which, like ours, rests on his services.

It may be that as a free society as we have known it carries in itself the forces of
its own destruction, that once freedom has been achieved it is taken for granted and
ceases to be valued, and that the free growth of ideas which is the essence of a free
society will bring about the destruction of the foundations on which it depends. There
can be little doubt that in countries like the United States the ideal of freedom today has
less real appeal for the young than it has in countries where they have learned what its
loss means. On the other hand, there is every sign that in Germany and elsewhere, to the
young men who have never known a free society, the task of constructing one can
become as exciting and fascinating as any socialist scheme which has appeared during
the last hundred years. It is an extraordinary fact, though one which many visitors have
experienced, that in speaking to German students about the principles of a liberal
society one finds a more responsive and even enthusiastic audience than one can hope
to find in any of the Western democracies. In Britain also there is already appearing
among the young a new interest in the principles of true liberalism which certainly did
not exist a few years ago.

Does this mean that freedom is valued only when it is lost, that the world must
everywhere go through a dark phase of socialist totalitarianism before the forces of
freedom can gather strength anew? It may be so, but I hope it need not be. Yet, so long
as the people who over longer periods determine public opinion continue to be attracted
by the ideals of socialism, the trend will continue. If we are to avoid such a
development, we must be able to offer a new liberal program which appeals to the
imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual
adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a program which seems
neither a mere defense of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly
liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty (including the
trade unions), which is not too severely practical, and which does not confine itself to
what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are willing
to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They
must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization,
however remote. The practical compromises they must leave to the politicians. Free
trade and freedom of opportunity are ideals which still may arouse the imaginations of
large numbers, but a mere "reasonable freedom of trade" or a mere "relaxation of
controls" is neither intellectually respectable nor likely to inspire any enthusiasm.

The main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the
socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the
intellectuals and therefore an influence on public opinion which is daily making
possible what only recently seemed utterly remote. Those who have concerned
themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion
have constantly found that even this had rapidly become politically impossible as the
result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we
can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual
issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of
our liveliest minds. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the
mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost. The intellectual revival of liberalism
is already underway in many parts of the world. Will it be in time?

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