In this post I will say what I think is right about Corey’s basic thesis. We can then – if you like – argue the degree to which I’m agreeing with what Corey actually said, or maybe substituting something that’s more my own, but clearly in the same vicinity, conclusion-wise. (We’ll be pretty tired by then, however. Long post.)
I know Nietzsche well, Hayek well enough – The Constitution of Liberty, in particular – and the rest of the marginalists not well at all. So this is going to be a Hayek-Nietzsche post.
The proper way to put the Nietzsche-Hayek ‘elective affinity’ thesis – that is a good term for it – is going to sound weak and disappointingly loose. But it’s actually interesting. Showing the interest, despite the looseness, is where it gets a bit tricky.
Here’s how elective affinity is supposed to go. Let A be some libertarian and B a big stack of Hayek. Let C be an enthusiastic Nietzschean and D a big stack of Nietzsche. And suddenly – bam! – A, who seemed so stuck on B, jumps to D and gets restuck. And C unsticks from D and sticks to B. (The reason Goethe went for this chemical metaphor, in his original novel, is that he was born too early to be exposed to the sorts of cultural products that might have led him to express it as a higher synthetic relation.)
The reason this superficially surprising swap could happen is not that Nietzsche is a closet lover of free-market economics and petit bourgeois values. The reason is that Hayek has his romantic, aristocratic, transvaluation-of-values, the overman-will-save-us side. Plausibly.
I made this point about Hayek myself in this post. I made it about as strongly as I’m comfortable seeing it made. I didn’t see fit to drag Nietzsche into it but we’ll get to that. Let me quote the most relevant bit of that old post.
Hayek fails to see that he [Hayek himself] is not actually interested in maximizing freedom because, actually, he thinks that some people’s freedom is a lot more valuable than other people’s freedom. Liberals always want to ensure the maximum freedom consistent with enjoyment of that freedom by all. Hayek is definitely not on board with that sort of egalitarianism regarding freedom: “To grant no more freedom than all can exercise would be to misconceive its function completely. The freedom that will be used by only one man in a million may be more important to society and more beneficial to the majority than any freedom that we all use.” Ideally, we would find that one man and even make all others his slaves, if that is what it took to let him exercise his freedom to the fullest. Hayek thus affirms a freedom monster argument somehat analogous to the classic pleasure monster reductio. But obviously the point would not be that the man might have some preposterously bottomless capacity to be free. Rather, Hayek is saying that a world with much less freedom – a world in which this one-man-in-a-million is even a tyrant, perhaps – is better than a world full of freedom.
Of course, it doesn’t matter, because Hayek is insistent that we can’t identify that man. (He is yet another god we cannot name [the first being utility itself: what is it?].) So we have no choice but to maximize freedom, i.e. give everyone roughly the same dose of the stuff. Maximizing freedom is thus not really even second best, overall, but third best. Best: maximize welfare (but we can’t and don’t even really know what that means). Second best: maximize freedom for only those who can best maximize welfare (but we can’t pick them out of a line-up). Third best: maximize freedom. But really I think it’s pretty likely Hayek thinks (or feels) we can actually do a bit better than third best. We can pick out a class of people who are likely to be better users of freedom. This is no part of Hayek’s official philosophy, but the reason he sees coercion on one side (workers) not the other (employers), even when this is flagrantly inconsistent with his own philosophy, is that he has a strong intuition that the freedoms of workers are less valuable. Employers/capital/management will be more likely to want to do things that will, on the whole, benefit everyone. So it is more important for them to be able to do what they want. I think this unexpressed conviction explains a lot of the oddities in Hayek’s writings.
This view that Hayek is really all about the hierarchy – freedom for the better people – seems to fit with Corey Robin’s standard line on the reactionary mind.
So that’s me, agreeing with Corey’s thesis, basically. Corey’s title (which he probably didn’t write) is wrong, frankly, because you shouldn’t call them Nietzsche’s children unless it’s an influence thesis. But I’ll buy the subtitle: “How did the conservative ideas of Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian school become our economic reality? By turning the market into the realm of great politics and morals.” Hayek didn’t make economics exciting by being a utilitarian. He didn’t make economics exciting by being a classical liberal. He made economics exciting by painting its petit bourgeois portrait as secretly sublime – a romantic landscape of mysterious heights and depths. In this landscape a hero makes his lonely way, his high fate unknown even to himself. He stands alone, against great odds.
So if someone were to hop from The Will To Power to The Constitution of Liberty, or vice versa, getting the same intense jolt from both – well, that would be less surprising than if they jumped from The Will To Power to Jeremy Bentham or John Locke. Bentham and Locke don’t do the whole ‘pathos of distance’ thing, if that’s your ‘modernity and its anti-democratic discontents’ bag.
But how interesting is this sort of result (if it is one)?
Let me quote Arthur Lovejoy on why it’s hard to write good history of ideas, particularly the history of ideas that become popular. [Fun fact! I drafted this post before being reminded – by Corey – that he himself quoted this very bit in his book. Did I get it from his book, then? No! It’s in my dissertation. Like minds think alike; influence is tricky to track.]
This influential cause in the determination of philosophical fashions and speculative tendencies has been so little considered that I find no recognized name for it, and have been compelled to invent one which is not, perhaps, wholly self-explanatory. ‘Metaphysical pathos’ is exemplified in any description of the nature of things, any characterization of the world to which one belongs, in terms which, like the words of a poem, awaken through their associations, and through a sort of empathy which they engender, a congenial mood or tone of feeling on the part of the philosopher or his readers. For many people – for most of the laity, I suspect – the reading of a philosophical book is usually nothing but a form of aesthetic experience.If, for you, The Constitution of Liberty is metaphysical poetry, then it will probably be kindasorta Nietzschean metaphysical poetry. But how interesting is that?
If someone says they think Harry Potter is libertarian, it’s tempting to reply that what they have actually discovered is that libertarianism is a children’s story. (The story elements that seem like libertarian insights are generic conventions: of course the Ministry of Magic has to be both idiotic and feeble. Otherwise it won’t be left to a small band of scrappy kids to save the world.) But that’s not it either. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
If you are interested in the popular life of ideas, metaphysical pathos is important because it does most of the pushing. Why is The Road To Serfdom popular, even though its predictions failed to pan out? Because it’s a ripping yarn. It’s got brave heroes standing against a dark force that threatens to enslave humanity. Worse: the humans who see the threat are panicking and making things worse – even attacking our heroes! – rather than doing something to stop the real threat. In short: what could be more awesome!
Even so: don’t pathologize every philosophy that is the cause of pathos in others. Saying that someone who got a jolt out of Genealogy of Morals might get the same jolt from Road To Serfdom is true, and potentially important. But they might have gotten it from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. We don’t want to say that J.K. Rowling is, spiritually, a marginal child of marginalist economics. How do we limit this sort of speculative spread, sanely?
The place to start is with the author. As Nietzsche says: “The artist has the same relation to the connoisseurs and lovers of his art as a piece of heavy artillery to a flock of sparrows.” (More about that in a moment.) We can’t gauge, just by looking at a scatterplot of sparrows, the true caliber of the intellectual artillery hereabouts.
Is there any reason to think Hayek himself was pathologized by the metaphysical pathos of his position? Can Nietzschean parallels be spun into substantive objections, or interpretive insights? I think: yes. It is, I think, impossible to read The Road To Serfdom and imagine its author is not caught up by the thrill of the Romantic contours of his own story. But this is still pretty trivial: everyone likes a good monster fight. That doesn’t mean everyone is a Nietzschean. Are we sure that Hayek’s monster is really the revolting masses (ergo he can be slotted neatly with all those other reactionary minds Corey is always trying to say are surprisingly alike)? Also: even if Serfdom is a bit of an overheated potboiler, is the same true of, say, The Constitution of Liberty? That is, even if Hayek is somewhat pathologized by the metaphysical pathos of his own thinking – more so in some places than others – is there no corner of his thinking that is free from this?
Can’t someone say: Hayek is utilitarianism, not Also Sprach Larrystustra class warfare fanfic. Even if, as is possible, some people read it that way. If you want to assess the value of Hayek’s philosophy, it’s not fair to grade him on the basis of the aesthetic daydreams he inspires, rather than the technical ideas he espouses. (Who doesn’t have silly superhero daydreams. And what philosopher isn’t, in some sense, the hero in his/her own little adventure of ideas? Technical stuff that excites people does not, thereby, cease to be technical.)
And now we really come to it. In my original Hayek post I said that I didn’t think this sort of hermeneutically suspicious approach can be dismissed as cheap ad hominem dismissiveness. Let me quote my original post again:
This is a common disease: political theory as crypto-virtue ethics. You have a perhaps rather narrow sort of character ideal in mind, playing no official part in your theory, but exerting a great influence over its overall shape. J.S. Mill, for example, obviously exalts a certain sort of contrarian, cosmopolitan individualist. On Liberty is justly charged with begging the question, rather badly, on behalf of the sort of person Mill most admires. Hayek may be guilty of nothing worse: he admires economic actors of a certain sort more than other people. He maximizes freedom for them, while genuinely thinking he is maximizing it for everyone.I say this as someone who thinks On Liberty is a great book. But it would have been a greater book if Mill had added a final chapter in which he asked, with a lot more self-critical severity: am I really a utilitarian? If he had concluded that chapter by saying ‘no, if I am absolutely honest, I am compelled to admit that I only said I was a utilitarian for somewhat confused, actually oddly personal reasons’ then that would have been best of all. It would have made On Liberty a landmark of skeptical thinking, and in that way a monument to the value of its ideals. And it would have right. (This isn’t a Mill post. We can argue about it, if you like.)
I think something pretty exactly parallel is true about, say, The Constitution of Liberty. Hayek is, officially, a utilitarian. But – who are we kidding? – that isn’t what gets him out of bed in the morning. This isn’t ad hominem speculation about his sleep patterns because, as in the Mill case, there are lots of weird junctures where we get screwy million-to-one alleged utilitarian calculations. We want to understand what’s going on, on the page, when things get weird like that. It’s frankly impossible to believe that the author seriously believes he’s performing some kind of utilitarian calculation. (Mill will tell you that every contrarian opinion is infinitely valuable. Hayek, per above, gestures at these weird million-to-one freedom monsters, in passing, yet leaves them lurking in the shadows.) In the philosopher’s mind’s eye, he sees his virtuous hero. But the philosopher doesn’t say he’s substituting a bit of behind-the-scenes hero worship for actual argument, hence he’s unclear about what makes the hero a hero. What is the value of this value? Is the hero a means to an end or an end in himself? There are serious dangers of dramatic reversals. If Mill is trying to cram a narrow conception of virtue ethics down everyone’s throat, then there is a sense in which his philosophy is not just not as advertised. It’s really the opposite of what he said it was. If Hayek is entranced by a kind of ‘only the hidden million-to-one overman aristocrat can save us, because the masses are asses’ position – if that is what freedom is for – then he is not just not a classical liberal. He is an enemy of classical liberalism.
As Nietzsche says: those who fight monsters must take care that they do not become monsters themselves. Which is why, personally, I think the problem with Hayek is that (envelope pleeze!) … he isn’t Nietzschean enough. Because the great thing about Nietzsche is that he is actually really good when it comes to this sort of thing. What is the real value of this value?
Let me quote a few passage from Nietzsche that Corey does not happen to have quoted, but that are interesting to read in connection with Hayek. These are market-y thoughts, in an odd-angle sort of way. (Pardon the old public domain Levy translation.)
It is sometimes harder to agree to a thing than to understand it; many will feel this when they consider the proposition — “Mankind must toil unceasingly to bring forth individual great men: this and nothing else is its task.” One would like to apply to society and its ends a fact that holds universally in the animal and vegetable world; where progress depends only on the higher individual types, which are rarer, yet more persistent, complex and productive. But traditional notions of what the end of society is, absolutely bar the way. We can easily understand how in the natural world, where one species passes at some point into a higher one, the aim of their evolution cannot be held to lie in the high level attained by the mass, or in the latest types developed;—but rather in what seem accidental beings produced here and there by favourable circumstances. It should be just as easy to understand that it is the duty of mankind to provide the circumstances favourable to the birth of the new redeemer, simply because men can have a consciousness of their object. But there is always something to prevent them. They find their ultimate aim in the happiness of all, or the greatest number, or in the expansion of a great commonwealth. A man will very readily decide to sacrifice his life for the state; he will be much slower to respond if an individual, and not a state, ask for the sacrifice. It seems to be out of reason that one man should exist for the sake of another: “Let it be rather for the sake of every other, or, at any rate, of as many as possible!” O upright judge! As if it were more in reason to let the majority decide a question of value and significance! For the problem is — “In what way may your life, the individual life, retain the highest value and the deepest significance? and how may it least be squandered?” Only by your living for the good of the rarest and most valuable types, not for that of the majority, — who are the most worthless types, taken as individuals. This way of thinking should be implanted and fostered in every young man’s mind: he should regard himself both as a failure of Nature’s handiwork and a testimony to her larger ideas. “She has succeeded badly,” he should say; “but I will do honour to her great idea by being a means to its better success.”
Yet there is a utility paradox of sorts, due to an information problem. From “Schopenhauer as Educator” [same link as the one above]:
Nature always desires the greatest utility, but does not understand how to find the best and handiest means to her end; that is her great sorrow, and the cause of her melancholy. The impulse towards her own redemption shows clearly her wish to give men a significant existence by the generation of the philosopher and the artist: but how unclear and weak is the effect she generally obtains with her artists and philosophers, and how seldom is there any effect at all! She is especially perplexed in her efforts to make the philosopher useful; her methods are casual and tentative, her failures innumerable; most of her philosophers never touch the common good of mankind at all. Her actions seem those of a spendthrift; but the cause lies in no prodigal luxury, but in her inexperience. Were she human, she would probably never cease to be dissatisfied with herself and her bungling. Nature shoots the philosopher at mankind like an arrow; she does not aim, but hopes that the arrow will stick somewhere. She makes countless mistakes that give her pain. She is as extravagant in the sphere of culture as in her planting and sowing. She fulfils her ends in a large and clumsy fashion, using up far too much of her strength. The artist has the same relation to the connoisseurs and lovers of his art as a piece of heavy artillery to a flock of sparrows. [Now you see the context for this quote!] It is a fool’s part to use a great avalanche to sweep away a little snow, to kill a man in order to strike the fly on his nose. The artist and the philosopher are witnesses against Nature’s adaptation of her means, however well they may show the wisdom of her ends. They only reach a few and should reach all — and even these few are not struck with the strength they used when they shot. It is sad to have to value art so differently as cause and effect; how huge in its inception, how faint the echo afterwards! The artist does his work as Nature bids him, for the benefit of other men—no doubt of it; but he knows that none of those men will understand and love his work as he understands and loves it himself. That lonely height of love and understanding is necessary, by Nature’s clumsy law, to produce a lower type; the great and noble are used as the means to the small and ignoble. Nature is a bad manager; her expenses are far greater than her profits: for all her riches she must one day go bankrupt. She would have acted more reasonably to make the rule of her household — small expense and hundredfold profit; if there had been, for example, only a few artists with moderate powers, but an immense number of hearers to appreciate them, stronger and more powerful characters than the artists themselves; then the effect of the art-work, in comparison with the cause, might be a hundred-tongued echo. One might at least expect cause and effect to be of equal power; but Nature lags infinitely behind this consummation. An artist, and especially a philosopher, seems often to have dropped by chance into his age, as a wandering hermit or straggler cut off from the main body.
Now note: if you read ‘great man’ as ‘capitalist entrepreneur’ in the first passage, then you get a weirdly lurid ‘who is John Galt?’ fantasy. If you read ‘nature’ as ‘market’ and ‘artist’ as ‘capitalist entrepreneur’ in the second passage, then you get an ironic sort of meditation on the informational haphazardness of ‘creative destruction’.
But wait! doesn’t that second passage actually undermine the first? In a sense, it underscores the aristocratic vision of the first. It says great art is pearls before swine, which only reinforces our sense that we don’t need to bother about swine. Let them eat filth! (Pity the poor artist, that he must be unappreciated by swine. Not pity the poor swine, that they must live like swine. They like it!) Then again, the first passage seemed to suggest a kind of redemption of the lower types through a kind of trickledown of transvalued values – a democratic side-effect of ruthless art market, aristo efficiency. A rising tide of transvalued value will raise all boats! But the second passage says there is inevitable market breakdown. The low types must be sacrificed for the higher types and these costs will not be recouped, in absolute utilitarian terms. That kind of sucks for the swine who get paid in a few pearls, here and there. Oh, and by the way: what is it that makes them swine? Well, they’re stupid and unappreciative. But so is Nature. So, by extension, is the artist – who is just a kind of blind arrow striking home, or not.
Is there anything Hayekian about this? (Is Hayek Nietzschean in this way?) There are interesting echoes to be heard. The image of a kind of market in which it’s the million-to-one shot that counts. And the exceptional protagonist of the story – like every good Romantic hero – has, in addition to this pathos of distance, a kind of pathos of blindness. He is a doer not a knower.
And – perhaps most interestingly – in Hayek, as in Nietzsche, there’s a basic equivocation as to the outer frame of valuation: nature aims at Utility – which is very democratic and egalitarian of her. But she does it in an attractively aristocratic, Romantic way. So what is the value of this ‘natural’ order here? The Romanticism of nature’s procedures, or their utility? If either the Romance or the utility should fail, where would that leave us?
If you ask me (and I acknowledge this might not be your preference): all of Nietzsche’s philosophy amounts to the thought that the vision of the first passage is attractively glorious but monstrous and, ultimately, in peril of tipping in to nihilism, due to highly equivocal elements introduced by the second passage. There is no redemption for the ‘little man’ – the ‘broken specimen’. This is why the thought of Eternal Recurrence – Nietzsche’s central teaching, he says – is so awful. So abyssmal. What good are Great Men if they aren’t great for the not-great man? It gets worse. The problem with the masses, per that first passage, is that they want to make themselves Slaves To All – to everyone, to the state. But this sort of pseudo-benevolence is really a kind of nihilism, because it destroys the value of individual life. But (who are we kidding?): asking everyone to grind themselves into dust for the sake of the Overman, even though this won’t redeem them, is supposed to be a giant improvement over asking them to sacrifice themselves for the State? This vision of the Overman is not a redemption fanatasy. It’s a revenge fantasy. It’s a revenge fantasy of taking revenge on all the little men who are petty enough to want to take revenge. Is being a sore winner really ‘higher’ than being a sore loser in a contest that is basically a ‘let’s see who can be least sore about this contest?’ contest?
Nietsche’s philosophy is supposed to break with all that – to be life-affirming, rather than negative and resentful. But give the corkscrew another twist: it looks like merely the most twisted form of resentfulness yet invented. Nietzsche sees this.
How is it possible to thrill to the artistic vision of that first passage without just being a resentful bastard, in the spirit of the second? In an artistic context, I think we can relate: how can you tell the difference between loving great art, for great art’s sake, and loving great art merely as a precondition for hating on bad art. Where’s the line between rarified taste and passive-aggressive pretension? The pathos of distance requires relative highs and lows. That’s what makes for aristocracy. Even so, no true aristocrat is petty enough to want a peasant to be miserable, for misery’s sake. That’s a low desire.
In an economic or political context, we can get something similar. ‘Such-and-such-a-percent are takers, and we are at a tipping point, past which takers will suck the lifeblood evermore from the real makers.’ Forget about how the story may hinge on equivocations about the tax code. Here’s the interesting question: why are such stories such fun? Why do some people want such a thing to be true? Well, obviously because it transforms the market into grand politics and a proper field for the exhibition of personal virtue.
Let’s make it about Hayek. What does he truly value? What are the values of his values, for him?
Conjoin that quote, from above – “To grant no more freedom than all can exercise would be to misconceive its function completely. The freedom that will be used by only one man in a million may be more important to society and more beneficial to the majority than any freedom that we all use” – with the Lord Acton epigraph from “Why I Am Not A Conservative”, which closes out The Constitution of Liberty.
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 often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition.
Hayek’s point is that conservatives are not sincere friends of freedom, yet the likes of Hayek may have to side with them for enemy-is-my-enemy reasons, broadly speaking.
But think about how complicated this is. You have to do the conservative thing, even though its not the free thing, because this is a bank-shot to freedom. But it’s not. Because freedom itself is a bank shot. Freedom for everyone is just a bank shot to freedom to that one-in-a-million Overman. But that one-in-a-million Overman is himself just a means to an end even he doesn’t see – crazy blind arrow fired into the market for the sake of – …. of what? Utility?
Utility in what sense? As mentioned above, the God of Utility is a hidden God. How the hell should Hayek or anyone else know Him. So, mixing mystery religion with that most English thing – a pool table – we make a triple bank shot at a hole we can’t see. (Is this pool, or some mystery ritual?) How are we sure we are aiming at it? In what sense can we be?
Is Hayek a benevolent, utilitarian Lover of Mankind, who wants only the best for all men equally? He just happens to know that the best way to achieve that end is fiendishly indirect? Or is he an aristocrat at heart? Like Nietzsche, he confronts modern mass culture and politics and society with aristocratic revulsion. But he feels guilty about feeling that way – he’s a modern himself, after all – so he has to confabulate this utilitarian cover story. He has to pretend to be a democrat at heart – more democrat than the democrats – even though he’s an aristocrat. But doesn’t that make him a democrat at heart, because hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue?
It’s genuinely puzzling. Really. I find it puzzling.
If only Hayek had written The Constitution of Liberty: A Nightmare, as a G. K. Chesterton novel, in which the entrepreneur-hermit is visited in his retreat – Zarathustra’s Gulch – by his animals who tell him that they know what he teaches. The market is just nature and they have no problem with. It’s easy. Hakuna Matata.
—”O Zarathustra,” said then his animals, “to those who think like us, all things are exchanged: they come and hold out the hand and haggle and refuse — and return.
Everything selleth, everything buyeth; eternally rolleth the wheel of market. Businesses dieth, economy blossometh forth again; eternally runneth on the financial year.
Every business model is broken, everything is integrated anew; eternally buildeth itself the same house of commerce. All things are bought out, broken up and sold off for scrap; all scraps are combined again; eternally true to itself remaineth the ring of market.
And if the entrepreneur-hermit had then said ‘Are you crazy? That’s awful!’ … And then he realizes, among other things, that he was a hypocrite. He only retreated into Zarathustra’s Gulch because he thought that the masses outside were animated by low motives – resentment! And yet he, Zarathustra, then took his ball and went home … out of resentment. And so he goes forth and he meets a parade of horribles in a dying world. The Last Central Planner, The Moocher, the Seeker After Social Justice, the Expert. And Zarathustra gradually comes to realize that, if he is going to affirm his philosophy, positively, he can’t just kick against these pricks. He has to figure our what he really values and …
Well, I don’t want to tell Hayek what to conclude. That would be presumptuous. Telling him how to write his book.
Getting (finally!) back to Corey and his article: likewise, I can’t tell him what to argue or conclude but I do think that, if he’s saying what I’m saying – and I think he (mostly) is – then he’s right!
I expect that the Hayekian response to this will be: fine, you want to play it that way, we’ll play it that way. The only reason that Rawls wants so-called ‘fairness’ is that he wants to boss everyone around. He’s a liberal fascist control freak! Prove he’s not! This sort of response seems to me to miss the point. There aren’t, so far as I can see, pieces of the Rawlsian puzzle that don’t fit together, but would fit together if Rawls were sort of divided against himself: democratic benevolence punctuated by bouts of aristocratic nausea at the state of the modern world. (I’ve said that I think it makes perfect sense to read Mill, against the grain, as a crypto-virtue ethicist. If you think Rawls works like that, too – or whomever – then, by all means, make your case.)
Asking whether Hayek is Nietzschean is not – should not be – just an ‘are you still beating your wife?’ rhetorical trick. It’s an admittedly highly provocative way of asking what Hayek values, in light of the genuinely unclear things he says. What are the values of his values (as Nietzsche would say)? Also, it is important that Hayek is not just a technical influence on people but a philosophical hero. His writings have metaphysical pathos. It’s not fair to reduce his philosophy to his popularity, but it’s not fair to attribute his popularity to his technical utilitarianism.
When people dream a Hayekian dream, what sort of dream is it?