Nietzsche, Hayek, and the Austrians: A Reply to My Critics

by Corey Robin on June 25, 2013

My article “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” has provoked much criticism, some of it quite hostile. (Here’s a complete list of the responses I’ve received.)

The criticism focuses on four issues: the connection between Nietzsche and Austrian economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek; the question of Hayek’s elitism; the relationship between economic and non-economic value; and the relationship between Hayek and Pinochet.

I address three of these criticisms here—a separate post on Hayek and Pinochet follows—but first let me restate the argument of the piece and explain why I wrote it.

“Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” juxtaposes Nietzsche’s critique of the idea of objective value with the turn to subjective theories of value in economics, first among the early marginalists of the 1870s and later, and more important for my purposes, in the Austrian School coming out of the work of Carl Menger. Describing the relationship between Nietzsche’s philosophy and Austrian economics as one of elective affinity, I draw out deep structural similarities between two ways of thinking (about value, elitism, and the role of struggle and sacrifice in the creation or definition of value) that are seldom put in dialogue with each other. The reason I bring together Nietzsche and the Austrians (as opposed to other figures) is that a similar project animates their thinking: the effort to repulse the socialist challenge of the late 19th and 20th centuries and, behind socialism, the elevation of labor and the laborer as the centerpiece of modern civilization. The idea that the worker drives not only the economy but culture and society as well–and the concomitant notion that an alternative formulation of value might help repel that idea and the politics it inspires—is the polemical context that unites these figures.

Rather than treat the Austrians as the inheritors of classical liberalism, I see in their theory an attempt to recreate what Nietzsche called grosse Politick in the economy. Most treatments of the Austrians fail to capture their agonistic romance of the market, a romance that makes capitalism exciting rather than merely efficient. Far from departing from the canons of conservatism, then, Austrian economics is a classic form of counterrevolution, a la Burke. It seeks to defeat a challenge from below—in this case, the ongoing threat from the worker’s world, whether that world be found in a grain of sand (a trade union, say) or in the surrounding sea of international socialism—by transforming and reinvigorating the old regime. “If we want things to stay as they are,” as the classic formulation in The Leopard puts it, “things will have to change.”

I wrote the piece mainly in pursuit of an idea coming out of my encounter with Carl Schorske’s Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Situating the rise of modernism in the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this classic study hears the drumbeat of Viennese politics—a flailing ancien régime, a bourgeoisie struggling to extract a liberal order from “the feudals,” and a vicious street fight of right and left— in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Klimt’s Athena portraits, and other touchstones of high culture.

Schorske’s book spawned an entire literature devoted to the Viennese origins of logical positivism, psychoanalysis, atonal music, and more. Yet there has always been a conspicuous absence in that literature: the Austrian School of economics. Even though the Austrian School was forged in the same Schorskean crucible of a regnant aristocracy, weak liberalism, and anti-socialism, even though the Austrian economists offer an appreciation of the subjective, non-rational, and unconscious elements of life rivaling that of Freud, Klimt, and Kokoschka, the Austrians make no appearance in Schorskean histories of Vienna and Schorske’s Vienna makes no appearance in studies of the Austrians. It’s as if there is a tacit vow of silence among two sets of scholars: historians and leftists who do not want to concede any cultural status or philosophical depth to (in their view) vulgarians of the market like Mises and Hayek, and libertarians and economists who do not want to see their inspirations tainted by the politics of Vienna.

The text that comes closest to apprehending the swirling presence of Vienna in Austrian economics is John Gray’s Hayek on Liberty. Not only does Gray emphasize the subterranean quasi-rational currents of Viennese subjectivism in Hayek’s theories but he also captures the distinctively counterrevolutionary—as I have explained the term—character of Hayek’s enterprise, which entails “a radical revision both of current and ancient morality.”

In pursuing the re-evaluation of values that are necessary to the stability of the market order…Hayek’s doctrine issues in judgments critical of large segments of moral practice. Hayek’s example suggests that radicalism and conservatism in intellectual and moral life may not be in conflict at all….It has the paradoxical result that a contemporary conservative who values private property and individual liberty cannot avoid being an intellectual and moral radical.

Gray’s book doesn’t get too much play anymore, but at the time of its publication in 1984 one reader claimed that it was “the first survey of [Hayek’s] work which not only fully understands but is able to carry on [his] ideas beyond the point at which [he] left off.”

That reader was Friedrich von Hayek.


What is the connection between Nietzsche and the Austrians?

The most common criticism of my piece that I’ve received is that my linking of Nietzsche and the Austrians fails because many other philosophers and economists held similarly subjectivist views of value. Unless I want to make the case that Nietzsche influenced the Austrians, which I don’t, I’m either saying something trivial (i.e., like many thinkers across the centuries, Nietzsche and the Austrians held a particular view of value) or trying to smuggle lurid contraband (freedom-loving Austrians = fascist-leaning Nietzsche) inside my suitcase.

My critics are certainly correct that many other writers held subjectivist theories of value and that many of them were socialists and leftists. What’s puzzling is that I make that very point in my article, repeatedly in fact. So why do these critics believe it is so fatal? Because they ignore the argument I do make in favor of an argument I don’t make.

Notice how these critics set up my argument. At The American Conservative, Samuel Goldman writes:

According to Robin, both Nietzsche and the Austrians saw value as a subjective commitment under conditions of constraint rather than an objective contribution by labor. For this reason, they endorsed agonistic social relations in which individuals struggle to express and impose valuations to the limits of their differential strength, while rejecting egalitarian arrangements that attempt to give producers a fair share of the value they have generated.

Bleeding Heart Libertarians’s Kevin Vallier writes:

Robin roughly claims that the move to the subjective theory of economic value in economics was a move towards a form of objective value nihilism. Objective value nihilism in turn allows Austrian economists in particular to argue that markets are an expression of morality because markets are expressions of subjective value.

In both formulations, value subjectivism (I don’t know where Vallier gets value nihilism from) is doing the work of leading Nietzsche and the Austrians to their dark end, whether in politics or the market. That makes an easy target for both critics because it allows them to point to other subjectivists who did not take the path of anti-socialism or elitism and thereby to dismiss the Nietzsche Hayek connection. (“If even Mises’s chief [ideological] opponent shared his theory of value,” claims Vallier, “how can there be an interesting, illuminating connection between Nietzsche and the Austrians?”)

But that’s not how elective affinities work. It’s not that one argument or tradition logically entails another—marching its proponent down the road, forcing him to take a right at the intersection—or that the two arguments are found together and only together. There clearly is an elective affinity between liberalism and contractarianism, for example, even though there are liberals who are not contractarians (Montesquieu, Constant, Tocqueville, Hegel, and Dewey) and contractarians who are not liberals (Hobbes).

The point of an elective affinity is that there’s something in the two traditions—a deep structure of thought common to both that might not be immediately visible in each or arguments peculiar to each that are nevertheless congenial to both—that draws their proponents to each other. Or that explains why proponents of the one, once they have abandoned it, may subsequently be drawn to the other. Or why a culture—or political movement—may comfortably birth or house both at the same time. In the case of a political movement, where power and interests and ideas mix and mingle in ways that don’t always logically fit or follow, elective affinities can be especially potent.

For all their peculiar insistence on the need for me to demonstrate uniqueness—to establish a connection between Nietzsche and the Austrians, Vallier says, I must show they “were unique in sharing these views” about value, a stipulation so eccentric it would render unintelligible such classics of intellectual history as Richard Hofstadter on Calhoun (“The Marx of the Master Class”), Louis Menand on pragmatism and the Civil War, or Schorske on Vienna and modernism—my critics overlook what is in fact unique to Nietzsche and the Austrians as well as some of their followers: not their subjectivism but the fact that they saw in their subjectivism a comprehensive vision of politics, morals, and culture, a renovation of the human estate so complete as to rival that of the left. More than a simple theory of economics or metaethics, subjectivism offered these writers a glimpse of counterrevolutionary eternity,

Like Nietzsche, the Austrians were political theorists, men who sought to set the world ablaze. They understood that the battle against socialism would not be won by a dry recitation of economic facts or a dull roster of normative arguments. A truly political theory had to seize our sense and our sensibility. “I do not think the cause of liberty will prevail unless our emotions are aroused,” Hayek announces in the opening pages of The Constitution of Liberty. “If politics is the art of the possible,” he adds, “political philosophy is the art of making politically possible the seemingly impossible.”

That is why this particular objection from Goldman is so off base.

Robin generally ignores the technical mathematical background of the marginal revolution, which he presents primarily as debate in moral philosophy. That decision obscures the most important cause of the transformation of economic thought in the 19th century: the demand that economics become a science on the model of physics.

Goldman is wrong, of course, about Menger, one of the three founders of marginalism who was notoriously hostile to mathematical and scientific models of economics. He’s also wrong about Menger’s successors, who are the main topic of my article: Mises was contemptuous of “mathematical modes of representation” and the “drawing of such curves” as well as of the effort to model economics on the example of physics or chemistry. In one of his seminal articles, Hayek states that the problem of economics has “been obscured rather than illuminated by many of the recent refinements of economic theory, particularly by many of the uses made of mathematics.” That “misconception,” he goes onto say, “is due to an erroneous transfer to social phenomena of the habits of thought we have developed in dealing with the phenomena of nature.”

But more important, Goldman misses the entire point of the Austrian enterprise: to transcend the narrow confines of economics (as well as the natural sciences) and to fashion a genuinely political theory of markets and morals. In Hayek’s words, “I have come to feel more and more that the answers to many of the pressing social questions of our time are to be found ultimately in the recognition of principles that lie outside the scope of technical economics or of any other single discipline.” That was the music of these marginalists’ morals.

What distinguishes the Austrians and Nietzsche, then, from other subjective theorists (indeed, from practically all the names that have been raised in response to me: Oskar Lange, Karl Marx, Carlyle, Dostoevsky, Burckhardt, Tocqueville, Mill, Hobbes) is: a) the polemical target and context of their subjectivism—the threat of socialism and the labor question more generally; b) the connection they draw and that can be drawn between their subjectivism and their anti-socialism and elitism (a connection, it bears repeating, that is neither necessary nor inherent but contingent and peculiar to this moment and to the subsequent development of the right); and c) the cultural scope and political ambition of their subjectivism.



A second criticism I’ve received is that I offer virtually no evidence to support my claim that Nietzsche and the Austrians share a belief in great men as the creators and legislators of new forms of value, not just economic goods but also political, moral and cultural norms. Here is Vallier (if I cite him more than my other critics it is simply because his post has served as the touchstone for so many of the rest):

But suppose we scrutinize one of Robin’s most well-developed and specific claims, namely that there is an interesting and illuminating connection between Nietzsche’s and Hayek’s view about the importance of great men setting out new forms of valuation for social development. Even here the argument fails. The only passages from Hayek that can even be construed out of context to support this argument is Hayek’s claim in The Constitution of Liberty that synchronic (simultaneous) inequalities of wealth can work to the benefit of the least-advantaged over time because the luxury consumption of the rich paves the way for manufacturers to create cheaper versions of the same goods and market them to the masses.

This is ludicrous.

Immediately after he makes this narrow point about luxury goods, Hayek insists that the trickle-down effects of great wealth and inequality far outstrip the simple creation of mass consumption items.

The important point is not merely that we gradually learn to make cheaply on a large scale what we already know how to make expensively in small quantities but that only from an advanced position does the next range of desires and possibilities become visible, so that the selection of new goals and the effort toward their achievement will begin long before the majority can strive for them. If what they will want after their present goals are realized is soon to be made available, it is necessary that the developments that will bear fruit for the masses in twenty or fifty years’ time should be guided by the views of people who are already in the position of enjoying them.

The role of the wealthy it is to “guide” the development of the “range of desires,” the “selection of new goals,” of “the masses.” These elite effects are not merely economic but also cultural and moral. Far from saying this only once, Hayek says it a great many times.

However important the independent owner of property may be for the economic order of a free society, his importance is perhaps even greater in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs.


The importance of the private owner of substantial property, however, does not rest simply on the fact that his existence is an essential condition for the preservation of the structure of competitive enterprise. The man of independent means is an even more important figure in a free society when he is not occupied with using his capital in the pursuit of material gain but uses it in the service of aims which bring no material return.


What little leadership can be expected from the majority is shown by their inadequate support of the arts wherever they have replaced the wealthy patron. And this is even more true of those philanthropic or idealistic movements by which the moral values of the majority are changed.


The leadership of individuals or groups who can back their beliefs financially is particularly essential in the field of cultural amenities, in the fine arts, in education and research, in the preservation of natural beauty and historic treasures, and, above all, in the propagation of new ideas in politics, morals, and religion.


It is only natural that the development of the art of living and of the non-materialistic values should have profited most from the activities of those who had no material worries.

Beyond being wrong, this particular criticism fails because of the implicit separation it draws between economic and cultural development, moral and material progress, patterns of consumption and a broader way of life. That way of thinking is utterly foreign to Hayek.

Here again some acquaintance with the Viennese context, particularly the aristocratic context, might be useful. In the course of defending familial inheritance, for example, Hayek repeatedly makes the point that the transmission of elite values, tastes, and beliefs is predicated on the transmission of wealth. The “external forms of life” condition and support the inner forms of life.

Many people who agree that the family is desirable as an instrument for the transmission of morals, tastes, and knowledge still question the desirability of the transmission of material property. Yet there can be little doubt that, in order that the former may be possible, some continuity of standards, of the external forms of life, is essential, and that this will be achieved only if it is possible to transmit not only the immaterial but also material advantages.


The family’s function of passing on standards and traditions is closely tied up with the possibility of transmitting material goods.

Elsewhere, after claiming that “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”—a statement taken by my critics to mean that any random individual may make economic contributions to the society as a whole—Hayek favorably cites this statement of support from a nineteenth-century philosopher:

The plea for liberty is not sufficiently met by insisting…upon the absurdity of supposing that the propertyless labourer under the ordinary capitalistic regime enjoys any liberty of which Socialism would deprive him. For it may be of extreme importance that some should enjoy liberty—that it should be possible for some few men to be able to dispose of their time in their own way—although such liberty may be neither possible nor desirable for the great majority. That culture requires a considerable differentiation in social conditions is also a principle of unquestionable importance.

There’s no wisdom of crowds here. Not only is Hayek speaking of the wealthy, but he is also claiming that their wealth, and the inequality it generates, will have cultural benefits for the masses.

But more generally, if the claim of Austrian elitism is as outlandish as my critics seem to believe, would Mises have praised Ayn Rand—whose economic Nietzscheanism (though not subjectivism) is not in doubt—thus?

You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.

Or characterized the popularity and appeal of Marxism thus?

The incomparable success of Marxism is due to the prospect it offers of fulfilling those dream-aspirations and dreams of vengeance which have been so deeply embedded in the human soul from time immemorial. It promises a Paradise on earth, a Land of Heart’s Desire full of happiness and enjoyment, and—sweeter still to the losers in life’s game—humiliation of all who are stronger and better than the multitude.

Non-elitists tend not to speak this way.



A third criticism of my piece is that I make a muddle of the question of value by failing to distinguish between economic and moral value, use-value and exchange-value—“between any particular form of value and ‘value’ itself,” as Vallier puts it. I also misfire when I claim that Mises and Hayek “made the market the very expression of morality.” Neither man, Vallier says, “makes market relations ‘the very expression’ of morality.”

There’s no question that my piece mixes different notions of value, blurring distinctions that philosophers like to keep separate. But far from haplessly misconstruing one mode of value for another, I intentionally pressed these definitions and usages together. And for a simple reason: that’s what the Austrians did. This was a critical part of their project, which I was trying to capture.

Let’s recall the political and intellectual context in—and against—which the Austrians were writing. For nearly a half-century, leftists had been arguing that economic questions should be subordinate to moral questions. More technocratic types argued that the government could solve the economic problem in an apolitical fashion, freeing men and women to pursue their visions of the good life with the resources they needed. What made these arguments possible was the notion that economics and morals occupied distinct spheres.

Hayek understood this threat all too well. (Some libertarians still do.) Economic planners, he said, believe their actions “will apply ‘only’ to economic matters.”

Such assurances are usually accompanied by the suggestion that, by giving up freedom in what are, or ought to be, the less important aspects of our lives, we shall obtain greater freedom in the pursuit of higher values.

It was as if, in the minds of the planners, “economic activities really concerned only the inferior or even more sordid sides of life.” But that vision, Hayek insisted, “is altogether unwarranted. It is largely a consequence of the erroneous belief that there are purely economic ends separate from the other ends of life.”

Mises was equally clear on the matter:

Unless Ethics and “Economy” are regarded as two systems of objectivization which have nothing to do with each other, then ethical and economic valuation and judgment cannot appear as mutually independent factors….The conception of absolute ethical values, which might be opposed to economic values, cannot therefore be maintained.

Instead of separating economic and moral values, the Austrians sought to join and mix them. They further argued that moral values are best revealed, or most likely to be revealed, in the marketplace because it is in the marketplace that we are forced to give something up for them. Deep inside their conception of moral action was a notion of sacrifice—“Moral behavior is the name we give to the temporary sacrifices made in the interests of social co-operation,” declared Mises; “to behave morally, means to sacrifice the less important to the more important”—which was most tangibly demonstrated and viscerally experienced in acts of market exchange.

According to Hayek, morals “can exist only in the sphere in which the individual…is called upon voluntarily to sacrifice personal advantage to the observance of a moral rule.” One must prove “one’s conviction by sacrificing one’s desires to what one thinks right.”  In the economy we are constantly forced to give up something of ourselves, something material, in order to honor our notions of what is right or good. What Hayek calls the “economic problem”—the fact that “all our ends compete for the same means,” which are limited and scarce—provides the best, indeed the only, habitat for that kind of moral action.

Contra Vallier—who claims that Hayek believes that “morality can be expressed in all sorts of ways” and “can be promoted outside of the market”—Hayek states quite clearly that

freedom to order our own conduct in the sphere where material circumstances force a choice upon us…is the air in which alone moral sense grows and in which moral values are daily re-created.

The fact that “almost everything can be had at a price” in the market, that “the higher values of life” are “brought into the ‘cash nexus,’” is not to be regretted, says Hayek, but celebrated. By honoring the notion “that life and health, beauty and virtue, honor and peace of mind, can often be preserved only at considerable material cost,” the economy elevates those values, reminding us that they cannot be had on the cheap. By forcing us “to make the material sacrifices necessary to protect those higher values against all injury,” the economy also serves as divining rod of our morality, revealing to us what we truly believe and value.

What makes electoral politics, by contrast, such a dismal measure of moral value is that politicians promise their constituents everything without asking them to sacrifice anything.

The periodical election of representatives, to which the moral choice of the individual tends to be more and more reduced, is not an occasion on which his moral values are tested or where he has constantly to reassert and prove the order of his values and to testify to the sincerity of his profession by the sacrifice of those of his values he rates lower to those he puts higher.

In this polysemous discourse of value, we see that mix of elements—moral and economic, material and philosophical—that the labor question had galvanized and that the Austrians and Nietzsche in response sought to reorder and rearrange. What divides me from my critics is that they either don’t know or don’t care about that context and the project it provoked. They wish to assimilate the Austrians to a more circumspect tradition, which has little interest in this nexus of moral and economic power and the cultural politics of which it is a part. That’s not an illegitimate enterprise—action intellectuals construct usable pasts for themselves all the time—but it comes at a cost: It cannot account for much of what the Austrians wrote. My critics can hold onto their beliefs by ignoring inconvenient parts of the text, but they run the risk of repeating the mistakes of an earlier generation of Hayek readers. “People still tend to go off half-cocked about it,” Hayek’s editor wrote about critics of The Road Serfdom in 1945. “Why don’t they read it and find out what Hayek actually says?” Indeed.



I’m a historically oriented political theorist who has argued that there’s a surprising unity on the right across time and space. This is a controversial thesis, no more so than when it comes to Mises and Hayek and the followers they’ve inspired on the right. Though I didn’t initially approach conservative defenders of the market with that thesis in mind—for many years, I thought the opposite—I now believe the evidence upholds rather than refutes that thesis.

I recognize the heterodoxy of this reading of the Austrians as well as the perils and pitfalls, which John Holbo has described so well, of my argument about elective affinities. Even so, I’m surprised by the personal nature of some of the criticism I have received. It’s not simply that these critics think I’m wrong. They go further, claiming my alleged errors are signs of my questionable character and second-rate mind. Matt Zwolinski, for example, accuses me (falsely and unfairly, as I pointed out to him in an email) of deliberately misrepresenting data to fit my thesis, an offense “indicative” of more general shortcomings. Goldman accuses me of trying to “dazzle readers who know little intellectual history with a flurry of impressive names.” Like Zwolinski, he sees my article as a symptom of larger failings: “As in The Reactionary Mind, Robin assigns guilt by association (or insinuation).” Vallier agrees with that claim, and chalks it and other supposed lapses up to my “career-long attempt to shoehorn every non-leftist into a single group of people who hate equality.” Jason Brennan has publicly urged Chris Bertram to have me kicked off the Crooked Timber blog because I’m “intellectual corrupt” and my work—a term Brennan surrounds in scare quotes—is “bad in the way that first-year undergraduate essays aren’t up to snuff.”

It’s jarring to hear this kind of talk from accomplished academics rather than mindless trolls. Particularly when their case against me is so flimsy. It would be one thing if I had made errors of the sort that can only be ascribed to epic malfeasance or malpractice. But as I’ve shown, there’s much evidence to support my interpretations. If anything it seems to be my critics who are insufficiently acquainted with the material about which they so confidently pronounce. Even if one disagrees with me about Nietzsche and the Austrians, it’s difficult to see how one could see in the disagreement anything more than an academic dispute: we simply read the texts differently. That my critics would leap so quickly over that interpretation of our disagreement is telling. But of what?

One possibility is that my work unsettles the boundaries so many libertarians have drawn around themselves. (The liberal-ish conservative Goldman is a different matter; in his case, I think the problem is simply a lack of familiarity and experience with these texts.) Like some of their counterparts outside the academy, at Reason and elsewhere, academic libertarians often like to describe themselves as neither right nor left—a political space, incidentally, with some rather unwholesome precedents—or as one-half of a dialogue on the left, where the other half is Rawlsian liberalism or analytical Marxism. What they don’t want to hear is that theirs is a voice on and of the right. Not because they derive psychic or personal gratification from how they position themselves but because theirs is a political project, in which they borrow from the left in order to oppose—or all the while opposing—the main projects of the left.

That kind of politics has a name. It’s called conservatism.



noiselull 06.25.13 at 4:15 am

Corey Robin: Conservatism is…anything that opposes the contemporary “left.”


john c. halasz 06.25.13 at 5:42 am

I think it was less your interpretation of the “Austrians”, though rather strained and unremarkable, given the prevalence of positivist and aesthetist attitudes underwriting the claims of the educated elites (sic) of the time, than your interpretation of Nietzsche that was at issue.


Corey Robin 06.25.13 at 5:53 am

John at 2: Did you read any of the critiques? Of the 20 some-odd formal responses that were posted on the web, which I link to in the very first graf of the OP, exactly one took issue with my interpretation of Nietzsche.


randomdude 06.25.13 at 6:09 am

Hello Corey, I’d like to hear you talk more about your distinction between conservatism and reaction. Specifically, do you think this co-opting from the left is a result of conservatism consciously attempting to ‘stay contemporary’ (that is, simultaneously dismiss and acknowledge criticism) or a result of an incomplete success of previous leftist projects?


Sebastian H 06.25.13 at 6:12 am

The problem is that you try to have it both ways with your elective affinities. You want them both to be highly tenuous, to the point of having no overt connections (leaving you lots of denial-room), and simultaneously linked enough that when you tar one with some bad thing or other you want it to rub off on the others.

Next you take narrow concepts from one bag and mix them with narrow concepts from the other bag and pretend that they are all essentially similar. It is just like when Jonah Goldberg notes that early 20th century progressives tended to have an affinity for eugenics therefore….. (I hesitate to end the sentence with “That kind of politics has a name… but you can go all sorts of places with it).

But that kind of thinking raises a problem with your elective affinities. You seem to want to rip labels out of their historical context and pretend they mean the same thing now that they did then. But progressives were radically eugenicst, and the labor movement progressives were famously anti-black. Opposing those aspects of the progressive movement wouldn’t have been ‘conservative’, but your formulation would tend to label it as such. ‘Progressive’ in 2013 suggest affinities with anti-racism, while ‘Progressive’ in the 1930s included eugenics, forced sterilization of black people, barring black people from good jobs and other forms of very hardcore racism. And that is directly within the movement. I don’t even have to reach to amorphous ‘elective affinities’. Yet I’m pretty sure that if I were to use your methodology to tar modern progressives with eugenics, people here would rightly call foul.

You downplay where libertarianism critiques actual conservatism (command and control, civil rights, personal autonomy). I’m not sure if that is intentional, but it seems like a pretty serious misreading to label it ‘conservative’ just because it has similar critiques of leftism.

Theirs is a voice on and of the right TO YOU, because you don’t care to listen to what they say or worry about what they think.


john c. halasz 06.25.13 at 6:39 am


I was just speaking for myself and maybe a small subset of commenters here at CT. I did read the original “bleeding” post that you linked to way back when. But, quite frankly, I don’t much engage with right-libertarians, since I find them too loopy to argue with. I find the “Austrians” completely wrong, certainly on economics, and much else, but, oddly, interestingly wrong. Though I don’t think their brand of conservatism/market liberalism, (which was already thoroughly criticized by Karl Polanyi), bears much comparison to what is at stake philosophically with Nietzsche.


Rakesh Bhandari 06.25.13 at 7:02 am

Menger is actually not as important as Böhm-Bawerk in terms of value theory because BB rose to defend it and thus sharpened it. As with Engels the whole theory strikes me as ass backward. We are told that the scarcer the commodity, the higher its marginal utility and its market price will be, regardless of the size of its total utility. But of course the greater the labor time required to produce the commodity, the scarcer it is. After all, If man succeeded without much labour, in transforming carbon into diamonds, their value might fall below that of bricks.

I think the critical analysis of Austrian value theory should begin with the critiques offered by Hilderding and Bukharin of the Austrian Finance Minister, the lion of the anti-Marxists. I don’t think Bukharin can be right that Austrian value theory expresses the viewpoint of a cold, calculating rentier class if Austrian value theory actually reflects the aspirations of Nietzschean übermenschen. Either Bukharin or Robin is right. Or perhaps neither is.

The easier link to make is not between Menger, BB, von Mises, and Hayek, on the one hand, and Nietzsche on the other hand. The clear link is between Nietzsche and Schumpeter, and the link can be made in part because Schumpeter was himself somewhat critical of Austrian value theory for its focus on static allocation problems and its respect for the consumer as exogenous to the system, as I showed with quotes in an earlier reply. I am sure we would not have any trouble finding a half-dozen people who have connected Nietzsche and Schumpeter–Eduard März may be one, if I remember correctly.

All that said, one does get a clear understanding of what Austrian value theory is both from the debate Bohm-Bawerk had with Hilfdering (Austrian economics was not just right wing; there were the Austro-Marxists too) and from Bukharin’s critique.

At this stage in the debate, I am not sure at all what Robin understands Austrian value theory to be and how he understands Austrian theorists’ own conceptions of the subjective and objective aspects of value–it does have objective aspects.

I do remember from reading Hilferding and Bukharin fifteen years ago that it is not easy to summarize Bohm-Bawerk’s value theory: value has both subjective and objective aspects in his understanding; he has a theory of time and temporal structure of production which led to all kinds of problems about defining the structure of production and eventually the inability to connect the interest rate to the capital intensity of production due to reswitching and therewith the failure of marginal productivity theory (Samuelson famously conceded this); he has a conception of agio; there are psychological assumptions in the theory.

There is supposedly also a really important non-Marxist criticism of Austrian value theory by von Bortkiewicw who incidentally invented the modern Marxist transformation problem. I never tracked that critique down. The Austrians also received replies from Louis Boudin and Paul Sweezy. When it came to critiquing Marx, Samuelson had to remind his critics that he did not do so from the perspective of the Austrians but on a Sraffian basis.

All this is to say: taking on Austrian value theory is a huge task.


joel katz 06.25.13 at 7:49 am

maybe it was the tendentious, deliberate, selectively affined (to say nothing of intellectually corrupt) misreadings that justify a discrete linkup between a post-christian philosopher in a murderous rage at the ethical-economic polarity of liberalism (conceived as sublimated/secularized christianity) — and a radical liberal economist who affords that polarity (conceived as sublimated/secularized christianity) absolute cosmic primacy?

to call them fascists was probably overkill. as was the pedantic definition of conservativism


Martin 06.25.13 at 8:35 am

I second what Sebastian H has to say @5.

I read your essay and thought that it was bad. Sorry. My guess is that it took a lot of work to read the literature, write it all out and revise. I’ve written bad stuff myself before, the quality of my work there too bore little to no relation to what effort I thought I had put into it. That’s however how the cookie happens to crumble from time to time.

I don’t want to criticize you in detail or re-read what you wrote. The short version of what I remember is that you said Austrians/Libertarians = Nietzsche = Fascists. This was my first and only impression. I haven’t read the criticisms since then, mostly because this is a ‘debate’ I care little for. It was name calling at a higher level, and I am not surprised that the other side responded likewise.

Now I do not know what you intended with it, or what you were trying to tell your readers, but given that you’ve received many similar reactions to mine, “Austrians/Libertarians = Nietzsche = Fascists” is what you told your readers. If your audience didn’t get the message or a large fraction of your audience did not get your message it’s time to sit down, rewrite and revise.


John Cummings 06.25.13 at 10:35 am

Any “paleo-leftists” still out there? I think if the “left” revives, this is what it will take the shape off and will rock the political world.

Seb nailed you on that one.


Metatone 06.25.13 at 11:04 am

Corey, I think Sebastian H reveals the root of a lot of the criticism of you – modern libertarians haven’t formalised their relationship with the Austrian School. Casually they just embrace it – so any reframing of the Austrians feels (to them) like a reframing of modern libertarianism. Now that may be a potential implication, but that’s a different thing to the academic argument about the origins of the Austrian project.

(Perhaps this could be viewed as similar to the question of the “democratic giants” of the US constitution who were happy to write something about universal rights, but keep slaves at the same time?)

In common with another poster, I find the connections between Schumpeter and Nietzsche to be more revealing. The modern libertarian conception of “entrepreneur” is largely derived from Schumpeter.

Of course, I’m hoping most of all that you can extend this line of thought to take an actual critical look at Hayek’s statements/theories of knowledge, which just about every economist type genuflects to mindlessly, but most serious thinkers about systems and meaning find flawed. Perhaps the angle that connects to your current work is that Hayek’s project is to deny that collective action (risk pooling/stockpiling) can ever work as a response to uncertainty. That this flies in the face of just about the entire rise of civilization makes it a very provocative attitude and it’s mysterious quite how it came to be so worshipped in economics.


Martin 06.25.13 at 12:14 pm


Pretty sure that if “the modern libertarian conception of entrepreneur” (what a large collection of adjectives…) whatever that may mean, is derived from someone, it is derived from Mises and Kirzner.

If you then read Mises and/or Kirzner, you will find that “entrepreneur” is a function which can be exercised by anyone in the most mundane of situations. Not sure what this dry piece of theory has to do with Nietzsche and Fascism though.

Also you might want to ask yourself what some of your other phrases mean, such as “formalised their relationship”?


Tim Wilkinson 06.25.13 at 12:26 pm

where libertarianism critiques actual conservatism (command and control, civil rights, personal autonomy)

Oh yeah? Where is that, exactly, then?

Libertarianism has no problem with command and control where that’s exercised via private property privileges, including, if Libertarians are honest enough to actually consider the realities of corporate industrial production, the power of huge corporations whose relatyions to their employees are illegitimately assumed to be analysable as a nexus of notional ‘voluntary’ contracts. ‘The Road to Serfdom’ is a deeply ironic rhetorical move.

On civil rights – libertarianism opposes ‘affirmative action’ and defends individual rights to racial and other discrimination, while taking an infantile approach to criminal and penal procedure, whereby where these matters are considered at all they are assumed to sort themselves out ‘naturally’ or via the market (like Nozick’s vile ‘Dominant Protection Agency’ – it sounds like a mafia because it basically would be – it’s no coincidence that the mob and conservative capitalist constituencies have historically been closely allied where they’re not actually interlocked).

And the Libertarian approach to personal autonomy is purely formal, being a thinly disguised defence of private property, largely defined in opposition to ‘the state’, and resting on a distinction that, in a suicidal footnote to ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, Berlin himself points out is untenable .


Random Lurker 06.25.13 at 12:52 pm

@Sebastian H. 5
sorry, this is completely OT, but:

“while ‘Progressive’ in the 1930s included eugenics, forced sterilization of black people, barring black people from good jobs and other forms of very hardcore racism. And that is directly within the movement.”

I have not a very good knowledge of the history of eugenic tought and racism, but, from the limited knowledge I have of 19th/20th century progressivism things like public education for the ignorant masses was a staple of progressive politics (it is the 10th point of the communist manifesto), while the idea that “intelligence” was hereditary and thus that things like public schools were a waste of time was tipical of right wing politicians.
This in fact was the original “social Darwinism”, the idea that the rich guys are so rich because of their natural qualityes (and therefore equality is not only a pipe dream but morally wrong), that is resurfacing today (!!).
Even on the “racism” part, in Europe this racism is mostly associated with fascism/nazism, that are usually seen as right wing movements. I don’t know about the USA, but I see that the CPUSA was both deeply involved in the first union movement and antiracist ( ), in line with the internationalist (and implicitly antiracist) theories of the communist international.

The only writers of the times that have a quite clear “eugenics and racism” bias are Lovecraft, Howard, and Salgari in Italy, and I would say that they are quite clearly conservatives.

It seems to me that on the opposite the “racism and eugenetics” argument is in favour of Robin’s thesis of a fundamental stability of the divide among “conservativism” (race, blood, and natural predestination) VS “progressivism” (culture, education, internationalism, at least in theory).

As I said I don’t have an extensive knowledge of the history of those ideas, so I would welcome a correction by you, but I ask for some examples of writers/politicians/thinkers who are both clearly progressive and clearly pro “racism and eugenics”.


Nils 06.25.13 at 12:55 pm

Corey, my issue with the original argument is not with the association of the Austrians and their libertarian successor with fascism either in its interwar original form or its postcolonial Latin American form – these are political accusations, rather than intellectual-historical claims, and ones I happen to sympathize with.

My issue is with claiming “elective affinities” with Nietzscheis an inherently weak sort of claim. The reason for this is that Nietzsche is otoriously multivalent and multifarious – indeed, this self-contradictoriness and love of bombastic paradox is the hallmark of his writing, and the central source of its aesthetic appeal, especially to young men: it seems to promise that any sufficiently will-to-power-toting young man can impose any sort of values can be poured into the hollow shell of society. This indeed is precisely the significance of his value subjectivism. Nietzsche can be made into almost anything: there’s virtually nothing he says that he himself doesn’t contradict in an explicit way elsewhere. It’s protean writing at its most elemental.

If you buy that essentially anti-essentialist view of Nietzsche – and its why I think you overemphasize his anti-Socialism, which was one of many different targets Nietzsche chose, and not one that he especially privileged – then trying to make “elective affinities” arguments to Nietzsche just becomes such a diffuse claim that I’m not sure what you actually get out of it analytically. In other words, here’s a philosopher who can mean a zillion different things to different readers, and then you claim that there is a general resonance between his ideas and those of someone else… Uh, what is this actually saying?To put it another way, this claim is so broad that it can be made about virtually ANY 20th century intellectual movement: for any such movement, there is some version of Nietzsche with whom they have some affinity. So you construct your “anti-socialist Nietzsche” and then find the resonances with some other anti-socialists. You’re not wrong, but it risks being almost a tautology.


William Timberman 06.25.13 at 1:03 pm

Unfortunately for the inspired among us, the complex intellectual history of the past couple of centuries forbids us to be naive about certain things that we need to be naive about in order to say anything interesting. Any attempt to extract a pattern here and a trend there and juxtapose them in our analysis is guaranteed a savaging by someone who already has plans to put them to some other use.

It’s interesting in the context Corey has set for us to look at developments of the arts during the same period. Pound seems to have been the sort of revolutionary elitist that Corey is accusing Hayek of being here, while Eliot wound up being less the revolutionary and more the elitist as time — and he — went on, but what are we to make of lonely heroes like Gauguin or Van Gogh, or the attempted union of a heroic subjectivism with socialism that we find in Tatlin and the constructivists, or among the action painters of the 40s and 50s? What can we say beyond the obvious, that the currents were scrambled at the time, and can only be unscrambled in retrospect?

What have we got, though, when we do the work of unscrambling? The post-modern thinkers have a convoluted answer of their own, that none of this comes to very much in the end except what we make of it, and the snake can swallow its own tail if it has a mind to. Like many others, I find this answer interesting, but unsettling, and ultimately not very useful. I do agree, though that systems of explanation have probably had their day, and that insights, however incomplete, will serve us better. Although the miners and bricoleurs, of our day, like Corey, don’t have to erect towering prominences like Kant and Hegel did, or Marx attempted to do. I still find them worth engaging.


Harold 06.25.13 at 1:17 pm

“while ‘Progressive’ in the 1930s included eugenics, forced sterilization of black people, barring black people from good jobs and other forms of very hardcore racism. And that is directly within the movement.”

Citations please.


Tim O'Keefe 06.25.13 at 1:53 pm

Matt Zwolinski, for example, accuses me (falsely and unfairly, as I pointed out to him in an email) of deliberately misrepresenting data to fit my thesis, an offense “indicative” of more general shortcomings.

It’s worth clicking through on the link to Zwolinski’s comment. I’m not going to reproduce it all here, as it’s fairly long. But to recap:

–Zwolinski saw an early draft of Robin’s essay, said he didn’t think many people came to libertarianism via Nietzsche, but pointed Robin to a poll by Liberty magazine that included a question about intellectual influences.
–On his announcement on his blog of the essay’s publication, Robin writes that “Every ten years, Liberty Magazine polls its readers about their intellectual influences. The magazine draws up a list of candidates to vote on. Nietzsche is never on it. Even so, he gets written in each time by the readers. So much so that the editors have been forced to acknowledge on more than one occasion that should they put his name on the pre-approved list of possible influences he might draw more votes than some if not many of the others.”
–Zwolinski notes that in the one year for which the magazine gave numerical data, “Nietzsche is described as having been written in by a bit under 2% of respondents (that is, about 12 people out of 600).”
–Zwolinski says that readers of Robin’s blog would have received a misleading impression of the Liberty results, and he concludes as follows: “It’s a small point. But it’s indicative, I think, of the way Robin approaches these issues. He began his inquiry with the answer already in mind – Nietzsche was an important source of influence for a lot of libertarians. He looked at the data to find support for this belief and, when he didn’t, reported it in a way that makes him sound as though he was right after all.”

So I’m curious as to why Robin thinks that Zwolinski’s accusation is false and unfair, as it initially looks like he has specific and plausible grounds for saying what he did. (NB: this is a genuine and not a rhetorical question, as I don’t know anything about this beyond Zwolinski’s comment itself.)


Richard Allen 06.25.13 at 1:59 pm

I can’t address the assertion that progressives embraced eugenics, but I can say that the “father of eugenics,” Francis Galton, was an ur-elitist. Darwin’s cousin, and a child prodigy, his goal was to encourage the reproduction of people like himself and his family and to discourage the reproduction of their inferiors.


Corey Robin 06.25.13 at 2:15 pm

Tim at 16: Here is what I wrote to Matt in an email (I have removed the name of one individual). Small correction: On this particular issue, Matt wasn’t responding to an early draft of the article I had sent to him; he was responding to a separate query I had made to him about how teenagers come to their libertarianism. Anyway, here is what I wrote to him after he made this comment on BHL:

“I asked you in good faith about the Nietzsche/teenage libertarian connection. You said you didn’t know of anyone and mentioned a Liberty Magazine set of polls, with the hint that they would confirm your point. Had that been the end of it (and after I received your email I thought it was), I would never have brought up the connection in my post, thinking there was probably nothing there more than my own impressionistic experience.

Two things, however, made me reconsider. The first, as I mentioned to you, was that X also confirmed that among certain sub-cultures of libertarianism it was also his impression. And as I also pointed out to you, I assumed your impressions were probably more rooted in an academic venue/setting, while — though I didn’t say this to you — I assumed that X’s were probably based on a wider and more representative range of experiences and libertarian settings. Given who he is, etc.

The second was that I went through those three polls. On the one you cite on BHL, you’re right. Less than 2 percent. On the 2008 poll, however, it was rather a different story. Though the editors didn’t say how many people wrote in Nietzsche — at least not that I could find (and as I just said on Twitter, if I’m mistaken, it was an honest mistake) — they made the point that he was the second most written in and that if he had been on the list of candidates he would have ranked quite high. They said something similar in the 1988 poll.

At this point, when I read the polls more carefully, it occurred to me that the whole list was stacked against a more accurate ranking of influence. B/c the poll sets the terms by listing candidates to vote among, it doesn’t really record a full account. That said, as the editors themselves admit, if his name had been included on the list, it would have been ranked quite high (even without assuming he would have gotten more votes). It also seems reasonable to assume that, if his name had been put on the list, it would have garnered even more votes than it did on the write-in list, thereby pushing him higher.

So that was my thinking. I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one or hide information. Frankly the easiest thing for me to have done was simply to say one person told me N was an influence, another told me he wasn’t (and to have suggested, without naming names, that X might well have a more representative assessment). But I thought the whole in and out of that poll — whose name was included, how the results might have changed if N’s name had been included, etc. — was itself kind of interesting and only pointed it out b/c of that. I could have gone into that in far more detail, but it wouldn’t really have undermined my point and would only have slowed down the prose.”


bob mcmanus 06.25.13 at 2:25 pm

14: I found Randall Collins interesting and useful, especially the last chapter I read on German Idealism. Collins tends to ground ideological change more in material and social conditions than CR, or at least says those three factors overdetermine each other. Collins treats it as a discourse and agon between actual humans, and for instance, Hayek would be attempting to find a competitive niche (against Keynes, Kalecki, Robinson and Sraffa?) with his books. I gather “overdetermine” has replaced the dialectic, at least according to Resnick & Wolff.

Corey Robin mostly just confuses me by isolating conservatives and reactionaries from the broader intellectual conversation. Collis says this is a move that tends to exclude and marginalize ideologies that struggle to find a place in thediscourse and the material benefits from gathering followers:e.g., Hegel attacked Fichte, and Schopenhauer became invisible. I fear CR is attempting to do the same to the “far left” by making the argument between libertarians/conservatives treated as identical and left-center-liberals. Of course, neither of those are the dominant discourses. There can be only three or four.

Anyway back to Fichte, whom I blame for everything.


bob mcmanus 06.25.13 at 2:37 pm

13:Herbert Spencer Political Views followed by “Social Darwinism”

It’s a less direct form of paternalistic racism, based on social evolution. British being of course the most evolved, and “white man’s burden.” Although Spencer wasn’t much of an imperialist.

“Spencer denounced Irish land reform, compulsory education, laws to regulate safety at work, prohibition and temperance laws, tax funded libraries, and welfare reforms. His main objections were threefold: the use of the coercive powers of the government, the discouragement given to voluntary self-improvement, and the disregard of the “laws of life.” The reforms, he said, were tantamount to “socialism”, which he said was about the same as “slavery” in terms of limiting human freedom.”

Nobody much read Nietzsche, but *everybody* (including the mid-Meiji Japanese) read Herbert Spencer, so much so that “progressive” attitudes derived from Spencer became almost invisible. We carry to this day. See also Comte and Mill.


jonnybutter 06.25.13 at 2:53 pm

“while ‘Progressive’ in the 1930s included eugenics, forced sterilization of black people, barring black people from good jobs and other forms of very hardcore racism. And that is directly within the movement.”

There is nothing wrong with positing elective affinities in any ‘direction’ you want so long as you offer not ‘plausible’ (any lawyer can do that) but convincing support. No, you don’t *want* the connections to be ‘tenuous’. You admit the extent to which they are, but you obviously don’t *want* that. And what, precisely, is the alternative? Or rather, does it really make sense to forbid ourselves ever drawing these affinities? Why is it some sort of intellectual malfeasance to describe what you see?

In an imaginary world, Sebastian H. has a strong point. But in the actual world, what matters is that a.) the very hard core racism of which he speaks was the norm for the *entire* Anglo/American-European culture, with some exceptions on both left and right (but mostly left), and, b.) that norm has now lapsed, thank god (at least the *norm* has). Moreover, in the actual world in which we live our lives RIGHT NOW, the vision of Hayek and Mises has had a profound influence. We are floating in a pool based on their design more than on other ones. I guess if you deny *that*, then you might wonder what Robin is going on about. If you do deny it though, I hope you have the excuse of be about 22 years old and ignorant/sheltered from your own history, including recent history.

Otherwise, we are stuck in a pointless rhetorical game of I-say-it’s-a-chair-and-you-say-it’s-a-horse-unless-I-say-it’s-a-horse-in-which-case-you-say-it’s-a-table. ‘Can you PROVE it’s a table?!’ It’s pointless on purpose. Is thatreasoned conservatism?


Jerry Vinokurov 06.25.13 at 3:00 pm

The short version of what I remember is that you said Austrians/Libertarians = Nietzsche = Fascists.

It’s amazing how many people feel totally comfortable posting the more verbose equivalent of “I am too lazy to read and understand what a person has actually written.”


Martin 06.25.13 at 3:05 pm


For something to be the verbose equivalent it actually has to have more words. Just saying.


Katherine 06.25.13 at 3:15 pm

The only writers of the times that have a quite clear “eugenics and racism” bias are Lovecraft, Howard, and Salgari in Italy, and I would say that they are quite clearly conservatives.

It’s a pretty common trope among US forced birthers (I refuse to call them pro-life) that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was an adherent of a soft-ish version of eugenics and wasn’t exactly tip top on the subject of race either (although she didn’t to my knowledge ever advocate forced sterilisation of black people). This is used to accuse the pro-choice movement of perpetrating a conspiracy to commit genocide against non-white babies.

Given the prominence of the abortion debate in US politics, Sanger probably forms a fairly big part of the assertion that progressives used to be eugenicists and racists.


Nick 06.25.13 at 3:17 pm

In the past, I’ve thought I’ve seen similarities between Mises/Hayek’s and Heidegger’s ontologies so I am kind of sympathetic to Corey’s basic intellectual claims. I don’t think it constitutes necessarily anything for libertarians to be ashamed of, although it is always good to be warned about the elitist streak in some of your favourite thinkers. Heidegger’s atrocious politics didn’t stop his theoretical work from making important contributions to Foucault, Bourdieu and Rorty. If a component of modern libertarianism is a branch off that tree, it doesn’t trouble me.

I think Corey’s project certainly has disconcerted some libertarians. But if it has, I think its partly because liberals are already disconcerted by modern libertarians. We look a little bit too much like liberals. We need to be disavowed and distanced (perhaps thats more important for many than being refuted). Hence the demand for the sort of work that Corey is doing.

About two-thirds of self-indentified American “liberals” apparently approve of NSA surveillance. I think that shows that there is space for a more stridently state-sceptical liberalism that I think the best forms of libertarianism constitutes. I don’t think an elective affinity with Nietzche, or some readings from Hayek, subtract from that.


bob mcmanus 06.25.13 at 3:21 pm

20:the vision of Hayek and Mises has had a profound influence. We are floating in a pool based on their design more than on other ones. I guess if you deny *that*, then you might wonder what Robin is going on about. If you do deny it though, I hope you have the excuse of be about 22 years

I deny it, and I am really really old.

Bourgeois liberal capitalism is the ruling idea, and is at least three hundred years old. Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard (and Nozick) really didn’t add that much to the ideas of natural rights and property, individual liberty free from state interference, freedom to trade and contract. Discredit those four and you will not be left with Rawls, Marx, and Keynes in utter domination. You will be left with Marshall, Walras, Samuelson, Friedman…and Obama. And Max Weber.


Corey Robin 06.25.13 at 3:26 pm

Bob at 18: “Corey Robin mostly just confuses me by isolating conservatives and reactionaries from the broader intellectual conversation.” You might be less confused if you actually read my book. The whole point of my argument — you can see a shorter version of it in the last piece I link to in the OP — is that the right borrows from the left. It’s not at all isolated from the broader conversation; it’s intimately involved in it.


Nick 06.25.13 at 3:30 pm

Bob: absoutely, but then why does anyone have to be in charge? Real-world policy regimes are not the product of any particular design.


Sebastian H 06.25.13 at 3:31 pm

I’m rushing off so I’m going to have to just name check. It feels like asking for proof that historical Progressives tended toward extreme racism is like asking for cites that the earth is round, but if you really want to know about it:

Beatrice Webb

The Fabians in general (see especially discussions about unfit workers).

Senator Carter Glass: “To remove every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate”

John R. Commons (with Teddy Roosevelt and Senator Robert M. LaFollette).

Jack London (yes the author): who said that he was a white man first and a socialist second

Woodrow Wilson and the explicit segregation of the DC workforce.

US labor unions all over the place and their explicit banning of black workers from joining the union.

Victor Berger “there can be no doubt that the negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race—that the Caucasian and even the Mongolian have the start on them in civilization by many years.”

Margaret Sanger (Planned Parenthood founder) on her hope that contraception could keep down the population of racial inferiors.

Senator Benjamin Tillman: proponent of the free silver movement and well known Progressive politician: A huge supporter of the public education movement, he said this: “When you educate a negro, you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”

Edward A. Ross

My point is not to tar the current progressive movement with this. I don’t want to get sucked into who counts as real Progressives and who doesn’t. Corey’s methodology is problematic when definitions and understanding change over long periods of time, and seems very insensitive to the fact that when movements draw from each other they take PARTS and discard other parts. But at least within movements like the Progressive movement you can trace that and see it happen. The US Progressive movement cast off most of that in the 1950s and probably all of it by the 1970s. But even then it can turn into muddled guilt-by-association if you aren’t careful. Extending that to ‘elective affinities’ with people who didn’t even associate and don’t even talk about one another very much strikes me as even more dubious.


Corey Robin 06.25.13 at 3:33 pm

Sebastian at 28: “Corey’s methodology…seems very insensitive to the fact that when movements draw from each other they take PARTS and discard other parts.” Yeah, what I said at 26. If you’ve actually read my work, you’d know you’re completely wrong.


Fu Ko 06.25.13 at 3:47 pm

Herbert Spencer is your “progressive”?? Ridiculous. Spencer is practically synonymous with libertarianism. Just look at the way Oliver Wendell Holmes used his name. Murray Rothbard even called Spencer’s Social Statics “the greatest single work of libertarian political philosophy ever written.”


Fu Ko 06.25.13 at 3:50 pm

Uh, disregard that, I forgot who was who.


jonnybutter 06.25.13 at 4:04 pm

I deny it, and I am really really old.

OK, I guess the pool was a bad metaphor because it was bound to be misconstrued. Ho hum. You deny that Mises and Hayek specifically have profoundly influenced the world we live in right now?


Joshua Holmes 06.25.13 at 4:16 pm

I suppose “Hayek and Nietzsche: Third Cousins Once Removed” wouldn’t have had the same ring to it.


Harold 06.25.13 at 4:19 pm

“Senator Benjamin Tillman” — progressive?


You might as well say that D.W. Griffith was a “progressive.”


Harold 06.25.13 at 4:20 pm


bob mcmanus 06.25.13 at 4:39 pm

32:Herbert Spencer is your “progressive”?? Ridiculous. Spencer is practically synonymous with libertarianism.

Which was my point, Spencer being a much better place to start than Nietzsche, for any number of reasons.

You deny that Mises and Hayek specifically have profoundly influenced the world we live in right now?

Yes, I do.

Apple keeping its profits overseas because…Hayek? The ECB and Monti studying the entrails of embalmed Rothbard to determine how much austerity? GWB’s CEA, like Mankiw and Feldstein, wrote their dissertations of Hayek’s moving triangles? Ken Rogoff an admitted disciple of Mises?

I read thirty economics blogs a week, and Hayek is mentioned on CT more often than I encounter the name in a year on econoblogs.

Libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism do not rule my world. What world are you living in?


jonnybutter 06.25.13 at 4:40 pm

I suppose “Hayek and Nietzsche: Third Cousins Once Removed” wouldn’t have had the same ring to it.

Yeah, it wouldn’t because it would be a metaphor. You’ve see a lot of people ridiculing Robin for trying to do quite a bit better than metaphor. Nice.


Rakesh Bhandari 06.25.13 at 4:50 pm

In terms of Austrians’ hostility to the labor movement being expressed in their (economic) value theory, has anyone actually read Hilferding’s and Bukharin’s critiques of Bohm-Bawerk? The arguments are far deeper than what is being said here. There is also no death of work on Schumpeter’s debt to Nietzsche or on how Schumpeter’s political values are disturbingly elitist.


Rakesh Bhandari 06.25.13 at 5:03 pm

As for hostility to the labor movement, I showed Godard’s Tout va bien yesterday only to read this headline when coming back to the office
Updated June 24, 2013, 10:27 p.m. ET
Chinese Workers Hold Executive Captive in Office

BEIJING—The co-founder of Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies has
been held since Friday in the executive quarters of his factory on the
outskirts of Beijing, he said. About 80 of his 110 employees are
blocking doors and locking gates, refusing to let the 42-year-old
entrepreneur go until they get severance packages, according to Chip
Starnes, the co-founder.


Jerry Vinokurov 06.25.13 at 5:12 pm


For something to be the verbose equivalent it actually has to have more words. Just saying.

I did you the favor of quoting only a small part of what you wrote. I too am lazy sometimes.


Martin 06.25.13 at 5:32 pm

Jerry, is that a tacit admission that you did not read what I wrote? ;-)

My point was that the essay was bad bad bad. I remember reading it and thinking why did Corey need so many words to call Austrians/Libertarians Fascists? Perhaps I did not understand his point, but why then did a whole lot of people read the essay the same way as I did? Nine out of ten times, when the message does not come across the problem is with the writer, not with the reader.

Sure, perhaps the problem is with the reader. Perhaps it’s all just a psychological reaction. Perhaps it’s their lack of familiarity with the material. Perhaps it’s [insert another ad hominem]. Or perhaps all of this is just grown-ups acting as kids and calling each other names. That’s how it comes across to me at least….

Corey: Austrians/libertarians are fascists.
Readers: You’re a poopyhead.
Corey: You just don’t understand why you’re facists.


bob mcmanus 06.25.13 at 6:00 pm

I remember reading it and thinking why did Corey need so many words to call Austrians/Libertarians Fascists?

I don’t think it is about fascism. At least directly.

Herbert Spencer is your “progressive”??

Hell yes, for 1860. For example, the “New Men” of Japan, the tozama samurai who could never get the high positions dominated by fudai attainers, and who claimed legitimacy after the Restoration, loved their Social Darwinism and meritocracy. (Never mind the anachronisms)

The point is, if you ask your hedge fund trader to justify his wealth, he is not going to claim ten generations of noble blood, he will use some variant of social darwinism and meritocracy. Herbert Spencer.

So why is Robin going back to irrelevant arguments about race and inherited or innate privilege that have been discredited and removed from the any acceptable discourse for 100 years?

I do find this an interesting question.


jonnybutter 06.25.13 at 6:07 pm

Libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism do not rule my world. What world are you living in?

I live in the same world everyone else does – including you, notwithstanding how many blogs you read. It is not a ideologically deist-clockwork world. Things can always be worse.


William Timberman 06.25.13 at 6:18 pm

joel katz @ 8

…selectively affined (to say nothing of intellectually corrupt) misreadings that justify a discrete linkup between a post-christian philosopher in a murderous rage at the ethical-economic polarity of liberalism (conceived as sublimated/secularized christianity…

Murderous…? Well, if we make allowances for overworked metaphors, this could probably be justified, but intellectually corrupt is a bit over the top, IMNSHO. Nietzsche escapes condemnation as a proto-fascist in my pantheon largely because he was quasi-uniquely aware of the tension between the moral apologetics and lifelessness of the greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number collectivisms administered by bureaucrats of church and state, and what was actually required for the birth of the new into human consciousness. I also find the the exuberance and the aptness of even his most ill-tempered observations refreshing, especially after suffering decades of earnestness from bureaucrats and Eurocrats of all persuasions. Genius doesn’t excuse everything, but at very least, it ought to inspire critics take off their hobnailed boots before wading into the thicket….


Sebastian H 06.25.13 at 6:20 pm

Corey, I have only read what you presented here and in previous posts. If there is more nuance elsewhere I freely admit I haven’t read it. The argument as it is,is too broad and speculative for my taste. As noted above, your approach could ‘link’ to almost any social movement.


Harold 06.25.13 at 6:30 pm

It was a major trend in the early twentieth century, along with a belief in “Progress”, to proclaim the advent of the “new man. ” This was common to fascist, leftist, and humanist thinkers at the time. The fact that virtually everyone shared this overall outlook does not collapse important distinctions among different schools of thought.


Lee A. Arnold 06.25.13 at 7:13 pm

I still understand Nietzsche’s work as an attempt to salvage artistic transcendence (or its possibility) as some sort of sacred function, after the sacred was removed by the linguistic turn of the Enlightenment (since Vico) plus the inversion of the Great Chain of Being to the bottoms-up evolutionary approach, which still work together to remove all logical justification for the sacred from knowledge and culture. God is dead, so what must a Superman be? To me, this is just another step in German philosophy’s slow intellectual reinvention of the practical methodology of the Advaita Vedanta, and Nietzsche was one of those many people who go onto the mystical path unbeknownst to themselves, then reinvent only half of it, and end up sick in bed then dead, instead of released. (The other half is, “stop thinking”.) Nietzsche’s great virtue is that he wrote incomparably. And I still think that Nietzsche would have deplored Hayek.


Henry Moore 06.25.13 at 7:15 pm

In line with what Rakesh Bhandari’s comment near the top: the clear line to draw between Nietzsche and Austrians would be to Schumpeter (who was nearly as much influenced by the German historical school as he was by the Austrian school). An even clearer line could be drawn to the Austrian Ludwig Lachmann and his followers, the radical subjectivists so-called. The point of Mises’ and Hayek’s theories was not morally relativism, like Nietzsche or Stirner or the hermeneuticians or the radical subjectivists, it was value free science.

If there was a color pallet with each color a distinct ideology, and then you took a giant brush and swirled them together, that would be a good illustration of what the political spectrum really looks like. For example, individualist anarchists, who I think should be considered members of the classical liberal tradition, combined the ideas of “conservative” “elitists” like Stirner and Spencer, with those of Proudhon and Godwin. The point being that bold pronouncements like “these here are conservatives,” “these here are liberals” are unfounded.


Shatterface 06.25.13 at 7:46 pm

The most significant opposition to both left- and right-wing enthusiasm for eugenics and/or social Darwinism came from Peter Kropotkin – very much on the libertarian left.


Jerry Vinokurov 06.25.13 at 8:09 pm


Jerry, is that a tacit admission that you did not read what I wrote? ;-)

No, I read it twice to make sure I didn’t leave out anything important.

Here’s the thing. You can disagree with a lot of what Corey wrote, obviously. Maybe he’s wrong about Nietzsche or maybe he’s wrong about Hayek or whatever. Those are disputable points all. What I’m saying is that if you think his essay (and response) is reducible to:

That’s how it comes across to me at least….

Corey: Austrians/libertarians are fascists.
Readers: You’re a poopyhead.
Corey: You just don’t understand why you’re facists.

then I find it hard to believe that you seriously understood what it was about. That’s just not what was going on there at all, and reading it this way shows a real laziness about engaging the substance of what he wrote.


Bruce Wilder 06.25.13 at 8:25 pm

I am sympathetic to CR’s project, and the basic themes that the Right has succeeded, intellectually, by erecting a Romantic, Heroic narrative framework, which accesses some deep emotions, and by borrowing emotive language and concepts from the Left and re-using it. [From my personal obsession with economics, I would add that conservatives won in economics, by taking the methodological battles very seriously, which most liberals and socialists never did (Marxists being the exceptions that prove that rule).]

Still, I often feel unmoored, when reading Corey’s essays. The Nietzsche idea was particularly disconcerting; like others here, I did not recognize the alleged text, in Corey’s reading of N. Nietzsche was a bit of a Being There figure, who entered the Zeitgeist, perhaps because of the very parodic language he used (and, of course, because he claimed to be the Zeitgeist), and influenced everyone, while leading no one.

I’m not sure what ideas, particularly political ideas, are supposed to accomplish, either for individual psychology or for the collective mind(s) contending for control of the body politic, or what the medium of transmission, which would give them a genealogy might be, in CR’s framework.


Martin 06.25.13 at 8:53 pm

Jerry – 53

“then I find it hard to believe that you seriously understood what it was about. That’s just not what was going on there at all, and reading it this way shows a real laziness about engaging the substance of what he wrote.”

As Corey remarks in the post above

“it’s difficult to see how one could see in the disagreement anything more than an academic dispute: we simply read the texts differently. That my critics would leap so quickly over that interpretation of our disagreement is telling. But of what?”

We simply read the text differently ;-). Now if I were to be an isolated case who read Corey as making this connection between Austrians/Libertarians and Fascists, you could dismiss my simplification of this ‘debate’. Apparently though that’s not what has been going on.

Furthermore, my reading of the text also seems to have more explanatory power. Corey’s piece – intended or not – was just a sophisticated way of calling other people fascists. The other side apparently responded to it by calling Corey all sorts of names, some in a more sophisticated way than others apparently. My reading meshes nicely with reality if we only assume that people respond to name calling with more name calling. Seems like a reasonable assumption.

Now in your and Corey’s defense, you could argue that the other side consists of mentally unstable illiterates, which seems to be the working assumption here, but that would be just more name calling. At least my explanation does not assume anything about either side that’s less charitable than it assumes on the other side.


Bruce Wilder 06.25.13 at 8:59 pm

Sebastian H @ 30 gives some examples of “progressive” attachment to some fairly authoritarian ideas (e.g. eugenics). This gives me a perfect example of the effect of being unmoored.

If my idea of the essence of the conservative impulse is an attachment to authoritarian domination and hierarchy, then I have a true north and a compass that can find it, no matter the cross-currents of history unfolding.

With that sense of “conservative”, then Tory and Whig, Reactionary and (classical) Liberal are both recognizably “conservative”, though they embrace different sets of ideas, because they have different attitudes toward the eclipse of feudalism by capitalism.

Historically, as the Second Industrial Revolution got underway after 1825, and in the aftermath of the political upheavals circa 1830 and 1848, conservatisms and liberalism both began to fork. “Conservative” prior to 1830 was pretty much identical with reactionary, and many liberals were the simply non-reactionary conservatives, who embraced Reform as a necessary adjustment, even a desirable adjustment to favorable developments. Wellington was a reactionary on most subjects; Peel, not quite so much — they were both conservatives.

Some naïve students of American history look at the radical Republicans, who prosecuted the Civil War and enacted the 14th amendment, and then wonder at that Party’s embrace of the Gilded Age. But, Lincoln was the conservative leader of the conservative wing of a conservative anti-slavery party, a corporate lawyer, who made his fortune representing railroads. The Progressive Movement of the early 20th century was lead by conservative reformers, so the fact that it embraced a lot of paternalistic and authoritarian ideas should surprise no one. Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover — the Progressive Presidents — were conservatives! Nelson Aldrich, the patriarchal Senator who gave his name to Nelson Rockefeller, and was a principal force behind the income tax and the Federal Reserve, was also a partner with Leopold in the rape of the Congo — he was a conservative!

If the ideas of 21st century conservative libertarians sound like Turgot, maybe they are the same ideas, and the austerity of the Eurocrats is rooted in the faith Turgot founded. And, maybe, Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill represent different forks in that same tradition.

And, maybe, it is all an illusion — seeing patterns in the clouds, which, on close enough examination, reveal not structure, but an enveloping fog.


Jerry Vinokurov 06.25.13 at 9:05 pm

The fact that a bunch of other people were lazy too is really not my problem. If, with apologies to Dave Barry, you decided to write an interpretation of Moby Dick which claimed that the whale represented the Republic of Ireland, you would indeed be “reading the text differently,” but I can’t say that your interpretation would have any value.

If you’re looking for the actual connection between Austrians and fascists, I would imagine that there’s plenty of other Robin material that would keep you busy. That’s not what his Nietzsche essay is about; if that’s your takeaway from it, then your claim to understand any of it is dubious on its face, and your recourse to “differing interpretations” might as well read “words have no meaning and therefore anything anyone writes can mean whatever I want it to mean.”

I don’t understand why this essay causes such problems for people. It’s like they can’t be bothered to read words straightforwardly set forth on a page or something. Or, less charitably, they are not actually interested in what those words mean but what they think they ought to mean.


Martin 06.25.13 at 9:26 pm


I have no dog in this fight. If you want to believe that the “heretics” who disagree with the “canonical interpretation” of Corey’s text are evil/lazy/stupid, then you’re free to do so. It however won’t help you to understand why so many people got so upset over this piece.

Corey is preaching to the choir here. Of course nobody of the choir is going to get upset when the heretics are labelled as evil fascists. They probably won’t even notice. This piece only strengthens the beliefs of those who already agree with Corey. It has zero effect outside.


adam.smith 06.25.13 at 9:59 pm

I can’t speak for Corey, but I would be surprised if his intention were to change minds on the right or among right-ish libertarians (if it is, I’m with you and his strategy is rather misguided). My reading of the normative goal of his larger project is to change views among the left about the nature of conservativism and right-wing libertarianism. And very much not everyone on the left agrees with his reading – you can read his spat with Sheri Berman for an example.


Andthenyoufall 06.25.13 at 10:02 pm

Corey – thank you for writing these excellent and informative essays. The very model of how to eviscerate one’s critics.


WNY-WJ 06.26.13 at 12:38 am

The essay “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” seems to have a plausible thesis and much supporting detail. It reads as a kind of work when once read, it is difficult to refute out of hand. Many critics of a libertarian bent, who un/consciously find ideological affinity and/or inspiration from the so-called Austrian school of economics, will undoubtedly be repulsed by an essay suggesting commonalities between the nihilism of Nietzsche (and his hope for a new “superman” who would create new values without regard for what Nietzsche held to be a decadent European culture) and marginalist economists, who believe(d) that markets should solely determine values via supply and demand at the last unit exchanged, which at the turn of the 20th Century required a transformation of European society without reference to then-current values/culture. All in all, a satisfyingly cogent essay, but it will no doubt feel like sand in the eye to many. Perhaps this is a reason for the stream of critique – some better thought out, some merely knee-jerk responses.


Freude Bud 06.26.13 at 12:50 am

Nils @ 15 I think makes the best critique, Nietzsche is a bit of a Rorschach test. He regularly contradicts himself, and outside of The Genealogy of Morals can hardly be said to have made a single sustained argument about nearly anything … even in his earliest work. All kinds nowadays claim him as an intellectual lodestone from anarchists to mercenaries to common criminals to garden variety liberals. And, they have a point, he has elective affinities with all of them.

That said, I still think Lee Arnold @ 50 is right when he says that he thinks Nietzsche would have deplored Hayek.


LFC 06.26.13 at 1:17 am

On the question of early 20th cent ‘progressives’ and eugenics, which has come up in this thread though it has nothing to do w the main topic:

Eugenics was in the air in the late 19th early 20th cents. Therefore you are going to find progressives (under some definition) who flirted or more w eugenics. David Starr Jordan thought the US shd stay out of WW1 b.c war killed the “fittest”. What does this tidbit of intellectual history prove? Virtually nothing. It shows eugenics was in the air in that era. Period. Or take G.B.Shaw. Again, it is evidence of nothing except that eugenics was much discussed and quasi-respectable and some people fell for it. Shaw had lots of other hobbyhorses as well, some sensible, others not so much.

Btw why aren’t historians of political thought, or historically-oriented political theorists (to use Corey’s self-description), interested in Shaw any more? Man and Superman anyone? (Talk about a great send-up of Nietzsche!)


This Keyboard Kills Fascists 06.26.13 at 6:45 am

Corey’s essay was not about “libertarians = fascists,” but he also does not try to disguise the fact that he thinks libertarians = fascists. Libertarians will inevitably think he’s trolling them, and maybe he is, but mainly they’re just not his audience.


SamChevre 06.26.13 at 1:46 pm

I find the argument hard to follow because it seems like fascist is being used in its modern sloppy sense, rather than its more-precise historical sense. Fascism was in opposition to both national and international socialism; using fascist to refer to national socialism makes a very confusing argument.


Rakesh Bhandari 06.26.13 at 2:33 pm

I remain surprised that there was zero attention to the Marxist criticism of Austrian value theory especially because Robin sees it as a response to the labor movement! Just to signal the difference: Marxists have criticized Austrian value theory (1) not for putting ubermenschen above the rest but for effacing the institutional and class structure of capitalist society by reducing everyone to abstract ahistoric individualists who vary only in their psychological preferences which are given before society (to some extent Popper took the Austro Marxist side of this debate over the Austrian economic school in his chapter on pscyhology in The Open Society) and (2) for putting the consumption choices of persons understood in radically individualistic, ahistoric and asocial terms before the study of the historically determinate production relations.
The defense of bourgeois society is just not direct but indirect by transhistoricizes its structure and effacing class and situational dynamics.
The Marxist argument is actually a lot more subtle than Robin’s which is a rather crude accusation against Austrian value theory.

Just weird that given the attempt to read Austrian value theory as a response to the labor movement, there was no recognition of the actual Austrian theorists of that movement who at the time were much more politically powerful than the Austrian economists–that is, until 1934


mds 06.26.13 at 3:20 pm

Nick @ 27:

But if it has, I think its partly because liberals are already disconcerted by modern libertarians.

In praising the US Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act yesterday, Ilya Shapiro referred to Congress exercising its authority under Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment as “extra-constitutional.” I would suggest that “disconcerted” doesn’t go nearly far enough.


Barry 06.26.13 at 3:50 pm

mds, could you please link? I’m lazy and want to mock him.


Barry 06.26.13 at 3:52 pm

LFC 06.26.13 at 1:17 am

” On the question of early 20th cent ‘progressives’ and eugenics, which has come up in this thread though it has nothing to do w the main topic:”

There’s an overriding point – people like Sebastian have to go back a century to find equivalents. Pinochetian Hayhekians/libertarians are a current matter.


mds 06.26.13 at 4:16 pm

Barry @ 68:

It’s from The New York Times, whose staff are presumably disconcerted as always by how a right-libertarian opinion looks so much like a reactionary liberal one:

The Supreme Court restored a measure of constitutional order by recognizing that the exceptional conditions that justified the extra-constitutional federal oversight of state election laws no longer exist, thankfully.

[Emphasis added]

That and more are available in a post by disconcerted liberal Steve M.


Rakesh Bhandari 06.26.13 at 4:29 pm

As many of us agree, there are important and interesting differences between Hayek and Schumpeter. Earlier I noted Schumpeter’s review of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. The simplest way to read S’s criticism is this: Hayek is not proto-fascist but reactionary in the objective sense of trying to return the world to a state it has outgrown. Schumpeter thought there was no chance of a return to Gladstonian liberalism in the dark days of WWII. Given the chaos of the 30s, he thought the world move in the direction of New Dealism, German fascism or Soviet collectivism. Interestingly, Schumpeter preferred the last to the first. I think Schumpeter, obviously Nietzschean in important ways, would have preferred Hayek being more proto-fascist rather than liberal. Alas, the problems with Keynesianism allowed for the resurrection of radical liberal individualism…at least in ideological terms. So Hayek gets something of a last laugh at Schumpeter’s expense.


Harold 06.26.13 at 4:32 pm

Man and Superman was written in 1903 and not representative of the 1930s. I think WW1 put an end to superman — machine guns were the great equalizers.

It could be that fascists, being generally more conservative than leftists, as well as actively repudiating rational thought (as tainted by the enlightenment), were more mired in ideas of the past, generally speaking, including the heroic “great man” idea, which as I noted, antedated Nietzsche. They were also more communitarian, according the late-nineteenth-c German theories of the state as a heroic, corporate “person.”


Rakesh Bhandari 06.26.13 at 4:42 pm

Back to Methusaleh would be the Shaw play to look at here, right?

By the way, I would recommend again to the CT organizers that they stage a reading of Plant’s book on neo-liberalism, given the interest in such issues here. It’s a model critique of Hayek and Nozick (Oakeshott too). It’s partly remarkable for how clearly it states Hayek’s defense of negative liberty and critique of social justice before offering patient thorough replies.

The CT organizers may also want to think of expanding the horizons of this list a bit more, so that the only person complaining about life under the jackboot of American imperialism is not from Australia, as strong as his voice has been.


LFC 06.26.13 at 5:22 pm

Back to Methuselah would be the Shaw play to look at here, right?

I was being a bit flippant. It’s been a long time since I read Man and Superman and I’ve never read Methuselah. But you’re probably right.


JGabriel 06.26.13 at 6:45 pm

Tim @ 17: Zwolinski notes that in the one year for which the magazine gave numerical data, “Nietzsche is described as having been written in by a bit under 2% of respondents (that is, about 12 people out of 600 … So I’m curious as to why Robin thinks that Zwolinski’s accusation is false and unfair, as it initially looks like he has specific and plausible grounds for saying what he did.

Tim, I looked at the 2008 version of the Liberty Poll (PDF, pp 32-42 for influence results), which was the most recent version I could find.

In a poll where Ayn Rand leads among poll-listed listed writers with 3.7%, I think it’s fair to characterize a 3.8% write-in response for Nietzsche as significant, and fairly characterized as influential.


Wonks Anonymous 06.26.13 at 6:58 pm

Stirner a conservative elitist? He was a socialist “Young Hegelian”, who palled around with Marx & Lenin and tried to form a co-op (which failed). His “ego” is not a Superman, special because he’s better at any particular thing. The ego is unique merely because it is the one that is me. And once the workers realize that the law of God, king & legislature is just a “geist” tricking them into serving some cause they wouldn’t choose for themselves, they may seize the property of the wealthy for themselves.

It also wasn’t obvious to me that Hayek’s talk of morality through making a choice forced on us by material circumstances must be an economic one. Does the trolley problem not fit? Voting is also a choice, although you could choose not to vote and let others do the heavy work. Choosing not to do anything in the trolley problem is itself a choice though.


Harold 06.26.13 at 8:02 pm

Our high school put on Back to Methuselah or excerpts from it, back in the day. It was written c. 1918, BTW. I remember not understanding it. Wikipedia says that it is about (Lamarkian) evolution (i.e., “Progress” or Providence, if you will).


Richard W. Crews 06.26.13 at 9:09 pm

Libertarians should lean Left

Excepting primaries, most elections are binary, Democratic or Republican; leaving Libertarians where? Libertarians are denied their platforms, yet vote Republican.

I see 3 major Ron Paul platforms and little actual Republican agreement. Republicans are rabid for war with Iran and are to the right of most Israelis on Mid-East matters. Democrats and Republicans both have heavy deficit spending, but the Dems seem to understand economics better and face it more responsibly. I must spend words to mention the Republicans inhumane lack of sympathy and decency as policy. It may be fiat money, but Democrats get something for it like infrastructure and economic stimuli; Republicans empower the already wealthy, And Paulites can forget about abolishing the Fed – ain’t gonna’ happen from either side. That leaves individual Liberty. Republicans are in our bedrooms and wombs, legislating the difference between conception and implantation while disregarding the woman’s opinion. Legislating who can marry who.

I see National Health Care as a basic of Modern Freedom, Freedom to change jobs, leave to care for loved ones, free to be an independent entrepreneur or student without fear of medical financial disaster. I see it as a modern Freedom. It elevates our citizens to world-class level.


LFC 06.26.13 at 9:19 pm

Wikipedia also says that it’s basically Shaw’s one real effort at, or brush with, science fiction, which presumably shd interest some people here. Certain of Shaw’s ideas are bonkers and, in eg the case of Lamarckian evolution, completely discredited, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth reading…


LFC 06.26.13 at 9:20 pm

sorry, double negative. note to self: don’t do that.


Anderson 06.26.13 at 9:24 pm

“He regularly contradicts himself”

It’s to the credit of Maudmarie Clark and others that they have debunked this Jasperian notion of N. in large part.


Jacob McM 06.26.13 at 11:27 pm

re: a note about racism, eugenics, left-right, etc.

I think one should make a distinction between the kind of implicit or explicit racist assumptions which were prevalent in Europe until the mid-20th century, and racialism as an ideology, which takes those assumptions and turns them into the primary factors directing human history and politics. While people on the left certainly held racist assumptions, racialism as an ideology was almost entirely a right-wing phenomenon.

The major figures who espoused it — Arthur de Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Jules Soury, Ludwig Woltmann, Georges Vacher de Lapouge, Alfred Ploetz, Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, et al. — were all associated with the right-wing, and these were the people who influenced the chief Nazi racial theorists like Hans F. K. Günther and Richard Walther Darré, the Vichy race laws, etc. Lapouge and Ploetz started out as socialists, but once they adopted racialism, they began attacking egalitarianism, democracy, liberalism, individualism, welfare programs, and abandoned the left altogether, though they retained the materialist outlook of their socialist days. Grant and Stoddard collaborated with Margaret Sanger and were sympathetic to the birth control movement, but this was largely for eugenic reasons, not out of support for female emancipation. Most of their efforts were directed toward enacting immigration controls to keep out “undesirables.”

Support for eugenics was indeed a bipartisan affair as was opposition to it, coming from certain left-radicals like Kropotkin as well as Catholics like G.K. Chesterton.


Harold 06.27.13 at 12:34 am

You had to be “radical”, because at that time, racism was “scientific”– supported by people like Louis Agassiz of Harvard, Ernst Haeckel and many others.

Add to those who didn’t go along, Alfred Russel Wallace and Franz Boas and his disciples: Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.


Tom 06.27.13 at 9:21 am

Nice read, thanks, Corey.

Only one point of clarification. The Austrians were marginalists but marginalism in economics then took a life of its own (and many economists since then have looked down on the aversion to math by Hayek and others). One can defend the market, or at least some aspects of it, based, among other things, on marginalist considerations without endorsing the conservative mindset from which marginalism was historically developed (indeed, one can find marginalist considerations in Dworkin’s work, with the idea of the auction at the center). I do not think you were necessarily denying this but I think someone can read your post as doing so.


Magpie 06.27.13 at 7:17 pm

Jason Brennan (a month ago):

“Chris, you should really consider kicking Robin off the blog.
“I’m not convinced that he’s not just pulling some sort of extended Sokal Hoax on the pseudo-intellectual Left.”

Chris Bertram (a month ago):

“You’re crossing a line there Jason. I’m hardly surprised you don’t like Corey’s work, I often don’t like things posted here. But I wouldn’t dream of telling you who should be part of your blog. So back off.”


I don’t know about you, but I find that there is something deliciously ironic in libertarian Brennan’s censorship request…

Or, maybe Brennan is just trying to pull “some sort of extended Sokal Hoax on the pseudo-intellectual” Libertarian Right, while proving Robin’s point.

To be on the safe side, I’ll just say: “Jawohl, mein Fuehrer!”


Barry 06.27.13 at 7:35 pm

mds: “The Supreme Court restored a measure of constitutional order by recognizing that the exceptional conditions that justified the extra-constitutional federal oversight of state election laws no longer exist, thankfully.”

Please re-read your Constitution (and if you’re going to call the NYT a voice of liberalism, please note that they supported the Iraq War, and still won’t call torture by the US government ‘torture’).


Barry 06.27.13 at 7:37 pm

“In a poll where Ayn Rand leads among poll-listed listed writers with 3.7%, I think it’s fair to characterize a 3.8% write-in response for Nietzsche as significant, and fairly characterized as influential.”

Then again, we live in a world where ‘Dianetics’ is a best-seller – IIRC, by the simple expedient of members of the CoS buying copies and returning them through the CoS.


Barry 06.27.13 at 7:40 pm

BTW, I went and read No More Mister Nice Blog – the f*cking NYT piece was written by a CATO ‘scholar’. Not liberal at all, and ripped to shreds by Scott Lemieux here (

“Ilya Shapiro has a somewhat longer piece attempting to defend Shelby County v. Holder. Along with Roberts’s majority opinion, it’s as effective an argument against the outcome of the case as any rebuttal could be. Let me start with what Shapiro doesn’t mention:

Section 2 of the 15th Amendment
Any constitutional provision the Voting Rights Act violates”

It’s amazing what the ‘liberal’ NYT considers to be worth publishing.


Scott 06.27.13 at 8:24 pm

It’s easy to pick on old Libertarians (just as easy as it is to pick on all the Western leftists who endorsed Stalin) – they found themselves caught between a left they believed (correctly in many cases) was a terrible threat to human lives and human liberty and a right they hated almost as much. Many of them made some terrible, terrible compromises in hopes of getting closer to their ideal. This is true of the left as well.

Libertarians are not conservatives. Conservatives like all things as they used to be, leftists like nothing the way it used to be and libertarians like some of them. To clarify: when I say the way things used to be I mean early-mid Capitalism (think 18th century), which is the baseline against which these theories developed. The left took a courageous line in resisting privelage and imperialism, libertarians stand with that. There remains the line to hold defending the ability of capitalism (but let’s use Adam Smith’s term, commercial society) to generate prosperity and freedom and to alleviate human suffering; this is what libertarians are for. Conservatives don’t particularly care about a free commerical society – they like stability at all costs. Hence the conservative-left alliance in the corporatist countries of the world.

Sorry for the long post; I don’t often comment here, as my posts always get too long – you all come up with too many interesting thoughts. Summary: you can’t lump libertarians in with conservatives. I know it would be easier. Sorry.


Erik Davis 06.28.13 at 12:54 pm

I agree that intellectual histories of fin de siècle Vienna have repeatedly overlooked the Austrian School, and I hope that you will continue in your efforts to acknowledge and contextualize it. I also agree that the Austrian School can largely be understood in terms of a radicalization of the subjective theory of value. However, Mises and the Misesians would have been a far better point of reference for Nietzsche’s Children than “Hayek and the Austrian School”. The main point of reference would be Mises’s “The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality” (, which makes obvious use of a Nietzschean sense of resentment and envy. There is some counterpoint even within that work, but it largely supports your thesis. Hayek has many differences with Mises; Hayek made several concessions to the emerging welfare state of his time; and Hayek was even despised by Ayn Rand. For example, Hayek was hesitant to equate success on the market with any morally superior achievement. Indeed, *Hayek argued precisely that because they are not the outcome of human design, general market outcomes could be not morally assessed*. I’m afraid that this example alone largely undermines your thesis as far as Hayek is concerned. However, by adjusting your target to Mises and the Misesians, I think that you may furnish some insight into the Austrian School.


bianca steele 06.29.13 at 2:28 am

OP: The idea that the worker drives not only the economy but culture and society as well

Wait, what? Don’t remember that in Schorske but it’s nice to have a CT poster who’s read him.


Erik Davis 06.29.13 at 2:43 pm

In the article you write that “economists like Mises and Hayek pursued a different path, one Nietzsche would never have dared to take: they made the market the very expression of morality.” I have to admit that, after rereading your article, I feel that I may have misunderstood you. I thought that you were suggesting that the market as a whole was a moral order that could be evaluated in terms of good and bad. Hayek would certainly disagree with that. However, I think that you are making a different argument: “While progressives often view this discourse of choice as either dime-store morality or fabricated scarcity, the Austrians saw the economy as the disciplining agent of all ethical action, a moment of—and opportunity for—moral artistry. Freud thought the compressions of the dream world made every man an artist; these other Austrians thought the compulsions of the economy made every man a moralist.” You suggest that the Austrians’ radicalization of the subjective theory of value culminates in their subjectivist sense of individual moral choices. There is certainly truth in this, and the widening of marginal utility theory to accommodate moral choices was made perhaps most implicitly by Bohm-Bawerk, then most explicitly by Ludwig von Mises’s development of praxeology. (I think it’s unfortunate that you do not treat Bohm-Bawerk at length in your article, especially his extended critiques of Marx; see, for example,; this really gets at some key issues regarding the labor theory of value vs. the subjective theory of value; perhaps we can discuss that later.) The Austrians had their own unique brand of what is now commonly termed “economic imperialism”; it wasn’t mathematical like much of contemporary rational choice theory, but it did seek to expand economic understanding of choice beyond merely producing and consuming material goods; Mises suggested that the subjective theory of value applied to everything (see, for example, his treatment of value in part one of “Theory and History” [])

I must say though that, stepping back, Max Weber captured much of the dynamic about which you are writing, far more so than Hayek or Mises; Weber was clearly aware of and influenced by Nietzsche and fully acknowledged marginal utility theory; Weber’s own sense of purposive human action in terms of ends and means had deep affinities with the praxeology of Ludwig von Mises; even more important, Weber saw both the freedom and the danger of losing all anchors of individual choice; that is, Weber saw the possibilities and the dangers in a fully expressed ends-means rationality.

Stepping still further back, I’ve long wished that others would do a serious study of the Austrian School in relation to the so-called existentialist philosophers. The philosopher Barry Smith explored the relationships between the first–Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, and Wieser–and second–Brentano, Meinong, and Ehrenfels–schools of Austrian value theory in his books “Austrian Economics: Historical and Philosophical Background” and “Austrian Philosophy” ( Don Lavoie and others explored the much later phenomenological hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur in relation to the work of Hayek and Mises (see Lavoie’s edited book “Economics and Hermeneutics”). However, few scholars have addressed the ideas of the Austrian School in relation to phenomenological existentialists–Heidegger, Sartre, Jaspers, etc.–who came after Husserl, Meinong, Ehrenfels, and Brentano, but who came before Gadamer and Ricoeur. I think that the labor theory vs subjective theory of value tension you point out certainly became problematic among phenomenological and existential attempts to incorporate Marx, but only implicitly, perhaps never explictly. That is, existential Marxists–for example, the later Sartre and the early Marcuse–unwittingly took a subjectivist theory of value from the phenomenological tradition and tried to integrate it with the labor theory of value from the Marxist (or classical) tradition. I always thought that was why their attempts were not very successful. Certainly, exploring the Austrian School in relation to Nietzsche could only facilitate a project of exploring the Austrian School in relation to existentialism in general, and I hope that you will continue research along these lines.

In any case, Mises and the Misesians are still a better target for your comparison with Nietzsche than Hayek. Perhaps you could also consider Hans Hoppe’s Hoppe argues that monarchy is better than democracy, though he ultimately prefers anarcho-capitalism to both.


Substance McGravitas 06.29.13 at 4:12 pm

Libertarians are not conservatives. Conservatives like all things as they used to be, leftists like nothing the way it used to be and libertarians like some of them.

That is so wonderfully stupid I will remember it forever.

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