Hayek on intellectuals and the Nazis

This week in my Contemporary European Philosophy course, we are reading Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944 at the height of World War 2.

“It is a common mistake to regard National Socialism as a mere revolt against reason, an irrational movement without intellectual background. If that were so, the movement would be much less dangerous than it is. But nothing could be further from the truth or more misleading. The doctrines of National Socialism are the culmination of a long revolution of thought, a process in which thinkers who have had great influence far beyond the confines of Germany have taken part. Whatever one may think of the premises from which they started, it cannot be denied that the men who produced the new doctrines were powerful writers who left the impress of their ideas on the whole of European thought. Their system was developed with ruthless consistency. Once one accepts the premises from which it starts, there is no escape from its logic. It is simply collectivism freed from all traces of an individualist tradition which might hamper its realization.” (p. 167)

roadtoserfdom-200px Which thinkers and powerful writers does Hayek have in mind? He has named Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche as the major 19th-century influencers. But isn’t it too much to expect politicians to read philosophers? Did Hitler actually read Hegel and Nietzsche? Perhaps. (Though we know that Dr. Goebbels was well read in them and a great admirer of Marx.)

So of great importance were the transitional thinkers of the generation from 1900 to 1933, the year the Nazis came to power. In Chapter 12, “The Socialist Roots of Naziism,” Hayek devotes a few paragraphs each to Werner Sombart, Johann Plenge, Friedrich Nauman, Paul Lensch, Moeller van den Bruck, and Oswald Spengler. All of them were steeped in combinations of Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, and all of them were socialists; but their value-added (so to speak) was as public intellectuals and as intellectual activists who applied the abstract theories to the particular German context.

National Socialism, then, as Hayek reads it, resulted from over a century of intellectual and development: Germany’s brightest minds developed the theory and laid the cultural groundwork for the Nazi political transformation.

Quotations on Nazi socialism and fascism [pdf], which is Appendix 2 of Nietzsche and the Nazis.

25 thoughts on “Hayek on intellectuals and the Nazis

  • April 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    So why did Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche’s work find such fertile ground in the popular mind? The elaborators and popularizers would not have found acceptance for their enthusiasms if there weren’t something about it that people wanted. I’ll posit that this “something” is a very basic human need–a very human need to feel part of something larger than one’s self, part of something that will continue beyond our own life, to feel a valued part of something immortal.

    How does Objectivism allow for this need?

  • April 4, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Neil, I don’t think those needs are well answered by turning society into an anthill serving a megalomaniac tyrant, by oppression, persecution, inquisitions (e.g. to root out left and right deviationism under Stalin, Mao, et al) and genocide.

    Collectivism used the fact that we are social beings as a pretext for tyranny and enmass enslavement, weaving man’s most benign feelings for others as a noose to hang him and them with.

    More foundational than Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche was Kant. His denial of the ethical concept of the self – the individual in the first person – proved the sine qua non for the political attack on the individual and individual rights that led to the inferno of modern collectivism. Individual rights become anti-social selfishness. “Du bist nichts; dein Volk ist alles!” – “You are nothing; your people is everything!” – famously declared the Nazis.

    He had hollowed out what was left of the ethical self; Hegel filled the empty mold with fervid state worship.

    As others have pointed out the Gulag, Holodomor, Great Terror, Holocaust, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, Qey Shibir and Killing Fields were not natural disasters on the order of plagues, earthquakes and meteorite strikes but ideologically driven catastrophes.

  • April 4, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Neil, I didn’t really answer your question. One thing genuine liberalism does NOT do is impose utopian (including “spiritual”) norms on its citizens by violence. It holds that responsibility for their lives and purpose lies within each individual.

    In contrast to virtually every other political theory in history – from ‘The Republic’ of Plato to the ‘divine right’ of Christian monarchs to the Caliphate of Islamists to the received revelations of Hegel and Marx – Enlightenment thinkers held that the coercive apparatus of the state was to be restricted to protection only: It was not a tool to be placed in the hands of utopian visionaries. Their influence was to be limited to persuasion and voluntary cooperation only. America was conceived as a polity free of coercive utopians – a prescription for utopia if I’ve heard one.

    Mussolini disagreed: “In Fascism the State is not a night-watchman, only occupied with the personal safety of the citizens.” 1929 (Thanks Stephen).

    Alexis De Tocqueville noted that Americans were forever forming associations, and marveled at their social cohesiveness and mutual support.

    A free creative citizenry has always proven the most dependable fount of the great cooperative achievements of mankind from symphony orchestras to skyscrapers to spacecraft to the moon, planets and stars. Think of what a writer feels on seeing his book in print, an architect on seeing the building he designed as part of a city skyline, a scientist like Banting or Salk on seeing the fruits of their research save millions of lives.

  • April 4, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    One final point: I’ve felt that what I call “F-U individualism” is in fact a product of the welfare state. Caring and compassion are now the government’s job: that’s what I pay my taxes for.

  • April 5, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Without Marxism, sponsored by the Zionist Rothschilds, aka “The Society of Just Men”, and fostered by “useful idiots” all over the world, there would be no Fascism, which seeks to destroy Marxism in all its forms. Yes, Fascists oppose “capitalist” (by which they mean Jewish-financed) business as lacking in humanitarian interest, the latter including folkish identity and culture. Marxism begins with a lie, has no religious thrust (save the State as God), and is fed by further lies and violence. Ironically, such “politics” makes the Fascist position credible : people say to themselves, “I’d rather have this order than that order.” Moreover, Marxism is founded on the uncultured masses whose appetites are most fleshly — religion being an “opiate.” Let’s also not forget that Marx wrote, “The children of Israel shall have everything…the man in the street will tip his hat to them…” It all comes down to a careful elite.

    The reader should note that Zionists/Marxists are not generally endorsed by the rabbis of the world — most Jews would rather live down the block and loan money, be doctors, or extort money (be lawyers).

    Money and money-lending did not achieve its worldwide power until the end of the 19th century, and these powers were established by WWI. Now, we have the Federal Reserve Bank printing paper which will destroy the US dollar, and what after that? “Communism” may be dead but is Marxism? Goebbels admired Marx but was soon convinced by Hitler than Fascism was right. Let’s not forget Europeans do not have the political sagesse of the British or the Americans. Very few electorates have the manipulative wisdom of the international bankers — after all — they must know human weakness better than anyone. But it’s happening again in America — the left wing is setting up Obama as re-electible (sans limit) and the Right is buying guns and Bibles. Which gang will win? How can Satan cast out Satan?

  • April 5, 2013 at 11:36 am


    I pretty much agree with everything you said, but you didn’t address my question. Objectivism is not the same as Enlightenment thinking, although they are related. Enlightenment thinkers largely held that religious belief (specifically Christian or pseudo-Christian) was essential to liberty.

  • April 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Neil, many Enlightenment thinkers were deists or atheists, fighting to end fifteen centuries of carnage perpetrated in the name of religion, faith and God. The liberties they won were achieved precisely by fighting against Christianity, both its doctrines and institutions. Locke professed belief, but Jefferson despised it as irredeemable.

    I thought I had answered your question – to the extent that I accept its premise – particularly in the last two paragraphs of my second entry above.

    As to the suggestion that Christianity is essential to liberty: The Enlightenment must be seen in the context of the fifteen hundred years of barbarism that preceded it: A history that began with the early Church fathers’ almost successful attempt to obliterate the Greco-Roman heritage – a history characterized by ignorance, superstition, brutality, penury, hypocrisy, intolerance, persecution, pogroms, Inquisitions, witch-hunts, perennial sectarian strife, “holy wars,” genocide; the censure of reason, nature and sexuality; the apologetics for tyranny, privilege and serfdom; the hostility to medical advances from the dissection of corpses to anesthesia to contraception; the orgy of violence unleashed against Jews, Muslims, aboriginals but most of all: fellow Christians. Though Christians were also on the forefront of the struggle against these evils e.g. writing admirable chapters in the struggle against slavery.

  • April 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Objectivism posits satisfaction for the capable and the successful. What about the hopeless, or simply down-on-their-luck? What will be their solace? In my opinon, this is Objectivism’s Achilles’ heel, one which ensures that we will find very few people embracing Objectivism as part of a career in public life unless and until the gap is filled.

    I did mention “pseudo-Christian”, which I intended to include deism. And even the deists or suspected atheists embraced the idea that most people would have to be religious in order to have a free society.

    Example: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” -John Adams

  • April 5, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Where have the poor had it better than in (semi) capitalistic societies? In Marxist? Fascist? Pre-industrial Europe? Third World? Theocratic?

    “By nature” said Thomas Aquinas, “all men are equal in liberty, but not in other endowments.” Egalitarian redistributive schemes seek to provide, not equality of liberty, hence of opportunity, but equality of results, which can be done only by penalizing the more gifted, motivated and productive.

    As many have noted they treat economic goods as natural resources: a limited “pie” to be divided without regard for the thought and labor that produced them. Every society that attempted to practice this “noble ideal” killed the goose that laid the golden egg, leaving itself with nothing but oppression, stagnation and misery to spread around. Penalizing those most responsible for society’s well being is neither rational, just, nor good economics.

    It’s understandable that this notion would have enjoyed respectability in an age when concentrations of economic wealth had little to do with thought and labor and everything to do with state-mandated privilege, but there is far less excuse for it today – although in the corporatism caused by increasing interventionism we find again such disassociations of thought and labor with wealth. But in rewarding, by the voluntary decisions of a buying public, those who contribute the most, all, including poorest and least able, benefit. Though the rise of interventionism is making it less and less the case, in better times the average Western worker reaped the benefits of a standard of living far in excess of what he could have achieved on his own living in isolation: enjoying his house, plenty to eat, 4 X 4 truck, color television, advanced medical care, a broad variety of educational, entertainment, recreational and cultural options and, above all, opportunity: with education, work, an original idea, he or his children could travel unlimited economic roads unrestrained by barriers of race, class and creed.

    As for Adam’s comment: I wonder if Jefferson and Madison would have agreed. The fifteen centuries of religion dominated politics before the Enlightenment suggest a different case could be made.

  • April 6, 2013 at 11:10 am


    Again, I agree with almost everything you have said, except for the last paragraph.

    However, you are focused on the material, and my question concerns the moral. Certainly, free-market capitalism provides material rewards for everyone far in excess of any other system, and spiritual rewards for the busy and productive. But “ye have the poor always with you” and usually in large numbers. What is their place? As far as I can tell, Objectivism says their place is to “get out of my way”. Perhaps to sit in front of their big-screen TVs, made by the competent and provided with content by the creative, and to make no trouble. But that way lies bread and circuses, as we see around us today.

    People have a deep need to have a place in society, in some way. If enough people fail to gain a productive place in society for long enough, they will rise up and take an unproductive position–by force if need be. Religion is one way to give hope to the hopeless, and for people to feel that they have value regardless of their place in society. Please note that I am not saying that Christianity is the only way to do this, but that the function of religion is one which must be filled. What is Objectivism’s answer to this need?

    On Jefferson, he seemed to subscribe to the idea that religion is necessary in order for each member of society to be essentially self-governing–just like most of the Founders. I think this is a good summary of his thoughts about religion in society, regardless of his personal beliefs on the matter:

    “According to Jefferson, the duty of men toward each other was the most important aspect of morality, and Jesus was man’s greatest teacher regarding morality. Jesus’ moral ideas were needed for mankind to progress and ensure liberty, happiness and good government.”
    Jefferson and religion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *