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 6, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Just a quick response in lieu of time.

    I think the key issue is how do we view the state in all this? Is “meaning” to be forced on people’s lives by it? Are “their” goals to be defined by it?

    “Get out of my way” was uttered by John Galt in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ not to the hopeless poor but to the collectivist rulers who were destroying America, and – like collectivists everywhere – multiplying the numbers of the hopeless poor exponentially.

    I think much of the spiritual malaise of the West is philosophical i.e. the reaction to the Enlightenment that dominates its ivory towers resulting in a vacuum increasingly being filled by mindless materialism, hedonism and fundamentalism.

    As for religion, I side with these words excerpted from George H. Smith’s ‘Atheism: The Case Against God.’

    “Finally, there is the philosopher or psychologist who, while openly admitting the irrationality of theistic belief, actually recommends it as a kind of therapeutic device designed to give emotional aid and comfort to mankind – thus lending support to the myth that the average man is emotionally incapable of facing facts.

    “It is my firm conviction that man has nothing to gain, emotionally or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable or sacred that falsehood may appear. Anyone who claims, on the one hand, that he is concerned with human welfare, and who demands, on the other hand, that man must suspend or renounce the use of his reason, is contradicting himself. There can be no knowledge of what is good for man apart from knowledge of reality and human nature – and there is no manner in which this knowledge can be acquired except through reason. To advocate irrationality is to advocate that which is destructive to human life.”

  • April 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    I understand Objectivism’s appeal to rationality. But the fact is that there are always going to be winners and losers in any society, and the price paid for losing is not just material–it is moral. As far as I can tell, Objectivism offers nothing, zero, bupkus for the losers except possibly a little material comfort. No purpose in this life, no path to redemption, no great hereafter in which to receive one’s reward for playing by the rules and losing.

    My contention is that such a philosophy is unlikely to be widely accepted, and further that a society conforming to such a philosophy will be highly unstable. Those who do not share in society’s purpose, having no other way to participate in society, will find their champions in collectivism. Bread and circuses must be the result.

    I’m asking to be proven wrong–what does Objectivism offer as consolation to those who fail? What is their place in an Objectivist world?

  • April 6, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Objectivism and genuine liberalism in general offer freedom. In pre-Enlightenment times the ‘losers’ were the wretched masses that comprised most of the human race, artificially created by privilege, with much of that ‘excess’ population simply dying off.

    Liberalism doesn’t promise meaning, purpose or happiness. It says these are your responsibility, not the state’s. Politically it simply provides the necessary precondition: liberty. That is the best soil from which potential solutions will sprout. And greatest facilitator of authentic social cohesion.

    But I think much of the impetus to religion and later socialism is psychological. It was and is the hope that a religious or political system would answer unmet primal psychological needs, particularly from childhood i.e. God or the state as the beneficent benign parent one ought to have had. Hence (at least part of) their intense irrational appeal.

  • April 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Re: Objectivism appeals to rationality, but…

    It is important to note that religion, particularly politicized – including the militant secular political faiths of the 20th century based on received revelations of prophets like Hegel and Marx – has also been the greatest enemy of the heart i.e. of feeling. Because it is such a fragile house of cards it requires extreme political and psychological repression to maintain, hence emotional spontaneity is a threat to it.

    When one can’t offer reason and evidence one must serve up threats and violence in their stead e.g. lurid depictions of perdition and the Inquisition.

    Many speak of the dichotomy between reason and emotion, the mind and heart e.g. the German Romantics (who canonized the neurotic artistic prima donna). This is bullstein in my view, and almost invariably an indicator of dishonest intentions.

    Reason in effect is the sight of the mind. Its task is simply to tell us what IS. Then we feel about it. There should no more be a conflict between our mind and heart than between our literal eyesight and heart.

    Sometimes our intuition gloms onto something that conflicts with our reason, possibly a connection our subconscious mind has made. But at that stage it is not knowledge, but a clue like any exterior clue that may lead to it. Scientists differentiate between hunch, conjecture, hypothesis, theory and knowledge. Einstein said Relativity initially came to him as an almost aesthetic intuition. But again at that stage it wasn’t knowledge. His achievement consisted in bridging that ephemeral ‘right brain’ intuition into a hard ‘left brain’ equation. That’s very different from the man who says, “Mah Lord Jay-sus, ah buh-leeeeeeeve!!”

    Reason and emotion are different parts of the psyche, but in a healthy person complimentary, integrated and balanced.

    Boy, I like to hear myself write…

  • April 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    In my opinion, it is incorrect to dismiss deep-seated and universal human needs as “…unmet primal psychological needs, particularly from childhood….”

    I must circle back to my original point–that everybody has a deeply-felt need for a valued place in society. Many, if not most, people will fail to achieve an inherently valued place. This is just part of being human. If a society does not assuage this need in some manner, then those left behind will tear the society apart rather than let that need go unmet. Whether that’s right or wrong is immaterial–it just IS, as you say.

    Any philosophy which has pretensions beyond academe must address this need, but I have never heard an Objectivist willing even to acknowledge its importance. Still haven’t. So, I guess I have my answer.

  • April 6, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Re: “I must circle back to my original point–that everybody has a deeply-felt need for a valued place in society.”

    What better than a free society to achieve this?

    Ludwig von Mises noted that it is by the division of labor that the individual vs society dichotomy is resolved. Every individual serves society and thus himself through his work i.e. a person who studies for years to become a doctor. This is just on the economic level, but solid economic foundations will facilitate the rest. The welfare state and socialism devastated America’s family, community and societal cohesion.

  • April 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    The topic of this thread, as given in the Hicks Boson, is the relation between philosophy preceding Nazism vis a vis the economic stance of Hayek. Most of the above remarks do not relate to this theme, but are a Nathaniel Branden type discourse on Objectivism, which did not surface until well after the accumulated effects of Marx, Hegel, and Kant. My point was registered as Marxism, sponsored by world Zionism, was the de facto cause of Fascism. Obviously, the philosophical ammo needed would come from Enlightenment thinkers. The implementation of Marxism took place through Lenin in Russia. The masterminds on the German General Staff thought that, by releasing Lenin from Switzerland back into Russia, he would subversively defuse the Russian war effort, which was already dying out. This is somewhat like the Lord Halifax et al group which gave Hitler a head start in destroying Bolshevism which threatened the British Empire more than Germany. Chamberlain was not the fool as portrayed. It is nice to theorize about what German intellectuals fueled “National Socialism” but you don’t find philosophy in MEIN KAMPF. Likewise, when you put on a Wehrmacht uniform, learned philosophy will hardly assist you in killing the next Tommy, Ivan, or poilu.

  • April 10, 2013 at 2:12 am

    Stephen: Heck, might as well continue with my NB style rant.

    I don’t think policies conceived and implemented by key players pop into their minds sui generis. Rather – even if the players are unaware of the origins of the notions they act on – they are end products of long developments of thought embodying constellations of implicit premises, some more foundational than others. The most foundational are generated by philosophers: abstract, ivory tower, pie-in-the-sky philosophers.

    The issue of ideas and power are intimately related. Corollary to the issue of power – both in its ability to survive and thrive in its environment and in relation to other societies – are a society’s core ideas and values, which either empower or disempower it. For example a society that deems unfettered scientific inquiry and technological innovation heretical will find itself at a marked power disadvantage before a society that esteems them. Or to hold that a claim of direct revelation from a deity trumps all rational criteria of proof and claims of rights will produce a very different society, polity, hence policies than to hold that no one has the right to exempt their claims from rational assessment and foist their notion of spirituality on others by violence; as to hold private property an institution of class exploitation that ought to be abolished without delay in favor of state ownership, apportionment of goods and administration of the means of production will produce a very different society, polity and policies than to hold it the cornerstone of liberty and civilization. All these will yield different degrees of power for their respective societies.

    I prefer the definition of philosophy as the study of foundational ideas, which, in its broadest sense, includes religion – those core concepts that form the soil from which all others grow, the root premises from which sprout a society’s ethics, values, government, laws, institutions, policies, culture, science and technology (if there are to be such).

    Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany were produced by a tradition broadly marked by its hostility to every core Enlightenment value i.e. by its anti-rationalism, anti-individualism, anti-liberalism, statism, militarism and enmassment of society by collectivism – from socialism and communism on the left to the racist, nationalist völkisch (volk or folk) movements of the right. Politically a decisive, often explicit rejection of the Western ‘bourgeois’ liberal tradition it laid the foundations of 20th century totalitarianism in its Nazi, Fascist and socialist-Marxist incarnations.

    Much as they fancied themselves polar opposites rightist and leftist totalitarians were two offshoots of the same philosophic root. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini for example began as a socialist and shaped his theory of Fascism deeply influenced by, among others, the syndicalism of Marxist’ Georges Sorel. Later Pol Pot, heavily influenced by the writings of Marx and Lenin, the French Communist party (which he joined as a student in Paris) and Maoism would blend Marxian and rightist völkisch elements into a genocidal program to realize a classless, ethnically pure Khmer society.

  • April 10, 2013 at 3:20 am

    William L. Shirer in his mammoth landmark study ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ is worth quoting:

    “[Hegel’s] is the subtle and penetrating mind whose dialectics inspired Marx and Lenin and thus contributed to the founding of Communism and whose ringing glorification of the State as supreme in human life paved the way for the Second and Third Reichs of Bismarck and Hitler. To Hegel the State is all, or almost all. Among other things, he says, it is the highest revelation of the ‘world spirit’; it is the ‘moral universe’; it is ‘the actuality of the ethical idea … ethical mind … knowing and thinking itself’; the State ‘has the supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the State … for the right of the world spirit is above all special privileges …’ …As one reads Hegel one realizes how much inspiration Hitler, like Marx, drew from him, even if it was at second hand. Above all else, Hegel in his theory of ‘heroes,’ those great agents who are fated by a mysterious Providence to carry out ‘the will of the world spirit,’ seems to have inspired Hitler … with his own overpowering sense of mission.”

  • April 10, 2013 at 4:28 am

    Your remarks on Hegel I find highly relevant. But he must be one of the ten worst philosophers in history. Nietzsche I regard as a poet/prophet. He held a degree in philology. My suggestion to Stephen Hicks was that the German milieu and the nature of the Teutonic animal (“the Hun”, as our British confreres would have it) is soldierly but appealing with its “Spartan” idealism. In ancient Greece the Spartans were admired for their direct dealing. That Mr. Hicks, for example, can concoct a series of ideological cause and effect, often very convincing, does not mean this deliciously objective view pertains to historical fact. It is worth repeating that the bogeyman here is Karl Marx, who wicked partnership with Engels produced an opiate from the propaganda poppy : that you can live off other people, that the human condition is besotted with penury, that the State (thanks, Mr. Hegel) can do all. This view is a perversion of the Christian charity which pervaded Europe for centuries. WWI dealt a body blow to Europe and the Great Depression threw all those who fought in “the war to end all wars” into pacifism or Fascism. Hitler was most influenced, when you get down to it, by the political writings of Richard Wagner. For those who believe Wagner (and, maybe, me!) to be an incorrigible anti-Semite, should read JUDENTUM IN MUSIK. Germany has long been the haunt of philosophic types who preach Rudolf Steiner (reincarnation guru) then Nietzsche then Hegel then Schopenhauer then Fichte then Sartre…it’s their way of showing off their extra cortical agglutination. That many Germans were induced into Nazi enthusiasm because of these varied ruminations can hardly be argued. But it was the Great Depression which put Hitler into power. He was a political genius, like it or not. He was one month short of defeating Stalin. Then all the muck came back up the drains. My point being that the philosophical effect in this is marginal, and that one major unexplored factor is the collapse in the Christian religion, which took place in WWI. “GOTT MIT UNS” “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” When bishops bless battleships and say “KIll Germans” something is wrong. Another factor is that WWI was a WORLD WAR. Never happened befo’. WWI is the cause of WWII, pure and simple.

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