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Remembering a Great Man: Friedrich A. Von Hayek

Remembering a Great Man: Friedrich A. Von Hayek

The statist demagogue, writes Hayek, appeals to “hatred of an enemy” and “the envy of those better off” to gain the “unreserved allegiance of huge masses

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Despite some remarkable, global progress for freedom in recent years—from the collapse of the Soviet empire to the growth of “privatization”—there is no sign yet of a shortage of state worshipers with silly schemes. The best explanation of why and how such people get into positions of power is still found in “Why the Worst Get on Top,” which is chapter ten of F. A. Hayek’s masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom.

This month, we note the 123rd anniversary of Hayek’s birth in May 1899. A champion of the Austrian School of Economics and Nobel laureate author of many works on economics and political theory, Hayek was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century. His blistering critique of collectivism of all varieties should be required reading.

When Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom in 1944, the world was captivated by the notion of socialist central planning. While almost everyone in Europe and America decried the brutality of leftist isms such as fascism and communism, public opinion was being shaped and molded by an intelligentsia which held that these “excesses” of socialism were avoidable exceptions. If only we make sure the right people are in charge, said the socialist intellectuals, the iron fist will wither away.

Those who, in Hayek’s words, “think that it is not the system which we need fear, but the danger that it might be run by bad men,” are naïve utopians who will forever be disappointed by the socialist outcome. Indeed, this is the history of socialism—the endless search for a place where the dream might actually be made to work, settling on a spot until disaster is embarrassingly apparent to all, then blaming persons rather than the system and flitting off to the next inevitable disappointment.

Perhaps someday, the dictionary definition of “socialist” may read, “Someone who learns nothing from human nature, economics, or experience, and repeats the same mistakes repeatedly without a care for the rights and lives of people he crushes with his good intentions.”

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Even the worst features of the socialist reality, Hayek showed, “are not accidental byproducts” but phenomena that are part and parcel of socialism itself. He argued with great insightfulness that “the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful” in any society in which government is seen as the answer to most problems. They are precisely the kind of people who elevate power over persuasion, force over cooperation.

Government, possessing a legal and political monopoly of the use of force, attracts them just as surely as dung draws flies. Ultimately, it is the apparatus of government that allows them to wreak their havoc on the rest of us.

Hardly a day goes by that, a half-century after Hayek wrote, the newspapers fail to provide new examples of the worst getting to the top. Putin in Russia and Maduro in Venezuela are among the most egregious, but Biden in America is hardly a model that inspires confidence either.

In his “Why the Worst Get on Top” chapter, Hayek says of the central planner or “potential dictator,” that “he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.”

Think Hayek was a little too harsh? Read “The XYZs of Socialism” and think again.

The statist demagogue, writes Hayek, appeals to “hatred of an enemy” and “the envy of those better off” to gain the “unreserved allegiance of huge masses.” For Putin, it’s Ukrainians. For Maduro, it’s capitalists. For Biden, it’s “the rich” or “MAGA people” or “the unvaccinated.” State worshipers often employ bigotry to accumulate and retain power.

Hayek observes “an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups. To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behavior as individuals within the group.”

Give government lots of power and silly people who have little tolerance for the lives and views of others will line up to get government jobs. Those who respect others, who leave other people alone, and who want to be left alone themselves, apply elsewhere—namely, for productive jobs in the private sector. The bigger government gets, the more the worst get to the top of it, just as Hayek warned us in 1944.

To appreciate the wisdom of F. A. Hayek more fully, check out these articles:

Marxist Group Attempts to Cancel Hayek at London School of Economics.

Myth: The Economy Needs Central Planning.

F. A. Hayek on the Supreme Rule that Separates Collectivism from Individualism.

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