Twice Hayek

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Considerations on the most influential right-wing thinker in the XNUMXth century

This month marks the 1930th anniversary of the death of Friedrich Hayek. For various reasons, Hayek was the most influential right-wing thinker of the XNUMXth century. I'm not saying the most provocative, but the one with the greatest impact: after all, he was the central pillar of a long-term project to renew liberalism, a project started in the XNUMXs and still ongoing, and usually called neoliberalism.

I take advantage of the event to share two curious stories from his most widely read and well-known book, The Path of Serfdom, 1944. The book is often considered a pamphlet, and indeed it is, as Hayek conceived it as an instrument of political struggle to prevent a Labor Party victory in the 1945 British elections. of Hayek in the conservative campaign (a kind of backfire). The second traces a curious quote from the book that indicates a very unusual and far from academic or honest way of dealing with sources (an insane cordless phone).



If Hayek was successful in his life project – the renewal of a certain liberalism – in his collaboration with the conservative party in the 1945 elections, he did not do well. The pamphlet's central argument is that socialism, which Hayek identifies with economic planning rather than collective ownership of the means of production, is the road to serfdom.

According to him, this is what happened in Germany. She would have started to embrace socialism with Bismarck, and, on a kind of slippery slope, this led her to Hitler. Hayek understood both Nazism and the Second Reich as a form of right-wing socialism (something that only became an oxymoron much later).

Well, the message was clear: if Labor won in the United Kingdom, in a short time the British would be seeing disasters similar to those of the Germans. The Conservative Party appreciated the book and endeavored to popularize it: it promoted a condensed edition and ceded part of its paper quota (a scarce product due to World War II) to allow for larger print runs. In gratitude, Hayek changed the epigraph, taking a sentence from Hume and putting one from then-candidate Winston Churchill.

So far, nothing more. The election was still open, with weak favoritism for Clement Atlee. But just then comes Hayek's contribution: the inspiration for a radio speech that became known as the Crazy Broadcast from Churchill. On national radio, on the night of June 4, 1945 (a month before the vote), the Conservative candidate stated: “No socialist government conducting the whole life and industry of the country could afford to allow free expressions of public discontent. , strong and with violent words. They would have to resort to something like a Gestapo, no doubt humanely directed at first" (Churchill).[I]

The phrase sounded very bad to undecided ears (well aware of the militancy and participation of the Labour Party in the fight against the Nazis). The next day, Clement Attlee counters: "I won't waste time on such a theory, which seems to me to be a second-hand version of the academic views of an Austrian professor - FA Hayek - who is now very popular in the Conservative Party".

Thirty-five years later Hayek still lamented what had happened: “I fear there can be little doubt that Winston Churchill's unfortunate Gestapo phrase was written under the influence of The Path of Serfdom"[ii] (Hayek, cited in Toye, 2010, p. 665). Ultimately, and malgré lui-même, Hayek's contribution to the conservative campaign was not even zero: it was negative. Hayek helped to the Labor victory. Clement Atlee received 47,7% of the vote to Churchill's 36,2%. Labor won 393 of 613 seats in parliament and was able to govern with a majority.



On February 24, 1941 Hitler spoke in Munich on the occasion of the 21st anniversary of the National Socialist Party. The Nazi leader begins by praising the party for defending the unity and totality of the German people, and not just the interests of proletarians or rentiers, Protestants or Catholics. From this he recalls that Germany was split into two worlds: on the one hand the bourgeois nationalists, on the other the proletarian socialists, but both movements, by that time, had already become sterile. And the demonstration of its sterility is that each field was already divided and fragmented into innumerable parties and interests. Furthermore, both parties clamored for international solidarity by demanding a relief from the costs of Versailles (instead of, as Hitler proposed, rebelling against the countries that demanded such payments).

This serves as a motto to present the Nazi party as a counterpoint to the socialist and bourgeois parties, socialists and bourgeois defend partial interests, Nazis the totality of the people; socialists and bourgeois want a Germany on its knees, Nazis a proud Germany, etc. And the rest of the speech repeats the commonplaces of Nazi ideology: solidarity with Italian fascism, criticism of capitalism understood only as a rapacious financial system dominated by Jews, exaltation of the bravery of the Germanic people, etc.[iii]

Well, it turns out that someone reconstructed, translated and published in a periodical, the Bulletin of International News, Hitler's speech, but in a very unfaithful way, even using quotation marks in passages that are not at all similar to those that appear in the original text of the speech. Thus, at a certain point, the anonymous author states: “In conclusion, he [Hitler] said that the country needed to break with the old bourgeois parties; 'basically National Socialism and Marxism are the same'. The Nazi Party did not come to defend class interests, but to bring unity to the German people” (Bulletin of International News, 18/5, 1941, p. 269).

Now, in the original discourse, it is not National Socialism and Marxism that are the same, but the proletarian party and the bourgeois party, the two opponents of Nazism, which are basically the same, since they are sterile and fragmented. But what was already going very badly becomes even worse in Hayek's hands. In The Path of Serfdom, in its second chapter, when commenting on Hitler's hatred of liberals, Hayek comments that liberalism was already dead in Germany at the time of Hitler's rise, and that it was the socialists who had killed him. There he adds, in a note: “In this regard, it should be remembered that, whatever his reasons, Hitler thought it appropriate to declare in one of his speeches, as early as February 1941, that 'basically National Socialism and Marxism are the same thing'". (Hayek, 1977, p. 29).

In short, Hayek still manages to take the invented phrase out of context, using it in a sense that even in the bizarre reconstruction of the French Newsletter does not allow. On an insane cordless telephone Hitler said that bourgeois and proletarian parties are similar (because fragmented and sterile); the author of French Newsletter said that Hitler said that the Nazis and socialists are similar, as opponents of the old bourgeois parties, and Hayek simplified and essentialized everything by saying that Hitler would have said that National Socialism and Marxism are the same.

* Amaro Fleck He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at UFMG.



[I] Churchill's speech can be heard here:

[ii] Quoted in TOYE, Richard. “Winston Churchill's 'Crazy Broadcast': Party, Nation, and the 1945 Gestapo Speech”. 2010. . Check also, for the history of editions of the road of servitude, SHEARMUR, Jeremy. “Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, and the British Conservatives”. In: Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 28/03, p. 309-314, 2006.

[iii] Hitler's speech is found in the book edited by Philipp Bouhler, Der großdeutsche Freiheitskampf Reden Adolf Hitlers, from 1942 (available here: There is an English translation available here:


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