It’s no secret that Friedrich von Hayek was a warm supporter of Augusto Pinochet’s bloody regime. As I wrote in The Nation a few years back:
Hayek admired Pinochet’s Chile so much that he decided to hold a meeting of his Mont Pelerin Society in Viña del Mar, the seaside resort where the coup against Allende was planned. In 1978 he wrote to the London Times that he had “not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.”
By contrast, Alan Ebenstein, Hayek’s biographer (sympathetic doesn’t quite capture the tone), does not mention the connection at all. Ebenstein does, however, quote Hayek making the rather astonishing claim in 1981 that there were not “any totalitarian governments in Latin America. The only one was Chile under Allende.”
I had thought there wasn’t much more to say about Hayek in Chile, but a new article in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology—”Preventing the ‘Abuses’ of Democracy: Hayek, the ‘Military Usurper’ and Transitional Dictatorship in Chile?” by Andrew Farrant, Edward McPhail, and Sebastian Berger—provides some fresh details.
Here is just a taste:
For instance, Hayek—writing to The Times in 1978 and explicitly invoking Pinochet by name—noted that under certain “historical circumstances,” an authoritarian government may prove especially conducive to the long-run preservation of liberty: There are “many instances of authoritarian governments under which personal liberty was safer than under many democracies.”
[Hayek] noted that if “Strauss (who I met during a reception in Chile briefly)” had been “attacked for his support for Chile he deserves to be congratulated for his courage.” [Franz Josef Strauss was a right-wing German politician, who had visited Chile in 1977 and met with Pinochet. His views were roundly repudiated by both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats in Germany. Hayek apparently wanted to help Strauss become chancellor of Germany.]
Though Hayek’s 1981 interviews with El Mercurio have attracted much attention, scholars have ignored El Mercurio’s coverage of Hayek’s initial visit to Chile in 1977. In particular, El Mercurio notes that Hayek—quoted as saying that Chile’s efforts to develop and reform its economy provided “an example at the global level” (1977: 27)—had met with Pinochet: “At the end of his visit . . . Hayek . . . was received by President Augusto Pinochet. He [Hayek] told reporters that he talked to Pinochet about the issue of limited democracy and representative government. . . . He said that in his writings he showed that unlimited democracy does not work because it creates forces that in the end destroy democracy. He said that the head of state listened carefully and that he had asked him to provide him with the documents he had written on this issue.”
According to Hayek, Pinochet had requested copies of Hayek’s writings (“documents”) explaining why unlimited democracy would inevitably lead to the destruction of democracy (1977). Consequently, Hayek asked Charlotte Cubitt (his secretary from February 1977 until his death in 1992) to send Pinochet a draft of Hayek’s ‘A Model Constitution’ (Cubitt 2006: 19). Importantly, Hayek’s chapter—‘A Model Constitution’ (1979b: 105–127)—provides a three-page discussion of the conditions under which the adoption of Emergency Powers (124–126) and the suspension of democracy are supposedly justified: The “basic principle of a free society . . . [“the coercive powers of government are restricted to the enforcement of universal rules of just conduct”] . . . may . . . have to be temporarily suspended when the long-run preservation of that order [the free society] is itself threatened” (1979b: 124).
When Hayek visited Chile in 1981 he “took time off from his official commitments to walk around and see for himself whether people were cheerful and content. He told me that it was the sight of many sturdy and healthy children that had convinced him.”
As Hayek notes, “democracy needs ‘a good cleaning’ by strong governments.”
The Pinochet junta “enacted a new constitution in September 1980. . . . The constitution was not only named after Hayek’s book The Constitution of Liberty, but also incorporated significant elements of Hayek’s thinking.”
Farrant et al demonstrate that Hayek’s support of Pinochet was not contingent or begrudging—an alliance of convenience due to Pinochet’s embrace of free market economics—but was rather the product of two longstanding ideas and commitments.
First, a belief that welfare/socialist states of modern democracies have a tendency toward totalitarianism. This has been the subject of some debate over at Crooked Timber, but Farrant et al show just how consistently Hayek held this belief throughout his career: from The Road to Serfdom to volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty, in which he describes his “growing apprehension about the direction in which the political order of what used to be regarded as the most advanced countries is tending” and his “growing conviction, for which the book gives the reasons, that this threatening development towards a totalitarian state is made inevitable by certain deeply entrenched defects of construction of the generally accepted type of ‘democratic’ government.” As Hayek put it in a 1981 interview with Renee Sallas of El Mercurio: “All movements in the direction of socialism, in the direction of centralized planning, involve the loss of personal freedom and end up ultimately in totalitarianism.”
In his defense of Pinochet (and elsewhere), Hayek invokes the oft-repeated distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian societies, and though Farrant et al don’t mention this, it struck me that this old saw—so beloved of figures like Jeanne Kirkpatrick—might have served as some of the glue holding together neoconservatives like Kirkpatrick and neoliberals like Hayek, especially in the 1970s.
Second, a belief in the virtues of temporary dictatorships as a means of saving these totalitarian-bound democracies from themselves. In 1981, Hayek told Sallas:
[A]s long-term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. At times it is necessary for a country to have, for a time, some form or other of dictatorial power. As you will understand, it is possible for a dictator to govern in a liberal way. And it is also possible for a democracy to govern with a total lack of liberalism. Personally, I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking in liberalism. My personal impression. . . is that in Chile . . . we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government . . . during this transition it may be necessary to maintain certain dictatorial powers, not as something permanent, but as a temporary arrangement.
While critics have cited this quotation before, Farrant et al note that Hayek had been offering similar encomia to Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar as early as 1962.
Interestingly enough, Hayek had sent Salazar a copy of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (1960) in 1962 and Hayek’s accompanying note to Salazar is particularly revealing: Hayek hopes that his book—this “preliminary sketch of new constitutional principles”—“may assist” Salazar “in his endeavour to design a constitution which is proof against the abuses of democracy.”
Unlike most defenses of temporary dictatorship, Hayek’s was not framed around a foreign threat to the security of the state or a domestic insurrection (though he does offer a brief discussion of “emergency powers” in such situations in Volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty); his was explicitly designed to countermand the creeping tyranny of social democracy. If the visions of Gunnar Myrdal and John Kenneth Galbraith were realized, he wrote in Volume 3 of Law, Legislation, and Liberty, social democracy would produce “a wholly rigid economic structure which…only the force of some dictatorial power could break.” Dictatorship, as he put it in his El Mercurio interview, was “a means of establishing a stable democracy and liberty, clean of impurities.”
As Farrant et al note, Hayek’s faith in the stewardship of good dictators flies in the face of his own warnings against trusting in the good intentions of government bureaucrats—not to mention his admonitions against an earlier generation of liberals and leftists, who were prepared to accept the allegedly temporary dictatorship of the Bolsheviks as a way station to the future.
Indeed, Hayek (1948: 207) took H. D. Dickinson—one of his opponents in the interwar socialist calculation debate—to task for defending the supposedly naive idea of a ‘transitional’ socialist dictatorship. Dickinson—like Hayek tellingly invoking the example of Oliver Cromwell—had argued that “[d]uring the . . . transition from a capitalist to a socialist society . . . [economic and political] liberty may be abridged, just as during the early phases of the struggles which made possible . . . political liberty those very liberties were temporarily eclipsed . . . Cromwell and Robespierre ruled arbitrarily, yet the ultimate influence of their rule was to establish civil liberty…. [Although] Lenin and Stalin have shown scant respect for the preferences of the . . . consumer . . . if they shall have been the means of establishing a classless society, their ultimate influence will be for economic liberty. After a socialist order has been safely established, the raison d’être of restrictions on liberty will have ceased” (Dickinson 1939: 235–236). As Hayek tartly noted, any adoption of transitional socialist dictatorship would more likely culminate in a permanent regime akin to that of Hitler or Stalin than in the “beautiful and idyllic picture . . . of ‘libertarian socialism’” painted by Dickinson (Hayek 1948: 207). Much the same criticism, however, can be readily leveled against the best case (or implicitly maximax) assumptions underlying the giant leap of faith that is implicit in Hayek’s own defense of transitional dictatorship.
But, it seems to me, in the course of defending Pinochet and Salazar—and the whole idea of temporary dictatorship— Hayek was prepared to entertain an even deeper betrayal of his own stated beliefs. As he said to Sallas in 1981, when any “government is in a situation of rupture, and there are no recognized rules, rules have to be created.” That is what a dictator does: create the rules of social and political life. (Again, Hayek is not referring to a situation of civil war or anarchy; he’s talking about a social democracy in which the government pursues “the mirage of social justice” through administrative and increasingly discretionary means.)
Yet Hayek is famous—arguably most famous—for his notion that the rules of social order are neither known nor made; they are tacit and inherited. As he argued in Volume 1 of Law, Legislation and Liberty:
The first of these attributes which most rules of conduct originally possessed is that they are observed in action without being known to the acting person in articulated (‘verbalized’ or explicit) form. They will manifest themselves in a regularity of action which can be explicitly described, but this regularity of action is not the result of acting persons being capable of thus stating them. The second is that such rules come to be observed because in fact they give the group in which they are practised superior strength, and not because this effect is known to those who are guided by them. Although such rules come to be generally accepted because their observation produces certain consequences, they are not observed with the intention of producing those consequences—consequences which the acting person need not know.
Hayek was hardly the first conservative intellectual to write paeans to the slow accumulated wisdom of the ages by day, only to praise Jacobin interventions of the right by night. Edmund Burke, I’ve argued, did much the same thing. Hayek even went so far as to defend his preferred brand of politics as a kind of dogmatic utopianism.
A successful defence of freedom must therefore be dogmatic and make no concessions to expediency.
Utopia, like ideology, is a bad word today…But an ideal picture of a society which may not be wholly achievable, or a guiding conception of the overall order to be aimed at, is nevertheless not only the indispensable precondition of any rational policy, but also the chief contribution that science can make to the solution of the problems of practical policy.
How one squares Hayek’s praise of dictatorship with his conception of a spontaneous order, I’m not yet sure. But with his vision of an unmoved mover knowingly and forcibly creating rules, by design, from a lawless firmament (not to mention his conception of democratic drift), Hayek puts himself within the orbit of Carl Schmitt, with whom he maintained a running dialogue, and who famously described the moment when a new order is brought into being—a new order of rules and routines—as a “an absolute decision created out of nothingness,” as the moment when “the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism [the democratic state] that has become torpid by repetition.”
Update (July 11, 10 am)
Here’s a pdf of the piece by Farrant et al.