The Hayek-Pinochet Connection: A Second Reply to My Critics

In my last post, I responded to three objections to my article “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children.” In this post I respond to a fourth regarding the connection between Friedrich von Hayek and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Though my comments on that connection took up a mere three sentences in my article, they’ve consumed an extraordinary amount of bandwidth among my libertarian critics. At Bleeding Hearts Libertarians, Kevin Vallier repeatedly accuses me of “smearing” Hayek with the Pinochet connection:

When Hayek was eighty he said that Pinochet was an improvement on Allende. This was a serious mistake in judgment, but it is not significant for Hayek’s body of work in any way. Why would it be?

Libertarian journalist Julian Sanchez says, “I don’t think anyone denies that was a grotesque mistake but…what? Hayek isn’t Jesus? Unsure why we’re supposed to care.” And again: “I mean, maybe Hayek was a shit human being. Let’s suppose. Still. Why do I care?”

While Sanchez and Vallier concede that Hayek was wrong on Pinochet, much of the libertarian commentariat at Bleeding Hearts do not. Here’s a representative remark:

I am now going to utter what some have been thinking: perhaps Hayek was right. 190 units of evil is better than 191 units of evil (if there were any such thing)….Let me affirm it loud and clear: Pinochet was better than Allende.

The claims of my libertarian critics boil down to these: The Pinochet connection is little more than Hayek saying Pinochet was better than Allende. That was a bad call (though some of these professors of liberty aren’t sure), but Hayek was 80 when he made it. His political judgment was clouded not by ideology but age. (Last summer, Vallier even broached the issue, in this context, of Hayek’s “important mental decline.”) So who cares? To raise the Pinochet connection is a smear, a smear so low I should be banned from Crooked Timber.

Let’s take these one at a time.


Hayek only said that Pinochet was better than Allende

This is absurd. The Hayek-Pinochet file is so extensive that I could only give it the barest mention in my Nation piece. Here’s the brief version of the story; all supporting evidence can be found in these five posts and the links therein.

Hayek first visited Pinochet’s Chile in 1977, when he was 78. Amnesty International had already provided him with ample evidence of Pinochet’s crimes—much to his annoyance—but he went anyway. He met with Pinochet and other government officials, who he described as “educated, reasonable, and insightful men.” According to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, 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.

Hayek complied with the dictator’s request. He had his secretary send a draft of what eventually became chapter 17—“A Model Constitution”—of the third volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty. That chapter includes a section on “Emergency Powers,” which defends temporary dictatorships when “the long-run preservation” of a free society is threatened. “Long run” is an elastic phrase, and by free society Hayek doesn’t mean liberal democracy. He has something more particular and peculiar in mind: “that the coercive powers of government are restricted to the enforcement of universal rules of just conduct, and cannot be used for the achievement of particular purposes.” That last phrase is doing a lot of the work here: Hayek believed, for example, that the effort to secure a specific distribution of wealth constituted the pursuit of a particular purpose. So the threats to a free society might not simply come from international or civil war. Nor must they be imminent. As other parts of the text make clear, those threats could just as likely come from creeping social democracy at home. If the visions of Gunnar Myrdal and John Kenneth Galbraith were realized, Hayek writes, it would produce “a wholly rigid economic structure which…only the force of some dictatorial power could break.”

Hayek came away from Chile convinced that an international propaganda campaign had been unfairly waged against the Pinochet regime (and made explicit comparison to the campaign being waged against South Africa’s apartheid regime). He set about to counter that campaign.

He immediately wrote a report lambasting human rights critics of the regime and sought to have it published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The editor of this market-friendly newspaper refused, fearing that it would brand Hayek as “a second Chile-Strauss.” (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 was incensed. He broke off all relations with the paper, explaining that if Strauss had indeed been “attacked for his support for Chile he deserves to be congratulated for his courage.”

The following year, Hayek wrote to the London Times, “I have 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.” (This is the statement that Vallier believes exhausts the contents of Hayek’s Pinochet file.)

In 1981, Hayek returned to Chile. The Pinochet regime had recently adopted a new constitution, which it named after The Constitution of Liberty. During this visit, El Mercurio interviewed him again and asked him what “opinion, in your view, should we have of dictatorships?” Demonstrating that he was fully aware of the dictatorial nature of the Pinochet regime, Hayek replied:

As 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.

(The transition Hayek imagines here would not occur for another seven to eight years, over and against the wishes of the “liberal dictator” Pinochet.)

In a second interview with El Mercurio, Hayek again praised temporary dictatorships “as a means of establishing a stable democracy and liberty, clean of impurities” and defended the “Chilean miracle” for having broken, among other things, “trade union privileges of any kind.” In a separate interview not long after, he said the only totalitarian government in Latin America he could think of was “Chile under Allende.”

But Hayek’s greatest contribution to the Pinochet regime may well have been his effort to organize the 1981 convention of the Mont Pelerin Society that was held in Viña del Mar, the Chilean city where the coup against Allende had been planned. Hayek was in on the convention plan from the beginning. As early as 1978, he was working with Carlos Cáceres—a member of Pinochet’s Council of State and soon to be a high-ranking minister in the regime—on the schedule and financing of the conference. It turned out to be a spectacular propaganda coup for the regime. The backdrop of the conference, explained its official rapporteur, was the bad rap “the often maligned land of Chile” was getting in the international media. The conference made a point of providing its participants with an opportunity “for becoming better acquainted with the land which has had such consistently bad and misrepresenting press coverage.” Two hundred and thirty men and women—including James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and Milton and Rose Friedman—from 23 countries attended. Like pilgrims to the Soviet Union, they were treated to lavish displays of the wonders of their host country and were happily trotted out for interviews with the media.

After the convention, Hayek milked it for all that it was worth. When the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, for example, published a cartoon comparing Pinochet’s Chile to Jaruzelski’s Poland, he fired off an angry letter to the editor:

I cannot help but protest in the strongest possible terms against the cartoon on page 3 of your publication of the 30th of December equating the present governments of Poland and Chile. It can only be explained by complete ignorance of the facts or by the systematically promoted socialist calumnies of the present situation in Chile, which I had not expected the F.A.Z. to fall for.  I believe that all the participants in the Mont Pelerin Society conference held a few weeks ago in Chile would agree with me that you owe the Chilean government a humble apology for such twisting of the facts.  Any Pole lucky enough to escape to Chile could consider himself fortunate.

These were just some of Hayek’s actions and statements on behalf of Pinochet’s Chile over a five-year period. As the Hayek archives reveal, the regime was more than grateful for his efforts and repeatedly conveyed their thanks to him. As Cáceres wrote Hayek: “The press has given wide coverage to your opinions and I feel no doubt that your thoughts will be a clarifying stimmulous [sic] in the achievements of our purposes as a free country.”


This old man

Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that the whole of Hayek’s contribution to the regime can be found in that letter to the Times, where he favorably compares Pinochet to Allende. That was in 1978, a mere two years after the publication of volume 2 of Law, Legislation and Liberty and a full year before the publication of volume 3. These books are generally recognized to be among Hayek’s greatest contributions to political theory. The notion that Hayek was sufficiently compos mentis to write these classics but not to understand what he was saying about Pinochet is risible.


The Pinochet connection has nothing to do with Hayek’s ideas

As Andrew Farrant, Edward McPhail, and Sebastian Berger document in their exhaustive treatment of the Pinochet connection, Hayek had a long-standing interest, pre-dating his engagement with Pinochet, in the idea of temporary dictators and strongmen. It is a running thread throughout his work, and more than a decade before his dance with Pinochet, Hayek took a turn with the Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar.

Even in Constitution of Liberty, which makes a powerful case for the evolutionary nature of rule formation, we get a glimpse of a Schmittian-type legislator stepping forth “to create conditions in which an orderly arrangement [of rules] can establish and ever renew itself.” That, Hayek says, is “the task of the lawgiver.” (Hayek sent the text to Salazar, perhaps with that very passage in mind.)

Again, Hayek did not imagine the dictator as simply a response to foreign attack or domestic insurrection; he was the antidote to the discretionary free-fall of a socialist state run amok. When a “government is in a situation of rupture,” Hayek told his Mercurio interviewer in 1981, “and there are no recognized rules, rules have to be created.”

But it is precisely on this notion of the dictator as a creator of rules that Hayek’s theory falters, for nothing in his notion of evolutionary rule formation seems to allow—or, more precisely, to account—for it. Though Hayek frequently speaks of this dictator, the strongman seems to be, almost literally, a miracle: an appearance from nowhere, with no background or context to explain it. Not unlike Schmitt’s notion of the decision or the exception—or, as Henry Farrell points out, the notion of innovation in standard economic models of equilibrium that Hayek, Schumpeter, and the other Austrians so chafed at.

One might say, I suppose, that Hayek failed to develop or account for this idea because it meant so little to him. But Farrant et al show that’s not the case. The more likely explanation is that it meant a great deal to him but that he wanted it to remain a miracle out of the whirlwind, or simply didn’t know how to reconcile it with his ideas about evolutionary rule formation. In either case, it was a circle he couldn’t square.

Hayek’s failure to grapple with what he was doing with dictators theoretical and actual is symptomatic of a larger problem: not his personal flaws—as libertarian Jesse Walker points out, Hayek was not the only libertarian to embrace Pinochet; Austrian economist and libertarian George Reisman called Pinochet “one of the most extraordinary dictators in history, a dictator who stood for major limits on the power of the state”—but the vexed relationship between capitalism and coercion, a relationship, as we’ve seen, libertarians have a difficult time coming to terms with.

Whether we call it primitive accumulation or the great transformation, we know that the creation of markets often require or are accompanied by a high degree of coercion. This is especially true of markets in labor. Men and women are not born wage laborers ready to contract with capital. Nor do they simply evolve into these positions over time. Wage laborers are often made—and remade—through violence, coercion, and force. Like the labor wars of the Gilded Age or the enclosure riots, Pinochet’s Chile was about the forcible creation, at lightning speed, of new markets in land and labor.

Hayek’s failure to fully come to terms with this reality—his idea of a good “liberal dictator” shows that he was more than aware of it; the fact that so little in his work on rule formation gives warrant to such an idea demonstrates the theoretical impasse in which he found himself—is why his engagement with Pinochet is so important. Not because it shows him to be a bad person but because it reveals the “steel frame,” as Schumpeter called it, of the market order, the unacknowledged relationship between operatic violence and doux commerce.

In his excellent post, Walker suggests that Hayek didn’t have to respond to Pinochet as he did. If that’s the case, the burden is on my critics to explain why he did—without resorting to “he was an old man” foolishness. But I wonder if Walker is right: not about markets but about the man. And here I circle back to the question of Hayek the theorist.

Given everything we know about Hayek—his horror of creeping socialism, his sense of the civilizational challenge it posed; his belief that great men impose their will upon society (“The conservative peasant, as much as anybody else, owes his way of life to a different type of person, to men who were innovators in their time and who by their innovations forced a new manner of living on people belonging to an earlier state of culture”); his notion of elite legislators (“If the majority were asked their opinion of all the changes involved in progress, they would probably want to prevent many of its necessary conditions and consequences and thus ultimately stop progress itself. I have yet to learn of an instance when the deliberate vote of the majority (as distinguished from the decision of some governing elite) has decided on such sacrifices in the interest of a better future”); and his sense of political theory and politics as an epic confrontation between the real and the yet-to-be-realized—perhaps the Pinochet question needs to be reframed. The issue is not “How could he have done what he did?” but “How could he not?”


So what? Who cares? Stop the smearing!

My response to the above claims should answer the “So what? Who cares?” question and set to rest the notion that I was smearing an old man. If anything I let him off easy.


  1. neffer June 25, 2013 at 4:03 pm | #

    I am not a Hayak fan. However, I have to say, your comment is idiotic and helps, rather than undermines, your critics. Pinochet was awful and Hayak failed to appreciate it. Hayak was in cohoots with Pinochet, perhaps. Consider: Plato was enamored of Sparta. Yet, Plato was a great mind, far greater than Hayak and Sparta of Plato’s time was ruled by brutal, nasty people. We still read Plato.

    Many a great thinker – and I do not consider Hayak a great thinker – has failed to grasp that this or that person was a monster. That is true of people on the right and the left. There was no shortage of people who visited the Soviet Union, which made Pinochet’s Chile look like a liberal regime (which, of course, it was not), and who came away misty eyed admirers. Some of them met with Lenin, confusing him with a man advancing the human condition.

    Your argument against Hayak’s ideas is to attack Hayak the man – that is, in essence, an ad hominem argument and thus not, as a matter of simple logic, a valid argument. You should know better.

    • Benjamin David Steele June 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm | #

      I have no opinion about Hayek the man. I never knew the guy, but I must admit there is no clear distinction between a person and what a person says, believes and does.

      Corey Robin isn’t just analyzing an ideology or an argument, but the motivation and pattern behind it. It is almost more of a psychological/sociological approach. The reactionary conservatism theory begs to be extended into the vast social science research.

      Let me speak to your last point. There is a problem that many others have noted, at least in the US. There are two parts to it.

      First, there is less conflation between liberals and left-wingers, including even radical liberals, than between conservatives and right-wingers.

      This has to do with the Cold War and communist witch-hunting. Liberals have for decades almost entirely disavowed the left-wing which has forced the left-wing into the political desert. You’ll find self-identified libertarians on the MSM on a regular basis and sometimes even hosting their own shows, but it is rare to find many self-identified left-wingers (socialists, communists or anarchists) on the MSM even just as guests.

      Second, left-wingers in the US also have more distance from left-wingers elsewhere in the world.

      Many American left-wingers were never accepted by international left-wing movements. For example, the sewer socialists such as in Wisconsin were heavily criticized by stalwart communists. Likewise for other varieties of social democrats and democratic socialists. Left-wingers in the US have been forced to chart their own course, partly just because we are so far away from most other European countries and even further away from communist countries.

      I all the time see American left-wingers who criticize the worst of left-wing politics elsewhere. Many American communists who went to Russia came back no longer supporting the Communist Party. For various reasons, the same hasn’t happened for most right-wingers who have yet to fully acknowledge or disavow the right-wing fascist and authoritarian history in American politics and economics. There is a reckoning that is long overdue and thinkers like Corey Robin are seeking to hasten it.

      • neffer June 26, 2013 at 10:46 am | #

        Robin, however, has not actually made an argument about Hayek’s ideas. He has made an argument about Hayek the man. It is biography, not analysis. It does nothing at all to validate or invalidate anything he said.

        We might take this a bit differently. Voltaire was a rabid Antisemite. Yet, he had valuable things to say on a lot of other topics. No doubt his hatred of all things Jewish colored his thinking. But, whether or not that is the case, his ideas stand on their merits.

        Robin does not appear to understand that point.

      • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 11:00 am | #

        Do you even know what you’re talking about? So, Hayek the man is some abstract entity that doesn’t include any of his ideas, statements or actions… really? That is a bizarre notion of a ‘man’.

        A man’s ideas are part of his biography. It would take an idiot to not realize that simple fact of human reality. Corey Robin, in this post and in his other writings, analyzed both Hayek the man and Hayek the thinker. That is the whole point of this post, demonstrating the connection between the man and his ideas.

        You’re going to have to do better than making bizarre arguments if you want to be taken seriously. You don’t seem to understand the point of reality.

        You could attempt a rational argument, if you wanted to. For example, you could try to factually disprove Corey Robin’s argument that there is no connection between the man and his ideas. That would still be a bizarre argument, but you could at least bring up other facts to counter the facts Corey Robin has provided. So, it would at least be a factual argument. At present, though, you’ve offered no facts, just strange opinions about a metaphysical entity known as “Hayek the man”.

    • Mark Erickson June 26, 2013 at 12:22 am | #

      It’s funny you bring up still reading an author you might have an issue with because Robin has said dozens of times that actually reading Hayek is essential. I think Robin has shown that he has read Hayek more than most of his critics.

      And here’s an actual ad hominem: learn to spell Hayek.

      • Mark Erickson June 26, 2013 at 12:24 am | #

        Whoops, this goes to neffer.

      • neffer June 26, 2013 at 11:05 am | #

        But Mark, Robin has chosen not to tell us anything at all of substance about Hayek’s ideas. He has conflated ideas with biography in the manner of an ad hominem argument.

        Take, as another example, Milton Friedman, who also met with Pinochet and was accused of collusion, etc., with him. However, no one can seriously believe that Friedman was a fascist or advocate of dictatorship. His views on the matter were well know and clearly stated: he thought that economic freedom, as he would term it, was part and parcel of having and creating the conditions necessary for democracy. That would mean in practice, that he could have seen himself as undermining Pinochet by bringing that style economics to Chile or, alternatively, that Friedman was a hypocrite.

        Now, Friedman’s ideas are certainly open to critique. However, that he associated with Pinochet does not really tell me all that much about Friedman’s ideas. It is merely a biography.

        In the same way, Robin has failed to tell me anything useful about Hayek. He has told me things that are biographically interesting. Are we to condemn someone’s ideas because he met with or found something attractive in Pinochet? Pinochet was bad, but, by the standards of Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, etc., etc., he was a minor bad actor, all things considered.

      • neffer June 26, 2013 at 11:07 am | #

        Thank you for correcting my spelling.

    • Roquentin June 26, 2013 at 10:54 am | #

      Just because a thinker you admire embraces bad politics, doesn’t make those political stances a matter of indifference. Heidegger was an unapologetic Nazi who would not even publicly express regret for his involvement in national socialism after the war when it was politically expedient to do so. He was still most definitely a genius, perhaps the most important philosopher. Many people try to separate the work, the author, and political beliefs completely both with him and Nietzsche, but it’s done because they find being associated with a thinker who had fascist political sympathies distasteful first and foremost.

      I think Hayek fans find this particularly odious because they want the “liberal” part of “neoliberal” ideology to be taken seriously. His close association with Pinochet makes that line a really tough sell.

  2. Benjamin David Steele June 25, 2013 at 4:04 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Marmalade and commented:
    Corey Robin points out an uncomfortable truth about Hayek. In response, libertarians argue that pointing out the truth is unfair and cruel.

  3. MikeD June 25, 2013 at 6:41 pm | #

    “As long-term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period.” ~ Hayek

    That sounds a lot like what Mises said about Fascism. (“But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. …”)

    • David B. July 1, 2013 at 5:21 pm | #

      Hayek predicted that Pinochet’s regime would give way to a liberal regime. Chile not only has a liberal regime, but thanks to Pinochet’s economic policies, it’s the most prosperous, stable country in Latin America. So Hayek may have been overly sanguine about Pinochet, but he surely wasn’t entirely wrong. If Allende had stayed in power, there’s little doubt that Chile would be a poorer, less free place right now.

      • William July 2, 2013 at 12:07 pm | #

        But was it worth the human cost of having Pinochet in power – the violence, the terror, the disappearances – and overthrowing him? To say nothing of the national resources plundered in the name of “liberal” capitalism?

        Corey hit the nail on the head when he referenced the intrinsic intertwining of capitalism and coercion. Unfettered capitalism will be resisted by the people who are not served by its interests.

  4. derida derider June 25, 2013 at 8:00 pm | #

    “As long-term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period …”

    Hayek was clearly much more of a Marxist than Allende. He even expects the dictatorial State to wither away.

  5. neffer June 26, 2013 at 11:16 am | #

    Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    Do you even know what you’re talking about? So, Hayek the man is some abstract entity that doesn’t include any of his ideas, statements or actions… really? That is a bizarre notion of a ‘man’.

    Do you know what an ad homimem argument is? Clearly not.

    Why should we care about Hayek’s biography? Robin has not give a valid argument on that point. His critics are correct on this point because his biography neither legitimates nor undermines his economic theories.

    Newton might, for example,have believed that the moon is made of Swiss cheese yet developed a brilliant theory of gravity that tells us very useful things about the moon. It would be, if Newton so believed, interesting biography but it neither legitimates nor disproves his theory of gravity.

    • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 11:31 am | #

      See Corey Robin’s most recent post for a dismantling of your ‘argument’:

      You’re the one who doesn’t seem to comprehend the definition of an ad hominem attack. An objective analysis of a man’s words and deeds isn’t an ad hominem attack. If stating the obvious makes a man look bad, don’t attack the messenger.

      • neffer June 26, 2013 at 11:45 am | #

        Pointing me to another Robin article does not make his argument any less ad hominem. As my copy of the dictionary states: an ad hominem argument is “marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.” That is exactly what Robin has done.

        Robin’s argument is invalid for the reason set forth in this article: . By way of example, the article notes the following:

        Bill: “I believe that abortion is morally wrong.”
        Dave: “Of course you would say that, you’re a priest.”
        Bill: “What about the arguments I gave to support my position?”
        Dave: “Those don’t count. Like I said, you’re a priest, so you have to say that abortion is wrong. Further, you are just a lackey to the Pope, so I can’t believe what you say.”

      • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 11:53 am | #

        A stated fact that is unflattering about a person is still true, even if you like the person who was put into a bad light by their own words and deeds. The person stating the unflattreing fact isn’t practicing ad hominem attack, even if you don’t like people stating unflattering facts about the person you do like.

      • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm | #

        I should clarify my comment, since you didn’t seem to understand the point. You said:

        “Pointing me to another Robin article does not make his argument any less ad hominem. ”

        There was a reason I thought obvious for why I pointed to that other articled by Corey Robin. It appeared Corey wrote as a direct response to you or else to people like you. Anyway, I would assume that Corey wrote it after having read your comment and he realized your kind of comment was sadly too common.

      • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm | #

        It’s not just that your criticism is invalid. It’s plain petty. It’s the equivalent of a school yard taunt. Since you didn’t get Corey’s argument, I could make an even more valid criticism in return that you are making a straw man argument. So, your accusation of an ad hominem argument is red herring. You simply don’t want to deal with the substance of Corey’s argument and so you seek to distract from having actual debate.

  6. neffer June 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm | #

    Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    A stated fact that is unflattering about a person is still true, even if you like the person who was put into a bad light by their own words and deeds. The person stating the unflattreing fact isn’t practicing ad hominem attack, even if you don’t like people stating unflattering facts about the person you do like.

    I agree entirely. However, unflattering biographical facts do not invalidate ideas. Which is to say, I may admire Hayek less because he may have loved Pinochet. That does not mean that I should admire Hayek’s economics any more or less than I did before learning the biographical facts uncovered by Robin.

    Moreover, I do not present a brief for Hayek. He is not my cup of tea. I merely take the view that ad hominem attacks are, if used to invalidate an argument – which appears to be Robin’s aim -, rather clumsy smears.

    • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm | #

      You seem to be having an argument with a phantom. Corey Robin didn’t make the accusation that unflattering biographical facts invalidated ideas. He isn’t attempting something so mundane. He is after a bigger prey called insight. He is trying to understand what motivates people, not just what they say and do but why and how they go about it. Your criticisms are irrelevant to Corey’s project.

      • neffer June 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm | #

        He is trying to understand what motivates people, not just what they say and do but why and how they go about it.

        There are a great many possible motives that can speak to what Hayek did, from personal enthusiasm for Pinochet to being blackmailed. In the absence of a very careful biographical study – which Robin does not provide -, what we have is Robin projecting his biases onto Hayek.

        I rather think that Robin, in fact, is speaking to Hayek’s ideas, hoping to undermine them by tarnishing Hayek with a fact which Robin believes to be a real tarnish.

        Now, I think Pinochet reprehensible. But, I do not see any insight coming from Robin’s discussion of Hayek’s relationship with Pinochet. Rather, I think it tells us more about Robin than Hayek.

      • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 5:33 pm | #

        However, if you have no evidence to the contrary, it is best to take the evidence at face value. Conspiracy theorists are good at speculating endlessly, but that isn’t helpful for rational and fair debate. Hayek spoke and wrote often. So did his supporters and allies. Why not take them at their word as Corey Robin is doing?

        If you don’t take Hayek at his word, then you don’t know anything about him at all, especially not about his ideas. Maybe everything he wrote was because he was blackmailed, but it is highly improbable. Let us stick with the probable first and work our way forward from there.

  7. neffer June 26, 2013 at 9:27 pm | #

    Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 5:33 pm, writes: “Why not take them at their word as Corey Robin is doing?”

    Because that is not a reasonable position to take. I rather assume the most reasonable explanation for a bright person like Hayek to see – rather pretend that there is – nothing wrong with a dictator is that he or she has a financial interest to see things that way. Hence, I do not take comments on such topics seriously and, frankly, if Prof. Robin does, that rather calls his judgment into serious question.

    • Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm | #

      In order to be fair and consistent, you can’t take Hayek’s ideas at face value either. That leaves you in a predicament.

      Corey Robin takes Hayek’s words and deeds at face value in order to look beyond the surface level of Hayek’s ideas. You criticize taking things at face value, but you recommend doing the very same thing with Hayek’s ideas. So, your criticism can be turned against your own argument.

      If you followed your criticism fairly and consistently by taking nothing at face value, you’d have nothing to say at all or rather nothing worthy… which does seem to be the case. All you can do is complain without adding anything of value.

      • neffer June 26, 2013 at 11:38 pm | #

        Benjamin David Steele June 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

        I disagree with you very profoundly here. As I see it, you confuse apples with oranges.

        One the one hand, Hayek has written important scholarly works. These have to be judged according to their contribution to the store of knowledge.

        On the other hand, Hayek played with a dictator and wrote favorably of being involved with that dictator. I judge that by normal practical considerations, unless there is evidence that such is not the reasonable approach. Robin presents no reason whatsoever to judge this affair as representing Hayek’s mature thinking. Neither do you. Instead, you assert that we throw away our common sense and use the same technique to judge different types of writing.

        I suggest you read some Wittgenstein. Words are like the tools in a toolbox. They have more than one manner of use. And, the same person can use the same words – and even seemingly scholarly writing – for entirely different purposes.

        Take Leibniz, by way of a good example. On the one hand, he wrote philosophy that rather pleased his ruler – in fact, it was rather flattering and intended as such. However, that was all a pretense. He also wrote – but left in his desk drawer – rather deep philosophical writings. Both types of work that he wrote were written with scholarly glean. However, one type represented an effort to gain political favor and the other type was serious scholarship.

        So, context matters. Most people do things to get along. People who receive money from dictators tend to downplay wrong doing by those dictators. People who receive money from polluters tend to downplay the wrongdoing of polluters. That is normal human frailty at work.

        Hayek is taken seriously not for his effort to write things that flatter a dictator. In the absence of evidence that what he told a dictator represents his real thinking – and Robin has not provided any evidence whatsoever showing such to be the case -, I shall assume the obvious, namely, that Hayek had aims, in dealing with a dictator, that differed from his serious writings. And, armed with that insight, I shall employ my critical judgment to take seriously his serious writings and to take as flattery – and, thus interesting biographically only – what sounds like flattery.

      • Benjamin David Steele June 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm | #

        Whatever. I’m not going to join you in having a pseudo-intellectual circle jerk. You refuse to consider Corey Robin’s larger argument and then you continuously bring up irrelevant points. It’s as if you’re having a debate with yourself and no one else is invited. It doesn’t matter what Corey has said or Hayek has said. All it matters is the debate going on in your head.

      • Benjamin David Steele June 27, 2013 at 7:31 pm | #

        You keep talking about Hayek’s ideas. You criticize by claiming that Corey Robin isn’t taking Hayek’s ideas seriously and just dismissing them with an ad hominem argument.

        However, at the same time, you aren’t taking Corey’s ideas seriously and you’re just dismissing them. You’ve even admitted to being absolutely ignorant of Corey’s ideas and you have claimed you have the right to criticize Corey’s arguments in utter ignorance.

        That is what is called hypocrisy.

        Take a moment to actually learn Corey’s ideas before going on with your pretense of intellectual superiority. You would rightly criticize Corey if he admitted to having never read Hayek, but Corey’s ideas are specifically about Hayek’s ideas. Just because you are ignorant of Corey’s work can’t be blamed on Corey.

        Remove the plank from your own eye, okay? Just a suggestion.

  8. neffer June 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm | #

    To: Benjamin David Steele June 27, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Please explain to me why one should take seriously Robin’s assertions related to Hayek’s visit to Chile or Hayek’s statements relating to Chile and/or Pinochet. How do they impart the slightest bit of wisdom regarding our understanding of Hayek’s ideas? Would we interpret his ideas differently had he not visited Chile, not met with Pinochet and not written about either or both of them? I rather doubt it, as his works stand on their own merit (or lack thereof).

    I also, turning to Robin’s main article, take serious issue with his analysis of Nietzsche, reading more interest in economics than Nietzsche had. Nietzsche was well read in history, in religion, in politics and in philosophy. Focusing on economics, pulling this or that tidbit from Nietzsche’s writings – all in complete contradiction to how Nietzsche wrote his works should be read, viz., as a unit – is disingenuous. Nietzsche wrote to critique of Plato, the slave revolt, etc., and, in connection therewith, modernity, but not from an economics perspective and his use of the word value was not directed at economics; normally, at cosmic theories of morals.

    Nietzsche sought to take a stance outside of good and evil (moral judgments, on his view, being interpretations of events, not facts) and to use the technique he called perspectivism – understanding something by viewing it from as many different eyes (i.e., viewpoints) as possible; hence the use of aphorisms, where a thought experiment is played out. As such, quoting this or that statement by Nietzsche is always problematic.

    Robin has, rather than considering quoted aphorisms as the expression of a viewpoint – and without examining whether there are countering aphorism (which nearly invariably exist) -, has borrowed only one of Nietzsche’s eyes. What we have, as I see it, is Robin primary focus on the comparatively early period of Nietzsche’s life.

    Indeed, Nietzsche was appalled by the rise of commerce as the defining feature of modernity. However, he was also appalled by the working conditions of that age’s workers, as he also wrote. He opposed democracy. But, he did not favor the aristocracy.

    I think that if one wants to understand Nietzsche, one needs to begin with On the Genealogy of Morals, The Gay Science, etc.. One should also read his autobiography, Ecce Homo. One also needs to understand Nietzsche’ abhorrence of nationalisms of all forms – German nationalism most particularly – among the major, but not only, reasons for his break with Wagner. The other important reason was Wagner’s embrace of Antisemitism. Nietzsche love of things French – something Robin seems to miss – and Italian is also important.

    Nietzsche was most certainly not a precursor in any sense of the word, other than being earlier in time, to people like Hayek. Seeing things this way amounts to reading this or that quote from Nietzsche without reference to the body of his work, as Nietzsche made great pains to indicate is necessary, given Nietzsche’s use of the aphorism/thought experiment writing style.

    I might note, lastly, that one could also read Nietzsche as purveyor of democracy (see e.g., ). Reading Nietzsche as precursor to any economics theory is, to me, however, a bridge way, way too far and into imagination.

  9. Magpie June 29, 2013 at 9:10 pm | #

    Around the time of Hayek’s El Mercurio interview, Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges was quoted as saying about the dictatorship in Argentina:

    “In and of itself a dictatorship doesn’t seem reprehensible, one has to consider the particular circumstances. In itself empires don’t seem to be wrong. The Roman Empire and the British Empire did a lot of good . . . For a long time I believed in democracy. Now I don’t believe in it; at least not in my own country. Perhaps in other countries democracy can be justified; but in the Republic of Argentina I don’t think we can trust it . . . Democracy [is] an abuse of statistics . . . No one supposes that a majority of people can have valid opinions about literature or about mathematics, but it is believed that everyone can have valid opinions about politics, which is more delicate than the other disciplines . . . Yes, it seems that to destroy liberty is bad. But liberty lends itself to so many abuses. There are certain liberties which constitute a form of impertinence”. [*]

    Borges, to all accounts a great writer and a self-described classical liberal, deplores that people, otherwise unqualified, have opinions on literature and mathematics.

    Further, he also deplores that the same unqualified people have political rights, too, even on matters that affect their own lives (in a very sinister and literal sense), when politics “is more delicate than the other disciplines”.

    Obviously, in Borges’ views, good writers, like himself, for the very fact of being good writers, are automatically qualified to produce valid and valuable political opinions on matters that are existentially vital to those less qualified people.

    Change the names (Hayek, for Borges) and the South American dictatorships (Pinochet, for Videla), and the situation (and the quotes!) seems quite similar… to me.

    But, of course, not being a good writer or a libertarian, I am not qualified to have an opinion. It’s only my life, after all, which is at play.


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