Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Privy me this, Hayekians...

A brief, somewhat sour, query: Opponents of Marx are fond of arguing that, whatever else might recommend him, surely it matters that Marx was, all in all, wrong. Marx predicted a falling rate of profit, the internal collapse of the capitalist system, the increasing enlargement and impoverishment of the Lumpenproletariat, the triumph of communism--none of which, in fact, actually happened.

Friends of Marx of course protest such allegations by pointing out that 'real communism' has never been tried. The Soviet Empire, Yugoslavia, Cuba, China, North Korea--none of these nor any other of the historically communist regimes resembled very much the sort of ideal candidate Marx had in mind in his prediction of the sublation of a capitalist into communist mode of production. Each one had been governed by a leader or party that was explicit about making theoretical and practical amendations to the program provided in books like Das Kapital. However, this sort of counter-argument basically never works. It's hard to find an opponent of Marx accede this point and agree that only historically existing communist regmies have failed, not Communism or Marxism. 'No,' goes the reply,'communism was tried; conditions weren't perfect, but they were enough, they all failed, and so maybe we should stop continuing to find excuses and just admit that Marx was wrong and that Marxism is false.'

Ok, I have no wish to deny the opponent of Marx his point. But what I want to know is this: Shouldn't we accept that Hayek, too, and other such 'social democracy is just the first step towards totalitarianism' theories, be chalked up along with Marxism under the 'wrong' column?I say this only because I recently re-perused Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, and was struck by how many predictions he courageously offers, and how many of those have turned out to be--it has to be safe to say by now--wrong. Hayek viewed the fascists parties of Germany and Italy as not just successors to, but as the natural outgrowths of, earlier social democratic parties and policies. Social welfare policies will lead, even despite intentions, to serfdom and tyranny. Democratic conferral of such powers is no sufficient precaution against these eventualities. Any attempt to conflate economic with political liberty will ineluctably result in the negation of both. It's as clear to me at least that none of these turned out to be true. And there is no reason to think that they are just around the corner. In other words, most of the antecedent conditions that Hayek lays out have long obtained, and hardly any of the consequents have followed. That makes them false.


  1. Of course some people might say that Hayek was right, that we are in fact living under tyranny, and that this is precisely why we all need to bring big, bulky guns to political rallies. Those of us serfs who don't get this and haven't picked up on the subtle Obama/Hitler connection are, obviously, just deluded, over-educated clowns who have been seduced by rhetoric and the liberal media.

    Naturally, though, there is a clear response: If we can be that wrong about reality, so can you. Perhaps communism did triumph, we are actually all living in a perfect world, and it's only the lunatic right that, due to unfortunate neurological conditions, has failed to pick up on our milk and honey utopia.

  2. Right'o, good Sir.
    Another natural and obvious response would be: Well, if we're living under fascism right now, then I guess fascism ain't all that bad.