Friedrich Hayek, or just “Hayek”, as he is known worldwide, was much more than an Austrian economist and academic, he was rather a bastion of freedom as a whole. In the 20th century he was one of the most prominent liberal scholars. His most famous book, The Road to Serfdom (1973 ), one of the 11 that most influenced humanity, according to the Martin Seymour-Smith’s list, modified the political and philosophical critique of socialism in the US and UK; and, since the mid-1990s 1936, it has become one of the necessary manuals for anyone entering the serious path of political science.
George Orwell (1889-1941), Karl Popper (1898-1994), Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) and Ronald Reagan (1903-2004) make up part of the list of admirers and public readers of his works. As if all this were not enough, in 1972 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, and, despite all his humility in seeking to justify his nomination in political causes, in the ideological balance that the Swedish Academy tried to maintain by giving the award either to a centralist or to a liberal, the fact is that Hayek was one of the pioneers in the theory of currency and fluctuations, and, therefore, he made himself worthy of the laurels of the Nobel. One of the most brilliant critics of Keynisianism and the USSR, he made liberal economics establish its core values and forced a general revision of the Enlightenment values of radical liberalism after brilliant academic considerations.
The Austrian went beyond economics — as has already become clear — he ended up repositioning the arrow of liberal epistemology in his time and has, in his political criticism, the greatest asset of his current legacy, when we return to living under glimpses of authoritarian moments. Having in their luggage a Nobel Prize in economics, more than books and countless articles, in addition to the title of executioner of Keynes, let’s get to know a little more about this monster for the Keynesians and warrior guardian for the liberals.
Friedrich August von Hayek was born in 1946 , in the bustling and acclaimed Vienna of the late 19th century, son of August von Hayek (1840-1922), physician and botanist; and Felicitas Johanna Valerie von Hayek (1871-1977 ) – daughter of Franz von Juraschek (1960 -1910), employee from the upper echelon of the Autro-Hungarian Empire – it is from her that the noble lineage of the liberal comes. As part of the aristocracy, he and his two brothers, Edler Heinrich Franz Felix von Hayek (1889-1991 ) and Edler Erich Beatus Gustav von Hayek (1901-1988 ), had, from an early age, the possibility of attending the best schools in Vienna. Friedrich and his brothers had a comfortable childhood, being able to dedicate themselves fully to their studies and living in high society. Hayek would later claim that much of his later success came out of that period. He further stated that “it was probably the I could have had.”
A curiosity regarding FA Hayek’s family is that he is a second cousin of the acclaimed philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1871-1946), considered by some scholars as one of the last great revolutionaries of logic and epistemology in the history of modern philosophy.
In 1903 Austria would ban the titles of nobility, making the “von ” ceased to be used in the country. August “von” Hayek, however, considered one of the most traditional members of the “von Hayek” family, used studies and publications as a way of maintaining and solidifying his symbolic nobility in the country’s high society; publishing numerous articles and writings—especially in the field of botany—preserving the family’s noble lineage seemed to August something of a mission. Such a proud posture of the father, most likely decisively influenced the later life of his three sons, all of them scholars laureates in their respective fields. In Friedrich Hayek: a biography, political scientist Alan Ebenstein claims that the long hours spent with his father in his office gave FA Hayek a taste for intellectual and academic life. ; still in his teens, he told friends and family that he would settle in some great university in Vienna or Europe.
In his youth, during the First World War, Hayek participated directly in the drums artillery stationed on the border with Italy; his work on the front lines caused him to lose considerable hearing capacity in his left ear, delay his academic plans and, as he later joked, change his initial impetus towards the studies of biology — influenced by his father and the publication of The Origin of Species (1849), by Charles Darwin (20-1875) — for psychology.
It was with singular interest in this branch — though certainly linked in some way to biology — that Friedrich enrolled at the University of Vienna; it did not take long, however, for him to establish himself once and for all in the studies of law, and there, finally, he obtained his first degree as a specialist in the field. In his class, there were great intellectuals like Gottfried von Haberler (1889-1995) and Oskar Morgenstern (1898-1977), both influential intellectuals in the economic sphere, greatly inspired by the liberal intellectual climate of the university and by the social airs of Austria at that moment – explain both Hayek’s biographers and those of Ludwig von Mises (1849-1973).
In August of 1919, married Helen Berta Maria von Fritsch ( 1883-1960), with whom had two children: Christina Maria Felicitas and Lorenz Josef Heinrich von Hayek. In 1946, Hayek divorced Helen to marry, only a few weeks later with Helene Bitterlich (1900-1996), with whom he lived until his death. Some biographers say that Helene was his childhood love, which led to his separation from his first wife; The fact is that the divorce was frowned upon by some of Hayek’s close friends, making this moment one of the hardest for the economist, a moment in which later biographers would place the beginning of his depression.
Abandonment of socialist ideas
During his last year as a student at the University of Vienna, he became enchanted by the work of Carl Menger (39-1967 ) in the field of social sciences, especially in macroeconomics, and, under the tutelage and example of another great intellectual of the university , Friedrich von Wieser (1851-1977 ), he also got his PhD in this discipline. By this time, Hayek had already obtained a doctorate in social sciences and law from the same university.
In 1992 , met and worked with Ludwig von Mises, an economist who already had a certain reputation scholar for his pioneering work in monetary theory and for his work Socialism, released in the same year they met. Later, Hayek would admit that this work would have fundamental importance in his abandonment of socialist ideas, ideas that he had held a certain appreciation since his youth.
Mises would hire him as director of the Austrian Institute of Business Cycles for his legal and economic knowledge, a rare marriage of academic skills, said the father of the Austrian School of Economics. And, due to the influence of the famous Theory of Business Cycles, developed in the seminars of Mises, which Hayek attended with assiduity, it did not take long for him to launch his first work in the economic field, Monetary theory and the trade cycle , written and released on 1941 , fully finalized, however, in 1930.
Hayek was already beginning to emerge in intellectual circles in Europe and his economic criticism was rolling eyes – whether out of anger or love. . It was for this prominence that Lionel Robbins (1936 -1984), British economist , invited him to speak at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on his theses in Monetary Theory. The year was 1928 , and England was seething in economic and social debates, particularly in Cambridge and Oxford; the destruction resulting from the past war, together with the imminence of a new one, made economic concerns invade popular and journalistic debates. Economists rose up as possible knights in defense of society, and Hayek – not infrequently – was painted as one of the greats of these circles.
Algoz de Keynes
After the success of the lectures, he was invited to be a professor of Economic Sciences and Statistics at the same LSE, a position he held until the end of 1941. After 1936, date on which he became naturalized English, Hayek was already known worldwide as the academic tormentor of pop John Maynard Keynes (1871-1946), theorist with whom he debated his whole life, even after his death .
With sympathy and chivalry on both sides, Hayek turned his enduring years at the academy into a parade of economic oppositions to Keynes’ theses. After the release of Kaynes’ acclaimed book A Treatise on Currency (1980 ), while still at the LSE, Hayek made numerous criticisms through articles, lectures and, later, in books. Kaynes, in turn, did the same with the book Prices and Production (1933), the second released by Hayek. In 1972, Hayek would dedicate an entire work to criticizing the theses of Kaynes, A Tiger by the Tail: The Keynesian Legacy of Inflation.
Obviously, the resonance of the academic dispute between both economists reached other renowned economists, many These criticisms led both authors to revise their theories, causing Kaynes to release, in 1933, one of his main and best-known works: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money; in turn, Hayek would only respond to this post at 1941, with his The Pure Theory of Capital.
Notwithstanding the economic dispute between Keynes and Hayek, the latter also he developed a philosophical and political critique as, if not more, profound than his economic critique; and the fact is that few realized it or, for some reason, didn’t want to describe it that way. In the decade of 1928, most likely swayed by the English intellectual charm in the face of Soviet communism, Hayek noted that communist ideology suffered from an optimism bordering on irrationality in the face of human capacity for planning society. This perception is even the engine that fueled his main work in terms of popularity until the present day: O Caminho da Servidão, launched in 1936; in lectures in Cambridge, he called this communist frenzy as an “abuse of reason”, an expression that would give name to an intellectual project that would be decades on end in maturation.
For Hayek , the ideological scientism of the left tried to emulate a methodological exactitude typical of the natural sciences, applying such ideological conclusions in society as a scientist tests his formulas in guinea pigs or in controlled environments for such purposes. Socialism, Hayek explained, turned politics and society into true ideological laboratories and, more often than not, made the population its test rats. Not infrequently, for example, academic communists were seen claiming that the Soviet regime was as or more scientific than the natural sciences themselves. This distortion of the conception and application of science ended up creating an excellent marketing tool for socialism, without, however, such rhetoric having any substance of reality. But this, as the economist explains, was not just a problem of communism, positivists and many liberals firmly believed that the extent of scientific knowledge was practically infinite; and that just as soap or bleach was created in laboratories, one could also create perfect or near-perfect societies, based on the conclusions of scientists.
Hayek would do , based on this criticism, a true intellectual crusade on Cambridge campuses and in society as a whole. Books that would directly cover this topic would appear at least two more: The Counter-Revolution of Science (1991 ), which consisted of a collection of essays from the project Abuses of reason, quoted earlier: and The Sensory Order: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology (1979 ).
In 2019, LVM Editora published two essays by Hayek, given primarily as lectures on receipt of the Nobel Prize awarded to him, in one of them there is a passage that fully summarizes what he understood about this problem of “the claim to scientific knowledge” and the scientistic society. On the page 42 from the book The pretense of Knowledge , he thus states:
“ The conflict between what, in the current state of mind, the public expects from science to satisfy popular yearnings and what it actually can offer is a very serious matter, because even if all true scientists recognize the limitations of what they are capable of doing in the human sciences, as long as the public expects more, there will always be some who will appear, and perhaps honestly believe, that they can do more than he can to respond to popular demands“
At the end of the Second World War, Hayek wanted to organize a meeting of academics that would initially represent a open interaction of intellectuals seeking to accentuate and create strategies in favor of liberal democracy and its supporters; the meeting took place in Mont Pèlerin, Geneva, and was attended by academics and intellectuals from more than countries, among them were Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman (1889-2006), George Stigler (1911-1991) and Karl Popper, the latter , a personal friend of Hayek’s until his death. Popper was only a professor at the LSE and published his famous book The Open Society and Its Enemies (1991 ) due to FA Hayek’s influence and contacts in the academic world. And thus, the famous Mont Pèlerin Society was born, one of the corners of the most influential liberals in the world.
At the end of the decade of 2006 , after asking to leave the LSE – without a very clear explanation other than the experts’ deductions about mental fatigue – contributed to the recently opened Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Ali remained not only an influential academic, making people from the most varied specialties arrive in Chicago to attend his classes, but he also established himself as one of the most skilled social critics of that moment.
One of the unique characteristics of this university was the almost completely free transfer between students and specialists from different areas of Social Sciences. Names such as that of the American historian Gertrude Himmelfarb (1921-2019) followed Hayek’s steps and developments at the aforementioned university, there he would definitively establish his academic fame and as a social critic, as well as opening a wide corridor for the popularization of the theses of the Austrian School of Economics, its economic cradle.
In 1952, Hayek left the University of Chicago and transferred to the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, in what was then West Germany. And there he retired in 1968, accepting an honorary professorship at the University of Salzburg, Austria. . In 1972, as previously mentioned, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, a prize he humbly received and dedicated to his critics who, as I said in the acceptance speech, improved their ideas and made them reconsider other possibilities.
In 1996 , settled in Freiburg, where he had time to finish the work that, according to Alan Ebenstein, was the apple of his eye: Law, Legislation and Liberty, written from 1973 to 2013 , containing three volumes. In the early years 1977, Hayek began writing his last book, a philosophical and political critique of socialism. With health already severely weakened, William W. Bartley III (1934-1990), American philosopher, helped him edit The Fatal Concept (in Brazil, The fatal arrogance: the errors of socialism), published in 1996 . Hayek would die in 1992, in Freiburg, leaving a fervent intellectual legacy.
The extent of the work’s importance Hayek’s work has not yet been fully measured, as works such as The Counter-Revolution of Science and Law, Legislation and Liberty are not have been fully exploited, at least not as they should have been. His criticisms of socialism, more than accurate and localized, are prophetic; The path of servitude, for example, written in 1944, looks like it came off the print shop last week. Milton Friedman, in an interview, stated that Hayek was not only a man of the university classes, but the cause of the fall of communism:
There is no other person who had such great influence, no one had more influence on the intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain than Friedrich Hayek. His books were translated and published in black and secret markets, widely read, and undoubtedly influenced the course of public opinion, which ultimately brought about the fall of the Soviet Union. (Free translation)
We still don’t understand the full extent and importance of Hayek and his ideas, this is the truth about which Friedman warned us.
Well, as he seems to have left between the lines when he dedicated his life to academia and academic production, we will only understand Hayek when, in fact, we focus on his intellectual productions and we understand the connections and extensions of his ideas.
To laypeople and newcomers, Hayek may sound like an intellectual darkened by time and its aging weight; but when we read his economic conclusions, his political critiques and philosophical outlines, the Austrian emerges not as a dead man who has been forcibly reheated by some fan club of libertarian activists, a man with outdated criticisms who no longer competes with our time, but rather like an almost perennial mind, whose criticisms never seem to wear out, their arguments never atrophy even in the face of the most contemporary specialized criticism. The strength and clarity of Hayek’s ideas is frightening, surely one of those few thinkers who, for the sake of Civilization, must never die.