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Hayek: Menace to Democracy and Democratic Culture

May 22, 2013

After sitting in my browser as an open tab for a few weeks, I finally found some time to read Corey Robin’s latest in The Nation, titled “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek.”

Here’s a sample—from Robin’s concluding passages:

[According to Friedrich Hayek] The most important contribution of great wealth, however, is that it frees its possessor from the pursuit of money so that he can pursue nonmaterial goals. Liberated from the workplace and the rat race, the “idle rich”—a phrase Hayek seeks to reclaim as a positive good—can devote themselves to patronizing the arts, subsidizing worthy causes like abolition or penal reform, founding new philanthropies and cultural institutions. Those born to wealth are especially important: not only are they the beneficiaries of the higher culture and nobler values that have been transmitted across the generations—Hayek insists that we will get a better elite if we allow parents to pass their fortunes on to their children; requiring a ruling class to start fresh with every generation is a recipe for stagnation, for having to reinvent the wheel—but they are immune to the petty lure of money. “The grosser pleasures in which the newly rich often indulge have usually no attraction for those who have inherited wealth.” (How Hayek reconciles this position with the agnosticism about value he expresses in The Road to Serfdom remains unclear.)

The men of capital, in other words, are best understood not as economic magnates but as cultural legislators: “However important the independent owner of property may be for the economic order of a free society, his importance is perhaps even greater in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs.” While this seems to be a universal truth for Hayek, it is especially true in societies where wage labor is the rule. The dominance of paid employment has terrible consequences for the imagination, which are most acutely felt by the producers of that imagination: “There is something seriously lacking in a society in which all the intellectual, moral, and artistic leaders belong to the employed classes…. Yet we are moving everywhere toward such a position.”

Considering Hayek’s influence among prominent conservative intellectuals, has the twentieth century produced a greater menace to democracy and democratic culture? – TL

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  1. Paul permalink

    Relying on a wealthy class to adjudicate cultural and social issues doesn’t sound much different than early colonial America with landed men as overseers of women, servants and slaves. If the idle rich have time for subsidizing abolition or penal reforms don’t they also have time for more mischievous occupations? What checks and balances are in place to restrain their excesses? It seems as though the Hayek crowd wants to turn back the clock 250 yrs. It is difficult for me to believe someone takes these ideas seriously, are these part of Hayek core concepts?


  2. I think I’d prefer a European noble class to a class of rich Americans (if those were my only options).


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