Fukuyama's Hegelian Misunderstanding of Hayek, Or Why the World-Spirit is Bunk

|

Reading anything by Hayek will make you smarter -guaranteed

I hope that others were as irritated as I that the New York Times chose Francis Fukuyama, a disciple of G.W.F. Hegel (via Alexandre Kojeve), to review the new edition of Friedrich Hayek's magisterial The Constitution of Liberty. Hayek spent a huge portion of his career explaining why such irrational rationalists as Hegel and subsequent philosophical mind-children as Karl Marx and Martin Heidegger are wrong and why because of their intellecutal errors, they end up worshiping the State. In his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama declared that Hegelian analysis shows:

The Universal History of mankind was nothing other than man's progressive rise to full rationality, and to a self-conscious awareness of how that rationality expresses itself in liberal self-government….Hegel was the philosopher of freedom, who saw the entire historical process culminating in the realization of freedom in concrete political and social institutions.

It is impossible for someone, even a philosopher as perspicacious as Fukuyama believes Hegel to have been, to discern the laws of history or where the "movement of the World-Spirit" is tending. As Hayek explained thinkers like Hegel and the founder of sociology Auguste Comte believed that 

…they had reached a position where they were able to predict the course of the growth of Reason [and] it was only one step more to the still more presumptuous idea that Reason should now be able to pull itself up by it own bootstraps to its definitive or absolute state. It is in the last analysis this intellectual hubris, the seeds of which were sown by Descartes, and perhaps already by Plato, which is the common trait in Hegel and Comte. The concern with the movement of Reason as a whole not only prevented them understanding the process through which the interaction of individuals produced structures of relationships which performed actions no individual reason could fully comprehend, but it also made them blind to the fact that the attempt of conscious reason to control its own development could only have the effect of limiting its very growth to what the individual directing mind could foresee. …

Hegel and Comte both singularly fail to make intelligible how the interaction of the efforts of individuals can create something greater than they know. While Adam Smith and the other great Scottish individualists of the eighteenth century—even though they spoke of the "invisible hand'—provided such an explanation, all that Hegel and Comte give us is a mysterious teleological force. And while eighteenth century individualism, essentially humble in its aspirations, aimed at understanding as well as possible the principles by which the individual efforts combined to produce a civilization in order to learn what were the conditions favorable to further its growth, Hegel and Comte became the main source of that hubris of collectivism which aims at "conscious direction" of all forces of society.

The World-Spirit moves him

In his review, Fukuyama cites criticisms of Hayek from the left and the right. From the left the claim is that Hayek's conception of limited government permits freedom to

…be threatened by a variety of social actors, from wealthy elites to corrupt local governments to large corporations that hold a whip hand over their workers.

Apparently, Fukuyama (and the left he is characterizing) misses the fact that States (from Sumer to Rome and China to any number of European monarchies) until the rise of liberal political philosophy had always been the handmaidens of wealthy elites, corrupt, and hostile to workers. Have they never heard of "crony capitalism?" The rise of philosophical individualism and the concept that governments should be limited in their powers and enforce only general rules applicable to all equally enlarged the scope of freedom. This already-too-long blogpost is not the place to explain how this process got started and unfolded, but suffice it to say, the Hayek is better at it than someone whose explanation relies the "movement of the World-Spirit."

Next Fukuyama asserts:

A second critique of Hayek has tended to come from the right. He is necessarily a moral relativist, since he does not believe that there is a higher perspective from which one person can dictate another's ends. Morality for him is more like a useful coordinating device than a categorical imperative. But surely the Western tradition that Hayek celebrates is as concerned with virtue as with freedom, whether from the standpoint of Christianity or that of classical republicanism. One searches in vain through this or any of his other books for a serious treatment of religion or the moral concerns that animate religious ­believers.

Actually, Hayek did recognize the importance of religion and morals in human life. He also argued that if social peace is to be maintained the State should be neutral with regard to those aspects of human life broadly speaking. Again enforce only general rules of tolerance rather than try to engage in some version of "statecraft as soulcraft."

A bit of Hayek on religion:

It may indeed prove to be far the most difficult and not the least important task for human reason rationally to comprehend its own limitations. It is essential for the growth of reason that as individuals we should bow to forces and obey principles which we cannot hope fully to understand, yet on which the advance and even the preservation of civilization depend. Historically, this has been achieved by the influence of the various religious creeds and superstitions which made man submit to those forces by an appeal to his emotions rather than to his reason.

The most dangerous stage in the growth of civilization may well be that in which man has come to regard all these beliefs as superstitions and refuses to accept or to submit to anything which he does not rationally understand. The rationalist whose reason is not sufficient to teach him those limitations of the powers of conscious reason, and who despises all the institutions and customs which have not been consciously designed, would become the destroyer of the civilization built upon them. This may well prove a hurdle which man will repeatedly reach, only to be thrown back into barbarism.

Fukuyama ends by arguing that there is a contradiction deep in the heart of the Hayekian thinking, that is, Hayek does not allow governments the same scope for innovation, planning, and experimentation that he does for individuals. Oddly, Fukuyama claims that Hayek makes this distinction based on abstract principle rather than empirical analysis. This is a serious misreading—one of Hayek's chief points is that the consequences of a State's failed innovation or experiment are much greater than those made by individuals.

Bonus: Enjoy this Hip Hop rematch video of the Fight of the Century between Hayek and Keynes below.

Go here for my editor Matt Welch's take on the Fukuyama review.

Note: Hayek quotations taken from The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, Vol. 13. Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason.

NEXT: A Knowledge Problem with Insider Trading Law

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Byline missing

    1. Byline found

  2. I took a 19th century philosophy course a few years ago. My god, most of it is complete trash.

    We had to read Hegel, and one of the things that was instantly apparent to me was that Hegel was just thoroughly, completely influenced by protestant religious precepts. Starting with a worldview in which labor is central to a human’s meaning in life, and ending with the notion that “History” is progressing towards a perfect end-state (The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth).

    Of course Hegel doesn’t SAY any of that stuff, but he was trained in protestant seminary, and wrote books on Christian theology before he went on to become a philosophy professor.

    All of his ideas are completely fucking rife with unexamined Christian theological underpinings.

    1. So, you’re telling me Fukuyama is a closet fundie christfag?

      1. I thought he was a catholic?

        1. Catholics can’t be fundie christfags?

          1. I as going after the “closet” part of RC’s sentence.

            Hard to be a closeted “christfag” when he is out in the open about it.

            Note: Shrike has successfully degraded the rhetoric here at Hit&Run;.

            1. Don’t confuse mocking shriek with degraded rhetoric.

              Not that we don’t have plenty of that.

      2. By that standard, Blessed John Paul II was a raging Lutheran due to his devotion to Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology.

    2. Well, in the post-Roman world, philosophy was basically invented for religious purposes (see: Aquinas, Thomas), so if you have a problem with religion, your going to have a problem with most Western philosophy. Hell, even Socrates conceived of philosophy as having a divine purpose.

      1. except that science/philosophy split fm theology over major disagreements like…what is a fact.

        1. Bullshit. I split, philosophy stayed, even if it wanted to pretend otherwise.

      2. philosophy was basically invented for religious purposes

        I yet i get bitched out for pointing out that liberal democracy is a product of Christian ideology.

        Sad face =(

        1. Probably because it wasn’t?

          Interesting that liberal democracy took so long to take root in 95% of Christendom.

          1. Christianity hasn’t really taken root in 95% of Christendom, Tulpa. As opposed to some institutionalized church or other, that is.

            1. Good point, but of course it hadn’t really taken root in the places where liberal democracy arose either. (Thinking Catholic England and Protestant Netherlands)

              1. The Netherlands are technically more Catholic than Protestant these days as 26% claim to be RCs and only 11% claim to be Protestants.

                1. Well I was thinking about the 1600s Netherlands, but good point. Protestantism has hemorrhaged a lot more adherents in the modern era than Catholicism for whatever reason.

          2. Isn’t it? Not solely, but the offspring of Christianity and classical philosophy.

            1. classical philosophy

              Classical philosophy was completely lost in the dark ages. I would argue without a coherent line of secession that it can only be viewed through the lens of Christianity.

              One should note Rome was abandoned and burnt to the ground by pagans before it was rediscovered by Christians.

              and it was Christians who had for over a 1000 years the perfect editing tool of history for it. What we know of classical philosophy is what Christendom has chosen to show us.

              1. I should also note that Christianity was “rediscovered” at about the same time classical philosophy was.

                No one could read and no one was taught what was actually in the bible until Luther and others translated it out of Latin and began to preach it.

                Before the late Renaissance if I went into an average European village and told everyone that Christ was a Jewish common carpenter I would first be asked what is a Jew then I would be burned at the stake as a hieratic.

          3. What is your start date?

            And why has it taken longer in non-Christendom?

    3. Starting with a worldview in which labor is central to a human’s meaning in life, and ending with the notion that “History” is progressing towards a perfect end-state (The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth).

      The perfect summation of Hegel was a sign above the gates of Aushwitz. That is hardly Godwining when you consider that German cultural thought devolved from the classical liberalism of Goethe to the statist abomination of Hegel.

      1. Classical liberal thought is not terribly convenient for elites in any sphere, least of all the state. The only reason it poked its head out in the 18th century was because the powerful hadn’t found an antidote for it yet.

      2. Consider that the history of the US has been one long exercise in which the powerful roll back its classical liberal origins.

    4. You’re talking about the Whig view of history.

      and LOL@anything in Hegel being unexamined. More like exhaustively dissected.

  3. Threadjack: Do any HnR’ers watch Parks and Rec? Because last night, Ron Swanson initiated a kid into libertarianism (and even though Ron’s libertarianism is played a bit for laughs as a government employee, it also doesn’t portray it as: RON HATES POOR AND OLD PEOPLE! either).

    Great line: “It’s never to early to learn that the government is a greedy piglet who suckles on a taxpayer’s teat till they have chapped, sore, nipples.”

    1. I loves me some Ron. Although they’ve really softened him up in the last season or so.

    2. I don’t usually watch but I caught last night’s episode & Ron Swanson has me hooked. You’re right that (from my limited exposure) it seems like they are poking fun at libertarians, but not in the vicious, stupid and incorrect way you often see in the MSM. Ron is obviously a likeable character.

      Him eating her lunch was my favorite part. The shrewish mom yelling about “crazy” ideas was not my favorite part.

      1. Yeah, Dangy, but I think it was annoying because it was true to life.

        For example, if I taught a liberal’s kids about the evils of government, I can imagine them wanting to rip me a new one.

      2. He’s hilarious and one of my favorite TV characters. He’s totally unprincipled, so he can’t be taken seriously one way or the other, but he is very funny in an absurd way.

  4. Shouldn’t reality’s fairly brutal refutation of Fukuyama’s End of History make him an intellectual has-been? Or am I just hoping, with much futility, that jackholes like him would be dismissed once they’re proven so spectacularly wrong?

    1. Telling squishy lefty elitists what they want to hear is a lifetime pass from accountability.

    2. Shouldn’t reality’s fairly brutal refutation of Fukuyama’s End of History

      Ummm I suggest you go and read the actual book.

      Despite Obama and the rise of the crazy left there has a been a sea change since the fall of the Soviet Union and Fukuyama is largely correct in pointing that out.

    3. Paul Ehrlich, Ralph Nader, The Brady Campaign, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Bellesiles…

      Being a leftist means never having to admit you’re wrong.

      1. You forgot Rachel Carson.

  5. “Hayek spent a huge portion of his career explaining why such irrational rationalists as Hegel and subsequent philosophical mind-children as Karl Marx and Martin Heidegger are wrong and why because of their intellecutal errors, they end up worshiping the State.”

    A huge portion? I just searched all of Hayek’s works for “Heidegger” and the only two references were to another Heidegger, not the philosopher. And this despite the two teaching at the same university. Where does Hayek explain where Heidegger is wrong? I’m not sure what is meant by “mind-children”. Heidegger made extensive criticism of Hegel.

    1. Actually, Hayek in his comments about religion is quite close to Heidegger and other Continental critics of Hegel.

  6. All of his ideas are completely fucking rife with unexamined Christian theological underpinings.

    And?

    Non-theological big-p Philosophy is unexamined or repressed Christfaggery (Marx, Heidegger, Derrida?the dark-system shit), or the examined and re-repressed kind (Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze?the weird indigestible stuff assholes pretend they’re using when they’re being unexaminedly Christfaggy but want to look hipper than that).

    We are who we are, yo.

  7. This already-too-long blogpost

    First off it is not to long

    Second reason needs to learn the power of the “Read More” link so you can write a few paragraphs then after the bump have more.

    Lots of blogs do it…and if we can get more wonderful article like the one above i suggest you guys start using it.

  8. Hegel had some good lines (i.e. “the schoolmaster’s trick of teaching his pupils that he’s better than Alexander the Great because he hasn’t conquered the known world”) but after all that labor, to conclude that he knew all about the World Spirit, and it lived just down the road . . . in Berlin.

    Sheesh.

  9. Hegel wasn’t particularly the statist that he gets labelled as due to his influence on Marxism. His observation of nations in conflict for resources and recognition being solved through free market capitalism was rejected by Marx and other socialists. There’s plenty of room for criticism, but that doesn’t mean he should be roundly rejected or called an authoritarian because he recognized there were other forms of conflict beyond the one between State and individual.

    The latter is the biggest shortcoming of Hayekian libertarianism – while the state may be the biggest violator of liberty, that does not inherently negate an ability to protect it, nor does it assume that the sum of liberty violation in a stateless society would not exceed the sum of liberty violation in a society with a formal state.

    1. The latter is the biggest shortcoming of Hayekian libertarianism – while the state may be the biggest violator of liberty, that does not inherently negate an ability to protect it, nor does it assume that the sum of liberty violation in a stateless society would not exceed the sum of liberty violation in a society with a formal state.

      Rothbard’s the anarcho-capitalist, not Hayek.

  10. Hobo: Not “stateless” – a limited state.

  11. I insult people by saying, “Why don’t you go Fukuyama, Francis”

    1. Fukuyama me?

      Well Fukuyama you!

      1. Don’t be badmouthin’ my yama!

  12. Very good post, Ron, pulling a lot of ideas together without any condescension to the reader. And that is one awesome video!

  13. I think Hegel said it best when he simply and clearly stated in one sentence:

    “The beginning of culture and of the struggle to pass out of the unbroken immediacy of naive psychical life has always to be made by acquiring knowledge of universal principles and points of view, by striving, in the first instance, to work up simply to the thought of the subject-matter in general, not forgetting at the same time to give reasons for supporting it or refuting it, to apprehend the concrete riches and fullness contained in its various determinate qualities, and to know how to furnish a coherent, orderly account of it and a responsible judgment upon it.”

    1. It sounds more impressive in the original Gasbag.

  14. “One searches in vain through this or any of his other books for a serious treatment of religion or the moral concerns that animate religious ?believers”

    Its fascinating when you analyze the thought process of those on the left in that everything is a pursuit of morality which is something no individual can fully understand. I believe it is better to leave that to God than to man.

  15. What we on the right don’t understand is that the left is in pursuit of some kind of moral perfection of man and society. They throw away standard dogma of religious text in favor of rational discovery. The problem with this is that once you believe that this is moral then you do not stop at making sure the world is cleansed of all things you deem immoral. This could explain the intensity of politics that liberals have that seems to be on the level of religious zealotry.

    1. Further, as a political debate point, I tell all liberals that human nature is static. It does not evolve to a higher plane from one generation to the next. The same bad people that existed thousands of years ago still exist today. Example: Thieves, murderers, and governments still exist. What would make you think that we can fundementally alter human nature in such a way that we can fix these things? Also, assuming we have such a power, how would we know that that power will be used correctly? Last point, Ayn Rand was right in that the nature of man is selfish and we have a moral code that goes against that which makes us think that we have to alter the fundemental nature of man. That is something we can’t do since every cell in our body must feed itself before it can feed anything else.

      1. *Puts on statist hat (has many hats)*

        The problem with all of those old people is that they lived at least 100 years ago were restrained by the evil Christfags.

        One day, we’ll have the right people in charge and everything will change. They will be…our saviors.

      2. Last point, Ayn Rand was right in that the nature of man is selfish and we have a moral code that goes against that which makes us think that we have to alter the fundemental nature of man.

        Psychopaths and the anti-social have believed this throughout history. Thankfully, they are a very small part of humanity.

        1. There’s reason to believe true sociopaths/antisocial personalities are simply incapable of internalizing a moral code; it’s probably not a matter of belief.

          1. There’s reason to believe … it’s probably not a matter of belief.

            Language sure can be a strange beast.

        2. Psychopaths and the anti-social have believed this throughout history. Thankfully, they are a very small part of humanity.

          Unfortunately, many of the cleverer ones are all too interested in obtaining political power, and so, rather than government protecting us from them, it enables them to rule over us with “our” consent.

        3. Thankfully, they are a very small part of humanity.

          huh?

          My understanding of history is it is simply a constant parade of people killing other people.

          I would ague that “they” do not make up a small portion at all, but in fact make up much if not most of humanity.

          This explains how they constantly fill positions of power in the first place.

          They are us, only with the power to do something about it.

        4. Next person who uses the contextless, definition-free phrase “anti-social,” I am going to beat senseless with a clue stick.

  16. I’ve read a good book on Hegellian philosophers and it stunned me on how religious these people were.

  17. Excellent post.

  18. I’ve read a good book and it stunned me that there was no mention of Hegel in it.

  19. I’m looking at a good book out of the corner of my eye. The bottom says “2: Hegel and Marx”

  20. Every drop of ink that has flown from the pen of Francis Fukuyama is pure bilge water. I can’t for the life of me understand why he isn’t homeless.

  21. It is essential for the growth of reason that as individuals we should bow to forces and obey principles which we cannot hope fully to understand

    speaking of bowing is Gaius Marius really a communist? or is that a joke?

    http://reason.wikia.com/wiki/Gaius_marius

    1. Speaking of Gaius Marius

      after all, perhaps the greatest american artist was the antiartist warhol. what does that say?

      I would argue that America’s greatest artist is John D. Carmack II.

  22. http://www.fivefingersoutlet2011.com

    five fingers outlet 2011,vibram five fingers,five finger,vibram fingers,vibram,5 fingers,vibram 5 fingers

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.