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


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.

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.