The Nation has just published a piece by BHL’s old friend Corey Robin where Robin tries to draw a significant connection between Austrian economics’ view of economic value and Nietzsche’s far broader value skepticism (also see Robin’s CT post here). The upshot, from what I can tell, is that Austrians are guilty both of a kind of nihilism about objective value (whatever that is) and that they implicitly endorse the sort of elitism that is more explicit in Nietzsche’s writings. The argument fails. After a quick summary of the argument, I’ll outline some major and some more minor errors. The post takes the form of a list because I think the piece is replete with errors and confusions, so weaving them together may not be possible or worthwhile.

I want to emphasize at the outset that none of my criticisms depend on the truth of libertarianism in any way. Any sufficiently informed reader should be able to appreciate the force of my concerns. Consequently, I hope that replies can stick to Robin’s historical claims and my replies, not on the truth or falsity of libertarianism.

Quick Summary

Robin roughly claims that the move to the subjective theory of economic value in economics was a move towards a form of objective value nihilism. Objective value nihilism in turn allows Austrian economists in particular to argue that markets are an expression of morality because markets are expressions of subjective value. And since (Robin assumes) Austrians admit that aristocratic tastes drive economic productivity, we can infer that Austrians believe that aristocratic valuations (and thus aristocracy) expresses moral value. This contorted argument serves Robin’s career-long attempt to shoehorn every non-leftist into a single group of people who hate equality.

Major Substantive Errors 

(1) For Robin to draw an interesting, sound and illuminating connection between Nietzsche and the Austrians (specifically Mises and Hayek), he must establish two claims: (i) that Nietzsche and the Austrians share the relevant, important views (in this case, a radical subjectivity about “value”) and (ii) that they were unique in sharing these views. Robin fails to establish either claim.

A. Claim (i) is severely weakened by the fact that Robin equivocates on the meaning of the term “value” all across the essay. Robin fails to distinguish between use-value and exchange-value, economic value and moral value, and between any particular form of value and “value” itself. I won’t count them all. If you’re interested in verifying my claim, just search the text of the article for “value” and see for yourself.

B. Robin himself provides examples that undermine claim (ii), such as the fact that Walras, a social democrat, was one of the original marginal revolutionaries. Further, he acknowledges that Marx had subjectivist elements in his theory of value (I will revisit this in a moment). But there are other cases. Oskar Lange, Mises’s great intellectual opponent and one of the chief architects of market socialism, was a marginalist and subjectivist through and through. If even Mises’s chief opponent shared his theory of value, how can there be an interesting, illuminating connection between Nietzsche and the Austrians? (And in fact there are deep tensions between Nietzsche and the Austrians. Lester Hunt has documented Nietzsche’s deep hostility to spontaneous order here).

(2) But suppose we scrutinize one of Robin’s most well-developed and specific claims, namely that there is an interesting and illuminating connection between Nietzsche’s and Hayek’s view about the importance of great men setting out new forms of valuation for social development. Even here the argument fails. The only passages from Hayek that can even be construed out of context to support this argument is Hayek’s claim in The Constitution of Liberty that synchronic (simultaneous) inequalities of wealth can work to the benefit of the least-advantaged over time because the luxury consumption of the rich paves the way for manufacturers to create cheaper versions of the same goods and market them to the masses. But Hayek’s discussion here is in no way an endorsement of an aristocratic system of values, or an endorsement of the claim that aristocrats should somehow be the moral model for society as a whole, or that only some people can live or deserve to live full, flourishing lives.

(3) What’s more, Hayek thought pretty much everyone’s value judgments were riddled with ignorance, not just the poor or wage-laborers. To be an elitist, presumably you need to think that the intellectual, cultural and moral judgments of the elite are good or in some way substantively correct. In contrast, if you think everyone is a deeply cognitively limited agent, but that some are more limited than others, the elitism charge is harder to defend.

(4) Robin overdraws the distinction between the labor theory of value and the subjective theory of value. Remember that for practically all its advocates, the labor theory was a theory of exchange value, not use value. Even Marx was a subjectivist about economic use value. Plus, Marx claimed that exchange value was determined by socially necessary labor hours, a subjectivist idea. Robin recognizes that Marx’s theory was more complex, but this doesn’t stop him from resting a lot on the distinction between the two theories of value.

(5) Robin: “Mises and Hayek pursued a different path, one Nietzsche would never had dared to take: they made the market the very expression of morality.” Mises was a utilitarian, so that cannot be true. Morality can be promoted outside of the market by any utility-increasing action. Hayek was, in my view, an evolutionary contractarian (see here). On his view, evolved social rules are morally binding insofar as they are universally acceptable to all. Neither moral theory makes market relations “the very expression” of morality. Morality can be expressed in all sorts of ways. Also, what does it even mean for the market to be “the very expression” of morality?

Other Errors 

  1. Contra Robin, the marginalists were not focused primarily on the consumer in contrast to the producer. My understanding is that the marginalists were concerned with giving a broader account of acting man, whether he is a consumer or a producer. It is true that the marginalists reversed the cost of production theories of value that suggested that the value of the inputs determined the value of the outputs. In that sense, it is all about consumers, but only in that sense. Marginalism itself is not restricted to consumers. In fact, the core idea at stake in the socialist calculation debate was to explain how subjectivism and marginalism mattered for producers. Plus, the modern focus on consumption comes from critics of the market (think Keynes). If I’m wrong, after having read Jevons, Menger, Walras, Mises, Lange and Hayek, I would like to see the passages Robin has in mind.
  2. Menger thought that economic valuation is subjective but affirmed an Aristotelian conception of human flourishing, following Brentano. So he believed both in subjective economic value and a more objective conception of well-being. If Robin’s thesis is correct, this should not be.
  3. The article equivocates on the notion of “economic” behavior and action. Mises thought praxeology applied to all human action and so man was essentially an economizing being. His analysis of choice was universal. To say that Mises reduced all value to economic value implies that economic value is something substantively psychological, a subset of valuation generally. But Mises’s understanding of the economizing man was far more general.
  4. Robin claims that for the Austrians “the economy becomes a theater of self-disclosure, the stage upon which we discover and reveal our ultimate ends.” And that “the Austrians saw the economy as the disciplining agent of all ethical action, a moment of—and opportunity for—moral artistry.” I don’t know about you, but doesn’t that contradict the Hayek passage he mentions in the immediately preceding paragraphs? Hayek: “There are many things which are more important than anything which economic gains or losses are likely to affect, which for us stand high above the amenities and even above many of the necessities of life which are affected by the economic ups and downs.” Robin calls this obvious tension “paradoxical” but why isn’t it just a serious difficulty for the generalizations he wants to make?
  5. Were Hayek and Mises really new in thinking that one’s agency can be expressed effectively in market relations? What is especially “Austrian” about that point?
  6. And what on God’s Green Earth does this have to do with fascism?
  7. Robin says that for Schumpeter, “the entrepreneur emerges as a legislator of values and new ways of being.” Robin claims this while simultaneously acknowledging that for Schumpeter the entrepreneur actually has relatively little control over market outcomes. If entrepreneurs have little control over outcomes, how can they be legislators of value?
  8. Robin: “Hayek developed this notion into a full-blown theory of the wealthy and the well-born as an avant-garde of taste, as makers of new horizons of value from which the rest of humanity took its bears.” I need citations to evaluate this claim. The only thing in Hayek that he could base this claim on is Hayek’s claim in The Constitution of Liberty that I have already discussed. Surely we need more than one data point to vindicate Robin’s thesis.
  9. Why does Robin think that his claim that Hayek thought liberty has merely instrumental value is original? There is no “Ah ha!” here. This has been widely understood for a long time.
  10. Robin is wrong that Hayek only cares about the “freedom of that unknown and untapped figure of invention” because he misreads Hayek when Hayek says, “What is important is not what freedom I personally would like to exercise but what freedom some person may need in order to do things beneficial to society.” The unknown person is not necessarily an elite entrepreneur, or even probably an elite entrepreneur.
  11. Another erroneous claim: Hayek did not equate the culturally innovative class with the “men of capital.” Robin has offered us no reason at all to support Hayek thought these classes were coextensive.
  12. Robin: “Deep inside Hayek’s understanding of freedom, then, is the notion that the freedom of some is worth more than the freedom of others.” But as I’ve already argued, in the passage Robin refers to, Hayek has confined his focus to the general effects of the richer members of society using their market freedom to buy luxury goods. Hayek elsewhere repeatedly emphasizes that through a system of general, predictable rules, all will benefit, both in terms of wealth and freedom. In this passage, Hayek is not making any kind of conceptual claim about the nature of freedom.
  13. I just have to say this again: what does any of the Hayek exegesis have to do with Nietzsche in particular?
  14. Robin ends with a Hayek smear. When Hayek was eighty he said that Pinochet was an improvement on Allende. This was a serious mistake in judgment, but it is not significant for Hayek’s body of work in any way. Why would it be?
  15. Robin’s conclusion: “Still, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that though Nietzschean politics may have fought the battles, Nietzschean economics won the war.” Austrian economics just isn’t in any important or illuminating way Nietzschean. There is no evidence of direct influence, which Robin acknowledges, so his entire argument must rely on identifying unique conceptual and ideological commonalities. But as we have seen, Robin fails to do so.

Conclusion 

Robin’s work is continually plagued by his desire to impose a good guy/bad guy narrative on the history of ideas. Every non-leftist is somehow an enemy of equality. That same flaw pervades this essay. The argument is too complex and poorly executed because Robin knew where he wanted to go ahead of time. Somehow Hayek was going to end up an enemy of equality. Lo and behold, via an extremely tenuous connection with Nietzsche, he is.

Further, many of Robin’s arguments are guilt-by-association (Mises and Hayek with Nietzsche and Hayek with Pinochet at the end). That’s a bad way to do intellectual history because it leads us to focus on personal flaws rather than the development and interplay of ideas.

Finally, remember that in this post I made absolutely no claim that depends on the truth of libertarianism. Any sufficiently informed reader could appreciate my concerns.

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  • Kuze81

    Well, as the old expression goes: “The Nation is a terrible magazine”

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  • John S

    Good rebuttal. Perhaps you should make some of these points over at Crooked Timber on his post.

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  • http://twitter.com/CK_MacLeod CK MacLeod

    Much of this post consists of what we used to call in competitive debate a “spread” – the attempt to overwhelm an opponent with an effectively unanswerable list of minor counter-arguments. Though Robin may nod to his fellow leftists and his own leftism in a way that mars his essay, especially in his concluding remarks, his main argument is relatively simple, and, in my view, is mischaracterized at the outset of this response post.

    Robin’s theory seems to be that the Austrians, like Nietzsche but also as advocated by Nietzsche, and also like many others from the 19th Century to the present day, founded new approaches to “value” and to the relationship of economic values to moral and political values. The nature of this inquiry into the concept of value or the Nietzschean “transvaluation of values” helps to explain why there are so many different notions of value discussed across the course of Robin’s essay (one of the “spread” points). The objective isn’t to critique Austrian or any other economics as economic theory – I doubt Robin considers himself qualified to do so – but to understand the Austrians and by extension their modern-day descendants culturally-historically, specifically as seeking in the realm of economic activity a possible basis of “meaning production” as well as “means of production” and “value production.” The “paradox” that the author understands as mere “contradiction” would be that freedom from brute economics – i.e., freedom not to have one’s value preferences overwhelmed by the pre-determinations of others (politicians, purveyors of obsolete value systems, lowest common denominator masses of consumers) – relies on economic freedom. Because such economic freedom is neither available nor, if available, creatively utilized by the many, it tends by definition to be the property of an elite of some kind. In this sense, the Austrians provided a modernized argument, or argument from within and for modern, mass industrial societies, for an ancient aristocratic or anti-democratic judgment on real existing political-economic life.

    What it all happens to “have to do with fascism” would be that fascism represented an alternative attempt to “transvalue values,” or replace bourgeois modern values with a new value system, with points or moments of contiguity with the Austrian as well as the Nietzschean concepts (among others). Those same concluding remarks that nod to leftism also seek to maintain the distinction, however, between Austrianism (associated with global neoliberalism), fascism (associated with Schmitt), “neoconservatism” (associated with Strauss), and, perhaps, temperamental conservatiism (associated with Oakeshott). Robin points out that the German Ministry of Finance occupies the former HQ of the Luftwaffe in order to emphasize the victory of “Nietzschean economics” over “Nietzschean politics.” They occupy the same or similar approximate power positions, but that does not make them identical.

    Though Robin sometimes seems to mean to offer insults, confirming his belonging to the broad left, there is nothing in the core of his argument rather than in the polemical decorations, that a Hayekian ought to find embarrassing at all. To the contrary, Robin attributes “profundity and daring” to Hayek and his marginal siblings. Robin’s arguments hardly need to be taken as the last word, and would, I think, benefit from a more impartial presentation (easier said than done), but, thought through, they may present at least as many difficulties to a leftist, including one operating from Robin’s presumptions, as to a conservative or to a libertarian.

    • Kevin Vallier

      I tried to avoid the “spread” accusation by distinguishing between major and minor points. I don’t expect Robin to reply to everything, but I do hope for a reply to the five substantive errors. Surely five does not make a spread.

      That said, your reconstruction confuses me almost as much as Robin’s. For instance, you say “Robin’s theory seems to be that the Austrians, like Nietzsche but also as advocated by Nietzsche, and also like many others from the 19th Century to the present day, founded new approaches to “value” and to the relationship of economic values to moral and political values.”

      But when you say “like many others from the 19th century to the present day” you acknowledge my first substantive point – that there is no unique connection between Nietzsche and the Austrians. Your *very own words* contradict his core claim. For Robin, the Austrians are somehow Nietzsche’s “children,” that is, there is some unique bond between them. Please help me out here.

      • http://twitter.com/CK_MacLeod CK MacLeod

        Seems like an unsolvable abstract question. If the bond is typical or typically exceptional, but not absolutely unique, then can’t it still be interesting or have some explanatory power? Nietzsche persists as a “destiny” (to use one of Nietzsche’s self-descriptions) of interest to us, and so do Hayek et al. I don’t have a hard time accepting an underlying connection or set of connections or contiguities. Nietzsche, in this way like Rand, presents a fascinating drama of the awesomely free individual, as transvaluator of values. The Austrians and fellow travelers, including some who by conventional political standards show up in the wrong places (i.e., social democracy), offer an economic theory that centrally embraces the exceptional individual, but with less seeming partiality regarding the contents of that individuality. In other words, for Robin, it’s as though Hayek et al are trying to create or theoretically justify the economic conditions (or low poiltics, high economics political-economic conditions) that allow for as many Nietzsches, quasi-Nietzsches, super-Nietzsches, near-Nietzsches, neo-Nietzsches, etc., as possible, even if that also means, non-judgmentally, that there will also be lots of failed Nietzsches, repugnant wanna-be Nietzsches, and a very large number of not-really-very-Nietzscheans at all along the way. The only other choice would seem to be political-economic conditions that, in vain pursuit of illusory moral goals, produces fewer Nietzsches or no Nietzsches at all.

        • Frere Ubu

          Ludwig von Mises, in a letter to Ayn Rand: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”

          • fuguewriter

            Rand did not agree with Mises on this reading of her work. She also did not say that. Her ire is not reserved for the masses, but for the elites using government power. Additionally, your quote means nothing, for you have made no conclusion from it.

        • Kevin Vallier

          “If the bond is typical or typically exceptional, but not absolutely unique, then can’t it still be interesting or have some explanatory power?” Maybe, but as I’m sure you’ll agree, Robin’s claim is far stronger.

          • http://twitter.com/CK_MacLeod CK MacLeod

            In a way, yes, but along the lines I’ve already indicated, since Robin states that he is treating Nietzsche more as a “diagnostician” than as an influence. Even “minor influence” might be saying too much, since I don’t believe Robin anywhere claims that a single one of the economists he mentions was even aware of Nietzsche, even though we can assume some at least passing familiarity and indirect influence among the later ones. His notion seems to be that Nietzsche had a critique and intimations of radical solutions to the ills of modernity that find parallels among the first marginalists (who probably had no idea of the existence of Nietzsche), and that are developed further by the Austrians. That these radical solutions of the Nietzschean problem aren’t and can’t be solutions for the many make them less appealing to leftists, and unappealing to whatever extent they reinforce the positions of political-economic and cultural elites, and their putative complacency, or worse, regarding the lot of the great mass of consumer-slaves.

          • Kevin Vallier

            So the article would more accurately be titled, “Nietzsche’s Marginal Therapy Patients?”

          • http://twitter.com/CK_MacLeod CK MacLeod

            Idunno – Robin says he worked a year on this essay, so I guess he wanted it to have a more important-looking title. Though I don’t often find myself in the position of Robin-defender, and have my own problems with his approach, I did find the essay a lot more interesting and useful than you apparently did, or than other people – esp. libertarians pissed off by the Leopold & Loeb crack at Crooked Timber – seem to have.

          • Fallon

            Mises knew a lot about Nietzsche, found him interesting, and used him as an example of “genius”. For Mises, very strangely, given his body of work, genius is outside the normal scope of praxeology. Mises believes that true genius cannot do something else with their labor. Opportunity costs do not apply like they do to the reast of humanity. Is this Nietzschean, to give such exception to genius?

            (One could make a rule-of-thumb: The larger the contribution an individual makes to knowledge the more likely this individual is marked by at least one major instantiation of lunacy, quirkiness and/or character fault…. I am talking about Mises, not Nietzsche in this case. Ok, a little off track…)

            Beyond the genius topic it appears that Mises found Nietzsche a destructive precursor to modern totalitarian thought:

            * Mises points out the irony in Nietzsche’s love affair with atavistic man: Nietzsche himself was frail and sickly and would have been of no value to a society where hunting and fighting skills were the most highly valued assets.

            * Mises is anti-elitist in contrasting the emergent bourgeois producer to he traditional warrior type. Indeed, this distinction dovetails with the priority of classical liberalism: ‘Make way for the peaceful market order as against the status hierarchies of the Ancien Regime and oriental despots.

            * Mises included Nietzsche among the pantheon of bad historians that believed (for a variety of reasons- by virtue of Geist, millennialism, material forces, Progress, Whiggishness, evolution….) that history moves in an inevitable direction beyond the power of acting man to influence.

            Mises, from Human Action:

            “Many authors glorify war and revolution, bloodshed and conquest. Carlyle and Ruskin, Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, and Spengler were harbingers of the ideas which Lenin and Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini put into effect.

            The course of history, say these philosophies, is not determined by the mean activities of materialistic peddlers and merchants, but by the heroic deeds of warriors and conquerors.The economists err in abstracting from
            the experience of the short-lived liberal episode a theory to which they ascribe universal validity. This epoch of liberalism, individualism, and capitalism; of democracy, tolerance, and freedom; of the disregard of all “true” and “eternal” values; and of the supremacy of the rabble is now vanishing and will never return. The dawning age of manliness requires a new theory of human action.”

            This quotation exemplifies Mises’s complete incompatibility with Nietzsche on the question of “value”, too.

        • fuguewriter

          Robin’s claims re. new approaches and codes of value are applicable, though, to almost any radical or revolutionary movement, in theory or praxis. So the claimed link between Austrians and Nietzsche collapses. Nietzsche is also complex, and is not an ever-consistent aristocrat. Vallier is right on target about Robin’s pre-determined result.

          • Von Schillenberg

            Were not the Austrians “Radicals for Capitalism,” as the libertarian historian Brian Doherty titled his book on the broader libertarian movement? The attacks on the status quo of the New Deal and European Social Democracy required a revolutionary spirit, one that defied the leveling logic of the herd instinct in the Leftist economics that predominated. Both Von Mises and Hayek were very much aware of this and their early roles as insurgents. This is not to specifically sign on to Robin’s thesis of a Nietzschean undercurrent to their thought, only to note that your first assertion does not hold true.

  • j r

    Robin’s article is the sort of thing that convinces me that the liberaltarian project will never go anywhere. Hayek has to be the classical liberal/libertarian figure most amenable to the sort of society that contemporary progressives want to build. And yet, we get hit pieces like this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

      Maybe you’re right, but keep in mind that Robin isn’t exactly the best the Left has to offer. As Matt’s post above makes clear (in case the shitty Nation article did not), Robin’s nothing more than a cartoonish ideologue. Robin’s basically a professional propagandist. (Look at his CV here: http://coreyrobin.com/cv/ He has maybe four legitimate scholarly publications. The rest is all propaganda.) We can’t expect him to help build bridges.

    • Aeon Skoble

      Not just Robin- read the comments thread at the CT post. Very discouraging.

  • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

    Corey sent me an early draft of his essay over email, and we had a brief conversation about Nietzsche and libertarianism. He said that he thought that a number of libertarians came to their philosophy through Nietzsche. I said that I didn’t personally know about any who did. And I know a fair number of libertarians. However, I knew that Liberty Magazine did a decennial poll of its readers, and that one of the questions they asked was about intellectual influences. I didn’t remember what, if anything, those results said about Nietzsche. But I suggested that he look there for more info.

    So, in his announcement of his Nation essay at his blog, Corey writes the following:

    How many teenage boys, after all, have found their way into the free market via Nietzsche? None, one insider tells me; a lot, says another. My impression is that the latter is right, but good data is hard to come by.

    Every ten years, Liberty Magazine polls its readers about their intellectual influences. The magazine draws up a list of candidates to vote on. Nietzsche is never on it. Even so, he gets written in each time by the readers. So much so that the editors have been forced to acknowledge on more than one occasion that should they put his name on the pre-approved list of possible influences he might draw more votes than some if not many of the others.

    Curious, I followed the links to look at the original polling results. Two of the three survey don’t give any specific numbers. But in the 1999 results, Nietzsche is described as having been written in by a bit under 2% of respondents (that is, about 12 people out of 600). Less than Jacob Hornberger, of whom I’m pretty confident Robin has never heard. Yet this is certainly not the impression with which one would have been left had they relied exclusively on Robins’ writeup.

    It’s a small point. But it’s indicative, I think, of the way Robins approaches these issues. He began his inquiry with the answer already in mind – Nietzsche was an important source of influence for a lot of libertarians. He looked at the data to find support for this belief and, when he didn’t, reported it in a way that makes him sound as though he was right after all.

    • j r

      I am someone who has a deep appreciation of both Nietzsche and Hayek and I can tell you two things:

      1. I came to my appreciation of both writers in very different ways.

      2. I don’t know anyone else like me in this regard.

      I know Nietzsche, because I was an undergrad philosophy major at one of the few continental programs in the United States. I know Hayek, because I discovered free market economics years later. There’s a particular link that I see between the two, but the former was by no means a gateway to the other.

      I didn’t know any libertarians when I was an undergrad and I don’t any libertarians now who openly cite Nietzsche as a major influence. In fact, most libertarians have an expressed distaste for continental philosophy in general.

      I find Robin’s article to be quite odd.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Odd indeed. I know a bit about Nietzsche and much more about academic libertarians (Nozick, Hayek, Lomasky, Narveson. etc.), and I would never have drawn the connection.

    • Frere Ubu

      Interesting that those who named Nietzsche in the 2008 Liberty Poll ranked him higher than Rand in terms of influence. And who needs Nietzsche if you can have third rate Nietzsche? Rand takes the lead in over 30 years of libertarian polling. That in itself is a worse condemnation than Robin has yet written.

      • j r

        What is your point?

        • fuguewriter

          Trolling, largely, methinks.

      • fuguewriter

        Please show how that is “interesting.” You are given to stating alleged facts without drawing any conclusion. Also, please establish the claim that AR is a third-rate FN.

    • les kyle Nearhood

      I only have a cursory knowledge of Nietzsche and his philosophy. But, although it advocated a sort of super individualism, I do not ever remember seeing any of Nietzsche’s philosophy or any quotes of his in any of my readings about Austrian economics. I have seen his name brought up in discussions of Objectivism. I just do not see the two connected.

    • Sean II

      Personally, I give Robin props for writing straight to his audience. A week from now, there will be 2,000 more leftish pseuds in the world who believe they’ve grappled with Hayek and got the better of him.

      Not bad for a full year’s work.

    • ninjascience

      I looked at the three polls too (why the heck do they take so long to load?), and I don’t think Robin is that far off. In particular, whatever impression you got, what Robin wrote is literally true–Nietzsche was in fact written in all three polls, the magazine noted that he (among others) would ranked higher than several names on the list in the second linked poll, and “highly ranked” in the third linked poll.

      Yet, his leaves out that in each case, Nietzsche came in second among written in names (closely following a different writer each time). So if you read that passage and got the impression that Nietzsche was singled out as unique among write-ins, that would not be the case–Nietzsche was popular but not uniquely popular among write-ins, and there weren’t all that many write-ins (the ranking is based on both the number and the rating, and people writing in a name rank it highly.)

      So you can argue that Robin should have written that differently to avoid conveying that impression–but I think a lot of people reading what you wrote just now are getting the wrong impression as well (Hornberger was the leading written-in name in ’99, Nietzsche only fell slightly behind, Hornberger did not do so well in in the other two polls.)

      But, like you said, this is a small point.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=193112608 Chris Bertram

    How is it a “smear” accurately to report (as you concede) what Hayek said about Pinochet?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

      Chris, you should really consider kicking Robin off the blog.

      I’m not convinced that he’s not just pulling some sort of extended Sokal Hoax on the pseudo-intellectual Left.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=193112608 Chris Bertram

        You’re crossing a line there Jason. I’m hardly surprised you don’t like Corey’s work, I often don’t like things posted here. But I wouldn’t dream of telling you who should be part of your blog. So back off.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

          Oh, calm down, son.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

            Christ, now Robin is going around telling everyone I called for him to be purged and am threatening his academic freedom.

            Is he so dumb that he doesn’t know what academic freedom is, or is he just lying to his followers?

          • Sean II

            Hey, try to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. He’s a brave left-wing voice in the libertarian stronghold known as Brooklyn College. Some prominent libertarian who holds major sway with the trustees starts criticizing his work, how’s the man supposed to feel safe in his ultra-high-security publicly funded income?

          • http://notesonliberty.com/ Brandon Christensen
        • John V

          Perhaps Jason did cross a line. But I think it was well-intended. Robin’s article is every bit as objectively horrible as Kevin demonstrated….and then some. It really was a very bad and vapid article. If a leftist can get past the ideological “feel good” part of it, he/she would see this to be obvious.

          Sorry.

          • http://twitter.com/RancidTarzie The Rancid Honeytrap

            Is it crossing the line to say that Tom Friedman is shitty, even by the the New York Times standards? What, exactly, is the offense here?

        • http://twitter.com/RancidTarzie The Rancid Honeytrap

          I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people who defended Erik Loomis’s frothing Twitter lunacy as ‘academic’ speech will now equate the suggestion that Corey Robin is too shitty a writer and scholar to be on a not-always-shitty blog with ‘crossing the line’ and ‘a purge.’ Still the audacity with which you all attempt to shut people up on free speech grounds is ever a thing of wonder. Must be your complete lack of self-awareness that sells it.

      • Sean II

        Jason,

        You’re dead wrong here. You just didn’t understand Robin’s piece at all. He was trying to set a world’s record for “Most Words Used in Failing an Ideological Turing Test”, and damn, did he not pull it off?

        In doing so, he also showed us that intellectual labor is not determinative of intellectual value, thus making a very subtle point about subjectivism. Austrians only talk about “mud pies” to shoot down the labor theory of value. Robin actually made us eat one, over the course of eight agonizing pages. The proper way to understand this is as a kind of deeply layered performance art.

        I’m just sad that Nietzsche and Pinochet weren’t here to enjoy it. They would have loved it so.

    • Brandon

      Chris–do you agree that Hayek’s praise of Pinochet is evidence of Hayek’s wish for the imposition of top-down order by a great revaluater of all values?

    • Kevin Vallier

      You can smear someone by stating a truth about them. Stating a truth about someone counts as a smear when that truth is used to imply a deficiency of character and serves no additional overriding aim. Since Hayek’s political judgment about a single case at a very advanced age cannot plausibly support Robin’s thesis, it seemed to me that the conditions for a smear obtained.

      • fuguewriter

        I am now going to utter what some have been thinking: perhaps Hayek was right. 190 units of evil is better than 191 units of evil (if there were any such thing).

        Given that Allende was on the payroll of the K.G.B., and given the kind of world the Soviets wanted to establish, and given what they would have established, and given how they would have established – let me affirm it loud and clear: Pinochet was better than Allende.

        Pinochet was also an evil, rotten bastard.

        • Sean II

          Yep. It’s just pure ahistorical nonsense to sit on this side of 1989 and look back at the people who had to choose (and chose correctly!) between the ugly and the hideous, accusing them of bad taste.

          • fuguewriter

            These same people, and their ilk, excused the horrors of the Left.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You may be interested in this: http://www.paulbogdanor.com/deniers.html. Paul Bogdanor has done us all a favor by cataloging the many leftist apologists for truly horrific communist regimes.

        • John V

          Agreed. I find it funny how people are so easily conditioned to see a dictator like Pinochet as irreconcilably 100% evil with no gray area AT ALL yet scum like Allende or Che are somehow given a “half-pass” or gray area (or room for pop legend in Che’s case). Actually it’s irresponsible more than funny. I guess the gatekeepers of history in the classroom have a lot do with that.

          A Chile without Pinochet in which Allende and his ilk stayed in power would NOT have given us the Chile we have today….good and bad. The counter-factual of a hypothetical socialist/communist Chile would have avoided some of the bad of Pinochet…but not all of it. OTOH, the bad that would have resulted is both unknown and incalculable….but it would still be with Chile today. Argentina would be a refuge trying to secure its borders. See China and North Korea or Miami and Cuba for more recent examples.

          • fuguewriter

            Aye. A Soviet beachhead in South America would have been hideous.

          • Sean II

            Given the coastal topography of Chile, wouldn’t it have been more of a fjord-head?

          • Damien S.

            So what was scummy about Allende’s policies? Be specific.

        • spartan2600

          Pinochet’s Chile makes Castro’s Cuba look like paradise- at least for most people. Capitalists and the rich sure as hell had a lovely time under Pinochet though.

          ” let me affirm it loud and clear: Pinochet was better than Allende.”
          There’s also, y’know democracy and that. If the Chilean people and their opinion matters whatsoever, Allende should not have been assassinated by the CIA. Also, enough with the apologetics for Neo-Nazis here, Pinochet was a evil bastard before the CIA put him in power.

          Looks like the pro-Fascist tendencies of right-wing “libertarians” has been exposed here.

          • fuguewriter

            Yes, we love fascism. You got us. We eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and stare longingly at pictures of great collectivist leaders, who are after all *so* very libertarian.

            Let me help you with your computer problems – your copy/paste function is on the blink. What I said was: “*Given* that Allende was on the payroll of the K.G.B., and *given* the kind of world the Soviets wanted to establish, and *given* what they would have established, and *given* how they would have established – let me affirm it loud and clear: Pinochet was better than Allende. [p] Pinochet was also an evil, rotten bastard.”

            There. So much better.

            Also, Pinochet was not a Fascist, “Fascism” has a specific meaning, which cannot be elided with authoritarian, Nazi, etc. Don’t make me quote Orwell at you.

            I’m now off to stare at more authoritarian leaders, who are so *very* libertarian.

          • spartan2600

            The fact that Allende had help from the USSR isn’t evidence of much of anything. The USSR was one of two world superpowers. If you weren’t getting money from Washington, you got it from Moscow. Also, the USSR was politically involved in Greece and yet Moscow *subverted* the imminent communist revolution there in the late 1940’s (still naively convinced the US would respect postwar boundaries).

            von Mises famously said *Fascism* saved Europe shortly after Mussolini seized power. Perhaps Mussolini was better than whatever horror Gramsci and Bordiga would have caused- what with their theory of cultural hegemony and all.

          • Fiat Veritas

            This entire string has become ludicrous. It began with a tortured analysis of Nietzsche as an economist, and ends with libertarianism?

          • fuguewriter

            Naturally.

          • Sean II

            So there’s a couple really good ways to compare Chile with Cuba:

            First, let’s count the refugees to see which one was worse in the eyes of people who actually had to live there.

            Castro’s Cuba saw 1,200,000 people risk life and limb to get out over the course of 30 years. That’s about 10% of the population

            Pinochet’s Chile saw very few people flee or emigrate. Indeed, the outflow was so small that I can’t really find an estimate.

            Castro is thought to have directly killed about 15,000. Pinochet, about 17,000. Chile has more people, so that’s about even in per capita terms.

            Chile is now a working democracy with a nominal per capita GDP of $14,000. Cuba is still a dictatorship with a nominal per capita GDP of $6,000.

            So, to put it mildly, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

          • Damien S.

            Allende was elected. Castro came to power by force, just like Pinochet.

            Cuba has suffered under sanctions from its natural giant trading partner and tourist source. Not that Castro would be good for the economy but the US has done its best to ensure suckage. Chile has much of the world’s copper, giving it a strong natural export.

            Chile’s seen a lot of growth… in the 25 years after Pinochet left office and restored democracy.

          • jdkolassa

            To be fair, in terms of refugees, Pinochet’s regime may have just been that much better at keeping them from escaping.

          • Damien S.

            Also, Chile doesn’t have a United States next door to it. AFAIK Chile’s been roughly tied with Argentina for the top level of South American economies for a long time.

            How many Cubans are escaping the political horror of Castro’s regime vs. trying to get a better life in a much richer (and freer) country 90 miles away? I don’t know, but I’d guess a lot of them are economic refugees more than anything else, like Mexican immigrants who also risk life and limb to get into the US.

          • Sean II

            I considered that, and just the opposite is true. Pinochet’s regime did not make or need to make any effort to prevent emigration. His border guards were there to keep Peruvians, Bolivians, and Argentinians out, not Chileans in.

        • Barry_D

          Do you have anything to prove that Allende was worse than Pinochet? By ‘anything’ I mean ‘anything factual and proven’.

      • http://twitter.com/RancidTarzie The Rancid Honeytrap

        It’s shit like this Pinochet thread here that make libertarians really hard to argue for. I’m a leftist who defends people from riff-raff like Robin a lot, but ostensible anti-authoritarians touting Pinochet is just disgusting and I don’t think it’s particularly libertarian. The length of this thread and all the up-voting is really disappointing. Politics aside, it’s disastrous from a PR standpoint.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Holmes/772158900 Joshua Holmes

          The worst part is, there’s really no need to defend Pinochet on libertarian grounds. It’s not hard to say, “Hayek was an old man who got one wrong. We don’t have a dog in that fight.” Unfortunately, this is part of the the continuing problem with Dope Smoking Republicanism in the libertarian movement, and it makes it easy to marginalize us as the upper middle-class straight white American boys that most of us are.

  • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

    Kevin,

    Excellent post and rebuttal. You cover much ground, so I hope you will not mind me picking on what for you is probably a pretty minor point, but I question your agreement in “Other Errors #9″ that “Hayek thought liberty has merely instrumental value.” I think this is widely [mis]understood, rather than ” widely understood.”

    Perhaps you can explain the following quotes from The Constitution of Liberty:

    Some readers will perhaps be disturbed by the impression that I do not take the value of individual liberty as an indisputable ethical proposition and that, in trying to demonstrate its value, I am possibly making the argument in its support a matter of expediency. This would be a misunderstanding. But it is true that if we want to convince those who do not already share our moral suppositions, we must not simply take them for granted. We must show that liberty is not merely one particular value, but that it is the source and condition of most moral values. (p. 6)

    Coercion is evil precisely because it eliminates an individual as a thinking and valuing person and makes him a mere tool in the achievement of the ends of another. (21) [Tough question: what philosoopher does this remind you of?]

    Such moral rules for collective action are developed only with difficulty and very slowly . But this should be taken as an indication of their preciousness. The most important among the few principles of this kind that we have developed is individual freedom, which is most appropriate to regard as a moral principle of political action. Like all moral principles, it demands that it be accepted as a value in iteself, as a principle that muist be respected without our asking whether the consequences in a particular instance will be beneficial. We shall not achieve the results we want it we do not accept it as a creed or presumption so strong that no considerations of expediency can be allowed to limit it. (68)

    I could go on, but I am tired of typing. Can you point to a place where Hayek actualy said something like “liberty has only instrumental value”?

    • Kevin Vallier

      I can’t look up everything now, but I was thinking of this passage on the first page of Chapter 6 in CoL: “This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: if the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living are more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.” Also this passage: “It is because we want people to use knowledge which we do not possess that we let them decide for themselves.” (159) There’s another passage, which I think is somewhere in LLL, where Hayek says if we could pull of utility calculations as a whole society, the case for liberty would be seriously weakened.

      The passages you cite concern how people ought to regard liberty, how they should treat it if it is to produce good consequences. And that citizens have respect for liberty is a precondition for promoting their other values, so that’s the sense in which it is “the source and condition of most moral values.”

      • Damien S.

        Heh. By contrast, I recall Milton Friedman writing that it was a happy coincidence that freedom increased prosperity, but that he would support it even if it didn’t. Of course, that’s cheap to say when you think it *does*. I think most people believe their favored policies are justified on consequentialist grounds, even if consequentialism isn’t their first argument. And Milton wasn’t exactly a hard-liner by libertarian standards.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

          That works both ways, though. Most people who are libertarians (or anything else) for deontological reasons in fact believe their views pass the consequentialist test too. But equally, most people who are libertarians (or anything else) for consequentialist reasons in fact believe their views pass the deontological test too. I argue here that that’s just as it should be: http://praxeology.net/whyjust.htm

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

            Or, as I wrote in my very first BHL post:

            “all but the hardiest deontologists generally try to show that their favoured policies will in fact have good consequences, while all but the hardiest consequentialists generally try to show that they’re not committed to morally outrageous conclusions.”

          • les kyle Nearhood

            I agree, I am a consequentialist who was first drawn to libertarianism because of the failures to “bring home the bacon” so to speak That I witnessed in both modern liberalism and conservatism.

            However, after much reading and studying I came to the conclusion that libertarianism is the most moral of the competing philosophies. I always find it humorous when a righty takes my approach to the war on drugs as evidence of a libertine view and when a lefty takes my view of economics to mean that I am greedy and selfish.

          • Bob

            But wait, doesn’t being a libertarian just mean that you are a greedy and selfish libertine, instead of a greedy and selfish disciplinarian (right) or a libertine with justice for all (left)?

          • Major_Freedom

            FYI: Your philosophy recently “converted” me to being a eudaimonist-libertarian.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        I’m sorry, but I think the quotes you cite do not help you. The first quote says that “much of the case for it would vanish,” not ALL of it, as would be the case if it had “merely” instrumental value. I can’t find your second quote on p.159, but I don’t doubt that Hayek said it. Nevertheless, it too (as well as your third paraphrase) is perfectly consistent with my claim that for Hayek liberty has both intrinsic and instrumental value.

        On the other hand, I am really puzzled as to how you can interpret the substance of my three quotes as relating only to “how people ought to regard liberty, how they should treat it if it is to produce good consequences.” Where do you see this? This is what Hayek is saying when he clearly channels Kant, and when he states that “Like all moral principles it [individual freedom] demands that it be accepted as a value in itself”? In any case, I welcome people to read these quotes and decide for themselves.

        • Kevin Vallier

          Perhaps we can take the argument about Hayek’s valuation of liberty private, if you’d like to continue. I’d like to keep the thread open to focus on matters central to the post.

        • djr

          Sorry if I’m missing something, but you seem to be insisting that Hayek must have regarded liberty as intrinsically valuable because he thought that it was unconditionally valuable and that no gain in other goods could compensate for its loss and hence justify its sacrifice. But that’s all consistent with regarding liberty as of only instrumental value. To say that something is of only instrumental value is not necessarily to say that it is unimportant or that it can be sacrificed; a ready supply of oxygen is of only instrumental value to me, but it’s awfully important, and certainly isn’t something I’m going to sacrifice for the sake of some other alleged benefits. Hayek does use the language of valuing liberty “in itself,” but I don’t think this shows that he regards it as a non-instrumental good. He even goes on to say immediately that “we shall not achieve the results we want if we do not accept it…” Hardly the kind of justification for “moral principles” that one would expect from Kant (who, likewise, does not, on my reading, regard liberty as an intrinsic good).

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I don’t know that you are “missing something,” but we disagree about the plain meaning of the quotes I provided. Frankly, I am not sure what Hayek would have had to have said to convince you that he ascribed “intrinsic” value to liberty. The first meaning of “intrinsic” in my dictionary is: “belonging to a thing by its very nature.”

            This is exactly what Hayek says in the third quote, and the fact that he talks about “results” is perfectly consistent with this reading because “results” can mean exactly individual freedom, or this plus other values. Same point with respect to the other two quotes: “coercion is evil precisely because it eliminates an individual as a thinking and valuing person”–no mention here about coercion being evil for any other reason, i.e. it gets in the way of spontaneous order, etc. We clearly disagree about Kant, but that is a separate matter.

            I don’t know why it is so hard for you and others to see that the most natural reading of Hayek is that he values liberty both instrinsically and instrumentally. This was exactly the approach of Justice Brandeis in his famous defense of the First Amendment.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/decarlo.matthew Matthew DeCarlo

    I am not well-read in the source work, but doesn’t the idea of “socially necessary” work in Marx’s theory of value imply a degree of (though certainly not thoroughgoing) objectivism? The centralized decision-making process that would determine what is socially necessary would be one based on objective value (assuming it is democracy or workers councils). Though there is definitely some subjectivity in those processes, to be sure, I don’t believe it would be enough to put it on the same footing as a methodological apriorist, individualist, or subjectivist framework.

    It’s a small point in an otherwise great piece.

    • C_T

      “doesn’t the idea of “socially necessary” work in Marx’s theory of value imply a degree of (though certainly not thoroughgoing) objectivism?”

      Yes it does. It’s essentially a measure of productivity and supposedly can be measured. http://www.worldsocialism.org/articles/introduction_to_marxian_economics1.php

    • Bradley Strider

      In present-day capitalist society each individual capitalist produces off his own bat what, how and as much as he likes. The social demand, however, remains an unknown magnitude to him, both in regard to quality, the kind of objects required, and in regard to quantity…. Nevertheless, demand is finally satisfied in way or another, good or bad, and, taken as a whole, production is ultimately geared towards the objects required. How is this evening-out of the contradiction effected? By competition. And how does the competition bring about this solution? Simply by depreciating below their labour value those commodities which by their kind or amount are useless for immediate social requirements, and by making the producers feel… that they have produced either absolutely useless articles or ostensibly useful articles in unusable, superfluous quantity….

      …[C]ontinual deviations of the prices of commodities from their values are the necessary condition in and through which the value of the commodities as such can come into existence. Only through the fluctuations of competition, and consequently of commodity prices, does the law of value of commodity production assert itself and the determination of the value of the commodity by the socially necessary labour time become a reality…. To desire, in a society of producers who exchange their commodities, to establish the determination of value by labour time, by forbidding competition to establish this determination of value through pressure on prices in the only way it can be established, is therefore merely to prove that… one has adopted the usual utopian disdain of economic laws.

      …Only through the undervaluation or overvaluation of products is it forcibly brought home to the individual commodity producers what society requires or does not require and in what amounts.

      This is Friedich Engels, as quoted in Kevin Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. I’m not sure I completely understand the concept, but it sounds as though the “socially necessary labour” is a kind of second-order phenomenon given rise to by market demand and competition. And that’s pretty far from the claim that some central authority would have to determine what is and isn’t “socially necessary”. Carson seems to think this is compatible with subjectivism.

      • A Marxist

        I just happened to be in the neighbourhood….

        “Socially necessary labour” doesn’t only refer to making widget X as opposed to widget Y because X is in demand but Y isn’t – it’s also using production process A rather than production process B because it’s more profitable (in Marxist terms, this would mean the worker making widgets is producing the value of her wage in less time). The latter sense is usually intended in the phrase “socially necessary labour time”, which pops up often in Marxist writing.

        So, yes, Carson is right in saying this is compatible with subjectivism. “Socially necessary” merely means the necessity is produced socially (through competition), it doesn’t mean “socially useful” in some objective sense. Hope this was useful…

      • http://www.facebook.com/decarlo.matthew Matthew DeCarlo

        Whoa. Thanks for the share! I’m used to socially necessary coming from a modern liberal POV (i.e. “it is socially necessary to clothe the poor”). This would certainly be a subjectivist process, as you’ve described though.

  • Ben

    Claiming that libertarians (and any non-leftist) are motivated by hatred for equality is just as silly as claiming that leftists are motivated by a hatred for freedom. Corey is a flatterer who’s popularity stems from telling his fellow leftists precisely what they want to hear.

    • fuguewriter

      “Hate” of this kind – that predicated of the political opponent – is a construction whose purpose is to simultaneously explain and nullify the opponent who is motivated by things we cannot understand, since it proceeds from a different nature than our own.

    • Sean II

      I’m a libertarian, and as long as were talking about a coercive equality of condition, then I certainly am motivated by hatred of it. Aren’t you?

      Also…I’m pretty sure a substantial portion of leftists are motivated by a hatred for freedom. Do you doubt that?

      • Damien S.

        I doubt that, but I’m only a leftist, what do I know?

        Don’t rate freedom as highly, sure, (also, define it differently) but active hatred? No.

        • Sean II

          Damien,

          I’m concerned about something. I was reading an old thread yesterday, and I saw a comment of mine that didn’t have a down-vote.

          Is everything okay with your computer? Is your browser up to date? Did you perhaps forget to pay your service provider on time?

          Naturally, I would have fixed the problem myself, but for some strange reason disqus won’t allow autologous down-votes.

      • djr

        Presumably what you “hate” is the coercion, not the equality. If a voluntary system of exchange were to produce equality of condition, would you hate it?

        Similarly, what “leftists” hate is not freedom, but inequality. If a voluntary system of exchange were to produce equality of condition, they would love it.

        Admittedly, there must be some genuinely freedom-hating leftists and some genuinely equality-hating libertarians out there, but the ones I bother to pay attention to (as someone who wouldn’t call himself either a libertarian or a leftist) aren’t among them.

        • Sean II

          “Admittedly, there must be some genuinely freedom-hating leftists.”

          Well, as long as you admit that, our quarrel can’t run too deep. Perhaps we differ only with respect to the number between your “some” and my “many”.

          Still, let me have a go at changing your mind. There are two main possibilities here.

          1) The left hates freedom and leaderless order, and (because it licenses so much coercion) inequality just happens to be a very useful way of hitting freedom over the head.

          2) The left loves equality, and is reluctantly willing to let coercion have a crack at freedom, since there seems to be no other way.

          So obviously you’ll be able to find examples of both in the lefty spectrum. I grant, no contest, that you’ll find plenty of equality lovers among the left’s foot soldiers and camp following dupes.

          But look at the leaders of the left, look at people like Brian Leiter, Cass Sunstein, Elizabeth Warren, Al Gore, etc.

          Try to say with a straight face: “What these people are after is…equality.”

      • les kyle Nearhood

        What leftists, in my view, hate is freedom as exercised by people who they do not agree with. For example disagreement or criticism of a protected class is deemed hate speech. Making your own economic decisions based upon your own self interest is called greed.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long
    • Sean II

      Uncanny. Can we just drop the pretense that “they” are not one and the same person, then re-assemble his books as they were meant to be:

      The Will to Serfdom
      The Road to Power
      Beyond Prices & Production
      The Gay Conceit
      The Fatal Science
      The Genealogy of Trade Cycles
      The Constitution of Idols

      etc.

      • good_in_theory

        The Road to Serfdom could work as an alternate title to “Genealogy of Morality,” though.

        • Sean II

          Ha! But wouldn’t it have been “The Road from Serfdom”?

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  • http://twitter.com/jurisnaturalist Nathanael Snow

    Let it be known that I greatly appreciate the engagement of Corey’s work here. A far leftist friend of mine sent me the Nation article, knowing my sympathies with Hayek. Now I can refer him not only to this response, but also the mostly civil engagement in the comments.
    Corey’s paper did come back to one issue which libertarianism tends to neglect: formation of preferences. Having not read BHL very often, I don’t know if you all have touched on this. But the entire leftist-communitarian perspective seems to appreciate that as humans we are weak volitional creatures. We don’t stick to our decisions. We need a community to help shape us. That’s as squishy as an old sponge, but there’s truth to it.
    Formation of preferences might be entirely outside of praxeology, and maybe behavioralism is starting to get at it some, I’ll check what Bart Wilson has done on this first, and the Nudgers. I think this way of thinking could use a thorough response.

    • fuguewriter

      Jonathan Haidt’s work will eventually do a great deal toward explaining preference and bias formation. I think he’s one of the guys who Is Figuring It Out. From this POV, there is no universal intrinsic morality, because human populations will always show a diversity of moral temperaments. It’s quite refreshing.

    • Sean II

      “We don’t stick to our decisions. We need a community to help shape us.”

      You must know a very unusual set of humans. The ones I meet “stick to their decisions” way too much, with confirmation bias, stubbornness, a fondness for blaming others whenever they dislike they consequences of their own actions, etc.

      The community doesn’t “help shape” them in a good way, it helps them evade or transfer or at least disguise the cost of all those faults. Worse, “the community” is itself shaped by its most aggressive, most intrusive, most narcissistic and power hungry members.

      Ever been part of a committee? You can try to appoint twenty of the most decent people you know, but there will always be one or two dicks in the group. But you think, “Hey, it’s no big deal because they’ll be outnumbered by the good guys.” Wrong. You come back six months later and the dicks are dominating the group, while the decent people whisper to each other about how terrible it is.

      That’s what really happens when communities get into the shaping business. The thing that really disciplines humans to control their faults and exercise their virtues in a socially useful way is called …the market.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Completely off topic, but I couldn’t help thinking of you when I read this: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/348323/defense-jason-richwine.

        • Sean II

          Not as off topic as you think. The failure to reckon with natural differences and natural limits is one of the things that makes our friend Nate Snow believe humans need communitarian “shaping”

    • K.P.

      “But the entire leftist-communitarian perspective seems to appreciate that as humans we are weak volitional creatures. We don’t stick to our decisions. We need a community to help shape us. That’s as squishy as an old sponge, but there’s truth to it.”

      So much truth that even right-winger and conservatives say the same thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.tanous Matthew Tanous

    I notice how Robin utterly ignored the moral objectivism of natural law Rothbardianism. Seems like that would be enough to rebut the nonsense printed in the Nation…. but then I guess you wouldn’t be able to write an entire article on it.

    • good_in_theory

      It’s probably best for everyone to just ignore moral objectivism, natural law, and Rothbardianism.

      • jdkolassa

        Not sure I agree on the natural law part, especially since natural rights are very important and indeed probably the core of human morality and the human condition, but I do agree with Rothbardianism.

  • Emmanuel

    Politically speaking, I’m probably closer to Mr Robin than I am to most contemporary Austrian economists. And yet I think even his first line betrays his prejudices:

    “How did the conservative ideas of Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian school become our economic reality?”

    Really? the Austrian school is *our* economic reality? the US or the global economy is even roughly speaking an economy operating on an Austrian understanding of the economy?

    • fuguewriter

      This has become a very standard trope among the Left – that we live in an “Ayn Rand economy” or whatnot. My stock reply: we should be so lucky.

    • anto

      That’s the first thing that struck me as well. The only ones who could hold this view are the same folk that think Krugman’s neologism “Austerians” is the same as “Austrian.”

      I admit, for an article consisting of so many words I had to look up, I am astounded that the author has such a shallow understanding of the significant, and simple, differences between “conservative” and “libertarian.”

  • http://twitter.com/Srynerson Srynerson

    Robin: “Hayek developed this notion into a full-blown theory of the wealthy and the well-born as an avant-garde of taste, as makers of new horizons of value from which the rest of humanity took its bears.”

    The only way this statement makes sense to me is if some prankster switched the covers between Robin’s copy of Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class and one of Hayek’s books.

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