quotes for today: Why The Leftist Party Needs Enemies – from F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom

Friedrich Hayek explains why statist party leaders and ideological foot soldiers find vilification so important to their program:

“It is in connection with the deliberate effort of the skilful demagogue to weld together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters that the third and perhaps most important element of [leftist cohort formation] enters.  It seems to be almost a law of human nature that is it easier for people to agree on a negative program — on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off — than on any positive task.  The contrast between “we” and the “they,’ the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action.  It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses.”

— F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, p. 139.  Read the chapter from which this is taken, “Why the Worst Get to the Top”, for the context in which these remarks are made.

In 2009 one of the objects of hate is Friedrich Hayek himself  — identified as an object of vilification by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and ideological foot soldier Naomi Klein, among many others.

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2 Responses to quotes for today: Why The Leftist Party Needs Enemies – from F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom

  1. Understanding the functionality and adaptive nature of social life sheds light on this phenomenon. Free market economists give much importance to the division of labor allowed by social life. But there are two other basic and more primitive reasons why groups are important for some organisms: internal help and external aggression.

    Mutual internal help is an insurance mechanism: the particular circumstances of an individual can vary in part randomly, from health to sickness, from being well fed to being hungry. These variations are asymmetrical in the sense that it is very dangerous to be in a bad situation (it can imply death) while it is just good to be in a good situation. If these variations are intense enough, an organism might occasionally find itself below the minimal threshold needed to survive, and it cannot in general compensate for the bad times with the surplus earned in the good times (apart from its ability to store food and energy; the weakness due to sickness or to an injury cannot be repaired by taking some strength from the past). If organisms live in groups, they can soften these variations if the ones better off help those circumstantially worse off. This help mechanism works inside the collective but it does not in principle require collective action, it is simply some individuals who happen to be strong today helping other individuals who happen to be weak today. It is not about specialization since changes in individual abilities are more or less random.

    Living beings compete with others for scarce resources. This competition can happen between groups (ant colonies, human tribes). War making is an essentially collective action: all of us versus all of them. It requires an internal cohesion in order to achieve the consistent participation of all members of the group and an external focusing towards a common enemy to be destroyed. Human psychology is instinctively wired this way: collective action is deeply related with war. In fact, war is possibly the main (and maybe only) essentially collective action.

  2. Pingback: Collective action and war « intelib

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