Also Sprach Hayek: Nietzsche and the Libertarians

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (Photo credit: risu)

Whatever has value in our world now does not have value in itself, according to its nature—nature is always value-less, but has been given value at some time, as a present—and it was we who gave and bestowed it.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882)

Value is therefore nothing inherent in goods, no property of them, but merely the importance that we first attribute to the satisfaction of our needs, that is, to our lives and well-being.

Carl Menger, Principles of Economics (1871)

Corey Robin has a fascinating, very long post up at The Nation on the possible (or even likely)  connections between Nietzsche and the Austrian school economists (Hayek, von Mises and their American disciples). He’s added a bit at Crooked Timber, where a lively discussion is underway.

Here’s his opening:

In the last half-century of American politics, conservatism has hardened around the defense of economic privilege and rule. Whether it’s the libertarianism of the GOP or the neoliberalism of the Democrats, that defense has enabled an upward redistribution of rights and a downward redistribution of duties. The 1 percent possesses more than wealth and political influence; it wields direct and personal power over men and women. Capital governs labor, telling workers what to say, how to vote and when to pee. It has all the substance of noblesse and none of the style of oblige. That many of its most vocal defenders believe Barack Obama to be their mortal enemy—a socialist, no less—is a testament less to the reality about which they speak than to the resonance of the vocabulary they deploy.

The Nobel Prize–winning economist Friedrich Hayek is the leading theoretician of this movement, formulating the most genuinely political theory of capitalism on the right we’ve ever seen. The theory does not imagine a shift from government to the individual, as is often claimed by conservatives; nor does it imagine a simple shift from the state to the market or from society to the atomized self, as is sometimes claimed by the left. Rather, it recasts our understanding of politics and where it might be found. This may explain why the University of Chicago chose to reissue Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty two years ago after the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Like The Road to Serfdom (1944), which a swooning Glenn Beck catapulted to the bestseller list in 2010, The Constitution of Liberty is a text, as its publisher says, of “our present moment.”

The benefit of Robin’s article is that it doesn’t dismiss libertarian thought out of hand, as most leftist critiques might be tempted to do, but takes it very seriously and digs deep into its roots, showing precisely where the ancestral ideas that gave rise to our right-wing, market-obsessed American brethren diverged from the extremist right-wing ideology of the fascists in Germany. Libertarians may find the article unsettling, if they take Robin’s arguments as seriously as he takes theirs. Most Americans, left or right, may find it a disturbing read. I certainly did. Continue reading