Ayn Rand despised Friedrich Hayek. In a letter to Rose Wilder Lane she described him as "an example of our most pernicious enemy". At Thoughts on Freedom, Andrew Russell takes issue with some of my earlier comments on the Rand/Hayek dispute. In the comments thread Daniel Barnes joins the debate.
So why did Rand despise Hayek? I think Daniel gets it right — she believed that Hayek was guilty of compromising on moral principles. For Rand this kind of compromise was unforgivable. As the hero of Atlas Shrugged says; "In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win" (p 965).
What did Rand say about Hayek?
Apart from some jottings in the margins of The Road to Serfdom, Rand’s comments on Hayek are confined to her letters — one to Leonard Read and the other to Rose Wilder Lane. In her letter to Read, Rand complained that respectable conservative newspapers, magazines and book publishers were:
…staffed with pinks who maintain a blockade against all real advocates of our side. Only the Hayeks and such other compromisers are allowed to get through, the kind who do more good to the communist cause than to ours (p 299).
When Lane wrote to her asking "Do those almost with us do more harm than 100% enemies?" Rand replied:
The standard of judgment here has to be the man’s attitude towards basic principles. If he shares our basic principles, but goes off on lesser details in the application of these principles, then he is worth educating and having as an ally. If his "almost" consists of sharing some of the basic principles of collectivism, then we ought to run from him faster than from an out-and-out Communist.
As an example of the kind of "almost" I would tolerate, I’d name Ludwig von Mises. His book, Omnipotent Government, had some bad flaws, in that he attempted to divorce economics from morality, which is impossible; but with the exception of his last chapter, which simply didn’t make sense, his book was good, and did not betray our cause. The flaws in his argument merely weakened his own effectiveness, but did not help the other side.
Rand believed that Hayek had compromised moral principles. He was a man who lacked integrity.
Reason and moral values
Rand believed that that every individual must discover their own purpose through conscious thought. Like a character in a Terry Goodkind novel, a Randian hero must first discover who they are before they can decide what they should do. Unlike David Hume, Rand did not believe that reason was the slave of the passions. An individual should never allow their life to be ruled by subjective preferences or whims. She called her philosophy Objectivism because she believed that " the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man — and that it must be discovered, not invented, by man" (p 22). As Leonard Peikoff explains:
Objectivism holds that value is objective (not intrinsic or subjective); value is based on and derives from the facts of reality (it does not derive from mystic authority or from whim, personal or social). Reality, we hold—along with the decision to remain in it, i.e., to stay alive—dictates and demands an entire code of values. Unlike the lower species, man does not pursue the proper values automatically; he must discover and choose them; but this does not imply subjectivism. Every proper value-judgment is the identification of a fact: a given object or action advances man’s life (it is good): or it threatens man’s life (it is bad or an evil). The good, therefore, is a species of the true; it is a form of recognizing reality. The evil is a species of the false; it is a form of contradicting reality. Or: values are a type of facts; they are facts considered in relation to the choice to live (in Fact and Value).
An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought (p 970).
This doctrine has important consequences for Rand’s followers. When a person disagrees with Rand’s philosophy because of ignorance they can be educated — it may still be worthwhile arguing with them. But those who turn away from the truth deliberately are not worth arguing with. To engage with them in any way is to sanction their opinions — to grant their views legitimacy and provide their cause with the oxygen it needs to succeed.
Rand believed that Hayek had compromised with the collectivists. He had given his sanction to their principles.
Doesn’t life require compromise?
For Rand there could be no compromise on principles. The heroes of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged epitomise her ideal of integrity. She also went on to explain her position in two short essays ‘Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?’ and ‘The Anatomy of Compromise’.
In ‘Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?’ Rand distinguished between two kinds of compromise — one acceptable and the other unacceptable. The first kind of compromise is where the two parties agree on fundamental principles but disagree on how this works out in practice. For example, a buyer and a seller agree that the seller is entitled to be paid for what they have produced but they disagree on the price. By bargaining with each other they can reach a compromise — the seller receives less than they wanted and the buyer pays more.
The second kind of compromise is a compromise on principles. If a property owner bargains with a burglar over how much the burglar is entitled to take, then the owner has sacrifices not only their property but their rights. This is why, in Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s hero Hank Reardon insists that the government must seize his property by force — by giving it up voluntarily he would be giving his sanction to their depraved version of morality.
In ‘The Anatomy of Compromise’ Rand set out three rules:
1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.
2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.
3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side (p 145).
Unlike Rand, Hayek rejected the ideal of laissez-faire capitalism (p 18). He argued that it was legitimate for governments to regulate producers (provided they didn’t try to control prices and quantities) (p 38) and that governments should provide some social services (p 39). Hayek was in favour of a guaranteed minimum income and some form of social insurance (p 124-125).
For Rand, these policies were unconscionable concessions to the collectivists. For example, by allowing income support payments to the idle poor, Hayek had conceded the socialists’ principle that a person’s need gave them a legitimate claim over the property of productive citizens. Hayek was negotiating with looters.
Rand vs classical liberalism
The rift between Rand and classical liberals like Hayek was deep. Rand followed Aristotle. She believed that the key to understanding what was good and bad in an object was to understand its nature — to discover what kind of thing it was. Man-made objects are judged against the purpose for which they were made, for example, a good race car is one which is fast and handles well. But human beings are different. They are not created to serve somebody else’s ends — every person is an end in themselves. As a result:
The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics — the standard by which one judges what is good or evil — is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.
Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil (p 23).
Most classical liberals reject this approach. Instead, they follow David Hume in thinking that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions". On this view, a person’s preferences or passions are neither rational or irrational — they just are. A well-ordered society is one which enables individuals to satisfy their preferences to the fullest extent possible without interfering with other people’s attempts to satisfy theirs. If this means that the masses are content to be herded into shopping malls and fed fried potatoes, minced beef and fizzy sugar-water, then most classical liberals have no objection. If people don’t want to live an examined life then that’s their own business.
In A Treatise of Human Nature Hume argued against the idea "that virtue is nothing but a conformity to reason". Hayek agreed, and then went on to argue that moral norms are the product of cultural evolution rather than rational deliberation:
Like all other values, our morals are not a product but a presupposition of reason, part of the ends which the instrument of our intellect has been developed to serve. At any one state of our evolution, the system of values into which we are born supplies the ends which our reason must serve. This givenness of the value framework implies that, although we must always strive to improve our institutions, we can never aim to remake them as a whole and that, in our efforts to improve them, we must take for granted much that we do not understand (p 63).
This was an anathema to Rand. She believed that men and women who allowed their value framework to be dictated by tradition were little better than trained animals. For Hayek civilization depended on a delicate balance of moral innovation by the few and mindless conformity by the many. He rejected the rationalism of philosophers who believed that they could construct a new morality based on their analysis of human nature (p 64-65).
What did Hayek say about Rand?
Hayek didn’t have much to say about Rand or her work. Given that she never left any space in her margins so it’s unlikely that anybody’s going to find an annotated copy of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead. According to one report he admired Atlas Shrugged but found Rand’s philosophy incomprehensible. Perhaps he was just being polite.