A little over 70 years ago, the Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992) published an essay on “The Intellectuals and Socialism” (1949). Hayek suggested that the politics of the day is the lagged result of intellectual currents that took form and began decades ago to influence those who think and write about ideas in ways that others can understand and show how they apply and are relevant to the issues and problems of the day.
The intellectual and cultural percolation of ideas through society forms the implicit mindsets in which a growing number of people think about themselves, others, and the nature and workings of the social order in which they live out their lives.
For decades now—since long before the emergence of the “woke movement” and all the related political groups demanding radical change in American society—“socialism” in its many variations and forms has captured the minds and hearts of a good number of those who helped mold “public opinion.” There were “extremists” among them back then, but most of the intellectuals attracted to the socialist critique of liberal market society mostly wanted to “reform” or “reconstruct” the seeming cruelties and callousness of “capitalism.” Hence, the interventionist-welfare state.
As time went on, the “tamed” capitalism seemed to fail to create that better, “fairer,” and more “socially just” society those on “the left” had hoped for. Indeed, it seemed to make some things worse.
Those in the halls of modern academia—those islands of government-funded educational socialism that are relatively free from the winds of market supply and demand—could dream their dreams of a post-capitalist world, but one that had to be different from the embarrassing failure of the Soviet socialist system.
Their intellectual parents and grandparents had had such high hopes for those “first experiments” in the making of a socialist future, but the economic stagnation, tyranny, and terror of real socialism-in-practice could not be ignored when the Soviet Union and its satellite “captive nations” not only “gave up the ghost” but could not wait to see it go.
The socialist critique of capitalism had to be rewritten. Too many of the “working class” viewed themselves as part of the “middle class.” Far too many in the American segment of the “workers of the world” owned homes, had retirement plans based on the success of private enterprise, and had dreams that their children might even make it into the “one percent” someday.
From Class Conflict to Race and Gender Warfare
So they transformed the argument. It really wasn’t as much about the “class conflict”; no, it was about slavery, racism, and sexism.
The greedy capitalists now became the greedy white male capitalists who were all about oppressing “people of color” and exploiting women and all the others in the kaleidoscope of genders that seemed to emerge in just a few years after tens of thousands of years of the “presumption” that there are men and women.
Who could have imagined that such gender “diversity” was right there under our noses for all of human history? Go figure.
But when minds are unhinged from reality, all things are possible; only believe.
These tribal collectivists have been at work now for more than a generation on the next generation of young people, who have been indoctrinated to believe that individual liberty means racism, that freedom of speech means fascism, that equality before the law means race and gender oppression, and that limited constitutional government is the cover for Nazi-like tyranny.
Like the real Nazis (National Socialists), fascists, and Marxists before them, the leaders and spokespersons for the new tribal collectivism demand to remake society by tearing down the entire structure and history of the existing society.
The more moderate “progressives” and party Democrats, already brought up on the premises of an evil capitalism and a wonderful world of rightly constructed “democratic” socialism, are pulled in the direction of the more radical identity politics warriors because to hesitate or resist it means that they are “really” on the enemy side of racism and fascism. And to be labeled these is a psychological and social fate worse than death for far too many of them. (See my articles titled “Collectivism’s Progress: From Marxism to Race and Gender Intersectionality” and “An ‘Identity Politics’ Victory Would Mean the End to Liberty”)
The Case for a (Classical) Liberal Utopia
This is the America we live in today.
Toward the end of his essay on “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” Friedrich Hayek says that the only way to stop and reverse these types of trends is to restore and reconstruct an understanding about and a radically and appealing case for a new “liberal Utopia”:
“We must be able to offer a new liberal program which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a program which seems neither a defense of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the sensibilities of the mighty, . . . which is not too severely practical, and which does not confine itself to what appears today as the politically possible.
“We need intellectual leaders who are prepared to resist the blandishments of power and influence and who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects for its early realization. There must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their realization, however remote. . . . Free trade and freedom of opportunity are ideals which still may arouse the imaginations of large numbers, but a mere ‘reasonable freedom of trade’ or a mere ‘relaxation of controls’ is neither intellectually respectable nor likely to inspire enthusiasm. . . .
“Unless we can make the philosophical foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task that challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain the belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost” (pp. 25-26).
This means that regardless of each citizen’s decision on how they may or may not vote in the coming November election, the real battle for the future of America is in this longer-term conflict of ideas, and the courage and willingness to resist despair and instead shoulder some part of the effort to make that liberal Utopia an ideal a growing number of our fellow Americans want.
(For more on this subject, see my book For a New Liberalism.)
[Originally posted at the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER).]