Hayek and the Reconstruction of Germany

At first, the U.S. POW camps for captured Germans were dominated by Nazi’s who threatened and even killed anti-Nazi “traitors.” But as American thoughts turned to the post World-War II era the camps were cleaned up and a reeducation plan was begun. In other countries, this might have been a euphemism for torture and forced labor but in the U.S. camps it meant libraries filled with books that the Nazi’s had banned and open discussion sessions led by professors from Harvard, Brown, Cornell and elsewhere. The story is told in The Washington Post Magazine article, Learning Freedom in Captivity.

Here is one interesting quote:

By mid-1944, new leadership had been installed at Concordia and many of the worst Nazis had been removed. Concordia’s canteens and library were filled with books that had been banned by the Nazis. Treichl read and reread the American bestseller The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek, which detailed the flaws in socialism and contrasted it with democracy.

Treichl went on to become head of Austria’s largest bank and honorary president of the Austrian Red Cross. To this day he has kept his beloved copy of The Road To Serfdom.

I find this story heart-warming and a fascinating tidbit of history but it also troubles me. What are we to make of a reeducation camp with The Road to Serfdom as text? Clearly, we cannot dismiss such a thing as a contradiction in terms because apparently it did some good. More broadly, Hayek warns against the hubris of social engineering – yet what was the post WWII reconstruction of Germany and Japan but social engineering on a grand scale? How do these lessons apply to Iraq? Could we fail in Iraq precisely because we do not have the power to reeducate?


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