Samuelson on Hayek

In this journal’s same issue, Professors Edward McPhail and Andrew Farrant of Dickinson College have published letters between Hayek and me, along with their comments. I desist from providing any peer-reviewer comments of my own.

But, since I happen to be still alive at so late a date, I jot down here certain ad hominem nuances that only I could be privy to.

Hayekian biography confirms a few commonplaces. His was a highly original mind. That meant he had to work out everything for himself rather than learning stuff from teachers. Also, his was a slightly depressive personality. Popularity, unpopularity and virtual anonymity added to this. Once he told me (and I quote from memory) that (in his seventies) he feared he had become stale and uncreative. But later his originality did come back. In hindsight he learned that his two periods of letdown in fact turned out to have coincided with two incidents of heart infarction. In paraphrase: Right there is the brain–mind connection that had preoccupied Hayek when writing his psychology treatise The Sensory Order (Hayek, 1952).

Add to the above that as I myself aged beyond seventy and eighty and ninety, it came to my notice that one must learn to appreciate that elderly friends do need to be handled gently. Here is a germane example. After Harry Johnson’s stroke in Venice he still produced many worthy research articles. But he became easily irritated. He argued with various long-time friends. When the publisher who had carried his stuff for decades was three weeks late in sending a book out for review, he broke off relations with that company. Often I heard myself saying to good mutual friends of Harry and me: “That’s not our Harry arguing. It’s his arteries. Let’s just go with the flow and remember Johnson’s fertility and admirable versatility.”

So it was when I began to receive complaints from my long-time acquaintance Friedrich Hayek. Why at so late a date should I belabor the persisting differences between us on ideological issues?

No good deeds go unpunished! Never then, or before, or later did I have reason to think or to say: Yes, I have misunderstood you. Yes, I have incorrectly quoted from you. Mea culpa.

Exactly what I have written above evaluating The Road to Serfdom is precisely what I believed about it in the 1940s and continued to believe about it up to the present 2007.

Why agitate ourselveswhenwe are each entitled to harbor different analyses? One learns that often it is better to avoid an argument than to win one. Amen.

In this footnote on ad hominem matters, some few additional remarks may be useful. Most of my gifted mentors, born in the nineteenth century, lacked today’s “political (and ethnic) correctness.” There were of course some honorable exceptions among both my Yankee and European teachers. Reder (2000) has provided a useful exploration of such unpleasantries. Central to his expositions were appraisals of the triad John Maynard Keynes, Joseph A. Schumpeter and Friedrich Hayek on the subject of anti-semitism.
Unexpectedly, I was forced in the end to conclude that Keynes’s lifetime profile was the worst of the three. In the record of his letters to wife and other Bloomsbury buddies, Keynes apparently remained in viewpoint much the same as in his Eton essay on that subject as a callow seventeen-year-old.

Hayek, I came to realize, seemed to be the one of the three who at least tried to grow beyond his early conditioning. The full record suggests that he did not succeed fully in cleansing those Augean Stables. Still, a B grade for effort does trump a C-grade.

Keynes’s visceral social repugnance would interest future historians less if it never contaminated his intellectual judgments. However early on, like Bertrand Russell, Keynes did recognize barbaric evils in Lenin’s utopia. Strange though that instead of discovering the key role of Georgian Josef Stalin, it was the beastliness of Leon (Lev) Trotsky that Keynes’s pen picks up on.


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