Friday, January 10, 2020

Friedrich Hayek's Fascinating Take on Sigmund Freud

 Sigmund Freud
In 1978 a group of economists and other scholars were brought together to interview the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek as part of the UCLA Oral History Program.

They were Earlene Graver, Axel Leijonhufvud, Leo Rosten Jack High, James Buchanan, Robert Bork Thomas Hazlett, Armen A. Alchian and Robert Chitester.

The interviews in total went on for 15.25 hours.

I have long been aware of the youtube videos of the interviews but just recently became aware of an online transcript.

This has provided me with the opportunity to poke around in the transcript in more detail about different themes in the oral history which I had listened to some years ago.

One theme I found fascinating was Hayek's take on Sigmund Freud. Hayek seems to think Freud was in a way anti-civilization for his attempts at attempting to remove repression.

There is a lot to discuss with regard to Hayek's view on the subject, but for now, I am just going to drop the Hayek comments on Freud here. But do note Hayek's mention of Erich Fromm who was part of the Frankfurt School of critical theory that still haunts us to this day. Hayek spotted the trouble early on with Fromm and traced it back to Freud.

Below is Hayek's mentions of Freud in the transcripts. There is some overlap on topics because different questioners sometimes asked similar questions.

The exchange with Graver:

HAYEK: Karl Popper is four or five years my junior; so we did not belong to
the same academic generation. But our environment in
which we formed our ideas was very much the same. It was
very largely dominated by discussion, on the one hand,
with Marxists and, on the other hand, with Freudians.
Both these groups had one very irritating attribute:
they insisted that their theories were, in principle,
irrefutable. Their system was so built up that there
was no possibility-- I remember particularly one occasion
when I suddenly began to see how ridiculous it all was
when I was arguing with Freudians, and they explained,
"Oh, well, this is due to the death instinct." And I said,
"But this can't be due to the [death instinct]." "Oh,
then this is due to the life instinct." [laughter] Well,
if you have these two alternatives, of course there's no
way of checking whether the theory is true or not. And
that led me, already, to the understanding of what became
Popper's main systematic point: that the test of empirical
science was that it could be refuted, and that any system
which claimed that it was irrefutable was by definition not
scientific. I was not a trained philosopher; I didn't
elaborate this. It was sufficient for me to have recognized
this, but when I found this thing explicitly argued and
justified in Popper, I just accepted the Popperian phi
losophy for spelling out what I had always felt.

The Exchange with  Leijonhufvud:

 HAYEK: In a way, you see, I am arguing against Freud, but the problem is the same
as in Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents. I only
don't believe that you can remove these discontents by

LEIJONHUFVUD: --becoming uncivilized. [laughter]

HAYEK: You can only become civilized by these repres
sions which Freud so much dislikes.

The Exchange with  Rosten

HAYEK : Well, you see, I spent my university days already
arguing with these Marxists--my opponents were Marxists
and Freudians. We had endless discussions, and it was
really what I thought was the poverty of the argxaments of
the Marxists which turned me against socialism. Inci
dentally, I'll let you in on another thing: both the
Marxists and the Freudians had the dreadful habit of
insisting that their theories were irrefutable--logically,
absolutely cogent. That led me to see that a theory which
cannot be refuted is not scientific, and that made me later
praise [Karl] Popper when he spelled the same idea out,
which he had gained in the same experience. He was a few
years younger; so we didn't know each other. But we both
went through this experience, arguing all the time with
Marxists and Freudians.

ROSTEN: They were both ideologists of a very strong sort.

HAYEK: Oh, very strong; all very good arguers, and very
anxious to discuss...

You may be amused that a few days ago, when I was returning
the last volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty for being
printed, I inserted one sentence into it: "Man was
civilized very much against his wishes." It's really the
innate instincts which are coming out. [laughter]

ROSTEN: That's a very Freudian statement.

HAYEK: In a way. Well, it's Freudian and anti-Freudian,
because Freud, of course, wanted to relieve us of these
repressions, and my argument is that by these repressions
we became civilized....

ROSTEN : So Freud did influence you, in the sense that he
exposed the enormous power of the not-rational, or of
the rationalizing mechanisms, for the expression of self
interest in the psychological sense.

HAYEK: It may be; I'm certainly not aware of it. My
reaction to Freud was always a negative one from the
very beginning. I grew up in an atmosphere which was
governed by a very great psychiatrist who was absolutely
anti-Freudian: [Julius] Wagner- Jauregg , the man who
invented the treatment of syphilis by malaria and so on,
a Nobel Prize man. In Vienna, Freud was never-- But,
of course, that leads to a very complicated issue: the
division of Viennese society [into] the Jewish society,
the non- Jewish society. I grew up in the non- Jewish
society, which was wholly opposed to Freudianism; so I was
prejudiced to begin with and then was so irritated by the
manner in which the psychoanalysts argued--their insistence
that they have a theory which could not be refuted--that
my attitude was really anti-Freudian from the beginning.
But to the extent that he drew my attention to certain
problems, I have no doi±it that you are right.
HAYEK: No, in the forties. The height of the influence of
the modern psychoanalysis of "uneducation" was in the
forties and fifties. And it was in the sixties that we
got the products of that education.

ROSTEN: Yes. It was more, I think, the vulgarization of
psychoanalysis--I want to put in a word of defense there-
and the silliness of the people who were the practitioners
and the counselors. I doubt very much that Freud would ever
have approved of this, because certainly his work is not lacking
in severe moral strictures.

HAYEK: Freud himself, probably not. Certainly not
[Carl] Jung, but nearly all the next generation of well
known psychoanalysts were working in that direction.
And if you take people like Erich Fromm and such people,
or that man who became the first secretary of that
international health service--that Canadian psychoanalyst-

ROSTEN: Oh, yes, yes. His name will come [Brock
Chisholm--ed. ] . The World Health Organization.


Exchange with Buchanan:

BUCHANAN: Professor Hayek, a few minutes ago you were
saying that the two influences to be countered in your
younger days in Vienna were Marxism and psychoanalysis.
I know in the Hobhouse Lecture you also spent a good
deal of time talking about the baneful influence of Freud
and his ideas. Perhaps you'd develop that a little bit.
HAYEK: It's so difficult to generalize about Freud. He
was undoubtedly a very intelligent and observant man
But I think his basic idea of the harmful effect of repres
sions just disregards that our civilization is based on
repressions. While he himself, as I point out in the
lecture, became later rather alarmed by the exaggeration
of these ideas by his pupils, I think he is ultimately
responsible for the modern trend in education, which
amounts to an attempt to completely free people from
habitual restraints.

After all, our whole moral world consists of restraints
of this sort, and [Freud], in that way, represents what
I like to call the scientific destruction of values, which
are indispensable for civilization but the function of
which we do not understand. We have observed them merely
because they were tradition. And that creates a new task,
which should be unnecessary, to explain why these values are

[T]here was a very small circle where everybody knew everybody else.
It so happened the other day that somebody was asking
me about the famous people from Vienna from the period,
beginning with [Erwin] Schrodinger--of course, I knew him
as a young man--and [Karl von] Frisch, the man [who
studied] the bees, he was an old friend of my father, and
so it went on all through the list, till it came to Freud.
No, that was a different circle. I had never met him,
and that is because it was a Jewish circle as distinct from
the non- Jewish one. Although I moved a good deal later on the margin of the two groups—there was a sort of inter
mediate group--the purely Jewish circle in which Freud
moved was a different world from ours.

Exchange with Chitester

CHITESTER: Now, obviously you are referring to Freud and
the whole Austrian psychologists and the school there,
which clearly, as a fellow countryman, you would have
direct feelings about.

HAYEK: In my recent lecture, I have a final paragraph
in which I admit that while apart from many good things,
some not so good came from Austria; much the worst of it
was psychoanalysis. [laughter]

CHITESTER: Why do you feel that? Why do you feel
psychoanalysis suffers from that?

HAYEK: Well, there are two different reasons. I think
that it has no scientific standing, but I won't enter into
this. It becomes a most destructive force in destroying
traditional morals, and that is the reason I think it is
worthwhile to fight it. I'm not really competent to fight
it on the purely scientific count, although as you know
I've also written a book on psychology, which perhaps
partly explains my scientific objections. But it is
largely the actual effect of the Freudian teaching that
you are to cure people's discontent by relieving them of
what he calls inhibitions. These inhibitions have
created our civilization...

 [T]he way I put it now is that good is not the
scime thing as natural. What is good is largely a cultural
acquisition based on restraining natural instincts. And
Freud has become the main source of a much older error
that the natural is good. What he would call the artificial
restraints are bad. For our society it's the cultural
restraints on which all depends, and the natural is
frequently the bad...

The great society, in which we live in peace with
people whom we do not know, has only become necessary
because we have learned, to some extent, to suppress the
natural instinct that it's better to work for a common
goal with the people with whom we live and to work for the
needs of people whom we know. This we had to overcome to
build the great society. But it's still culturally strange
to our natural instincts, and if anybody like Freud then
comes out with, "The natural instincts are the good ones;
free them from artificial restraints," it becomes the
destroyer of civilization.

 I stress that the confusion
in this field is largely due to the dichotomy, which
derives from the ancient Greeks, between the natural and
the artificial. Between the natural and the artificial
is the cultural, which is neither natural nor artificial,
but is the outcome of a process of selection. This was
not a deliberate process but is due to the fact that certain
ways of behaving have proved more successful than others,
without anybody understanding why they were more successful.
Now that, of course, is neither natural nor artificial;
I think the only word we have for it is cultural . The
cultural is between the natural, or innate, and the
artificial, which ought to be confined to the deliberately
designed. The way in which we can describe it is the

CHITESTER: The use of artificial by proponents of directed
change, it seems to me, is that kind of distortion. To
use it as a rhetorical weapon; to say to someone, "Why,
that's artificial; you shouldn't be doing that." Again,
the Freudian thing: remove your inhibitions and you're
going to be a wonderful person and enjoy life. The
argument, then, is that these inhibitions are artificial,
and they clearly are not. You're saying that, to the degree
that they are voluntarily agreed to--even subconsciously-
that they certainly-- Would you call that artificial or
not? Is that a midground?

HAYEK: I think this is intermediate ground for which
we have no other word but culture, which people confuse
with artificial. But the cultural is not artificial,
because culture has never been designed by anybody. It's
not a human invention; in fact, I go so far as to say that
it's not the mind which has produced culture but culture
that has produced the mind. This would need a great deal
of examination.



  1. Rothbard also had issues with psycho-analysis and the later psycho-historians.

    He notes the establishment status quo bias of the later group against 'radicals. Today of course the "psychologizing" of political opponents is now mostly a weapon used against "populists", libertarians and other deplorables.

    Maybe this means the status quo defending establishment of the West is no longer "conservative" in the older sense - but a technocratic elite for whom "progressivism" provides a more profitable and expanding avenue for rent seeking.

    1. There is a lot of information here about psychoanalysis. Hayek's main objection seems to be that Freud recommended people not repress their emotions. Hayek seems to interpret this as Freud recommending that people emote without reservation. And Hayek envisions constant emotional expressions without rational exchange resulting in a kind of tower of babel. Destroying civilized exchange. I don't believe that was what Freud meant. Freud was pointing out that emotions are telling us something about ourselves and we need to express them in the right environment so we can better understand ourselves. Ayn Rand and N. Branden expressed something similar when they suggested that emotions are the automatic response to a situation being for us or against us. And emotions are the result of the thinking or not thinking that one has done about these situations. So rather than repress emotions accept them and try to understand their source. Politics seems to be about stirring up emotions without thought to obscure the politicians' relentless rent seeking activity. A little more introspection on the part of the electorate couldn't hurt.

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  3. I can't even articulate how insightful this is. I find myself re-reading Hayek's comments, over and over.
    The rationale for conservatism, tradition, culture and non-revolutionary change, is stronger than ever.

    1. The way Hayek uses the word culture is the key for me.

  4. "Both these groups had one very irritating attribute: they insisted that their theories were, in principle, irrefutable...And that led me, already, to the understanding of what became Popper's main systematic point: that the test of empirical science was that it could be refuted, and that any system which claimed that it was irrefutable was by definition not scientific. I was not a trained philosopher; I didn't elaborate this. It was sufficient for me to have recognized this, but when I found this thing explicitly argued and justified in Popper, I just accepted the Popperian philosophy for spelling out what I had always felt."

    -- Does this mean that Hayek did not accept the deductive method that underlies Austrian economics?