Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Was Hayek's Attack on Einstein Anti-Semitic?

F.A. Hayek with Ludwig von Mises

Brad DeLong, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, has a curious post up concerning Friedrich Hayek who was born into a Catholic family. 

After hedging in every possible way and I mean every possible way, including this:

I was browsing through Friedrich von Hayek's The Fatal Conceit—although it is not clear to me how much of this very late (1988) Hayek is Hayek, and how much is “editor” William Warren Bartley...

Delong then writes in a manner to suggest that an attack on Einstein by Hayek was anti-semitic:

 I ran across his claim that the “socialists” felt:
an urgent need to construct a new, rationally revised and justified morality which… will not be a crippling burden, be alienating, oppressive, or`unjust', or be associated with trade. Moreover, this is only part of the great task that these new lawgivers—socialists such as Einstein, Monod and Russell, and self-proclaimed 'immoralists' such as Keynes—set for themselves

He concludes his post this way: 

And then we come to… Einstein.


Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is not opinion or doctrine, but fact: When you measure the clocks and yardsticks of others who are moving rapidly relative to yourself, you do measure that their clocks tick more slowly than yours and their yardsticks are contracted in the direction of motion and so measure smaller distances than yours. That is simply a fact. GPS satellites are so programmed that if that were not a fact, they would not work.

Why this animus against Einstein? It is true that he did say that socialism was a necessity, and did say something like: “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” But how does that translate into Einstein being a crusader “to effect a complete redesigning of our traditional morals, law, and language”?

Am I wrong in misreading this as, at base, simply Hayek viewing a prominent Jew (pretty much any prominent Jew) as an Enemy of the People (George Soros today, anyone?)?

In the same era as The Fatal Conceit was published, you could read the right-wing American Spectator stating as fact that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was simply an enormous conspiratorial con game played against the righteous and the conservative, and that ‘the constancy of the speed of light, irrespective of the observer's movement, has not been demonstrated experimentally”. 

In the comments below the DeLong post, there are a number of excellent responses but perhaps the best comes from part of a Jacob T. Levy comment:

That is quite a reach compared with saying: 

"Einstein's widely-circulated 'Why Socialism?' https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism , which endorsed many of the propositions Hayek spent decades arguing against, lent Einstein's personal moral and scientific prestige to socialism in 1949-- the era of Hayek's most acute political concern about whether socialism would overtake Britain in particular and the west in general-- and it therefore stuck in Hayek's mind for the rest of his life."

And, one must ask, what does American Spectator's view on  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity have anything to do with Hayek's view on Einstein's perspective that society must be restructured?

Curiously, DeLong fails to quote that Hayek writes earlier in The Fatal Conceit  that Einstein is "perhaps the greatest genius of our age." This would hardly seem to suggest the linking of Hayek, in line with that of the views expressed in the American Spectator article cited, is justified.

Hayek later in the book, links Einstein this way: 

[W]e find in one form or another from Aristotle to Bertrand Russell, from Albert Einstein to Archbishop Camara of Brazil, betrays ignorance of how productive capacity is multiplied...

This suggests not an anti-Semitism on the part of Hayek but an acknowledgment by him of the many, across a broad spectrum, who fail to understand economic fundamentals.



  1. The multiplication of productive capacity... Nice way of summing-up capitalism and a market-economy.

  2. Brad DeLong was just making a bad-faith smear of Hayek. He wanted to kill Hayek's economic position and make Hayek look ridiculous by claiming Hayek was arguing against Einstein's theory of relativity. Then he wanted Hayek to look like a bigot so he claimed that he did it all because Einstein was Jewish.

    DeLong has a hard time actually arguing against what Hayek actually wrote, so instead he'll just smear Hayek in the most childish ways possible to deter others from reading his work.

  3. Einstein's Theory of Relativity is not fact, Brad. That concluding statement is declarative nonsense. The old gag about GPS satellites being the "proof" of relativity is demonstrably false and the people who developed them admit as much.

    There is a very, very large body of evidence that Relativity is at best deeply flawed and at worst outright fiction. But of course, DeLong knows none of this, being a priest of the Cathedral and all.