Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.

Out With Hayek, In With Goldhagen

Jeffrey Friedman
Critical Review (Winter 1997): 1 10

Jeffrey Friedman introduces a special issue of his journal devoted to F.A. Hayek with a peculiar claim. Before turning to it, though, I find it odd that, in the issue, only one article, Peter J. Boettke's "What Went Wrong with Economics?" and a book review, are favorable to Hayek's thought. Is this a good way to proceed in a magazine allegedly aimed at promoting classical liberalism? (To avert an obvious rejoinder, I should add that Hayek most definitely is not criticized in this issue for being insufficiently libertarian.)

But it is not the issue as a whole to which I wish to draw attention here. Mr. Friedman includes in his article a bizarre argument and an even odder claim. He maintains that Hayek's account in The Road to Serfdom of the rise of Nazism is "narrowly economistic (and intellectualistic)...he interprets all thinkers as being primarily motivated by their understanding of the source of social order. Is it planned or is it spontaneous overlooking the tangential nature of this question for most people, even most intellectuals" (p. 8, n. 1).

This criticism of Hayek rests on a crass misunderstanding. Hayek claimed that socialists and other "advanced thinkers" wished to impose a pattern on society, at great cost to human freedom. This hardly implies that those "constructivist" thinkers were interested in the question indeed a recondite one of whether social order is spontaneous or imposed.

Quite the contrary, I should have thought that part of the appeal of constructivist rationalism stems from its proponents' lack of awareness that there is an alternative to their view. The socialists wished to impose a particular order, according to Hayek; he does not say that they were concerned with the nature of social order.

If Hayek fails, what has Friedman to put in his place? For the most part, his list of "masterpieces in the vast literature" could be taken from the reading list of a standard survey course of Twentieth-Century European History. It is surprising though, that after condemning Hayek for being overly intellectualistic, he recommends Fritz Stern's The Politics of Cultural Despair, a straightforward history of ideas. But this is a minor point.

What is genuinely worthy of notice is that Mr. Friedman lists Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners as another "masterpiece." Christopher Hitchens has termed the same volume a "non-book" and "history for fools." Readers interested in the basis for this view of Goldhagen's book ought to have a look at Norman G. Finkelstein, "Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's 'Crazy' Thesis: A Critique of Hitler's Willing Executioners" in New Left Review (July August 1997), pp. 39 87.

Finkelstein shows that Goldhagen's work rests on gross abuse of his sources. One example must here suffice. Goldhagen notes that between 1867 and 1914, twelve trials for ritual murder took place in Germany and Austria-Hungary. He cites a standard work by Peter Pulzer as his source, but leaves unmentioned Pulzer's statement that eleven of these trials collapsed. By such means Goldhagen "proves" his thesis of the prevalence of "eliminationist" anti-Semitism in late-nineteenth and early- twentieth-century Europe.


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