On Catallaxy’s “Was Hayek an Egalitarian?”

I would like to post a little comment here on the aforementioned Catallaxy article. I cannot comment on the article at their site, unfortunately. However the topic of the article still has relevance on this blog.

A significant point the article makes is one of Rand Vs. Hayek. I wish, as an Objectivist, to dispute some of Catallaxy’s arguments. I also wish, as an economic Hayekian-Misesian, to defend Hayek against some of Rand’s allegations.

1. Rand’s Motives For Hating Hayek

Catallaxy alleges that Rand hated Hayek because Hayek was an egalitarian wheras Rand allegedly was not. This is not the case: Rand’s arguments against Hayek were based on Hayek stressing limits to human reason. Rand however thought Hayek was objecting to her (empiricist) concept of reason, wheras Hayek was actually objecting to constructivist rationalism. So, in this case, both Catallaxy and Rand misjudged their target’s intentions.

2. Rand as Inegalitarian

Catallaxy defines inegalitarianism as judging humans as having unequal intrinsic moral worth. By that definition, Rand is not an inegalitarian, because her philosophy consistently rejects the concept of intrinsic value. Something can only be of value to an agent. By the same token, Rand is not an egalitarian either, because there is no intrinsic moral worth in Rand’s ethics. Rand however was a political/legal egalitarian: Objectivism supports absolutely equal rights for every single human being.

3. Rand And Market Outcomes

The third mistake Catallaxy makes is to allege Rand considered markets to be tools of cosmic justice sorting out moral heirarchies. This is totally untrue. To use an example from her books, Howard Roark (Hero of The Fountainhead) is economically unsuccessful while second-hander suckups that pander to the basest desires of consumers, such as Peter Keating and Gail Wynand, make a lot of money. Further, not all of Rand’s heroes are uncommonly intelligent: Eddie Willers from Atlas Shrugged is not, and he is portrayed as a very moral man. The point is that, under Objectivism, virtue is not a matter of intellect, it is a matter of how the intellect is used. Rational, independent thinkers, regardless of their ‘absolute intelligence’ or their economic wealth are the most moral of people.

4. Rand on Workers

Did Rand think, as Catallaxy seems to believe, that workers were brainless brutes and only barely human? Absolutely not. Rand considered all work, including labour, to be mentally driven (regardless of the fact it is physically-fuelled). Indeed, this is part of her refutation of Marxism. Second, as indicated above, the key issue in evaluating the ‘goodness’ of someone is not their quantity of intelligence, but how they use it.

Its a shame that people keep misunderstanding and misreading Rand. But certainly, Catallaxy’s misrepresentation is minor in comparison to some others. Regardless of the fact that her denunciation of Hayek as anti-reason was a terrible mistake, I still consider Randian and Hayekian thought to be able to gain value from each other.

15 thoughts on “On Catallaxy’s “Was Hayek an Egalitarian?”

  1. Why can’t you comment on the site? Are you another person the software has failed to supply with a password? If so, email us at catallaxy AT yahoo DOT com and please accept our apologies in advance.

  2. I can’t use Catallaxy from my mobile phone browser (Nokia E61) which is why I prefer to use other sites (eg Alsblog). In fact on the mobile phone it locks up my browser entirely and I need to reboot the phone so I generally avoid the site most days. Given that both Alsblog and Catallaxy use wordpress I don’t know what the problem is with Catallaxy.

  3. >The third mistake Catallaxy makes is to allege Rand considered markets to be tools of cosmic justice sorting out moral heirarchies. This is totally untrue. To use an example from her books, Howard Roark (Hero of The Fountainhead) is economically unsuccessful while second-hander suckups that pander to the basest desires of consumers, such as Peter Keating and Gail Wynand, make a lot of money.

    I think here Catallaxy’s is not a bad description of the situation. Recall that Peter Keating, Wynand etc only succeed in an irrational society. Would they equally succeed in the rational society Rand envisaged at Galt’s Gulch? I doubt it. So I think your comment that it is “totally untrue” must be wrong.

    >Did Rand think, as Catallaxy seems to believe, that workers were brainless brutes and only barely human?

    The picture here seems to vary. While often she portrayed people like iron workers as heroic in a kind of Social Realist style, she was also incredibly contemptuous of ordinary people – “the folks next door”, the people who are wiped out for the sin of having bad premises in the train accident “Atlas”. Eddie Willer’s fate is an interesting example of this ambiguity. For despite his morality, his less-than-Galt’s Gulch-like abilities leaves him seemingly stranded, helpless against the sinister forces of nature hovering at the edge of darkness. His fate is unclear, but it seems less than promising.

    >Its a shame that people keep misunderstanding and misreading Rand.

    The main problem is that despite the apparent simplicity of her style, she did not write or think all that clearly.

  4. Further:
    >This is not the case: Rand’s arguments against Hayek were based on Hayek stressing limits to human reason. Rand however thought Hayek was objecting to her (empiricist) concept of reason, wheras Hayek was actually objecting to constructivist rationalism.

    I’m not sure this is a very accurate representation of the situation either. Rand was dissing Hayek because of, as noted Rand scholar Chris Sciabarra put it, “his compromises with interventionism.”

    http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/rprev.htm

  5. >Rand’s arguments against Hayek were based on Hayek stressing limits to human reason. Rand however thought Hayek was objecting to her (empiricist) concept of reason, wheras Hayek was actually objecting to constructivist rationalism.

    I don’t this this is quite right. Rand hated Hayek, as noted Rand scholar Chris Sciabarra puts it, “for his compromises with interventionism.”

    http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/rprev.htm

  6. Daniel,

    Rand ranked Hayek’s alleged epistemological faults as worse than (or the root of) his political compromises. However I will not deny that Rand was inscensed Hayek did compromise. However that still means Catallaxy is wrong on why Rand loathed Hayek.

    In Rand’s rational society, Keating and his ilk would not have succeeded. But remember, this is because even in that society, consumer sovereignty still reigns. Markets are democratic, in that the consumers values, rational or irrational, will reign supreme. So markets are not in themselves instruments of cosmic justice, this depends on the values of the consumers. And as stated before, to be a good man according to Objectivism, its not your intelligence (or innate traits) that matters but how they are used (your volitional traits).

    This also touches on the objection you raised regarding Eddie Willers. Galt’s Gulch was not a place for all moral people, it was a place for people of exceptional ability. Rand (for novel’s sake) assumed all people of exceptional ability would be moral, but not that all people that were moral would have exceptional ability. As for the train-tunnel-collapse scene in Atlas, that was a metaphor.

  7. Fair suck of the savaloy.

    We need people in every venue to push the case.

    Now Hayek is this MR REASONABLE guy. And he tries to bend over backwards to appeal to the good side of these various thugs and thieves that we argue with. But yet each person in various stages of their lives might fall on various parts of the spectrum between thief and righteous man.

    But on top of that Hayeks employment situation was always precarious.

    Such is the vindictiveness of the leftist faux-intellectuals who run these institutions of learning-come-indoctrination.

    Hayek and Friedman represent the outer limit and the true acid test to where we can say an economically literate person would fall down to the left of libertarianism and still be considered a man of good will.

    If he is to the left of these guys in non-defense spending in their compromise mode (which is not necessary their sober judgement) we must suspect economic ineptitude, ill-will, or the wages of relentless bullshit-momentum.

    Look I’ll go with any NIT or vouchered education system so long as they are to mitigate hardship in transition and so long as they contain within them an automatic phase-out.

    These are the things you bring to socialists to say….. “Whats wrong with you man? Are you even fair dinkum. I don’t believe your JIVE but if your self-assessment is right then how can you object to this compromise scheme?”

    So lets not go hard on these two guys. They were our guys on the inside. And we can adapt their ideas for the transition.

    And should it come to pass that we free things up. And it really is a world of rich guys doubling their money without effort. And poor people getting by like the worst parts of the Irish potato famine….

    If it wound up like that then we can take and apply these compromise ideas for a few years at a time and see if things improve.

  8. AR
    >Rand ranked Hayek’s alleged epistemological faults as worse than (or the root of) his political compromises.

    Natch. Cos it always comes down to epistemology in Objectivism…;-)

    >So markets are not in themselves instruments of cosmic justice, this depends on the values of the consumers.

    I don’t want to quibble too much, but I’ll go another round on this one. In a fully rational society, everyone will hold Objectivist values, thus markets will truly be able to trade properly for the first time without mixed economy (and epistemology!) distortions. Recall that justice in Objectivism is each person getting what they deserve, expressed by the trader principle. Markets are, therefore, clearly the instruments of this justice. (this justice is of course “cosmic” in what she would call the metaphysical sense).

    So Catallaxy’s description here, far from being “totally untrue”, I think is on examination not a bad one.

    >As for the train-tunnel-collapse scene in Atlas, that was a metaphor.

    Yes, obviously, but the underlying message of the metaphor is the interesting part.

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  10. Daniel,

    I will accept that in a perfectly rational society, everyone will hold Objectivist values. However, my point is that markets simply serve the values of consumers regardless of what they are. A free market where most consumers have irrational values (which is theoretically possible) will serve those irrational values. Markets are the instruments of the set of values that consumers hold. Second, you neglect the fact that morality and economic outcomes do not reflect eachother even under Objectivism, as shown by the examples I brought up. If you concede this point, then my case stands on that alone.

  11. I would also like to add that some of Hayek’s ‘compromising’ was actually required to not have his work marginalized. Schumpeter did the same thing. Simply pose as more moderate than you really are. Hayek became more openly radical as he got older, possibly meaning he found it easier to express his true convictions when the leftist academy couldn’t persecute him so viciously.

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