Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Is This Why Trump Got the Republican Nomination?

Don Boudreaux writes:

Duke University’s great historian of thought and Hayek scholar Bruce Caldwell sent the following e-mail to me, which I share here with Bruce’s kind permission (link added):
Has anyone in the blogosphere noticed the chilling similarity between Hayek’s description in the Road To Serfdom (in the chapter titled “Why the Worst Get on Top“) of how a dictator comes to power and the Trump campaign? First, aim at the least educated individuals; they are more likely to have more primitive and common instincts. Next, attract the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but will join up. Identify a common enemy to build solidarity and blame for one’s present problems. Then add in a dose of nationalism. The relevant pages are pp. 160-161 of the Collected Works edition.
It works in a way for Bernie Sanders too of course. But the Il Duce jaw and mannerisms of Trump makes the comparison to him easier. (Though when Bernie is shouting about capitalist corruption it does remind one of the later stages of Hitler’s standard speech, when he starts screaming about the fatherland.)
As you will doubtless say, a pox on both their houses. And I would quickly agree.
I do agree.  And I agree also that Trump’s manner and look – and, of course, his howls, growls, bleats and screeches – combine to make him eerily like a classic political strongman.  Central casting could have done no better than to produce Trump for such a role.
Here’s the passage from Hayek’s Road to Serfdom that Bruce has in mind:

There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society. By our standards the principles on which such a group would be selected will be almost entirely negative.
In the first instance, it is probably true that in general the higher the education and intelligence of individuals becomes, the more their views and tastes are differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a particular hierarchy of values. It is a corollary of this that if we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and “common” instincts and tastes prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards. It is, as it were, the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people. If a numerous group is needed, strong enough to impose their views on the values of life on all the rest, it will never be those with highly differentiated and developed tastes it will be those who form the “mass” in the derogatory sense of the term, the least original and independent, who will be able to put the weight of their numbers behind their particular ideals.
If, however, a potential dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated and primitive instincts happen to be very similar, their number would scarcely give sufficient weight to their endeavors. He will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same simple creed.
Here comes in the second negative principle of selection: he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.
It is in connection with the deliberate effort of the skilful demagogue to weld together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters that the third and perhaps most important negative element of selection enters. It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative programme, on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off, than on any positive task. The contrast between the “we” and the “they”, the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From their point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive programme. The enemy, whether he be internal like the “Jew” or the “Kulak”, or external, seems to be an indispensable requisite in the armoury of a totalitarian leader.
That in Germany it was the Jew who became the enemy till his place was taken by the “plutocracies” was no less a result of the anti-capitalist resentment on which the whole movement was based than the selection of the Kulak in Russia. In Germany and Austria the Jew had come to be regarded as the representative of capitalism because a traditional dislike of large classes of the population for commercial pursuits had left these more readily accessible to a group that was practically excluded from the more highly esteemed occupations. It is the old story ofthe alien race being admitted only to the less respected trades and then being hated still more for practising them. The fact that German anti-semitism and anti-capitalism spring from the same root is of great importance for the understanding of what has happened there, but this is rarely grasped by foreign observers.
Indeed so.

The above originally appeared at Cafe Hayek.


  1. Those who can, do. Those who can't teach. Boudreaux, look at the typical grandma Trump supporter. Do you really believe she is thinking about the annihilation of some unwelcome ethnic group?

    You're a typical whiny libertarian who strains out a gnat and swallows a camel--the valley girl who passes on a hundred good potential beaus to wait for JUST the right one, who, of course, hasn't been born yet.

    I loved Ron Paul (still do). Gave him money, knocked doors for him and took Saturdays to wave signs for him-in both futile presidential races. In the end, he didn't really have what it took to be in the trenches. Action talks and bullshit walks.

    Get a life!

  2. Poor Wenzel. Still trying to fit the world into an old book he read in high school. When will the low IQ libertarians learn how little they know?

  3. "In the end, he didn't really have what it took to be in the trenches."

    What it took was a nationalistic, protectionist xenophobe promoted (instead of blacked out) by mainstream media and embraced (instead of shunned and cheated) by the socialist republican party and its voters.

    1. They're only against socialism when it's of the left wing flavor, they have no problem with their own brand of socialism. I know he's not really liked around here but Jeffery Tucker did put out a piece last month saying that being anti-socialist doesn't always mean pro-liberty. These kinds of anti-socialists on it's face rail against it but in reality they're not gong to tear down the structures and institutions that the socialists built. They see that they can use those same institutions and structures for their own authoritarian purposes.

    2. "They see that they can use those same institutions and structures for their own authoritarian purposes."

      Yep, they don't want to dismantle the big gun. They only wish to wield it their way. The problem comes when the gun no longer obeys either side but does its own bidding. At that point it's too late.

      I still like Jeffery Tucker, even though he's been sort of outcast. I certainly don't agree with some of his views, but I still like him.

  4. Hyaek was just pointing out that if you have a collectivized, centrally directed economy certain things follow. First, you have to have an economic dictator because a plan that the majority agrees on can never be found. Even if you simplified things to cartoon levels there are thousands of possible plans and the majority would be dissatisfied with any one finally selected. The rule of law will be discarded, because rule of law requires a definition in advance of when the coercive power of the state will be applied, but running an economy can never be governed by fixed rules set in advance. The worse get to the top because the leaders have to create a unity of purpose in all people. When there is one common overriding goal there is no room for individual morals. Cruelty may become a virtue. The position requires the kind of person who will do what is needed.

    The worse rising to the top had nothing to do with bombastic style, or common words instead of learned nuanced words. It is a feature of collectivism - the worse rise to the top not because bad people exist and seek power, that is always true, but because collective action requires drastic unlimited totalitarian power and a leader who is willing to exercise it.

  5. I would hardly call the #AltRight, major Trump supporters, "docile and gullible."

    Bob, you have noted yourself Hayek's weaknesses. They are not limited to economics.