F.A. Hayek on “the Supreme Rule” That Separates Collectivism From Individualism

FEE – by Lawrence W. Reed

Born in Vienna on this date (May 8) in 1899, Austrian economist and political philosopher Friedrich August von Hayek lived to see almost the entirety of the 20th Century. He won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974 and died in 1992 at the age of 92.

The 20th was perhaps the most collectivist century since the Incan Empire of the 16th—a tragic irony since Hayek offered the world some of the most trenchant criticisms of the collectivist poison.

Hayek’s insights on collectivism are sprinkled throughout his many works and are expressed particularly well in his classic 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom. Excerpts are offered here as a tribute to him on this 122nd anniversary of his birth. (Additionally, I urge readers who have a special interest in this existential matter to consult the selection of readings I provide at the bottom of this essay.)

Collectivism is a perspective on human life and action. It views people as a blob requiring unified (if not unanimous) direction. Individualism is its opposite because it sees “humanity” as an abstract, composed of unique individuals, each one with a mind and rights of his own. While a collectivist would readily subsume the individual to such notions as majority vote or “the general will,” an individualist is wary of any person or group claiming to speak for others without their consent.

Hayek pointed out what ought to be obvious but is often glossed over, namely, that the “plans” of collectivist authority are bullied into place at the expense of the plans of individuals. That means that all forms of socialism are, essentially, collectivist and that all criticisms of collectivism apply to socialism in one form or another. Socialism invariably utilizes collectivist rhetoric and, most importantly, it attempts to achieve its ends by collectivist methods. Taken together, the contributions of Hayek and his mentor Ludwig von Mises constitute such a complete and powerful dismantling of the socialist vision that socialists’ only effective response has been to ignore them.

“Nearly all the points which are disputed between socialists and [classical, free market] liberals,” Hayek writes, “concern the methods common to all forms of collectivism and not the particular ends for which socialists want to use them…”

For example, almost everyone favors education in the abstract. An individualist would encourage a multiplicity of methods and institutions to acquire it through personal choice and private entrepreneurship. A socialist supports a collective approach—state schools, state curriculum, mandates from authority, one-size-fits-all. An individualist would never homogenize education by command. He might even quote Mao and really mean it: “Let a hundred flowers bloom!” A collectivist like the socialist Mao would see no purpose in a hundred flowers blooming except to cut them down to common, obedient stumps.

Read the rest here: https://fee.org/articles/fa-hayek-on-the-supreme-rule-that-separates-collectivism-from-individualism/


6 thoughts on “F.A. Hayek on “the Supreme Rule” That Separates Collectivism From Individualism

  1. This brings to mind the importance of our Bill of Rights. He lays bare the horror of collectivism, and points to the positives of individualism, but It’s hard to compare collectivism to individualism without bringing up our 10 Articles and the protections and order they hold.


  2. Regarding that “hundred flowers” movement in the early days of Maoist China: The only reason Mao instituted that movement was so the Communist Party could find out just who would be involved with any “flower” not Maoist, then , of course, eliminate them. It was all just a ruse so to speak, and what couldn’t be rooted out then would be rooted out during the Cultural Revolution by the so-called “Red Guards.” Of course these “red guards” of today (BLM and Antifa, etc.) aren’t being as coy about it….

  3. Is the author alluding to the premise that “socialists” & “liberals” are at either end of the collectivist/individualist spectrum? If he is that’s nuts! The word “liberal” today simply denotes someone who is totally for all forms of degeneracy that are designed to break down Nature’s norms whilst totally supporting any collectivist authority that assumes the role of governing people. Today (and probably back through history) the “socialist” & the “liberal” are pretty much one & the same (probably without even realizing it themselves in most cases!). Of course both these terms are very generalized but we all know what the popularized general meaning is. Timely example – all the bleeding-heart liberals who jump on the bandwagon about how badly Israel is abusing the “human rights” of the Palestinians BUT in the next breath will defend jews against holohoax “deniers” & “anti-semites”. Total hypocrites, total virtue-signalling, totally falling into the trap their masters always set for them…

    1. There are no liberals, there are no conservatives, no left, no right, no Republicans, no Democrats, there is just an unlawful United States Corporation that is refusing to recognize the superior authority of we the people as individuals.
      There is not a one of them, no matter what label you want to put on them, that is not in violation of our law that is individuality. They are all guilty as hell, both the Biden Buffoons and the Trumptards, of complicity to treason and sedition.
      Socialism, liberalism, fascism, none of these isms can exist in a Republic with an emphasis on the rights of the individual, as they all are collectives. No communism and no capitalism, both require collectivism, which is repugnant to the idea of individualism.

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