Let’s explore our final chapter of F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944): The End of Truth. There are five more chapters but I think the important points are made in the first eleven: Ideas are extremely powerful and Hayek’s ideas are as relevant today as they were back then.
In order to make everybody serve imposed collectivist ends, a central planner has to make everybody believe in those ends with propaganda. Propaganda is not just used in totalitarianism but its use there is particularly insidious. The moral consequences are profound because it leads to the complete destruction of all morals. It does this by undermining our sense of and respect for the truth.
There can be no complete ethical code to guide a planner and even if there were, conflicts in different needs and circumstances would have to be resolved as the system is implemented. Decisions have to be justified, which requires the construction of theories or myths. This has been understood for a long time (e.g. Plato’s “noble lies” and Sorel’s “myths”). To get people to accept the validity of these new values, the planners must convince them that they are really their own but they just haven’t realized it yet. The tool used is a perversion of language by changing the meaning of words, particularly moral and political terms. We saw the deliberate bastardization of the meaning of the word freedom here on 12/6/16 and prior posts.
It’s easy to eliminate independent thought among the great majority of people. But the intellectual minority, who would criticize the State, must also be silenced. The desire to see everything as a “unitary conception of the whole” must be upheld at all costs. In a collectivist world, the word truth ceases to have its original meaning. It is no longer something an individual arbiter decides to believe. It becomes something laid down by authority.
The desire to force a system on people for their own good is not new. What’s new is the intellectual attempt to justify it. Here’s the argument: There is no such thing as freedom of thought because opinions and tastes are shaped by propaganda anyway (media, advertising, the example of the upper class) which forces people into well-worn thought grooves. Therefore, if thought is shaped by things we can control, we ought to use this power deliberately to turn people’s thoughts to a desirable direction.
Hayek obliterates this horseshit reasoning with a high caliber mounted intellectual machine gun. While the great majority of people are incapable of independent thought because they’re stupid and are happy to accept ready-made views, there is a small minority who are very much intellectually independent. In a free society no one person or group is capable or ought to have the power to select those to whom the freedom of independent thought is to be reserved. Nobody should be able to tell people what to think. “To deprecate the value of intellectual freedom because it will never mean for everybody the same possibility of independent thought is completely to miss the reasons which give intellectual freedom its value.”
Individualism is a humble, tolerant attitude towards thought. Collectivism is the exact opposite – intellectually arrogant and oppressive. It has no place in our War Chest or in a free society. Next week we’ll tackle the notion of fake news in our post-truth world.