Friedrich Hayek’s last major work was The Fatal Conceit: Errors of Socialism (1988). It built onto the analysis of his essay The Intellectuals and Socialism (1949). Ideas begin with brilliant theorists and original thinkers but they are spread by intellectuals, whom he called “second hand dealers in ideas”. Intellectuals then decide which views and opinions are important enough to reach us. This is how a society can become so obsessed with fatally bad ideas. Intellectuals are the gatekeepers of ideas and they often open the floodgates for bad ideas (like collectivism) that cause death, misery and economic devastation.
Pro-market minds (advocates of spontaneous human order created by competitive markets) tend to become businessmen, engineers, doctors and lawyers. Anti-market minds (those who demand a deliberate arrangement of human interaction by central authority based on collective command over resources) tend to become intellectuals and scholars. The anti-market mind, for Hayek, is highly intelligent but wrong. Why? Intelligent people tend to overvalue intelligence. They think everything worth knowing can be uncovered with intellectual examination and find it hard to believe that there is any useful knowledge that is not deliberately unveiled. Intellectuals neglect the traditional, natural cultural evolution that produced the current order, including the highly moral institutions of private property, freedom and justice.
To understand our civilization, it’s important to recognize that the current political economy arose unintentionally as individuals conformed to specific moral practices, many of which intellectuals tend to dislike, whose significance they fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, but which are spread by means of an evolutionary selection. The relative wealth of a small minority of the population derives from groups of people who happen to follow these moral practices. Hayek writes “The unwitting, reluctant, even painful adoption of these practices kept these groups together, increased their access to valuable information of all sorts, and enabled them to be ‘fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). Our War Chest was naturally born and is protected from incorrect, anti-market intellectuals by correct, pro-market moral order.