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Robert Leeson (ed.) Hayek: A Collaborative Biography: Part I Influences, From Mises to Bartley.

Sean Irving
p. 451-458
Référence(s) :

Robert Leeson (ed.), Hayek: A Collaborative Biography: Part I Influences, From Mises to Bartley. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013. viii + 241 pages, ISBN: 978-0230301122

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1This collection of essays is a further contribution to the resurgence of interest in the philosophy and career of Friedrich Hayek. Robert Leeson makes the claim in his introduction that “the chapters of this collaborative biography are the first systematic attempt to describe, interpret and integrate Hayek’s life, beliefs and philosophy.” (1-2) Bruce Caldwell may contend that his own work, Hayek’s Challenge was the first major attempt to look across these three areas (Caldwell, 2004). Nonetheless, Leeson is correct that here there is a largely successful integration of biography, beliefs and work by means of the juxtaposition of chapters with just such varying foci. The content of the volume is certainly diverse, ranging from a forensic investigation of the genesis of the Road to Serfdom by Melissa Lane, to the quantitative study of references to Hayek by Söderberg, Offer and Bjork, and to Werner Erhard’s personal recollections of Hayek’s biographer, Bill Bartley. This latter contribution points to one of the great surprises of the collection. In its last third Bartley takes centre stage and Hayek becomes a background character. Nonetheless most of the essays here are expertly researched and provide insight into Hayek’s personal and professional associations and their influence on his thought.

2Robert Leeson’s introduction is the most ambitious and comprehensive attempt in the collection to achieve the stated aim of integrating, life, beliefs and philosophy. The approach taken is to describe the history of Hayek’s Vienna and of the Austrian school of economics in order to establish how his early theoretical milieu came into being. It also looks to situate these intellectual developments within the history of Austria’s political progress from Metternich through to the inflation of the early 1920s. Leeson provides brief but interesting biographical sketches of the lives of Menger, Wieser and Böhm-Bawerk, thereby offering a window onto debates and splits within the Austrian School itself. Hayek’s voice is interwoven throughout in the form of a number of substantial quotes taken from his 1978 interviews at UCLA. Leeson then turns to give a broad overview of the impact of Hayek’s own career breaking down his influence into four phases: Phase one was his role at the LSE from 1931-1950 where he worked with Robbins to turn the School into “the epicentre of Austrian Economics” (22). This is a bold claim that both elevates the economics department there whilst stripping it of its individuality and is surely open to question. The subsequent phases track the structure of the collection. The second phase addresses the immediate post-war period where Hayek became first a major public intellectual following the publication of the Road to Serfdom in 1944, and then the key figure within the decidedly more elite audience of the Mont Pelerin Society founded in 1947. Phase three relates the impact of his Nobel Prize in 1974 and includes an excursion into some of the intrigue surrounding its award. Phase four briefly touches upon Hayek’s legacy, his promotion by Fox News and the recent upsurge in Hayek literature. Finally, mention is made of Hayek’s links to the ordoliberal school at Freiburg and the relationship of his work to the social market model, before finishing by describing how the latter chapters address Bartley’s interactions with Hayek. The introduction sets out to do much and largely succeeds. The structure at times is a little erratic. For example, Hayek’s relationship to Mises and the Miseseans is a recurrent theme that would perhaps be best dealt with discretely. Nonetheless, to complain too much about this would be to quibble. The introduction provides an absorbing and illuminating overview that does well to achieve its goal of integrating Hayek’s life, beliefs and philosophy and is in fact all the more entertaining for the various turns and returns it makes.

3Melissa Lane’s chapter ‘The Genesis and Reception of The Road to Serfdom’ is the collection’s most thorough attempt to interrogate the development and meaning of any of Hayek’s texts. Adopting a methodology that owes much to the Cambridge School of political thought, Lane draws our attention to the “now recognized” backstory of The Road as having emerged from two key earlier texts, a memorandum titled ‘Nazi-Socialism’ (Hayek, 1933) and his short work ‘Freedom and the Economic System’ (Hayek, 1938). The significance of Lane’s chapter is that she incorporates Hayek’s work on the Socialist Calculation Debate of the mid-1930s, his edited volume Collectivist Economic Planning and his famous paper ‘Economics and Knowledge’, into this backstory. It is by “gathering all these texts together” that we can understand the development of the argument of The Road and this is what Lane proceeds to show convincingly. Having done so she notes how The Road’s equation of fascism and communism inflamed those on the left who saw fascism as a degeneration of capitalism. But she also highlights that there was “a strand of political argument that was incendiary to the right: an attack on political nationalism” (50). Lane argues that this has often been overlooked in subsequent readings but was in fact central to Hayek’s message in the book. She then goes on to discuss the immediate reception of the work by a mass audience in America and its impact on the British General Election campaign of 1945. Perhaps most interesting of all is the contribution the chapter makes to the difficult debate over Hayek’s real basis for defending the market: whether he ultimately makes his case for the free market on grounds of efficiency or freedom. Despite drawing upon his economic insights, Lane argues that “liberty rather than efficiency becomes the leitmotif of Hayek’s defence of capitalism” (56) in The Road, and she notes that even “an economist as different from Hayek as Amartya Sen would later herald Hayek for his insistence on the importance of freedom as a human value” (57). Lane’s chapter does much to support Sen’s assessment.

4Gabriel Soderberg, Avner Offer and Samuel Bjork’s third chapter provides information about the number of citations of Hayek’s work among scholars over the 20th and early 21st centuries. It makes use of data taken from the JSTOR project to digitise journal articles. This they hold offers a better picture of the influence of an author than attempts at such a quantification using the Thomson-Reuters ISI database, Elsevier’s Scopus database or indeed Google Scholar, due to JSTOR’s long retrospective range and the fact that it is a collection made up of the most important journal articles. Their substantive findings, presented after an explanation of their methodology, show that Hayek’s impact had two peaks, a brief one after the publication of The Road to Serfdom, and a more extended one that began following the award of his Nobel Prize in 1974, only levelling off in the early 2000s. It would be interesting to know where the number of citations of Hayek’s work stood in the wake of the 2007/8 financial crash. They also note that the joint nature of the 1974 award, with both Hayek and the social democratic Gunnar Myrdal receiving the prize, was likely to have been an attempt to offset the potential for disquiet among the two political wings they were taken to represent.

5That latter theme forms the basis of the brief fourth chapter by David Laidler. It is in the form of Laidler’s recollections, firstly of his relationship with Hayek’s work as an undergraduate and in his early career, and secondly of a conversation about Hayek’s Nobel that occurred between Herbert Giersch and Erik Lundberg, the latter of whom who had been on the 1974 Nobel awarding panel. The conversation occurred following a paper Laidler delivered at the Kieler Vortrage series in 1973. Laidler recalls that Myrdal’s name was being strongly touted for the ward, but that Lundberg confided to Giersch his worries that this would be received badly in some quarters, to which Giersch replied that the politics of the situation would be easier if there was a joint award with Hayek as the other recipient. Whether Hayek was already in the running Laidler cannot comment upon and indeed he qualifies his recollection by saying that the conversation was an exchange “that I think I recall” (72).

6Chapter five, by Selwyn Cornish, is a review of the former journalist Nicholas Wapshott’s 2011 work Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics. The work, Cornish notes, is essentially an attempt to track the ebb and flow of the influence of the two and their views of what role the state should play in the economy. Wapshott argues that Lionel Robbins recruited Hayek for the LSE in order to help combat Keynes’ growing influence from Cambridge. Work by Susan Howson has called this particular narrative into question and casts Hayek as the instigator of their subsequent disagreements (Howson, 2009). Moreover Wapshott, Cornish argues, falls into the trap of caricaturing their differences noting that it was as true for Keynes as much as for Hayek that in conditions of full employment, the market should be left to its own workings. Cornish also draws attention to the basically similar liberal outlook shared by both Keynes and Hayek and to how the real difference between the two was a one of “where to draw the line” on government activity: a divergence over degree rather than complete disagreement (78). Wapshott fails to observe these nuances Cornish argues and, as a closing criticism, he notes the “inordinate number of factual and biographical mistakes”: hardly a ringing endorsement of the work and one that indicates the varying rigour of much recent Hayek literature (79).

7The relationship between Hayek and Ludwig von Mises is the subject of chapter six written by Douglas French. It is largely biographical in nature offering as it does a window onto the ways and moments in which the lives of these two closely associated theorists intersected with and impacted on one another. Particularly interesting is the personal colour it provides regarding Mises, often referred to as a difficult man of singular and exclusive opinions. The chapter also draws attention to the differences between Hayek and Mises, partly born of the fact that Hayek had, from the start, been more influenced by Wieser’s economics. This is a moot point and it would be quite wrong to underestimate Mises’ influence on the young Hayek. French, the Director of the Ludwig von Mises Institut, is on firmer ground when describing the divergence between Mises’ apriorism in economic analyses and Hayek’s insistence that once we pass to considering more than one individual we cannot base our analysis on a priori positions. Closely related is the divergence that perhaps receives most contemporary attention: “Mises’ ‘social rationalism’ versus Hayek’s ‘spontaneous order’”. Nonetheless, any notion that there was a feud is a fabrication, argues French, and he takes issue with Caldwell’s Hayek’s Challenge for insinuating there may have been, though even the quote he deploys, in which Caldwell states that Hayek’s review of Human Action was lukewarm, hardly seems to equal the accusation levelled. French ends on what is surely consensual note when he offers that modern Austrians should interact with the good grace and manners that Mises and Hayek maintained with one another.

8‘Hayek in Freiburg’ is the title of Victor Vanberg’s chapter 7 and is the first of two that deal with Hayek’s relationship to the founders of ordoliberalism and that school of thought. Vanberg commences with Hayek’s Inaugural Lecture on his appointment to a chair at Freiburg, the home of the Walter Eucken Institut and ordoliberalism. He then goes on to recount Hayek and Eucken’s professional relationship both before and following the Second World War. Both were committed to building an international network of liberal scholars and, while Hayek would take the lead with the foundation of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, Eucken had made attempts prior to the conflict. Indeed it was Eucken who did most to encourage Hayek’s post war efforts as well as being perhaps the group’s most established intellectual authority (Burgin, 2012). Vanberg is also keen to show how Eucken influenced Hayek’s own work, particularly from the 1930s to the 1950s, when the two were in regular contact. In particular, The Road to Serfdom exhibits a rejection of laissez faire that was common to Eucken and many of his colleagues with whom he founded the journal ORDO in 1948. Moreover, The Road also argues for a strong legal framework and a setting of the rules of the game, rules that can be worked on and improved upon over time. Again this bears striking similarities to the key ordoliberal concept of Ordnungspolitik. Vanberg then touches on how this has been the cause of some criticism from libertarians more influenced by Mises’ view of the law and the market. The chapter provides a fascinating account of the political movements necessary, over the course of 1962, on the part of the Dean at Freiberg and the prime minister of Baden-Württemberg to get Hayek, by then sixty-two, the position of professor there. Ordinarily, his age would have disqualified him from being offered such a position but both individuals were keen to have him at the University to counter the growing influence of social democracy in Germany. We are then provided with an account of an unhappy seven-year interlude at Salzburg, prompted it would seem by financial considerations, before his friends in Freiberg again managed to engineer his return. At the close of the chapter Vanberg notes that Hayek’s work during this second period from 1977 to his death in 1992 deviated somewhat from Ordnungspolitik as he turned increasingly towards the more conservative ideas associated with an evolutionary social order rather than one that could be more actively worked upon and reformed. In another mode this might be referred to the distinction in Hayek’s thought between his Kantianism and Humeanism that Chandran Kukathas was among the first to highlight (Kukathas, 1989). Nonetheless, both elements had been present in Hayek’s social theory from an early stage, and need not be contradictory, and Vanberg makes the point that evolutionary processes must be left at play in order to indicate the correct reforms that can be undertaken in a deliberate and universal fashion. Vanberg ends by stating that “Hayek’s evolutionary liberalism and the ordoliberalism of the Freiberg School constitute a coherent liberal view” of the world (111). This is a bold claim and should act as a stimulus to further research in this area as a compliment to Vanberg’s own.

9Chapter 8, by Nils Goldschmidt and Jan-Otmar Hesse, draws attention again to the relationship between Eucken’s thought and The Road to Serfdom. While at first glance this may appear a little too reminiscent of the preceding chapter, it is in fact a welcome addition, analysing as it does Eucken’s relationship with the Austrians, and engaging in a close reading of The Road in conjunction with Eucken’s own criticism of the text, sent to Hayek at his specific request. Recognising their common ground, Eucken was keen for Hayek to associate more explicitly with the emerging liberal continental position. Moreover, he calls into question the intellectual history offered by Hayek in The Road and looks to draw his attention to an alternative liberal, German tradition that ran parallel to the drive to organisation Hayek describes. This was a strand of thought with which Eucken identified and which had “been forced into the catacombs” during the Nazi period, but had never been decisively buried (127). The essential difference between the two, the authors suggest, is that while both Eucken and Hayek held liberty and order in the highest esteem, Hayek, in keeping with the Anglo-Saxon tradition, valued liberty over order while the reverse was true of Eucken. Moreover, while Eucken regarded economic competition as something to be constructed by law, Hayek viewed it as a generally natural state that need only be protected. The chapter offers some helpful insights into the relationship between these two giants of 20th century liberal thought and indicates some interesting ways to develop research into this area.

10Robert Leeson notes in his introduction that no philosopher was willing to write a biographical piece on Hayek’s biographer William Warren Bartley III. Whether this is owing to the controversy that characterised significant episodes of Bartley’s career we are left to wonder. Leeson himself therefore, happily he tells us, takes up the task in chapter 9. It is an extended piece, the longest in the collection. It is the nature of such a biography that it does not permit much summing up of its content. Nonetheless, it certainly provides a fascinating and colourful account of the personal life and career of this often troubled but apparently brilliant man, who Karl Popper called the best young philosopher he had taught. Crises of faith, religious and philosophical, professional disputes, and personal struggles abound. One particularly interesting aspect of the chapter for any Hayek scholar is the intriguing light it throws upon Hayek’s recollections in conversation with Bartley, of colleagues, particularly those at Cambridge, in the wake of revelations concerning the Cambridge Five and the level of pro-communist sympathy that existed during the 1930s and 40s. The threat of espionage and a communist fifth column is something Hayek discussed little if at all in other interviews or published works, as far as the present author is aware. Leeson does excellent work here using a range of archival sources. The Hayek, Popper and Lakatos papers are all drawn upon as is the Harvard Crimson and other lesser looked at sources. This will be of interest to anyone attempting to gain an insight into Hayek’s attitude to the communist threat and brings to life his time at Cambridge in the 1940s.

11Rafe Champion also examines Bartley, but with the emphasis on the philosophy that he developed earlier in his career before he made biography his focus. In particular it focuses on the concept of ‘justificationism’ used by both Bartley and Popper. In order to avoid the dilemma of opting for dogmatism or laying one’s logic open to infinite regress, Bartley argues for the need to move beyond establishing fundamental justifications for one’s position. Instead of this ‘justifcationism’, a logical recourse common to both dogmatists and rationalists with its roots at the origins of western thought, he advocates ‘critical rationalism’. This stance does not look for fundamental justifications but holds all its principles up for criticism. It advocates only that we adopt those most suitable to a given question or situation. Champion, also notes in a manner somewhat redolent of Vanberg’s attempt to square Hayek’s evolutionary thought with his ambitions for constitutional reform, that when we think in terms of critical rationalism we can reconcile his Kantian and Humean tendencies: that the experience of an evolutionary framework indicates that we can question and change some of society’s values so long as we do not seek to change them all; that we should adapt to our situation, whilst recognising the functional benefits of a common morality without holding fast to fundamental justifications.

12The final two chapters of the collection are more conversational in style. Chapter 10 takes the form of an interview with Stephen Kresge, Bartley’s partner and the eventual editor of the first volume of Hayek’s Collected Works, a role that had been filled by Bartley until his death from cancer in 1990. The interviewers are Steven Dimmick and Robert Leeson. The interview is concerned with Hayek, what Kresge gleaned from conversations with him about his early life, his approach to mind and learning and his general aversion to French authors. The concluding chapter 11 is by Werner Erhard the man who devised the personal development programme to which Bill Bartley enthusiastically subscribed and it provides some warm recollections of times spent by Erhard with Bartley. This chapter in particular however does seem a significant deviation from the stated aims of the biography.

13In conclusion, this collective biography is an excellent resource for those interested in, or working on, the career and thought of Friedrich Hayek. In particular it provides a good deal of information regarding Hayek’s relationship with other intellectuals and will serve as an important starting point for further research exploring their influence upon his work. Finally, the collection of chapters work well with one another in a way that achieves the goal, outlined by Leeson, of describing, interpreting and integrating Hayek’s life, belief and philosophy.

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Burgin, Angus. 2012. The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Caldwell, Bruce. 2004. Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F.A. Hayek. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, Friedrich. [1933] 2007. Nazi-Socialism. In The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents, vol. II of The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, edited by Bruce Caldwell. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 245-248.

Hayek, Friedrich. [1938] 1997. Freedom and the Economic System. In Socialism and War: Essays, Documents, Reviews, vol. X of The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, edited by Bruce Caldwell. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 181-188.

Howson, Susan. 2009. Keynes and the LSE Economists. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 31(3): 257-280.

Kukathas, Chandran. 1989. Hayek and Modern Liberalism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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Sean Irving, « Robert Leeson (ed.) Hayek: A Collaborative Biography: Part I Influences, From Mises to Bartley. », Œconomia, 4-3 | 2014, 451-458.

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Sean Irving, « Robert Leeson (ed.) Hayek: A Collaborative Biography: Part I Influences, From Mises to Bartley. », Œconomia [En ligne], 4-3 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 28 mai 2017. URL :

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Sean Irving

University of Manchester

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