Hayek vs. Orwell vs. Mencken

Facebook Friend Michael Smith:

Most people are familiar with George Orwell’s book, 1984.
In a post from this past week, I mentioned The Road to Serfdom, written by economist F.A. Hayek, and Orwell without noting that these two men were contemporaries and that Orwell had critiqued Hayek’s book. About Hayek’s thesis, he wrote that Hayek proposed that socialism inevitably leads to tyranny—and that the Nazis’ success in Germany was due to the fact that socialists had done most of the work for them, including “the intellectual work of weakening the desire for liberty.”
Something that was brought up in the discussion following my post is that what many do not realize is that the author of such warnings against the evils of socialist-style governments like Animal Farm and 1984, was, himself, a socialist.
How is it possible that a socialist could describe socialism as Orwell did in “1984” this way: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

That question is worthy of an answer.

As brilliant a writer and intellectual as Orwell was, he could also be a very a conflicted socialist, suffering from cognitive dissonance – but the case could also be made that Orwell was a realist.

Of socialism and capitalism, he wrote:

“Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war.”

Both premises are historically true. Whether those truths are the fault of either the various ideologies or the humans who adopt and prosecute them is another discussion entirely. As many have noted, the most heinous and gruesome of events are often the result of “doing good” for nations, societies and the people who inhabit them.

Orwell held the Utopian view that in an ideal world, governments would combine the best of both socialism and free-market capitalism for the ultimate good and freedom of the people. He did say that he believed that politics would eventually turn toward a more collectivist and/or socialist model (if public opinion had anything to say about it) because given the choice, he thought people would generally prefer a regimented state government to economic slumps and unemployment.

And yet, from evidence found in his writings, Orwell did not seem to think either socialism or free-market capitalism would create a better world due to the faults in both. Of the Road to Serfdom, Orwell wrote:

“In the negative part of Professor Hayek’s thesis there is a great deal of truth. It cannot be said too often – at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough – that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of.”

Orwell could not reconcile his belief in socialism with reality and as almost every socialist does, they wrap themselves in the cloak of “democracy”, as if that cloak is the ultimate protection against criticism. Interestingly enough, the practical, and historically accurate, definition of democracy to a socialist is that every citizen gets to vote for the collective majority that, once elections are concluded, goes about ignoring those votes and proceeds to dominate the citizenry.

But as H.L. Mencken wrote in 1925, democracy is certainly no panacea or savior, democracy is the enemy of liberty:
“Liberty and democracy are eternal enemies, and every one knows it who has ever given any sober reflection to the matter. A democratic state may profess to venerate the name, and even pass laws making it officially sacred, but it simply cannot tolerate the thing. In order to keep any coherence in the governmental process, to prevent the wildest anarchy in thought and act, the government must put limits upon the free play of opinion. In part, it can reach that end by mere propaganda, by the bald force of its authority – that is, by making certain doctrines officially infamous. But in part it must resort to force, i.e., to law… At least ninety-five Americans out of every 100 believe that this process is honest and even laudable; it is practically impossible to convince them that there is anything evil in it. In other words, they cannot grasp the concept of liberty.”

The ultimate failure of any form of coerced collectivism (socialism, Marxism, communism) is something often touted as its greatest benefit – total democracy, i.e. the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Unfortunately for collectivists, the democratic decision-making process is simply not scalable or efficient enough to successfully accomplish economic planning of a dimension necessary for a collectivist Utopia to survive. It always devolves to a small cabal of individuals who make the calls.

Of this, Hayek wrote:

“By bringing the whole of life under the control of the State, Socialism necessarily gives power to an inner ring of bureaucrats, who in almost every case will be men who want power for its own sake and will stick at nothing in order to retain it.”

The idea that any form of “democratic collectivism” is achievable is a farce because, to paraphrase Professor Hayek, “the worst get on top.”

It appears even a conflicted socialist like Orwell knew this.

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