E-LOGOS/2001

ISSN 1211-0442



Ján Pavlík:
On Hayekian ”False Individualism” and its New Sources 

 


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Tato práce vznikla v rámci grantového projektu
“F. A. Hayek a teorie spontánního øádu” financovaného
Grantovou agenturou Èeské republiky (reg. è. 402/99/0848).

 Summary:

According to Hayek, false individualism postulates the existence of isolated or self-contained individuals whereas the true one starts from men whose whole nature and character is determined by their existence in society. Apart from such form of false individualism as ”constructivist rationalism” described by Hayek there exist various other forms of it, namely irrationalistic false individualism (which can be found in all versions of existentialism) and especially that form of false individualism which is a necessary consequence of post-modernism with its basic creed ANTHROPOS METRON PANTON.

Keywords: false individualism, true individualism, ontological individualism, methodological individualism, hermeneutics, the law of conservation of anti-capitalist mentality 


1. Introduction: Individualism Has a Bad Name Today

To discuss Hayeks distinction between ”false” and ”true” individualism seems to be highly relevant. Confusions and misunderstanding about individualism still exist today in a similar way as Hayek analysed them. They are by no means confined to post-Communist countries, although they are the most pronounced there: In consequence of previous Communist attacks against the so-called ”bourgeois individualism”, almost all people equate individualism with ruthless selfishness and anti-social attitudes. Correspondingly, almost all philosophers and social theorists in transitional countries consider individualism only of the kind that Hayek called ”false individualism.” Such situation in philosophy and in social thought cannot be seen solely as an impact of Communist ideology; it has deeper historic roots in the enduring influence of German philosophy on the culture of Central- and East-European countries. Due to this influence, even Thomas Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia and great defender of democracy, Western civilisation and Christian humanism (and, we may surmise, a genuine true individualist), mistakenly believed no other form of individualism to exist than the ”false” one. Accordingly, hecriticised it and, regarding false individualism as a constitutive part of liberalism, rejected on these grounds also liberalism as such. This misunderstanding led to serious consequences since Masaryk is still considered an authority by many sincere democrats in a number of post-Communist countries.

The second reason why it is important to deal with Hayekian ”false individualism” is that this concept enables us to show that some philosophies, ideologies and policies that appear to be close to liberalism by their use of terms like ”individual,” ”freedom,” ”responsibility,” ”human rights,” are in fact forms of hidden collectivism, mere varieties of ”false individualism.” In this group we can find the philosophies and ideologies of existentialism, relativistic hermeneutics, postmodernism, multiculturalism, feminism, affirmative action policy and many others. They are becoming or have already become very popular among post-Communist intellectuals who accept them eagerly chiefly for two reasons: First, they mistakenly believe them to be the most advanced products of Western civilisation, and second, their acceptance enables them indirectly to express their anti-capitalist bias.

The attempt to present postmodernism and similar doctrines as new sources of false individualism must deal with an obstacle that will probably surprise most Hayekians. Namely, postmodernism attempts to interpret the very concepts of ”false” and ”true” individualism in its own postmodernist manner and thus file Hayek among postmodernists. An example of such peculiar efforts can be found in Prof. G. B. Madison, who says that ”the »true« individualism that Hayek argues for is in fact one which highlights the irremediably social nature of human being that recent hermeneutical and postmodern writers have stressed.”[1] Demonstrating that the true meaning of Hayek’s concept of ”true” individualism completely defies any ”postmodern reading” is thus a further task, the special importance of which comes from the fact that it is actually confusing to ascribe postmodernist position to a defender of such an essentially modern phenomenon as the liberal order. The fulfilment of this task can be understood as a continuation of the following original approach by Hayek: the term ”individualism,” in spite of its being associated with so many confusions, should be preserved because it is the only plausible opposite to ”socialism”; in order to be truly usable in this manner it must be clarified and ridden of any incorrect meaning.

2. Individualism: True and False 

The most general formulation of Hayek’s distinction between the true and false individualism can be summarised in the statement that false individualism ”postulates the existence of isolated or self-contained individuals” whereas the true one starts ”from men whose whole nature and character is determined by their existence in society.”[2] In other words, Hayek’s true individualism represents a denial of ontological individualism that asserts ontological priority of the individual over society. In order to discern his true individualism from sociological determinism or collectivism, Hayek promptly adds that ”there is no other way toward an understanding of social phenomena but through our understanding of individual actions directed toward other people and guided by their expected behavior.” He also claims to be a resolute opponent of any form of ontological collectivism (or ”realism” and ”essentialism”), which asserts that social wholes are entities sui generis that exist independently of individuals who compose them. 

Hayek sees the origin of false individualism in Descartes’ ontology which identified human essence with reason, and postulated that not only is this essence fully embodied in each individual mind, it is also fully independent of the external world. Hayek also observes that the autonomy of rational ego in Descartes works not only in the form of mathematical reason but also in the form of Reason with a capital R. This simply means that individual human reason is able to design rational social order, guaranteeing the best for every single person, and that it is also able to find the means by which they are to achieve it. He stresses that the Cartesian view of the Reason with a capital R as being available to individual human mind implies that everything achieved by man is the direct result of, and therefore subject to, the control of individual human reason (which also means that individual human reason is entitled to reject everything which has emerged spontaneously). In contrast to Descartes’ statement that historic prominence of Sparta was due to the fact that its laws, originated by a single individual, all tended to a single end, Hayek clearly shows that Cartesian individualism leads to practical collectivism. This is the reason why Hayek defines false individualism as ”rationalistic pseudo-individualism” (later also augmented by the terms ”constructivist rationalism” and ”fatal conceit”).

Being the opposite of Cartesian rationalism, the true individualism must be anti-rationalistic: as Hayek argues, the fundamental fact on which the whole philosophy of liberalism is based is nothing other than our awareness of the essential limits of our individual reason and imagination. These limits, as he says in The Road to Serfdom, ”make it impossible to include in our scale of values more than a sector of the needs of the whole society, and that, strictly speaking, scales of values can exist only in individual minds, nothing but partial scales of values exist – scales which are inevitably different and often inconsistent with each other. From this the individualist concludes that the individuals should have be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values and preferences rather than somebody else’s; that within these spheres the individual’s system of ends should be supreme and subject to any dictation by others.”[3] In the article ”Individualism: True and False” he enriches this argument by a discussion of the unlimited variety of human gifts and skills which imply the necessity of ignorance of any single individual of most of what is known to all other members of society taken together. Then he arrives at a very important proposition: in the frame of true individualism, ”human Reason, with a capital R, does not exist in the singular... but must be conceived as an interpersonal process in which anyone’s contribution is tested and corrected by the others.”[4] This is important because it is only in the form of intersubjective process that the human Reason with a capital R can be developed beyond the narrow limits of the capacities of individual mind and be what it really is – the Reason with a capital R. All this implies that only under the condition that no single individual or group of individuals will prescribe the others what to do is it possible for people to create things greater in scale than their individual minds could ever fully comprehend. Here it becomes clear that Hayek’s conception of true individualism is in fact amalgamated with his theory of spontaneous order – he himself stresses that ”true individualism is the only theory which can claim to make the formation of spontaneous social products intelligible.”[5]

Hayek’s basic idea that true individualism is necessarily connected with our being aware of the limits of our individual mental capacities finds an expression also in his criticism of the concept of ”economic man” as an individual entity willing and capable in any situation to develop its rational calculating behaviour from itself. In respect to Adam Smith, in Hayek’s opinion one of the main representatives of true individualism, Hayek emphasises that man, presented in Smith as ”by nature lazy”, started to behave economically only under the influence of spontaneously grown institutions (such as private property) which induced him, ”by his own choice and from the motives which determined his ordinary conduct, to contribute as much as possible to the need of all others.”[6] Hence it follows that true individualism can become a truly existent and evident attitude only in the framework of spontaneously emerged institutions.

3. On a Hermeneutical Misinterpretation of True Individualism

At this point it seems appropriate to show what aspects of Hayek’s concept of true and false individualism evoked (or provoked) its postmodern reading by Madison and others, and to demonstrate that such reading is completely mistaken. First of all it should be mentioned that there is an abstract and superficial similarity between Hayek and Nietzsche, the grand-parent of postmodernism who attempted to destroy the Cartesian autonomy of rational ego. Hayek’s anti-rationalism can theoretically be – should somebody want the stretch desperately enough – confused with Nietzsche’s irrationalism. Moreover, Hayek’s being neither ontological individualist nor ontological individualist could also evoke a perverted idea that he is close to Nietzsche who rejected ontology (and truth) entirely, regarding in relativistic manner all allegedly true being only as an expression of will to power.

Professor Madison, to be sure, simplifies greatly his attempt to make Hayek a postmodernist or even postindividualist by includingontologicalor (in his own words) atomary individualism in the definition of modernism.[7] From this point of view, anybody who denies ontological individualism and is no premodernist ontological collectivist in Platonic or Hegelian sense must be a postmodernist. Madison does not realise that if Hayek is to be included among postmodernists, so too would have to be countless other defenders of true individualism such as Smith, Ferguson, Tocqueville, lord Acton; moreover, Marx and Nietzsche, would also fit the definition. Madison nevertheless does feel uneasy here and therefore suggests that in Hayek we can find a more enlightened postmodernism which does not proclaim the ”death of the individual.” In line with this, Madison interprets Hayekian true individualism as a sort of epistemological or methodological individualism. This interpretation should, one the one hand, enable us to deny that atomary, fully-formed, autonomous, and responsible individuals could have any reality in ontological sense, and help us to preserve the term ”individual” as the starting point of the method on the other. 

In addition, Madison attempts to discern between Hayek’s methodological individualism and the methodological individualism of Popper. Specifically, Popper seems to Madison to be too anchored in modernity because of his resolute ontological individualism. According to Madison, Hayek’s and Popper’s methodologies differ in that the latter admits only external relations among individuals whilst the former, working with the categories of ”understanding” and ”introspection”, can be treated hermeneutically. This hermeneutical or interpretive turn implies that the individual, having (in nominalist manner) no reality in ontological sense, no true being, is prior not in the order of reality but in the order of meaning. In the frame of this order, the term ”individual” designates something like ”norm” or ”value”, whereas society is a ”meaning-object” which is not understandable apart from the categories of human understanding and agency.

Madison’s hermeneutical interpretation of Hayekian true individualism (and his theory of spontaneous order, too) is wrong for several reasons:

1) Since the relations which constitute the order of meanings cannot be defined in economic theory but only in a version of phenomenological or structuralist philosophy (be it Husserl’s or Merleau-Ponty’s theory of intersubjectivity, or Gadamerian hermeneutics, or anything similar), Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order, if hermeneutically interpreted, ceases to constitute a part of economics. This is of course at variance with Hayek’s own understanding of his theory as presented especially in The Counter-Revolution of Science. As Barry Smith pointed out in criticising Don Lavoie, another representative of hermeneutic interpretation of Hayek, hermeneutical treatment of economic subjects means reducing economics to a sort of literary criticism of economists’ conversation.[8]

2) One of the basic proposition of hermeneutics, namely the necessity of the so called hermeneutical circle, unequivocally implies that hermeneutics is a sort of historicism and thus also a sort of relativism. Consequently, hermeneutics principally cannot arrive at true theoretical statements in Hayekian sense, i. e., at truths that would not depend on the flow of historical time. Madison neglects the fact that Hayek’s concept of limits of human reason implies that within these limits our rational cognition is able to discover truth. Moreover, Hayek in his own justification of his methodological individualism (or compositive method, as often calls it) stresses that applying introspection we can discover certain universal categories of thought in terms of which all mind must run.[9] As we know, nothing is more alien to hermeneutics and all forms of postmodernist relativism than the idea of universal categories or structures of the functioning of human mind. 

Madison’s approach according to which the denial of both ontological individualism and collectivism necessarily requires an escape from reality to the realm of non-real ideal meanings can be regarded as a consequence of what Józef Bocheñski called stupid ontology, i. e., of a belief that reality in ontological sense can be ascribed only to entities but not to properties and relations (and processes, we may add). This incorrect ontological position whichcan be identified with the false alternative: either ontological individualism or ontological collectivism, cannot in fact be imputed to Hayek. Specifically, Hayek’s relating such essential character of humanity as Reason with a capital R to interpersonal process clearly suggests that this process (of an evolutionary kind) is understood as having reality in ontological sense. 

4. Individualisation as an Evolutionary Process 

In order to expound Hayek’s conception of true and false individualism in terms of evolutionary processes, we need first to consider his emphasis on the following tenet: The individual can be allowed to be the ultimate judge of his own ends and to remain free to make full use of his knowledge and skills only within a clearly delimited sphere of responsibility. Otherwise the differing and often conflicting aims of individuals would necessarily lead to clashes, a war of all against all. The delimitation of the spheres of individual responsibility is possible only if the individuals subordinate themselves to a set of formal rules that do not prescribe them any particular aim or end but instead determine the ways in which people with different aims can peacefully co-exist. The most important among them are rules which enable to distinguish between mine and thine, or, in Hume’s words, rules which guarantee the stability of possession, of its transference by consent, and performance of promises. With the aid of Hayek’s term ”catallaxy” we may call them catallactic rules.

According to Hayek, catallactic rules emerged spontaneously as a necessary constituent and precondition of the equally spontaneous process of the division of labour. There is insufficient room here to discuss the complicated question whether those rules emerged as a consequence of fully unconscious production (as Hayek asserts) or whether they are a result of rational consideration (as Misesians argue). For our purposes suffice it to say that their imposition was not designed by any individual mind.

Since the existence of catallactic rules is a necessary condition for constituting delimited spheres of individual freedom and responsibility, the process of spontaneous emergence of these rules was at the same time also a spontaneous process of individualisation, creating free and responsible individuals. It can thus be also concluded that the process of individualisation is a genuinely social process, bearing in mind of course that society in our present context means interpersonal relations or interpersonal order. As a consequence, the free individual is not a product of his own reason, but of the Reason with a capital R, i.e., of the unconscious purposefulness embodied in some structures of interpersonal relations. Tracing the evolution back to its roots, we find other similar processes in history. For example, it is the spontaneous emergence of grammatical rules that enabled the constitution of delimited meanings and of individual human mind operating through such categories as teleology. It seems that this is the correct way to interpret Hayek’s proposition that the whole nature and character of individuals is determined by their existence in society.[10] The necessarily interrelated bond between the free individual and the spontaneously grown catallactic rules also implies that both the free individual and the catallactic rules possess the same degree of reality in ontological sense. (The ontological status of the catallactic rules can be in turn derived from the ontological status of the evolutionary process in which they emerge.) In this context it is not exact to say, as Ricouer does, that ”the only reality, in the end, are individuals who do things;” more correct would be to say that in order to be free individuals, people must do things in harmony with catallactic rules. 

The starting point of the process of individualisation was, of course, no social whole in the sense of ontological collectivism but small primitive (face-to-face) group respecting the norms of distributive justice and performing conjoint actions oriented to a commonly shared end. As a member of such group, the individual was not allowed to choose any end that would differ from others’ ends. The process of individualisation is in this light a process of differentiation, leading to the (peaceful) co-existence of different individual ends, and at the same time a process of socialisation (in the frame of extended society) in the sense of a rising degree of interdependence among great number of individuals. It can be seen as a continuation of the process of differentiation and growth of complexity which starts from the first living cell in an evolutionary sense. Similar to the biological evolution, spontaneous growth of catallactic rules proceeds in such a way that the rules had to compete with older norms of distributive justice (which had also arisen spontaneously). There is a competition between the different sets of rules since for the same situation they prescribe different, possibly even mutually exclusive forms of behaviour. Each conflicting set of rules weakens the others’ being obligatory for individual, with the result that human behaviour starts to be directed rather by reason than by immediate moral imperatives and traditions. To reconcile the conflicting sets of moral rules, positive law-making activities (based on rational consideration and oriented to a particular end) start to be applied;[11] the rise of philosophy as a genuinely rational approach to reality was intimately connected with these conditions. (All this proceeded in Ancient Greece in the 7th-6th century B.C.) 

Several centuries later, when positive law-making activities ceased to be performed by tyrants or aristocracy and acquired democratic forms where everybody could participate, all this was reflected in the rise of Ancient Sophistry which declared its famous motto ANTHROPOS METRON PANTON. In accordance with this motto in which it is the individual man who was treated as the measure of everything, individual’s own views are allowed to govern his action in any situation, not only in the delimited sphere of individual responsibility as constituted by catallactic rules. In the Sophists, the individual as the measure of both existing and non-existing things becomes the supreme judge of all existing rules, values, traditions and laws, including logical and epistemological rules whose observance is necessary for recognising the objective truth. He can reject them absolutely freely and replace them with any contents of his mind. The denial of objective truth’s existence is a denial of any objective criterion which would enable us to discern who is correct and who is wrong. This leads the Sophists to the statement that all individuals are principally equal; their egalitarianismculminates in the assertion that the search for (non-existing) objective truth should be replaced with the democratic procedure of voting. Accordingly, truth is reduced to the opinion of majority, and, consequently, to power.

Therefore, the same blind process of evolution which led to the constitution of free individuals led at the same time to a wrong philosophical conception of human individual that completely neglects the necessary conditions for individual’s existence. If subsequently put to practice, it would cause either anarchy or unlimited rule of majority; in the long run it would lead to the extinction of mankind. (From the ontological point of view this extinction would be inevitable since in their becoming torn away from catallactic rules, the individuals would lose reality in ontological sense.) 

Bearing in mind other apparent similarities, the fact that the rejection of catallactic rules is common to both Sophistry and Hayekian false individualism entitles us to augment Hayek’s definition of the latter by all forms of irrationalistic individualism opposing the true one, not only the (Cartesian) rationalistic pseudo-individualism. Accordingly, false individualism should mean any doctrine stressing the role of the individual and denying, at the same time, implicitly or explicitly that the necessary condition for the constitution of the individual is the existence of catallactic rules and other spontaneously grown institutions and traditions, be that denying based on asserting the autonomy of human reason (embodied in individual mind) or on the self-contradictory thesis ”there exists no true statement” or on anything else. In other words, false individualism declares the superiority of individual over catallactic rules and enables him to reject them not only on the basis of autonomy of rational ego but also on the basis of individual emotions, moods, the Heideggerian ”call” of Being etc. True individualism, on the other hand, stresses that the individual can exist solely in the frame catallactic rules. 

An especially perverted form of false individualism is the cult of distinct and original personality in whose frame the individual is constituted by a behaviour not stemming from external influences but solely from the concerned person itself. Such behaviour can guarantee that the person can become clearly distinct from masses that are not able to live originally. From this point of view, it is characteristic of masses that they ”blindly” respect various sets of rules, traditions and institutions that are not the product of their own choice. ”Originality” then means doing the opposite, i.e., rejecting all those traditions and institutions and doing precisely what is not done. The falsely individualistic superiority of the individual over the results of spontaneous growth turns here into direct action against all generally accepted rules and institutions.

Hayek is not quite correct to say that the cult of ”original” personality stems from German authors like Goethe and Wilhelm von Humboldt. This cult in fact appeared also in the works of George Byron and in several French and even Russian Romanticists, in the form of the so called ”Romantic Titanism,” expressing the idea of individualistic superman.[12] Hayek is also somewhat outdated saying that the cult of ”original” personality is a typical attitude of German people that prevented them from developing free political institutions, and noting about his English and American contemporaries on the contrary to be ”disposed to conform in all externals to common usage rather than ... to be proud to be different and original in most respects.”[13] Nowadays, paradoxically, the effort at originality has become a mass phenomenon spread all over the world. Its dangerous consequences can be illustrated, e. g., in the film industry where film directors and producers, in order to be more original than their predecessors, present in their works more and more violent and perverse scenes in which all kinds of human norms and rules are breached; not to mention the mass killers in the USA and elsewhere. One could say that this form of false individualism jeopardises seriously Western civilisation as a whole, but it is most dangerous in post-Communist countries where the institutions of free society are only in process of being built or re-built.

5. On the New Sources of False Individualism

5.1. Existentialism

Philosophical expression of the cult of ”original” person in the 20th century can found especially in German and French existentialism, which in turn can be traced back to Nietzsche’s superman as well as to Romantic Titanism, not to mention Max Stirner, a critic of ontological collectivism and a theoretical anarchist who asserted in a typically nominalistic way the non-reality of everything except for the individual ego, or Kierkegaard whose claim for ”teleological suspension of ethics” represents for any Hayekian the most perfect expression of the essence of false individualism. Yet another expression can be seen in Heidegger’s contempt for inauthentic das man (the impersonal ”it is done”) which includes all rules, norms and traditions not originating from the autonomous consciousness of the individual. Since there is no need to analyse the widely known affinity between Heideggerian false individualism and Nazism, we confine ourselves to a brief comment on some aspects of false individualism of Jean-Paul Sartre, with the purpose of showing the importance of their opposing counterparts in the frame of true individualism.

”Hell, it is the others,” says Garcin, one of Sartre’s dramatic figures; this famous exclamation expresses in a compressed form Sartre’s philosophy of interpersonal relations as developed in his voluminous book Being and Nothingness. On the other hand, Hayekian true individualism – and classical liberalism as such – argue ”only against the use of coercion to bring about organisation or association, and not against association as such.”According to Hayek, the consistent individualist even ought to be an ”enthusiast for voluntary collaboration” since ”much of what in the opinion of many can be brought about only by conscious direction, can be better achieved by the voluntary and spontaneous collaboration of individuals.”[14] Sartre’s philosophy, on the other hand, presenting interpersonal relations as a source of pain, discourages people from entering into voluntary associations and implicitly leads them to rely on the state in everything which cannot be achieved by individual effort. Moreover, without the aid of voluntary associations, isolated individuals cannot resist the state power.

Sartre’s alleged humanism is based on his conception of responsibility as derived from his famous statement according to which human existence precedes human essence. Since any action we consciously perform creates human essence, it must be treated as a paradigm committing all the people to imitate it in similar situations; thus, in our free decisions to act we assume responsibility for mankind as a whole. This is nothing but a form of a very abstract humanism since it takes no account of constitutional limitations of individual’s knowledge and interests in consequence of which, as Hayek argues, ”the human needs for which he can effectively care are almost negligible fraction of the needs of all members of society.”[15] Sartre’s pseudo-Kantianism, according to which every human action (not only maxim) should be subordinated to the criterion of universalisability, denies at the same time one of the main theses of true individualism: that within the delimited spheres of responsibility, the individual should be allowed to act differently than others. We can see here again the necessary affinity between false individualism and collectivism.

Although nowadays existentialism is no living philosophical fashion (contrary to several decades ago), it is still cultivated at many departments of philosophy, especially in its Heideggerian form, frequently treated as the point of culmination of the history of philosophy; thus, it still remains to be a fruitful source of false individualism. 

5.2. Postmodernism as a New Form of the Trahison des Clercs

A much more dangerous source of false individualism can be seen in postmodernism, which is nothing but a renewal of the Ancient Sophistry under a different guise. Postmodernism is dangerous not only by being an intellectual fashion (as existentialism was) but also by being accepted and spread by artists, architects, ecologists and especially by media theorists and practitioners. In this mode of dissemination it penetrates more and more into the consciousness of broad masses, forming there a primitive belief that everything is relative. 

Moreover, postmodernism is a very deceitful variety of false individualism because it pretends to be its very opposite. Starting from Nietzsche’s destruction of the autonomy of rational ego and from Marx’s sixth thesis on Feuerbach (according to which human essence is not embodied in the individual but is instead a complex of social relations), it appears to be in harmony with Hayekian true individualism. However, applying also Marx’s concept of ideology as false consciousness, postmodernists interpret the statement on individual’s being determined by society in a way where individual mind is always unconsciously determined by group or social or political interests and, therefore, principally unable to arrive at objective or even absolute truth. In this view the statement that catallactic rules enable the co-existence of individuals’ different ends is not a universal truth but a projection of the economic and political interests of capitalists.

All theoretical statements (especially statements about the universal validity of some sets of moral rules, but also the statements of exact sciences like physics) are thus reduced to mere ideology in the sense of false consciousness and presented as expressions of both super-individual interests in the broadest sense and of biological determinations (as it is, for example, in various versions of Freudianism).This really looks like the ”death of the individual.” 

Nevertheless, the very fact of expressing and accepting such creed changes the situation. To accept postmodernism means destroying all that ever was present in our consciousness as setting the limits to our individual interests (truth, morality, God) and reducing it to impersonal forces which unconsciously determine our judgements. Since these unconsciously working powers are not immediately given to our consciousness, the individual sees no limits to his individual interests. And it is precisely this absence of limits what makes individual’s consciousness the ultimate judge of everything in the sense of the Ancient Sophistry. Applying such a falsely individualistic attitude (which is no explicit part of postmodernist creed but a necessary result of its influence on human thought), individuals feel to be entitled to reject any rational argument because any rational argumentation refers to objective or even absolute truth. Rational argumentation loses thus the former function it served in interpersonal and political relations and is replaced with psychological manipulations and, ultimately, with violence and brutal exerting of power in the sense of ”Might is Right.” This would lead to the war of all against all. Or, as Masaryk put it in a compressed form, ”if truth and law is identical with power, politics becomes a part of zoology.”[16]

On the other hand, it is precisely the concept of true individualism which enables us to suggest a refutation of all of this, without any reference to the metaphysical concepts of autonomy of rational ego. The basic objection from this position is that postmodernists, arguing against any possibility of the emancipation of human knowledge from the influence of interests, neglect the character of rules, norms and methods which, being respected by scientists and philosophers, permit the process of (gradual) objectivisation of human cognitive approaches. These logical and epistemological norms and rules were not created by single individual minds (in this case they would surely reflect human interests) but discovered in the process of the study of the universal grammatical structures of language (at least those from which all others have been derived). And language, a result of spontaneous inter-individual processes, must have had the quality of objective validity; moreover, being a substitution for immediate sensations, it had to be able to provide a true representation of reality, otherwise it could not have played a role in human race’s struggle for survival. So, in subordinating himself to the strict logical and epistemological rules, man is principally able to emancipate himself from the conscious or unconscious influences of various interests and determinations and become an ”impartial spectator,” to use Adam Smith’s concept of great importance in the classically liberal heritage. It should be added that the growth of objective knowledge in science (and also in philosophy) proceeds as an interpersonal process, being thereby a form of the development of the Reason with a capital R. Its basic structure consists in the fact that it is self-interest which motivates each scientist and philosopher to find, criticise and correct any deviation from objectivity in the works and results of  his colleagues. Thus, the process of emancipation of human knowledge from the dictate of interests has a similarly social character as the process in which the delimited sphere of individual responsibility is constituted. It can also be said that the ”impartial spectator” is no illusion, as postmodernists claim, but has the same degree of reality in ontological sense as the evolutionary process which results in the norms whose respecting enables the objectivisation of human knowledge.

Now we are able to illustrate the danger of false individualism’s postmodernist version by presenting some views of the Czech philosopher Václav Bìlohradský whom opinion polls rank among the ten most influential persons in the Czech Republic. In an article concerning the Soviet putsch inAugust 1991 he wrotethat ”the Communist state has arisen from the spirit of Western philosophy.”[17] In developing this thesis, Bìlohradský argues that Communism is a natural outcome of Western metaphysics, which he defines as the striving to found human life not on mere DOXA(persuasions and opinions), buton EPISTEME – on knowledge ofthe truth. The Communist state is then the main instrument for submitting mere opinion to objective knowledge, an instrument which does not depend on influential words and individual humanpersuasions. All traditions and customs not confirmed by the dialectical method of Marxism are mere anachronisms and have therefore to be liquidated.ForBìlohradský,then, post-Communism comes tomean a re-establishmentof the prevalenceof mere opinionsoverobjectiveknowledge.Thus, the era of post-Communism is  also a post-philosophical era, since the ideaofphilosophyasasearchforthe truth has been completely exhausted.

Democracy, accordingtoBìlohradský,means that all knowledge,every attitude,every principleis reducedto mere opinion,and that if one opinion prevails over another, it is a result of its possessors’ ability to usetheartof rhetoricmore effectivelythanaretheiropponents.The great democracies of England and America are, accordingly, nothing but forms of institutionalisation of rhetoric, of argumentation and persuasive behaviour manifesting itself in speech acts. The legitimacy ofdemocratic power is based on the fact thatits representatives have managed to persuadeus that their viewpoint is advantageous to us. We can see that Bìlohradský explicitly identifies democracy with the false individualism of the Sophists and connects it to Heideggerian rejection of Western metaphysics. 

However, Bìlohradský's thesis is – like all sophisms – in itselfcontradictory. If we follow his arguments, we must arriveat the conclusion thathis thesis expresses no truthbutonlyhispersonalopinion. His thesis can in addition becriticisedfromafactualpointofview. Europeanmetaphysicsasawholeisnot the ideological foundation of the Communist state;this role is played only by one specific part of European metaphysics – by parts of German idealism, and especially, of course,by its Marxist-Leninist tributary. A far greater part of European metaphysics, on the contrary, provided the legitimisation of the basic conditions for free society. Apart from the theorists of natural law and social contract who started from Aristotelian metaphysics (and who are false individualists in Hayekian sense) we can mention especially Adam Smith according to whom God embedded into human nature such a set of propensities that people, necessarily acting in harmony with them, unconsciously fulfil the plan of the Divine Providence consisting in the constitution of the spontaneous order of free market economy. 

In his attack against metaphysics as such, Bìlohradský denies any possibility to apply such philosophical conceptions of catallactic rules which would interpret them as unconditionally valid and obligatory. Since people’s consequential observance of catallactic rules is a necessary condition for effective functioning of the free market system and since people observe those rules best when they treat them to be unconditionally valid, Bìlohradský’s (and, of course, Heidegger’s) rejection of metaphysics as such has, in its political consequences, very negative impacts on the process of building free society. 

Denying objective knowledge at all, Bìlohradský (and all other postmodernists) leave also no room for scientific legitimisation of free market system.[18] This has even more serious consequences than their denial of metaphysics. We can easily imagine the great confusion of people who seriously try to free the market system when we read in a popular book on Adam Smith by D. D. Raphael that Smith’s theoretical system is merely a product of imagination which has nothing to do with true reality.[19] (This statement, interpreting Smith in accordance with T. S. Kuhn, does not concern Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments where there is a lot of metaphysical argumentation but The Wealth of Nations which is known as the fundamental work of economic science!) 

Since postmodernists are ”excessively willing to become the messengers of the spirit of the time”,[20] we can ask what moods are expressed in the postmodernist creeds. Simply put, postmodernism in its philosophical version (in Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, etc.) arose from the leftist intellectuals’ disappointment with the degeneration of the Communist system and the decay of Communist ideology. This disappointment can be described by a well-known bon mot ”God is dead, Marx, too and still I do not feel any better.” But after a while, the intellectuals understood that after Marx’s spiritual death they can apply freely Dostoyevsky’s statement that ”if there is no God it is allowed to do anything.” This is in short the essence of false individualism.

In order to treat the causes of the broad acceptance of postmodernism more precisely, we should turn to José Ortega y Gasset and his famous work La rebelion de las masas. The rebellion of masses, as it is argued in this work, consists in the fact that average man, member of a mass, refuses to admit the existence of any élite because he is accustomed to appeal to no instance except himself. This implies that he believes to have no obligations but solely rights meaning thereby ”human and citizen’s rights” which are said by Ortega y Gasset to be a mere gift of destiny, a mere advantage which is given to everybody and does not require any effort: in order to get them, it is sufficient to be able to breath and not to be a fool. In defending his rebellion against existing élites, the member of a mass asserts that he has his own ”opinions” and ideas; he nevertheless fails to comprehend that if somebody wants to have his own ideas, he must decide to struggle for truth and subordinate himself to rules necessary for this struggle. In consequence, his ”own opinion” is nothing but a selection of commonplace, prejudice, fractions of ideas or simply empty words which penetrated into his mind by mere accident.[21] It is symptomatic that he claims this confused selection to be a gospel truth and enforces it so audaciously that it can be explained only by his being simple-minded.

We can clearly see that Ortega y Gasset described and criticised precisely that which we call falsely individualistic attitudes, thus becoming also a critic of the postmodernist version of false individualism avant la lettre. He observes that the main constitutive part of those attitudes is egalitarianism, i. e., the effort to eliminate the spontaneously grown difference between masses and the élite as defined by the ability of its members to subordinate themselves to moral rules as well as to the strict epistemological rules enabling the search for truth. With the aid of Ortega y Gasset’s analyses we may therefore characterise postmodernism as an ”ideology” of the rebellion of masses. (It is necessary to use quotation marks since postmodernist creed, as we saw in Bìlohradský, differs from known ideologies by lacking consistency.) The danger of postmodernism becomes even more conspicuous when we take into account that the rebellion of masses proceeds now not only in a synchronic form (i.e., in the frame of one generation) but also in a diachronic one – as a rebellion of youth against older generation. It was Ortega y Gasset himself who anticipated this kind of rebellion, finding similarities between pampered children and a rebellious primitive or barbarian: The rebellion here consists in the demonstrated fact that relatively large number of youngsters, accelerated in their biological progress but retarded in mental development on account of dominance of visual information, refuse to accept knowledge, norms and values which others (families and educational institutions) try to imprint into their minds. In doing so, they refer to their right to have their ”own opinion.” Unfortunately, they apply this right before internalising the rules which would enable them to attain objective knowledge, and, therefore, are not able to understand the importance of other rules and values. The individualisation of adolescent man thus often proceeds in the form of an effort to attain ”originality” by breaching the existing rules and norms. Moreover, there exist various primitive youth subcultures, based on blind imitation and full of aggression and tastelessness, the acceptance of which strengthens young people’s rebellion against norms and traditions necessary for the further existence of Western civilisation.

It should be also noted that the rebellion of masses (as well as the rebellion of the youth) cannot develop without being supported or even initiated by some groups of intellectuals who betray their profession and status of searchers for the truth. Referring to Julien Benda who first identified the phenomenon of intellectuals’ treason, we can say that the propagating and spreading of postmodernist creeds, which stimulate falsely individualistic attitudes and are properly described as menticide,[22] is nothing but a new variety of the trahison des clercs.[23]

5.3. Multiculturalism, etc.

It seems to be useful to comment briefly on some other concepts and practices that stimulate falsely individualistic attitudes by being based upon egalitarianism, a constitutive part of false individualism. The most dangerous among them is multiculturalism because it includes postmodernist denial of the existence of objective truth. According to multiculturalism, all cultures are principally equal and none of them can be treated as higher or more progressive than any other. At the same time it regards science and philosophy as parts of Euroamerican culture, seeing objective truth to be merely a cultural value. The equality of all cultures then implies that belief in truth stands precisely at the same level as for example in other cultures the belief in validity of magic practices. It is therefore not allowed to argue against the effectiveness of magic practices from the position of scientific knowledge; namely, it would be a cultural imperialism. The main mistake of this doctrine is demonstrated by itsneglect of the fact that the value neutrality approach is present not only in the Weberian methodology but implicitly in all scientific approaches; objective knowledge is thus able to go beyond the sphere of values. It also confuses the idea of objective scientific truth (which is not universal because of being absent in most cultures) with objective knowledge itself (universal of necessity). Since the multiculturalists’ denial of the universal character of objective knowledge is at the same time a denial of the existence of truth as such, their doctrine has the same impasses as postmodernism. We can therefore fully agree with Barry Smith to whom ”multiculturalism is an enemy of open society.”[24] It may be added that Euroamerican civilisation is in fact superior to all other civilisations because only it developed the liberal order which enables that people with different scales of values, religions and customs can co-exist peacefully; it also elaborated idea of toleration which is missing in most other cultures.

It seems that it is only Hayekian conception of true individualism which enables to formulate truly striking arguments against egalitarianism. As Hayek puts it, true individualism recognises ”family as a legitimate unit as much as the individual; and the same is true with respect to other groups, such as linguistic or religious communities, which by their common efforts may succeed for long periods in preserving for their members material or moral standards different from those of the rest of the population.”[25] When ranking among the groups mentioned by Hayek also ethnic groups, his thesis can serve us to refute the ideology of affirmative action policy. But, taking into account that this policy victimise the members of some ethnic groups for injustices done by their ancestors to the ancestors of other ethnic groups, we should at the same time insist on the applying of that kind of the Gesinnungsethik which is typical for true individualism.[26]

6. Conclusion: The Law of Conservation of Anti-capitalistic Mentality

Paraphrasing Barry Smith’s thesis on the law of conservation of spread,[27] we may say that the rise and growth of various forms of false individualism (or of concepts that result in falsely individualistic attitudes) conforms to the law of conservation of anti-capitalistic mentality. According to this law the gradual decline of Marxism as the dominant expression of this mentality had to be compensated by the appearance of some new and more sophisticated doctrines and creeds which contain the same ”quantity” of anti-capitalistic moods and attitudes. This is not a mere hyperbole. Anti-capitalistic mentality arises again and again in consequence of the painful experience new generations make with the discrepancy between catallactic rules (which apply in the sphere of the economy or ”catallaxy”) and norms of distributive justice whose fields of validity include family, single firms, army, etc. As concerns liberal thinkers, the law of conservation of anti-capitalist mentality requires them to apply ceaselessly their critical intellect.


[1] G. B. Madison, How Individualistic Is Methodological Individualism?, Critical Review Vol. 4, Nos 1-2, p. 41.
[2] Cf. F. A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order (IE), The University of Chicago Press, 1948, p. 6.
[3] F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1994, p. 66.
[4]IE, p. 15.
[5]IE, p. 10.
[6]IE, pp. 11, 13.
[7] More precisely, Madison treats as typically modern the concept of ”presocietal »sovereign« individuals (possessed of God-given [onto-theo-logical] »property rights« over their individual bodies) negotiating among themselves (with the purpose of maximizing their own private »utility«).” This confirms that the theory of spontaneous emergence of institutions (which was formulated by various theorists in the 18th century) is to him a postmodern phenomenon. 
[8] Barry Smith, On the Austrianness of Austrian Economics, Critical Review Vol. 4, Nos 1-2, p. 231.
[9]F. A. von Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science, Liberty Press, Indianapolis 1979, p. 136.
[10] From this point of view it is clear that Mises’s praxeology, treating teleology in non-evolutionary aprioristic manner, must be characterised as a version of false individualism.
[11] Being oriented to particular ends, these activities differed radically from Hayekian immanent criticism which attempts at eliminating contradictions among purely formal rules and laws.
[12] It is of course true that Goethe’s Faust is the basic document of Romantic Titanism. According to T. G. Masaryk who criticised German ”extreme subjectivism” on the grounds of what we call false individualism, Goethe’s Faust is a morally and emotionally uprooted Romantic Titan, a superman who has abolished God and stands face to face with nothingness because his Titanic activity is able to destroy all pre-existing forms of objective reality. Thus the only real object of the omnipotent activity of the modern Titan is his own self. The objectless void in which Faust finds himself leads him first to the trial over suicide; later, after meeting Mephistopheles, he turns his activity to the external world but his effort at making mankind happier leads to the death of innocent people. (Cf. T. G. Masaryk, Faustovský problém (The Faustian Problem – in Czech), in: Milan Machovec, Tomáš G. Masaryk, Prague 1968, pp. 234-254.) We can see that Masaryk’s interpretation of Goethe’s Faust is in some respect very close to Hayek’s analysis of false individualism.
[13]IE, p. 26.
[14]IE, p. 16.
[15]IE, p. 14.
[16]Tomáš G. Masaryk, Demokratism v politice (Democratism in Politics – in Czech), Èin, Praha 1947, p. 12. According to Masaryk, Marxism leads to these bitter ends. Analysing Marx’s famous sentence that the only criterion of truth is practice and observing that in consequence of Marx’s rejection of morality and religion all practice in Marxism is in fact reduced to politics and all politics to revolution, he derives the conclusion (implicitly included in Marxism) that truth is identical with power. It is no accident in this context that the well-beloved motto of Marx was the Protagorean ANTHROPOS METRON PANTON.
[17]Václav Bìlohradský, Post-komunismus v SSSR (Post-Communism in the USSR – in Czech), Pøítomnost 9/91, p. 3.
[18]”What it is that Heidegger and, say, Derrida or Luce Irigaray have in common...? The answer, it seems, is antipathy to science, or more generally: antipathy to learning, to scholarly and investigative activity, all the normal burgeois purposes of modern university.” Barry Smith, The Neurath-Haller Thesis: Austria and the Rise of Scientific Philosophy, in: K. Lehrer and J. C. Marek (eds.), Austrian Philosophy Past and Present, (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science), Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster: Kluwer, 1996, chapter 1.
[19] S. S. Raphael, Adam Smith, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1989, chapter 6.
[20] Rudolf Starý, O houslích, Oidipovi, øeckých vázách, èínském orákulu a také o post-modernismu (Of Violin, Oedipus, Greek Urns, Chinease Oracle and also of Postmodernism – in Czech), Literárnínoviny 46, Prague, p. 3.
[21]We may add that one’s ”own opinion” is often a product of manipulation or, as Chomsky says, of a manufacturing of consent.
[22] Here we can again refer to B. Smith who appropriately characterises the style of postmodernist thinking: ”Philosophy, since Heidegger, who all but terminated the previously healthy scientific line in phenomenology, becomes an only lightly disguised form of ideologically motivated social criticism, the disguise taking the form of styles of writing which - in their heady mixture of elements derived from near pornography and pseudo-scientific jargonizing inspired by sociology and psychoanalysis - have to be seen to be believed.” Barry Smith, The Haller-Neurath Thesis..., chapter 1.
[23] The danger of the treason of intelligentsia was eloquently expressed in the famous Czech writer Karel Èapek: ”...there are views, slogans and manners that the learned man cannotacceptunlesshedescendsfrom the spiritual levelimposed by education, thathe shall betray the discipline, the criticismand the intellectual freedom, the inherited cultural experience which are the proper goal ofeducation... Just cancel the hierarchic superiorityofthe spiritand you shall pave theway for the return ofsavages. A decline of the intelligentsia is a way to barbarisation of all.” KarelÈapek, SpisyXIX.,OumìníakultuøeIII. (CollectedWorksXIX.,OnArtandCulture III – in Czech), Prague 1990, pp. 536-537.
[24] The same is true about feminism which in its emphasis on the differences between sexesdenies the universality of true knowledge, too.
[25]IE, p. 31.
[26] In his formulation of the ethical principles of true individualism Hayek puts an emphasis on the limits of our moral responsibility: ”Outside the sphere of individual responsibility there is neither goodness nor badness... Only where we ourselves are responsible for our own interests and are free to sacrifice them has our decision moral value.” (The Road to Serfdom, p. 231.)
[27] B. Smith considers the conservation of a philosophical doctrine in spiritually-territorial context: ”If Marxist philosophy, broadly conceived, is no longer be able to be taken seriously in the field of economics or political theory, then it will rise again in the field of, say, comparative literature (T. Eagleton et al.) or of linguistic pragmatism (J. Habermas, K.-O. Apel).” Barry Smith, The Neurath-Haller Thesis..., chapter 10.