The Greatest of Modern Demagogues

By: David Gordon

We usually think of Friedrich Hayek as a moderate, as least when compared with Mises and Rothbard, but he had a radical side as well. Hidden away in a note to the third volume of Law, Legislation, and Liberty, he makes a comment that puts him far outside “respectable” public opinion. He says that the inventor of “freedom from want” was “the greatest of modern demagogues.” Hayek’s condemnation of Franklin Roosevelt  is as forthright as any radical could wish.

The passage where he says that is this: ”In view of the latest trick of the Left to turn the old liberal tradition of human rights in the sense of limits to the powers both of government and of other persons over the individual into positive claims for particular benefits (like the ‘freedom from want’ invented by the greatest of modern demagogues) it should be stressed here that in a society of free men the goals of collective action can always only aim to provide opportunities for unknown people, means of which anyone can avail himself for his purposes, but no concrete national goals which anyone is obliged to serve. The aim of policy should be to give all a better chance to find a position which in turn gives each a good chance of achieving his ends than they would otherwise have.” (Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Volume 3, note 42, pp.202-203 in the one-volume edition of the trilogy published by Routledge, 1982)

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